I have spent the summer moving across country and settling into a new town. As I emerge from that season, I am reflecting on what my church in Seattle meant to me as I prepare to serve in a new location.
I was gifted over the last few years to be nurtured and discipled through the ministry of my pastor, his wife, and the elders of my church. I would like to offer a picture in this post of one type of gospel ministry that grows and equips women in a congregation. I want to be clear that this is not meant to be a prescriptive post that casts negatively on any pastor or leadership team that does not incorporate such things. Instead, I hope it is simply encouraging to leadership in various churches to pray about what nurturing discipleship that grows and uses women in your particular congregation might look like.
The primary thing I note is that at various times in my years at my church, my pastor and his wife have SEEN me and KNOWN me. We didn’t spend a ton of time together, but we spent enough that they had insight into my life. I wasn’t discipled using a 10-step method handed out in a seminary class. I was discipled and nurtured based on things they saw in me personally.
The second thing I note is that the nurturing and discipling my pastors and elders did for me was organic. This fits naturally with the previous point. Again, there was no outlined method, but
conversations over meals and phone,
short conversations and long ones,
a book handed to me from time to time with a brief, “I thought this might be helpful for what we talked about.”
emails back and forth,
and so forth.
The third thing I note is that my church’s male leadership did not seem to be afraid of me. Jen Wilkin has written on the Three Ghosts in the Church that often get projected onto women, the temptress, the usurper, and the child. I have rarely been concerned about being perceived as a temptress or a child, but I have a strong personality and have had great concern about being perceived as a usurper. I do not want to be in charge in the church or in my home. I do not want to be an elder, though I knew with great clarity in college that if I didn’t have a firm conviction from Scripture against women as elders and teaching pastors, I would pursue that as my vocation. But I did have that conviction, and the Lord clearly led me in ways in ministry that have been affirming and satisfying to me. I don’t want to take leadership from men God has called to it, and I have found myself curling in on myself again and again to avoid being perceived that way.
My pastor and elders the last seven years in Seattle coaxed me into unfurling again. They solicited my voice in the areas in which I was gifted. They affirmed my opinion and never made me feel like a nag for offering it. I gained confidence in using my voice around men by their invitation. They understood that when God created two genders in perfection to image Him into the world, the point wasn’t only about the relationship between the two within marriage. Mankind needs womankind, and womankind needs mankind to properly image God into His world. My male church leadership didn’t seem threatened by me; instead they seemed to want me to speak into church life. I can’t tell you what that meant to me. It was healing to me after previous experiences, and it blessed me.
Finally, not only did my pastors nurture and disciple me, they USED me. In every way that our denomination allowed, the elders at our church sought to use women. Your denomination may have different convictions, and that’s fine. Our primary conviction as a church was that a woman could not be ordained as an elder and preach from the pulpit. Women could give testimony and pray. They could teach in other classes. They could serve as deacons. Our pastors didn’t just LET women do the bare minimum, they actively solicited women to do everything they were gifted to do. The bottom line is that my pastors and elders VALUED women’s gifts in our church and sought to use them in every way they could.
If you are a pastor or male leader, I hope you don’t feel constrained by this description or guilted by it. I hope instead it gives you a vision to pray through and seek to apply in ways that work with your church guidelines and convictions on gendered leadership. My encouragement is to first VALUE the women in your congregation for the ways God has gifted them to help in your ministry and then actively work to actually USE them. Value them, disciple them, and use them. It’s a simple format that can be applied in any church structure.
by Wendy Alsup
photo by Stefanie Kamerman