Women in MinistryThe Infamous Elder's Meeting
One of the graces on my life is conflict resolution. I have an ability to help folks see from Father’s perspective. Several years ago I had a job that required me to use this ability regularly. As a family pastor, and later associate pastor, I was often asked to participate in meetings that had the potential to be heated, or where difficult decisions would need to be made.
One afternoon our senior pastor asked if I could set aside my evening and join him at one of our campuses to help the campus pastor navigate a sticky issue between a few of his Elders.
I remember a phone conversation with my wife, Karen, that went a little like this. “Hey babe, looks like I’ll be home late tonight. There is a meeting I’ve been asked to help navigate.”
“What’s it about?”
“Not sure, there’s some conflict within the leadership of one of our campus’.”
I have been in meetings where difficult things are discussed, money issues, moral failing, church splits, firings, broken trust in relationships, abuses exposed, and so on. But I have to admit, the issue the Elders had with the campus pastor actually caught me off guard.
…Women in ministry. That was their issue.
Honestly, at first, I was almost amused by the absurdity of it.
Apparently, during the Sunday service, one of the women had prayed with authority and confidence over the microphone and the Elders had called a meeting. Now I was at that meeting and I sat dumbfounded. It wasn’t a joke. They were serious and deeply offended. It was ugly and there was nothing amusing about it.
Suddenly I was annoyed. I had given up my evening for this?!
But I took a breath; I could see both the senior, and campus pastors were in earnest, so I calmed myself. Remember, I am good at conflict resolution. That was why I had been asked to be there.
I held my tongue while the pastors steadily but gently challenged them with scripture; Miriam in Exodus 15:20, Deborah in Judges 4 & 5. Jesus throughout His ministry lists women, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and “many others,” along with the twelve disciples (Luke 8:1–3). Jesus also notes Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew 27:55–56) and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph as part of this group of women (Mark 15:40–41).
And then there was that time Jesus, God, the Creator of the Universe, was born of a woman (Gal 4:4) …
I held my tongue while the Elders provided their own scriptures, “…women should be silent in the churches…for they are not permitted to speak, but should remain silent and subordinate” (1 Cor 14:34), and “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” (1 Tim 2:12).
The Elders believed that because their thoughts were biblical, they were somehow true. But of course, they were not. Jesus was far from them.
I held my tongue as the conversation became more intense. I held my tongue as I looked around the table realizing who was not present.
“Six men, including myself, had gathered to determine the role of women in our church!” That made me angry.
The Bible Without Jesus
I sat quietly as the Elders held stubbornly to their biblically-based misogyny. They demanded clarity and rules for how we as a church would proceed. They wanted this woman and all others to operate according to their discriminate theology…
You know, if Jesus isn’t our hermeneutic, our method of interpretation, if Love isn’t the way we know who God is and who we are in turn, we can actually read the bible and come to such asinine conclusions as “women are less valuable than men.” And let me be clear, that is the true heart behind any issue with “women in ministry.” And once we’ve come to this conclusion, we’re not far from acting on it.
These Elders used the bible to justify elitist driven subjugation; control in its sexist form.
I kept quiet until the campus pastor asked if I had any thoughts.
Now, this is when the conflict resolution guy says something generous and creates a safe environment for everyone to see from Father’s perspective, repent and either come together or find a resolution. And that’s exactly what I did. Well, kinda.
“Jason, you’ve been quiet, do you have any thoughts?” The campus pastor asked.
“I’m sorry. I’m not wearing my bra tonight, I didn’t know I was going to need it.” I said.
First, I would never have said this had there been women present. It would have been inappropriate and offensive. But there were no women in the room, just the religious older brother spirit, and “offensive,” was the point.
Second, the pastors and I are still friends.
Finally, I don’t own a bra.
No one spoke. The senior pastor chuckled nervously. I continued.
“I feel uncomfortable discussing the role of women in ministry with five other men. I smiled generously, maybe we can all bring our wives and reconnect on this subject at another time?”
It was quiet for a moment and then the campus pastor burst out laughing. It was pretty clear the meeting was at an end and my campus pastor friend generously but firmly concluded it. And to this day, he likes to tell the story about that time I helped him with an Elders meeting.
You know what’s sad, had these men’s wives come to the meeting, the men would have likely said the same things and quoted the same scriptures while their wives would have likely sat quietly, maybe even nodding in occasional agreement. Why? Because somewhere along their journey the bible was taught without Jesus, perfect love, as the hermeneutic and they had bought in.
The problem is, without Jesus, perfect love, as our biblical hermeneutic, the bible is a dangerous book.
Over the last ten years, I have counseled many husbands and wives through rocky or broken marriages and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat amazed as the fella, in an attempt to defend his controlling actions toward his wife, quotes Ephesians 5:22 “wives, submit yourselves to your husband…”
And I am even more amazed when the wife, sitting in tears next to her dumbass husband, says, “I am trying to.”
