Tuesday, July 27, 2010

take down the signs...women in ministry

I've been researching the treatment of women during biblical times. Here are my thoughts on what I've found so far.

Gender bias is still widely accepted and remains unacknowledged in many churches and denominations.

Back at the beginning of time, GOD created humankind. Male and female he created them…in his own image. Men and women are different, yet both are made in the image of GOD. Allow me to stereotype for a moment so as to make a point. We tend to think of men as being rock-solid, thinkers, strong, decision-makers. Women are thought to be softer, emotional, intuitive, nurturers. All of these are characteristics of GOD. When we fill our ministry positions with only one sex, we almost completely miss out on half of who GOD really is. We handicap ourselves. GOD, I dare say, has both masculine and feminine aspects to his character.

During the time of Jesus, women were allowed to enter the temple and observe worship but only up to a certain point, and they were not to actively participate in worship.

I don't know this from my research, but I imagine that perhaps there were signs posted in strategic places in the temple that let women know where they were allowed and where they were not and what was acceptable.

Jesus made it a point to challenge those limitations placed on women. He disregarded the signs in his ministry.

Take the account of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. During this time, Jewish women were expected to be hospitable, but the teaching of women was considered taboo. Women were considered on the same level as children and slaves.

Granted, I'm taking a little artistic license with my re-telling of this story. But just hear me out.

Jesus goes to the home of Mary and Martha. While Jesus is in the living room speaking and teaching his disciples, Martha is where she is expected to be…in the kitchen preparing food for those in her home. She notices that yet again Mary has sneaked out and is now sitting at Jesus’ feet. Mary knew better than that. People who sat at the feet of a teacher were considered disciples. That was not a role befitting a woman. What was Mary thinking?

In my opinion, Martha has been scrutinized and misunderstood over the years. (I was told a few months ago that she was not much more than a nag. I have to respectfully disagree.) Martha was doing what any good, godly woman would do. Hospitality was a role she considered as her godly duty (Let me interject that it is very noble, but women are not limited to just this gift). How presumptuous of Mary to place herself on the same level as the men! A disciple. Really?

So, naturally, Martha asks Jesus to intervene and tell Mary that she needed to do her expected duty just as she, herself, was doing. When Jesus rebuked Martha, I believe it was not a negative thing. I don’t think he was chastising her about being a busybody or a nag. I think his heart was breaking. Martha had a self-imposed sign in her own home and heart. She was settling for the status quo, the widely accepted belief that women didn’t have the capacity to learn and grow. Jesus wanted her to know that she was valuable, worthy and able. After all, he was there when she was created. He knew she had the capacity to be so much more than what society dictated to her. He formed her brain, her heart, her soul, her body. He, more than anyone else, knew that she could be so much more. And he wanted her to know it, too.

Mary ignored the oppressive, restrictive sign. She understood that with Jesus, signs like those were non-existent. *Jesus spoke to women, he spoke highly about them, he looked at women, he taught women, he released women to minister, he invited women into his inner circle, he allowed women to touch and talk to him. He broke rules that held women back. He was revolutionary. He refused to make signs that put out of reach the good news to women, that excluded women from learning, from worship, from ministry.

And here's where it gets personal...

Imagine walking into your church this week and seeing a sign that reads, “no women past the third row from the back.” No one would dare to do that, yet I challenge you to take a closer look at your ministries and your vocabulary.
  • Do you have some ministries for which you don’t consider a woman when filling positions? Like ushers, parking lot attendants, greeters, deacons or elders?
  • Do you not hesitate to let women speak to women’s groups or Sunday school classes or children's ministries yet you haven’t had a woman preach from the pulpit...and on a Sunday?
  • When assigning titles to people, do women regularly get “leader”, “director”, “worker” and “coordinator” while men get “pastor” or “minister”?

Women can be teachers, mentors, ministers, prominent business people, presidents, pastors, denominational leaders, and much, much more.

If you have such signs in your church, I challenge you pastors and leaders to take them down.It doesn’t matter how they got there or who put them there whether it be men OR women. As in the account of Martha, she imposed those limitations on, not only herself, but on other women as well. And I ask you not to do it quietly either. Educate the women and men of your church and your denomination. Be intentional. They need to understand.

And follow the example of Jesus who acknowledged the value of women, who encouraged women and showed them their worth. Help them see their potential. Sometimes we women are so busy nurturing others that we neglect to see our own beauty and talent and potential. Take the time to appreciate beauty in all people. Take time to develop and nurture the talents and abilities in both men and women. It's not about one sex over the other. It's about reconciliation and working together and respecting each other and sharing the good news.

And remember this the next time you find yourself needing to fill a ministry position:

“There is only one calling. Not one for men and another for women.” –Vonette Bright.

Take down those signs. Take 'em down.

*see John 4, Luke 18, Luke 8 for additional reading.

