I am finding myself increasingly frustrated by some parts of the on going discussion on Women in Ministry. Why, I hear you ask, would a Director of Women’s Ministries not be interested in this important discussion? Well, I assure you, I am very interested in this topic. I think it’s extremely important. But, I find that when we discuss women in ministry we aren’t actually having the whole discussion. Indeed, we spend an awful lot of time focusing our attention on the Egalitarian v Complementarian debate. Even then, it is often carried out with an air of smug superiority or mind boggling hypocritical misrepresentation. I find it laughable, for instance, that I can attend meetings with church leaders and listen to accusations of sexism and inequality as the only woman in the room attending in a leadership capacity. It’s almost tragic that this discussion is being intellectually debated in the halls and classrooms of Bible Colleges, (largely) male dominated ministerial tea parties and in the blog world, whilst we try and get on with dealing with some of the brutalities of our context. We need to move the discussion on. There are wider issues at stake here. Here are three issues think about:
1. Pastoral Care of Women in Our Churches
Lone parents make up approximately one-quarter of all families living in Scotland. Unsurprisingly, nine out of ten of these lone parents are women. In the poorest communities in Scotland, 52% of all the residents are lone parents. That is a lot of vulnerable women with multifaceted problems. Within this demographic 27% of them have a long-standing health problem or a disability. Millions of women across the UK admit to have taken prescription drugs non-medically during the past year and millions more have used illegal drugs in the past year. Tragically, 45% of women in the UK have experienced at least one incident of inter-personal violence in their lifetime. Statistics reveal that a staggering 54% of all UK rapes are committed by a woman’s current or former partner and half of all rapes are committed by men who once claimed to love them.
These are vulnerable and needy women with complex physical, psychological and spiritual problems, many of whom sit on our pews and are in our congregations. They crave love and attention. These things are not fixed by a weekly meeting over coffee. It requires a wholehearted life commitment to walk hand in hand with our women. Therefore, in this context it’s simply not wise or prudent for a man to counsel or invest serious amount of time into ‘her’ life. Hear me right. I do think that it is important for women to meet examples of good Godly men and fathers BUT, the type of support, friendship, mentoring, intimacy in prayer, counsel and care many women in the church need must come from from good, biblically solid, mature Godly women who are closely involved in their lives and in it for the long haul.
Women in our congregations are struggling! The debate here is not over complementarianism or egalitarianism. They are fighting to stay alive. They are fighting to keep their heads above water. They are fighting the demons of depression, juggling work and home life, sexual integrity, how best to be consistent with their kids, being single, paying the bills, getting their man to visit the children, trying to stay out of jail. The list is endless.
20schemes is fighting, fighting, fighting to release more women into this ministry. We want to train, develop and equip women to come and care for these untold silent sufferers in our schemes. We are trying to put more women on the ground, not hold them back. We recognise that there is an alarming shortage of biblically literate, mature female gospel workers in our churches. Proverbs 27:6 tells us that wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Titus 2 tells us that we need Godly, mature women to teach and be an example to younger women. Mature women who love and care enough to have that hard discussion and will be faithful as they keep women accountable – mature women coming alongside women.
You can disagree with our theology but please stop misrepresenting and caricaturing our motivation when it comes to women in ministry.
2. Sexual Integrity
Sadly, our Church leaders are not immune to sexual sin and many Pastors have fallen in this area with a church member they have been counselling. Counselling vulnerable women in the schemes (a large proportion of whim have been sexually abused) is a minefield. Any form of tenderness or a willingness to listen from a male is almost always misunderstood sexually (from both sexes). A man who listens to them is a very powerful aphrodisiac. Temptation can be for some very hard to resist. I realise that there are many ways Pastors can counsel members of their congregation safely but we would suggest having a gifted, trained and mature women would be the most helpful. It may also be more appropriate to allow a woman to deal with the situation from the outset because (as we’re all too aware) women think and respond differently than men. In crisis situations (a daily occurence here) a mature women can continue the relationship on into deeper friendship. A pastor could not have the depth of ongoing relationship a mature woman could have with another female (not his wife).
3. Teaching the next Generation
At 20schemes not only do we advocate the importance of the role of women in our ministry, but we are one of the few in the UK who are actually training the next generation of women’s workers for this context. The harvest is great and the workers are few (or non-existent). This is not tokenism. This is serious theological and practical training. We are serious about training biblically literate women. We are serious about helping women. We are serious about growing women.
We need to invest in our women. We need to invest in women’s ministry. We need to move the discussion beyond the Egalitarian V Complementarian conversation. We need to move the focus beyond the roles we have not been biblically given and on to the depth of the glorious God ordained parts we can play in the life of the church. Of course, the discussion about women and their role within the church needs to be had. It is important. But, can I urge you (complementarian and egalitarian) to move beyond theological point scoring and into some concrete action. Women deserve that.