Sunday, March 17, 2013

Cautious or Courageous?


Dawn Gentry—a wife to Harold and mom of Michael (wife Autumn) and Elizabeth—attended Rochester College, Harding U, Cincinnati Christian, and is now at Emmanuel Christian Seminary.  She loves to travel and to speak … and she does some blogging at www.dawngentry.com.

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My journey through vocation and ministry has been a long, winding road. Very few people have heard my full story, because at various intersections and roadblocks I’ve been able to overcome barriers without making a lot of noise. Additionally, I am cautious about what I post, or where I share my stories, because I don't want people to jump to conclusions about what I believe without being willing to have an actual conversation about it. And there was a time when I was in a ministry job where I feared if I “showed my hand” too soon (or too loudly) I would have risked losing my income. I’m not so fearful now – partly because as a full time student, I have no income to lose. :)  But I also think that maybe my passion for God’s word and God’s will has fueled my courage for God’s women.

Many stories shared via Mike’s blog have been from God’s women within the churches of Christ who have stayed in those fellowships and found a voice and an outlet for their gifts. My path, instead, led me from non-instrumental churches, to a church plant that used acappella worship but allowed instrumental special music, to an “evangelical” independent Christian church…and most recently to seminary. I grew up a preacher’s kid who attended a small Christian school and two church of Christ colleges. I didn’t wake up one morning in my “c of C” life and say “HEY! I don’t fit here!” I just kept asking questions along the way, and watching to see what doors God would open.

The churches of Christ I attended in my 20s allowed me to work in children’s classrooms and cook for potluck suppers. If memory serves me well (and I’m 50 years old, so no guarantees) I participated by singing on a praise team a few times (on the front pew, with a mic) before congregational dissenters put an end to that novelty. When I was in my 30s, the church plant we joined allowed me to sing “special music” but not lead worship…when we merged with another church plant, women were allowed to sing on a praise team that led worship from the front, with microphones. That is, as long as a man was actually leading the praise team.

When we joined an independent Christian church it was immediately evident that women were allowed to do much more. Women occasionally read scripture or prayed in the service. Women were allowed participate on praise teams up front. Women were allowed to serve as “ministry coordinators” (their term for deacons, so no one could complain about “women deacons”). As a ministry coordinator I was allowed to lead a group of first impressions volunteers.

After we’d been there three years, I was hired as the Children’s Ministry Director. As such, I was considered part of the “pastoral staff” and I was allowed to attend all staff and elder meetings. In addition to “administrating the programs” involving children and families, I was allowed to participate in hospital calls, pastoral care, long range planning, and curriculum development. I co-wrote a class on spiritual gifts and led a church-wide initiative to connect people to serving opportunities. I led small-group Bible studies, and even spoke – from the pulpit, with a Bible in hand – for non-Sunday morning special services (twice in 11 years). I was allowed to do ministry in many ways.

I was “allowed” to do ministry.

Yet, in 1st Corinthians 12:4, 11, 18 we read
      There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them…All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. ...God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

And in Ephesians 4:7, 11-12 says
     To each one of us grace [gifts – same Greek word] has been given as Christ apportioned it…Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up

The Spirit distributes… God has placed… Christ apportioned…

Calling and giftedness are the role of the Godhead. Not one of the passages on spiritual gifts limits any specific gift to a specific gender. Not one of the passages on spiritual gifts suggests that church leaders have the job of assigning specific gifts or roles to specific people. Instead, church leaders are exhorted to equip God’s people for service. In fact, the purpose of such variety is for the benefit of the whole church, as well as for the growth and maturity of the individual using those gifts. Consider these other scriptures:

Continuing Ephesians 4: 12-16
…so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith…and become mature…speaking the truth in love we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament [NJB says “every joint adding its own strength!”] grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

And Romans 12:3-6
…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.

And I Corinthians 12:6-7
There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

When I am asked a question about what I believe about women in ministry, the challenge often presented is “What about what the Bible says?”  Generally, they are referring specifically to the two limiting passages, 1 Timothy 2:11 (I don’t permit a woman to teach or to assume authority) and I Corinthians 14:34 (Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak). If that was all the Bible said on the topic (as in the much often quoted attitude God said it, I believe it, that settles it!), there would be no debate, right? Life would be so much simpler…

Ah, but that’s not all the Bible says on the topic. And the spiritual gifts passages (encompassing over 52 verses in four different books) are just one example of that tension within God’s word. It can’t all be harmonized perfectly. So the reader must use discernment in reading and interpreting and applying the texts – all of them – in a way that brings glory to God and supports the ultimate goal of bringing others into the kingdom. In connection with those goals, there are two additional passages that we should note.

I Peter 4:10-11:
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

I Timothy 2:2-4 (yes, please note this comes right before one of the limiting passages)
…live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

There is no doubt that topic is deep and important and valuable to all of us (not just me and my daughter, who is even more courageous about the conversation than I have been). Our families, our churches, and especially church leaders need to be willing to have these hard conversations. I believe God will hold us accountable for using our gifts the way He intends (not the way society always expects) and I also believe God will hold us, as leaders, accountable for being good stewards of the gifts he's given each of our church members, including women.

We need to encourage each other to have genuine dialogue about things we disagree on, not just assume that what has always been is the only reality in which God can work, or that cautious avoidance will prevent rocking the proverbial boat. And in the meantime, while we wait for important conversations to take place, we need to be courageous. Courageous enough to use the gifts God has given us and encouraging others (both men and women) to do the same.

3 comments:

  1. Amen! Of course, I am Episcopalian... after growing up in a church denomination where women were half-people. I finally found a church where gifts matter more than gender.

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  2. Amen, and amen. From a former Harding-ite..... I play electric guitar in regular church service... Sometimes with distortion.... :-)

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  3. I've recently left the Church of Christ tradition and have found the freedom to be exhilarating. I now get to hear people like me (i.e. women) have a voice in our public spiritual meetings and it is very refreshing and encouraging. Thanks for sharing your story, Dawn.

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