7 comments:

Emily said...

Beautiful. I was performing a funeral of one of my members with a Pastor of another denomination (that doesn't ordain women) assisting me. I referred to him as Rev. ____ from the pulput several times. When he spoke, he called me "Miss Emily" several times. It was as if he was going to chide me in any way he could. I prayed hard during his portion, and when I took the pulpit, the spirit moved in such an amazing way. It probably was one of the best sermons I've preached. Miss Emily sure let God use her that day!

You are a powerful woman of God, and speak truth. I am proud of all my sisters in the ministry. Someday, I pray our daughters won't have to fight this fight.

hope hammond said...

i agree... i join you in praying that our daughters won't have to fight this fight. i checked out your blog. it's great. i hope you don't mind if i share the link. i think others would benefit from reading your words. and thanks for taking the time to comment. GOD BLESS!
http://britta43.blogspot.com/

Tim said...

I agree that many modern churches take an overly restrictive postion against women in ministry, but I also suggest caution on this subject. Clearly the Bible doesn't spell out exactly what the roles should be, but as radical as Jesus was, He didn't assign any women to be one of His 12, for example. He could have—He was much more open to women being involved in ministry than the church leadership of His day, as you point out—but He didn't go that far. Could it be, just as Paul explains about marriage, that the roles are equal but different? Could it be that you might be letting today's culturally directed roles over emphasize the idea that men and women should be doing all the same things in the church? Maybe some of those roles are just better done by men because that's the way God made men to be different from women? And of course, the opposite may be true.

I think that what you have said needs to be thought about carefully by the church, but I also want to understand more clearly the roles that Jesus maintained in His ministry before I just assume that they were to any degree culturally infuenced and therefore open to modification by today's church leadership. More and greater variety of ministry roles for women? Yes! But the same roles as men—that may be going too far and therefore against what God intended.

hope hammond said...

i appreciate you giving thought to this, tim. but i have to respectfully disagree with your conclusions. unfortunately,sexism is still being allowed and even encouraged in the church. what about those scriptures like gal. 3:28--There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus, for example? what about all the women mentioned in scripture as being disciples and followers? priscilla being a teacher and mentor to apollos? she was mentioned first in many passages because she held the lead role in the ministry. she was also a companion of paul. had he found her in error, i believe it is safe to say he would've addressed it. what about junia, a female apostle? and deborah of the old testament who was not only a government leader but also a spiritual one? the truth is that there are many examples of women in ministry in the BIBLE. and there are many more i haven't yet mentioned. so i don't think i've taken this too far. GOD clearly says he will pour out his spirit on all flesh. women are listed right alongside the men. some of those sticky scriptures i imagine you might bring up are definitely up for debate, but i encourage you to understand the context.

position of people in ministry should be based on giftings not on gender. i don't know why JESUS chose 12 men to be closest to him, but that doesn't mean he didn't call women. he did, and there is evidence for that.

2 things you said really bother me: "Maybe some of those roles are just better done by men because that's the way God made men to be different from women? And of course, the opposite may be true."
and
"But the same roles as men—that may be going too far and therefore against what God intended."

those sadden me. i believe sexism goes against what GOD intended.

hope hammond said...

tim, as i do not have any other way to communicate with you, i will do this here. i'm not going to publish your last comment because it takes us a little off course from my post. as for junia, though, take a look back at earlier manuscripts. you might be surprised. and why not take deborah as an example? i feel like you are not judging men and leadership with the same standards as you judge women and leadership. you seem to feel my arguments are weak, but are not yours, then? deborah was an actual leader. you tell me that means little but to look at the family and that proves your point. take issue with my conclusions if you like. as much as you think i have no basis, i believe i do. i would like to recommend a book to you by lee grady called 10 lies the church tells women. perhaps this will help you understand why i believe what i do. he does a much better job explaining than i do. i am not the one arguing against the way GOD intended things to be. i'm trying to help others think and question. i pray that you will have an open mind and heart and will one day understand that sexism is not of GOD. we humans place those limitations on each other for whatever reason. GOD does not. i am aware of all your arguments. i've heard them for years, and i even believed some from time to time. but the more i prayed for understanding, the more i learned and searched the scriptures, the more i realized that GOD sees me as his child with a calling on my life, not as a gender. please be careful to question even your most basic understandings of the family roles. did GOD or human tradition or culture determine your conclusions? i'm just saying that you assume things (that i do not), but is that really what GOD says in the Bible or is that what you grew up being taught? and if you read my blog post, you see that i point out and celebrate the differences between men and women. perhaps you should re-read it. you're free to believe what you wish, but please don't be so swift to impose limitations on women in ministry and leadership. why does it bother some people so much that GOD might possibly see men and women as equals and thus place the same callings on their lives? why is that so threatening?

hope hammond said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hope hammond said...

tim,

you wouldn't happen to be darrow now would you?