Women in the Church?


Thank you to everyone who cast a vote in last month’s poll question on Women in Ministry.  To see the results of the survey, click on the link above.

Much to my surprise and joy, an overwhelming % voted that they do support women serving in ministry. I believe that 5-10 years ago, the results would have been very different and I also believe that in 5-10 years from now the question will no longer be relevant or need to be asked.

Before I share some thoughts and insights, I highly commend a few additional blog posts and books that have shaped my thinking and journey.

One of the up and coming theologians and authors of my generation, Rachel Held Evans is writing some brilliant and provocative pieces  in addition to her prophetic book Evolving from Monkey Town.



Here are two books that I recommend as well:



*This collection of some well-known evangelicals, Tony Campolo, Bill and Lynne Hybels, and John Ortberg to name just a few

The role of women in ministry has, for a long time, perplexed and troubled me.  Truth be told, in my limited personal experience and theological studies I grew up a bit naive to the cause of women.  Believing in the notion that there exists “traditional” roles that men and women naturally fall into to, I assumed these roles carried over into the realm of Christendom and the Church.  Having lived a bit and experienced a bit more outside of my fairly uncultured existence, my journey has opened my eyes to the breakdown of these traditional roles.

Men and women, created in the Bible as equal.

Many men are very capable of performing domestic tasks.  In fact here in France there exists a paternity leave and it is not uncommon for the husband to take off a year instead of the mother and raise the child.

(similarly women are very capable of performing all the tasks that men can do.)

Is there a natural, i.e. physical difference?

Clearly, there is a biological difference in general. However, I personally know many women who display quite “masculine” tendancies and features, and visa versa

The distinctions are much more blurry than I once had thought.

I simply do not buy that women are the weaker sex. Weaker how?

Physically?  I doubt most men would have the strength to give birth and I know of women who can out-lift the majority of the men in the world.

Weaker intellectually?  I hope this one seems as ridiculous to you as it should

Weaker spiritually? (this I assume is what most people must mean)

In many cultures it is the women who are the main spiritual heads of the household.  Their insight, compassion, care, passion for the things of God, dedication in prayer and alms giving, etc.. clearly does not indicate any sign of weakness.  Perhaps just the opposite.

But all of this aside the question I ask is this… does the call of God transcend or is limited to gender?

I have known women, clearly called by God to serve and bless his church, full of wisdom, discernment, spiritual insight and leadership who have hearts full of compassion and minds ripe with leadership.

These women are qualified in every way, in fact more qualified than many men I know in ministry.  They fulfill all of the qualifications in Paul’s letters.  But I again would ask, should not the call of God along with the affirmation of a Spirit-lead community trump very culturally specific (and male dominated) prerequisites?

What God has called into being, what God has joined together (a calling and a church) let no man separate. (Because usually it is the men who forbid)

arguably the only real attack is from a fairly limited number of Bible verses allocating for regulated roles of women in the church.  What cannot be overlooked however is the cultural background, context of the time.  We all know the Bible was written in a highly patriarchal time, written by men and mostly for men.

I personally believe that for their time Jesus and Paul were fairly progressive when it came to the role and acceptance of women in their ministries and personal lives.

Galatians 3:28
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man,

there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Both welcomed the support and friendship of women in their lives and partnership in the ministry.  Women were accepted and wanted in the fellowship of their company and treated truly as sisters.

This was just not the case either in the Judean or Roman cultural framework.

Perhaps, for the sake of the reputation of the new church, Paul warned the church in Corinth to be very careful how the  exercise of this new-found and grace-driven freedom should be displayed.

Consider this:  If an unbelieving gentile or Jew walked into a church back then and saw women speaking, teaching, or (heaven’s forbid) leading, the reputation is shattered and the message deemed foolish, unmerited, or downright blasphemous.

In the western world at least, if a person enters a church and sees no women in any forms of leadership and then are told there exists no equality….and then told this is due to a particular interpretation of the Bible, all credibility is lost.  In my former church just outside of New York City, women CEO’s, lawyers, and PhD holders arguably had some real issues with “no women allowed in leadership” positions as one could imagine.

The same holds true for slavery.  We would all agree that slavery was not God’s perfect will for humanity. However allowances were made over time through various cultures.(Paul certainly does not preach out against it, but would he now?)

In his book, A New Kind of Christianity, author Brian McLaren offers a great insight into tracing a maturing understanding of God across biblical history and throughout time.

Another example of this social and spiritual progression is when Jesus told that Pharisees that God allowed men to easily divorce their wives because “their hearts were hard”, but Jesus brought a new and higher ethic. (Matthew 19: 7-9)

Could it be that our hearts were, and possibly still are hard today, when it comes to how we see and view women?

A new ethic is needed.

