“The definition of success is not what happens, not the result – that is God’s issue. Instead, the definition of success is figuring out what God wants us to do and doing it.”
– Kevin Haah (in Starting Missional Churches, ed. by Mark Lau Branson and Nick Warnes)
Q: In the women in ministry discussion, where do the pitfalls lie?
A: Pretty much all over the place. But I have a couple specific ones in mind.
The other day a friend was telling me about a neuroscience article that claims that only one sixth of our mental processing takes place through reason. The other five sixths take place through emotion. I believe it. This isn’t a claim that we are not rational processors – rather it is a reminder that how we hear what we hear is determined largely by our past story and how that has shaped us. Fears, desires, past hurts and past joys – all these become part of the filter through which we understand the world.
That said, here’s an over-generalization about the pitfalls:
Egalitarians have to convince complementarians that they have a high view of Scripture.
Complementarians have to convince egalitarians that they have a high view of women.
Neither of these tasks are easy, not least because our filters incline us to reactions that are emotional as well as rational. As one whose life revolves around living and teaching the Bible, it isn’t fun having that questioned. But I think it’s worse for those complementarians who find that some find their position inherently demeaning to women.
How to help others hear not only our words, but our hearts?
- face to face. Written communication is good, but rarely conveys emotion well. As with most communication that is delicate or truly important, face to face is better.
- time and repetition. The thicker the filter, the more something needs to be repeated, and the more time is needed to let it sink in.
- gentleness and patience. “Instruct those who oppose you gently,” Paul says to Timothy. Angry or overly defensive messengers aren’t heard well. More often than not, they only hear the anger. Patient, gentle rearticulation is helpful.
I’m struck these last two weeks by the importance of time, and the importance of listening well.
Not new lessons in leadership I suppose, but greatly reinforced in recent weeks of our adventures in women in ministry. Without question the bulk of reactions have majored in curiosity, coupled with appreciation that we are talking about this topic, and approaching it in the way that we are.
But of course some of us on either side respond to this topic with some real passion. And why not? For one side, it immediately raises concerns of whether we are letting cultural norms color our read of Scripture. For the other, it immediately raises the question of whether half the church is being improperly restricted from growing into all God wants them to be, and if consequently the whole church is impoverished. (Sage comment of the week: “It’s the men who miss out. We women get to experience the leadership and teaching gifts of both men and women. You only get the men.” Boom!) Such concerns are worthy of passion!
But leading in the midst of passion gets tricky. Passion is good. It is fuel – necessary both for driving forward the changes the church needs, and for guarding our cherished values from drift. But while passion is necessary, it is not sufficient. We all know from experience that we are, ahem, not always at our best when most passionate. To get to where we need to be we must couple our activistic energies with the quiet heart of the contemplative. We need to sit in the presence of God, praying for wisdom and cultivating the peace that passes understanding. Fuel without proper direction is destructive; fuel chastened by the Spirit of peace is like life-giving water.
How do we get there? Time, and listening. First reactions are what they are – they generally represent passion unfiltered. Fine and good, so long as we don’t use them to blast opponents. But I think second, third, fourth reactions – the reactions that come after a bit of time has passed and prayer has occurred – these give us a much better view of who we are and how we’ve grown. How do we facilitate this? Patient listening. I’m amazed how in conversation after conversation, when someone feels truly heard it frees them to hear where others are coming from too. It enables them to better redeem the time.
And in this I find myself very proud of our church. Whether women in ministry has been met with high passion or a shrug, second, third and fourth reactions are revealing something beautiful: grace. Honoring one another, accepting one another, respect and humility – surely the Lord is in this place.
I’m considering re-emerging from my blogging coma as I think this leg of my leadership journey may be helpful for some of my fellow pastoral ninjas. And I’d love to hear you speaking back into this should you feel so led . . .
Life Cov is now several weeks into a re-visiting of the highly charged subject of women in ministry. Important as I believe this topic is, it is leading us into a topic I believe Jesus considers even more important: how does the Body function in love in the midst of differing points of view, all of which are derived from the Bible, and seen by their respective sides as the “clear teaching” of Scripture?
I love that our church is doing this. It will lead to greater empowerment of women in our body (something those on all sides want). This benefits everyone. But I believe at an even deeper level it is going to teach us how to love better.
A pastor friend made the observation the other day that most churches settle this issue (and many others) in one way: they make a pronouncement as to where they stand, and those who don’t like it are free to leave. This leads to unity, but of a type that is pretty thin – the spiritual equivalent of skim milk. We are attempting to do something that I believe many of us will look back on as a watershed moment in our spiritual journeys – we are choosing to listen to one another, why we believe what we do, and make every effort to live and love together as those with different views. This is a deeper, and (dare I say) truer, unity than the variety that says “I’m happy to be in fellowship with you so long as you and I agree on the things I need you to agree with me on.”
Such unity is not for cowards.
Here is our touchstone passage for the journey:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:1-6)
Pray for us!
“It would strangely delight you with what spirit he converses, with what tenderness he reproves, with what affection he exhorts, and with what vigour he preaches; and it is all owing to this, because he reproves, exhorts, and preaches to those for whom he first prays to God.”
William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life
Any of us who have known the weight of legalistic versions of the faith know how refreshing it can be to experience faith free of those bonds. We might also know how easy it can be, as the pendulum swings away from legalism, to wander into a more libertine version of the faith. Different ends of the spectrum, but both are their own type of bondage; both distort Christian liberty as God would have us know it. Personally, I’m convinced that the anchor that keeps us centered is a commitment to scriptural authority. If that slips, then not only can our theology go sideways, but our morality as well.
Check out this post from Chad Holtz, who speaks about this with compassion and autobiographical candor.
This week has been a non-sermon-prepping week, which freed up some space to do some other writing. I find that more and more I love these spaces in my schedule where I can give longer chunks of time and mental space to writing than I ordinarily do. Increasingly, I find they are part of how God has wired me to connect with him.
To that end . . . for my fellow writers (including fellow preaching types) check out this post on Kathleen Norris’ incorporation of Benedictine spirituality into her writing. Rich stuff. Plus, it comes from a blog called “Flunking Sainthood.” Why didn’t I think of that clever name??
In case you missed it: some great pearls of church planting wisdom from Aaron Damiani.
I’ll speak for all of us in pastor-land when I say one of our greatest fears is that our kids will grow up to hate God or his church. While the former sometimes happens, the latter happens often enough to be cliché.
Check out this Ed Stetzer piece entitled 5 Ways to Teach Your Children to Hate the Ministry. Here are his 5 points:
1. Put the ministry before your family.
2. Tell them how much is expected from them as a pastor’s kid.
3. Tell them about church conflicts as often as possible.
4. Look godlier at church than when you are at home.
5. Act more like a live-in full time pastor at home than a parent.
Are church planters arrogant and impatient? No! Well, maybe. Great article in Christianity Today on some of the ahem, qualities, that church planters often bring to the table, and how they can both help and harm us.
What do you think fellow church planters? Does the shoe fit?
The article has a great section on multiplying churches as well, a passion of mine. Favorite line:
“But we are learning that the end game in coaching a church planter is not the day the church launches or survives its first year. The end game for coaching is when the church is established and multiplying. Then the church planter joins the ranks of the assessors, trainers, and coaches. The movement continues.”