As I have written on issues related to the life and calling of pastors that are women, I’ve been quite surprised by the depth of the pain that many of these women carry. Though I’ve long thought that theologies that limited the ministry of women were misguided, I didn’t fully understand the damage that they cause (and I still don’t “fully” understand, but more now than before).
Just to be clear: I don’t think that all Christian women in conservative churches have experienced these limiting theologies as painful. Some women are quite happy serving and ministering in these churches. But at least some women — women fully committed to the truth of the Bible and obedience to God — have been crushed by sometimes being told explicitly or sometimes with insinuation that their ministry is “less than” their male colleagues.
It’s a rather odd thing about publication (whether via the web or traditional publishing) that you don’t always know how people receive what you write or how it affects them. But at least some women have told me how they cried as a post articulated the prejudice that they felt when a man called his pastor “sweetie.” Others have talked about how their ministry is not valued unless their husband is somehow “taking the lead.” Those that are single have shared outright indignation that they are regarded as a potential “Jezebel.”
My suspicion — and it’s not much more than that — is that those that are hurt most deeply are those that are called to ministries that have traditionally been off limits. For them this is an affront to their gender and their vocation; as if questioning the potential of a person based on gender is not enough. Pastors owe it to the women in their congregations to be careful as the cross these waters. They might even be advised to ask a couple of women that are most sensitive to these issues to become a “board of advisors” when they veer off course, and then be humble enough to confess these transgressions just as publicly as they committed them.
But even as we enter a new era regarding women in ministry, it will not be enough only to affirm the leadership and ministry of women. Many have heard the messages too long and wear the pain too deeply. Women that are called to lead the church also need a time of healing and reconciliation. They need to hear over and over again that their ministry is God-given and needed. That is precisely the need that a book I’ve been reading intends to fill.
Reclaiming Eve is written by three conservative evangelical women that have heard God’s call to lead the Church. While they briefly tell stories of their own painful experiences, those stories are not what Reclaiming Eve is about. This is a book about standing up next to the Church’s men and taking the Gospel into the future.
It’s not an apologetic book. The two most difficult texts for women in ministry (I’ve written on those two here: 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:12) only get about one page of attention between them. The book is clearly intended to be read by women’s groups. Women are addressed throughout and each chapter ends with discussion questions. I sense that this is what is most valuable about it. Over and over again it affirms that God has called women to partner with men in every aspect of leadership.
While I’m not in a position to suggest what will be needed for healing, the formation of a supportive community like a small reading group is a good place to start. So is the healing balm of Reclaiming Eve.
Click here to see all that I’ve written on women in ministry.
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