Especially since our society values and respects women in all leadership roles.

There exists highly capable and wildly successful women in every field of life and careers, but sadly often not in the church.

For the message of Christ to be heard the church has to come around in certain prehistoric and prejudice viewpoints, such as women in leadership, or the lack thereof.

Personally, I believe very strongly that if the Bible were written today, Paul’s advice would be vastly different.

I think Paul would be shocked to see how the church in the 21st century disregards the valid blessing of women in the Church.

It is also hard for me to imagine that great female leaders and missionaries such as Catherine of Siena, Sainte Geneviève, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Monica of Hippo, Mother Theresa, would not be allowed to serve on some pastoral teams or preaching from particular pulpits.

Back to my poll question and results.

What I have realized is that there certainly exists a segment in the Church that has a limited view of women leading in the church.  (and often this translates to the home life as well)

However, there also exists a large and fast-growing population and denominations that view the calling of God not determined upon gender.

God equips those he calls, and God is an equal opportunity caller.

My understanding has changed as I encounter and serve with colleagues from different traditions, Presbyterians, Lutherans, U.C.C, Methodist, Anglican, Episcopalians.

At my current church, there is a long history of women pastors and are current church council (or elder board) is composed of six men and six women.

The spectrum is vast on the practical implications of theology and women’s rights and roles.

Some, on the far right still hold to the cultural dated view that women in church should never speak, wear makeup or dress in pants.  These churches still exist and hold to a particular and literal view of the Scriptures.

Others, who say they hold to a literal view of the Bible really do not exactly, and pick and choose various conditions and terms that seem to best fit their situations and personal opinions.

1) allow women to speak and wear pants

1b) do not allow them to teach

I know of a church that will allow a woman to teach from the pulpit only if there is a man physically seated higher than her on the platform.

This may sound absurd, but they are trying to hold to a literal interpretation and application of the text. I at least give them credit for trying to follow the entire text and not just particular phrases or sentences.

As the poll indicated, some serve at churches that have women in all sorts of leadership positions (music, children’s, education, missions) but not on pastoral staff or not considered elders

Some may have women as pastoral staff but are not allowed to have them as elders

Others only prohibit women from serving as a “Senior” pastor of the church

I have met may wonderful females who are “Senior” pastor, rectors and are leading their congregations in faithful service.  and guess what, the churches are growing and people are being fed spiritually and coming into relationship with Jesus Christ in radical ways.

I would gladly serve under the authority of a women for the record and hope to be part of church that welcome and accepts women in full partnership of the gospel as pastors.

One cannot argue that God is not working in and through his chosen and called daughter and child.

(you may try to argue of course)

i want to encourage the girls in my youth group to pursue the calling of God

I don’t want to say God may be calling you into ministry, but just so you don’t get your hopes up to high you should know that you cannot lead a church someday

My hope is that day is quickly coming when all Christians will validate, value, and see the blessings of freeing all of God’s people for God’s work for God’s glory.


Honoring the Virgin Mary

Today, December 8th, Catholics around the world celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Read Luke 1:26-38.

Growing up, I always believed the Immaculate Conception to refer to the virgin birth of Jesus.  In order to be a spotless, blameless, and sinless sacrifice on humanity’s behalf, he had to be removed from the stain of original sin and therefore (out of theologically necessity) needed to not be biologically connected with Joseph (since all men transferred sin according to tradition).

However, Catholics take this notion one step further and believe that Mary was conceived without sin.  “Mary embodies all at once what God wills for his intelligent creation.  But there remains a difference between Mary and us. We are healed of the wounds of sin.  Mary never contracted them.  We suffer the aftereffects of sin. Mary rejoices in God her Savior.”  – Magnificat December 8th Advent Companion

Catholic tradition holds that, in order for Mary to be an acceptable “mother of God”, she needed to be free from sin at the time of Jesus’ birth and afterwards.

A common prayer is this “You allowed no stain of Adam’s sin to touch the Virgin Mary.  Full of grace, she was to be a worthy mother of your Son.”

Mary serves as our “pattern of holiness” and the Annunciation (which was the announcement by the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ the Son of God.), becomes the culmination of her miraculous conception and special calling.

More to the point:  Catholics believe Mary was specifically called and chosen at conception to birth the Son of God and therefore was given extra grace to protect her from all sin.  She now intercedes on behalf of Christians for their purity and freedom from sin.

An interesting meditation from 1890 by John Henry Newman that shed even more light into the theology behind the immaculate conception is as follows:

“What is the highest, the rarest, the choicest prerogative of Mary?  It is that she was without sin.  When a woman in the crowd cried out to our Lord, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee!” he answered, “More blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.”  Those words were fulfilled in Mary.  She was filled with grace in order to be the Mother of God. But it was a higher gift than her maternity to be thus sanctified and thus pure.  Our Lord indeed would not have become her son unless he had first sanctified her; but still, the greater blessedness was to have that perfect sanctification.”

