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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