Over the years, I have met many husbands who couldn’t quote three scriptures but know how to Google them to get what they need so they can biblically justify their attempts to control their wives.
And then there was the time I listened to a fella who knew scripture inside out and used Ephesians 5:22 to justify nightly raping his wife. The things he did to her would break your heart. The man could quote scripture all day long but had no idea who Jesus is. And his wife, knowing less scripture than her husband, lived daily under the thumb of his biblically justified abuse.
Jesus noted that it is quite possible to know scripture and not know Him.
“And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:37-40)
Recently a man who, by many, is considered a leader in the church, John MacArthur, spoke with arrogant condescending about women in ministry; specifically, Beth Moore. It was disgusting for two reasons. First, his thoughts were evil. Second, the people in attendance were cheering him on while he spoke.
John MacArthur knows more about the Bible on a Monday than most of us might know over the course of our whole lives. Yet MacArthur spoke much like some of the husbands I’ve met with who used Ephesians 5:22 “…wives submit to your husbands…” to control their wives. Except much worse because, like the fella who nightly raped his wife, John knows more scripture.
John and many like him have searched the scriptures and foolishly believe that because their thoughts are biblical, they are somehow true. But of course, they are not. Jesus is far from them.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” That’s verse 25 in Ephesians 5. It’s what I believe to be the most important part of Paul’s instruction to married couples and a very good picture of how our Father values women. And yet, it’s not quoted nearly as often as the verse I noted that comes a few sentences earlier.
Jesus best explained what the word submit means when He said, “No one takes it (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18) Then Jesus perfectly revealed what it looks like by going to a cross and dying for the sake of His beloved, His bride; His death showing us just how valuable we are to Him.
And this is the act Paul points us to when it comes to how we should value our wives, our daughters, our mothers, our sisters, all humanity. Paul, the same man who once murdered believers to protect his biblical ideology, is now the champion of true biblical hermeneutics, Jesus.
God is love and is perfectly revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). If we have any thoughts about the nature of God that conflicts with Jesus on a cross, even if they are biblical, they are wrong.
If Jesus isn’t our hermeneutic – the way by which we know God and ourselves, the lens through which we interpret scripture – we’re not just likely to be wrong, at some point we will find ourselves positioned against the very nature of God. It was those who knew scripture best that instigated putting Jesus on a cross.
The fact that the thoughts of MacArthur are given validity because he can quote scripture is infuriating and also intellectually dishonest. Satan can quote scripture! The idea that we have to biblically prove that women can be in any role of authority is counter to the revelation of Jesus and disgraceful.
There have been many theological and biblical responses to MacArthur’s folly. Many of them helpful. But, truly, I don’t need to search the scriptures regarding whether women can be in ministry. All I have to do is know Jesus.
I have a wife and daughters, sisters, and mothers, and I know that my overwhelming love and belief in each of them doesn’t hold a candle to how Jesus feels about them.
So anyway, I guess maybe I’m the wrong person to bring to your Elders meeting to discuss how God feels about women in ministry because, well, you know, I don’t own a bra.
If you would like to read a Jesus centered biblical approach regarding women in ministry, check out this article by the brilliant Greg Boyd – https://reknew.org/2007/12/women-in-ministry/
Jason Clark is a writer, speaker and lead communicator at A Family Story ministries. His mission is to encourage sons and daughters to grow sure in the love of an always-good heavenly Father. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children.
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It amazes me how often I encounter people using the Bible, or their interpretation of it, to supersede other things God has expressed very clearly and much more frequently elsewhere in Scripture. The Bible is not an authority over God, just over us. It is a conversation between God and humanity and we should always be seeking to clarify what God is trying to say to us. Good words, Jason!
“The bible is not an authority over God” love that. Yeah man, the Bible is meant to reveal God and Jesus is the ultimate and clear revelation.
So many wrongs have been done in the name of God using scripture to support it; scripture that has been manipulated or as you noted misinterpreted.
For me, if Jesus, and even more clearly, Jesus on a cross, is our lens through which we perceive what God is like, then we have the truth by which to interpret scripture. The bottom line for me, if some leader is teaching something that conflicts with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, I’m not listening and I’m also probably annoyed haha. Bless ya bro!
It’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to figure out what the “right” thing to do is when the Bible isn’t totally clear on an issue (and anyone who says that never happens is reading it through a slanted lens). I try to remind myself of two things: Micah 6:8 (do justly, love mercy, walk humbly–you know the one :)) and that Jesus said “you see me, you see the Father.” When I find out at the end of it all exactly how much I’ve been wrong about all this time, that’s going to be my primary defense. “But you SAID…” XD XD
If there was no hierarchy in the church this issue would never arise. There is no hierarchy in the Godhead and hence none in the Ekklesia. Headship but not hierarchy.
Matt, this is so good! Jesus prayed that we would be one just as He was one with His Father and Holy Spirit.
I was just having a conversation about headship with someone. The head of a body has nothing to do with hierarchy or control and everything to do with oneness or unity.