I could list a whole hosts of prayers offered by Catholics to the Blessed Virgin Mary asking her to help them live a sinless life and so forth.

Growing up Protestant I always had a very negative view of Mary (or more specifically of how I believe Catholics worshiped her).

All of my friends would have to regularly recite the “Hail Mary” and I thought it was some sort of blasphemous prayer and borderline idolatry.

Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.

*Interesting to note, that the angel Gabriel offers those same praises to Mary upon his visit to her.

Her Magnificat (known also as Mary’s Song) found in Luke 1:46-55 is an amazingly profound, historical, and theological prayer…especially for a young Jewish girl!

Over the years, I have grown in deep appreciation and respect for Catholicism (the heritage, liturgy, saints, theology, authors, etc..) Living and serving in New York, many close friends and neighbors are committed Catholics and my friendship with them has shed much light.

I personally do not agree with everything they may or may hold doctrinally dear, nor follow all the practices, rites, and rituals, but I have gained much wisdom and insight.

One of them has been a newfound respect for Mary.

By venerating Mary (not worshipping), a few blessings and graces have occurred in my thinking and faith.

In the words of Brian McLaren, by honoring and celebrating Mary, “We come more fully to know who we are: simple humans, like Mary, called upon to bear Christ in our bodies, through our lives, to our world.”

I have realized, like Brian, just how impoverished my own Protestant faith and heritage is with its exclusively male focus.  The incarnation and immaculate conception (of Christ) is a mysterious and beautiful story that “magnifies” the value of women, erases the shame of Eve, makes visible the importance of spiritual receptivity, and celebrates the richness and feracity of humble, simple submission.

For full disclosure, unlike some of my Catholic friends, I do not pray to Mary or have statues of her, although I understand and appreciate now more than before why they do.

Afterall, it was the Spirit of God that testified through Gabriel, through Mary, and through Elizabeth that Mary was in fact highly favored; that the Lord was with her, she was blessed, and all generations will call her blessed because the Mighty One has done great things for her.

Though I do not worship her, I do however look to her as an amazing example of faith and honor her in my heart. I praise God for her obedience, example, faith, and miraculous life of being in the will of God.  I would imagine that Mary’s story and prayer echoed through the mind of her son, when he was at the cross and submitted to the will of God and, like his mother, prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

May we all follow in the example of Mary and have the same obedience and faith this Advent season.

Postmodern youth ministry…a review

I first read Tony Jone’s book Postmodern Youth Ministry during my last year of undergrad studies. I realized quickly that it was a groundbreaking book for youth ministry, but I never fully realized at the time how important and influential this book would be.

I recently re-read the book and it shocked me to see just how relevant this book is for today’s youth ministry, and especially for tomorrow’s youth ministry. I still believe that for the most part, youth ministry culture has not fully caught up to what Tony was experiencing and writing about nearly a decade ago.  Looking back, this book was even more profound and prophetic than I had originally thought. Here in the northeast, we are very much witnessing the phenomone of postmodernity and its effects and influence on society, culture, worldviews, education, and religion.  I’m not convinced  other parts of the country have been struck with this reality, but they will in due time.

Tony’s opening thought “The day my world changed” was brilliant and true. In youth ministry, we cannot just claim that Jesus is Lord for everyone. In postmodern thought, that belief may be true for us, but cannot be an objective absolute truth for everyone.  Truth is relative and subjective, and this is visibly seen in today’s teens. (I realize that many will have major issues with the above statement. I am simply explaining the cultural realities surround postmodernity…whether you like them or not is another issue)

The first few chapters are a wonderful summary of what postmodernism is, how it came to be, and what its effects and influences are. Such ideas include that skepticism and cynicism rule the day, the argument that no text has an actual meaning because each reader imports meaning into the text; question everything; objectivity is out while subjectivity is in; never make lists; pluralism and tolerance are key; there is no Truth with a capital T..and ideas such as these.

Tony writes, “The students with whom we work were born into a culture in transition, and children born today are entering a thoroughly postmodern world. This is not to say that all students will adopt postmodern traits, but postmodernity will be the reigning school of thought, and postmodernity will be the reigning culture when our students arrive at college.”  Living in the northeast, I can vouch that this is true and failure to understand and acknowledge this will do much damage to churches and youth leaders.

Now, many might perceive the above characteristics to be negative and starkly opposed to the Bible and kingdom of God living…and to some extend I agree. However, postmodernism also brings with it some values that are highly biblical and kingdom of God minded.