Thanks for your thoughts!
My understanding is that the early church meetings were structured like the Jewish synagogue with men on one side of the meeting house and women on the other. Paul was simply instructing the women to ask their questions or make their comments to their husbands after the meeting instead of verbalizing their comments from one side of the church to the other. He was trying to avoid chaos not set up a clerical hierarchy.
Douglas, that’s inciteful and helpful! Thanks for sharing! I know this about Jesus, it was never about hierarchy and always about intimacy.
I believe that authority and control are two different paradigms, authority is about love, you gain it through laying down your life for another, control is birthed from fear, you gain it through force, manipulation, etc, it’s the wrong paradigm.
Hierarchy is typically a system of control.
When it comes to husbands and wives, I don’t know many wives who wouldn’t gladly lay their lives down for a husband who is gladly laying his life down as well. In the cultural context of Pauls’ day, what you shared makes sense.
I posted your article on my Facebook page and got a comment regarding the use of ‘dumbass husband’ in your story. They quit reading after they saw that. Which is too bad because you have many good points. I do think that death and life are in the power of the tongue and that it would be a better choice to speak life about people. I think we need to be careful not to label or curse those we come in contact with. The Lord has been showing me that we would have such a better life if we would control our tongues and watch what we say to each other, our thoughts, and our messages. God bless you.
Hey Jana, I am so thankful for your thoughts on the “dumbass husband” quote. I agree with you wholeheartedly about speaking life!
In the editing process, I wrestled with whether or not leave a couple of sentences in this article and that was chief among them. And for more reasons than just the possible offense of using a stronger word like dumbass.
First, I know how my Father feels about “that” husband. He loves him. And so do I. I made a decision many years ago that I would never write about someone I am not willing to lay my life down for. And I have done that and will continue to do so while meeting with couples. Our Father loves those husbands deeply and Jesus on a cross forgave them not counting their sins against them. The goal in counseling is always wholeness, individual and then as a couple. If you want to read an article about one of those counseling stories check this one out. CLICK HERE Maybe that article will help your friend.
Second, while I don’t actively pastor today, my wife and I still meet with couples on occasion and I wondered if that dumbass quote would scare off a fella or undermine opportunities to love folks through hard times. But, I realized, there is more than enough out there about us and what we believe. We are always for wholeness and abundant life.
Third, and least of all but still relevant, some people might be offended by the light cussing and stop reading 🙂
So why did I decide to keep it?
Ultimately, it’s a communication choice. The approach to this article wasn’t about defending women in ministry. It was highlighting the absurdity of having to defend women in ministry. I approached the topic with the issue of women in ministry as already settled; as I believe it should be. The next step is to expose the disgusting reality of the argument, the spirit behind the idea that women shouldn’t hold places of authority. This was done by the stories I chose, each story in its own way is meant to expose the ugliness of the spirit of control, misogyny, and sexism in the church.
I chose dumbass because it’s an offensive word for an offensive spirit. Of course, this is where it can be difficult as a communicator because everyone’s line is different. For some, that word hardly registers, for others it’s just too much.
Finally, and this is a personally big deal for me, there is nothing that angers me more than abusive leaders, especially abusive leaders who use scripture and God to abuse people.
When it comes to marriage and counselling, most abusive fellas don’t think they are abusive and someone has to tell them and sometimes it requires “brood of vipers” language.
I may have chosen poorly, I’m still growing in my craft. Maybe brood of vipers would have been a better term. But thanks for noting it, and giving me an opportunity to at least give my thoughts on why I used that word.
Also, know I vetted every word of this article with my wife 🙂
First of all, i want to say thank you for responding to my comment and for your stand on women in ministry. I loved your article…that’s why I shared it. My husband agrees with it as well and believes as you do. I really appreciate your reasoning for using the verbiage when addressing this offensive spirit. My husband and I did marriage ministry for years and have seen that spirit many times. I will speak to my friend and share your response if you approve. We are all on a journey and need to really listen to what is being said and keep from getting into offense with one word and throw out the whole message. Eat the meat and spit out the bones is my position.
We currently see the limiting of women’s roles in our AOG church. Only men can be on the Board, take offering and pass out communion. What is interesting is that the Executive Pastor is a female…an odd double standard. My husband is now on the Board and is discussing this challenge with the leadership. The pastor supports women but is being influenced by old traditions and believers in the body. He needs support to make the needed changes, and my husband is helping with that with the leading of Holy Spirit. Your article was a good read for him.
Thank you to you and your wife for addressing the tough topics in the church and bringing the discussion into the Light. God bless you and your wife real big.
Hey Jana, Praying wisdom and grace over you guys as you lean into this conversation and issue at your church. I attended an AOG church during my early Bible College days and am thankful for the impact of that church. We also have many friends either connected with AOG or have been in the past.
Yes to sharing whatever you feel led to. Blessings to you guys as well and thanks so much for the encouragement!