Postmodern values:  experiential, spiritual, relative, communal, creative, environmental, global, holistic, authentic.

“Postmodernity may afford us the ability to recover some aspects of authentic Christianity.”

A missionary dives into culture headfirst and swims around, learning, perceiving and discerning.  A postmodern world demands that we admit that our contexts influence and shape us- that we be honest about our own subjectivity and we use those influences to benefit our communication of the gospel.  In my experience, in order to reach and effectivley ministey to postmodern students, one has to be a bit postmodern…or at least understand and appreciate it.  One’s aim cannot be to change or destroy postmodernism, but rather to work from within to bring about transformation within the system.

Tony implores youth leaders to shift toward authenticity. Our students want real, more than relevant. They don’t want worship services. they want worship experiences.

Students don’t want to be tricked into attending a meeting at someone’s house or a warehouse only to find out later that there’s a hidden agenda of saving their souls.  Andrew Root has written much about this issue of relationships vs. influence.

Additionally, students today are experiential, participatory, image-based and connective–everybody else is rational, passive, word-based, and highly individual.

Dan Kimball chimes in the discussion with saying, “the more blatantly spiritual our services and the harder we worship God, the more we will see postmodern youths connecting and responding to the gospel.”

Its not about watering down the message and creating seeking friendly environments.

Its also about a shift toward transcendence.

Postmodern youth ministry strives to promote students to feel they are entering sacred space when they walk into the room.

By taking this approach (which in many ways is contrast to the seeker sensitive mega church model), students get the strong impression that they are taking part in something unique, sacred, and eternally significant when they come to youth group.

I remember my years at Gordon College.  Every Sunday night our chapel turned into Catacombs, and we worship through icons (images), ancient hymns, silence and meditation all by candlelight.  These were incredible moments of touching the transcant and encounting the mysterious Divine.  Especially in the busyness of finals and athletic and social life, I needed these evenings to refresh my soul.

Every year, for the past eight years, I have been attnending the Youth Specialatiies National Youth Workers Convention.  Most years, they would transform spaces in the convention center to make a prayer room, labyrinth, and offer Vesper services.  Having not come from a faith tradition that promotes these, at first I was skeptical.  But having experienced the sacred, it has truly transformed my worship.

And now, with my own students, we bring in many comtemplative practices and create sacred space.   Some of our biggest “outreach” evenings will be for our prayers stations and spirituality spaces.  Students want to tap into their spirituality.  We should be open and willing to provide environments for them to do this in a Christ centered way.

Postmodern youth ministry also shifts the emphasis on evangelism

Tony writes, “In the postmodern context, it could be said that we ought to first evangelize experientially and teach the content of the faith later.  After all, Jesus says to his disciples Follow me!- not, Do you accept me as your personal lord and Savior?

“In modern Youth ministry, reductionism showed in our proclivity to purchase a program or curriculum, or take our kids to a really hyped up rally rather than do the long, hard work of building relationships and sharing Christ over time.”

Postmodern YM stresses the importance for a long-term discipleship. seeing it as a journey, and not a one-time close the deal event of conversion.  For too long, youth pastors have been counting conversions rather than counting conversations.  Coversatiions take time and devolope into relationships.  Relationships bring about community and transformation..which lines up more to the biblical example we have.

Teaching is re-imagined as well.

Instead of scripted talks and didactic teachings every week, Tony argues that we must facilitate discussion and dialogue.

We don’t need to try to convince or prove certain truths to students.

Rather, we can invite this pre-Christian student to experience the truth of Scripture by inviting him or her into the life of our community.  I have written about this shift. To read more see the link below.

Shift from facts to experience/encounter

“As pre-Christian students experience biblical love, and as they’re exposed to the stories of Scripture, the Bible will begin to take on “truth value” for them, and after time they will find the Bible is indeed a metanarrative into which every human being’s story in written.”

Postmodern YM allows students to first Belong to our community, then Behave by participating, and allowed time and grace as they come to Believe.

By comparision, traditional youth ministry often required the right Beliefs and Behavior before students could really Belong.  And we wondered why we weren’t making a different in the community and reaching unchurched teens!

Tony provides a great section about the web of belief and evangelism and how apologetics have been done in culturally appropriate ways that need to be done differently in a world which absolute, foundational truth is being overthrown.  How this works itself out is still in flux, but I do believe the way (method) and content (message ) of our apologetics and evangelism must change when doing ministry to postmodern teens.  I will attempt to write about this specifically at a later time.

In a postmodern world, we must exhibit authenticity and integrity as we teach students the essential truths of the faith.  If we oversimplify things, they will be blown away when they go into college or the working world and find that life and faith are not as simple as we lead them to believe. Better that they’re confronted with the rigorous complexities of faith now, in a community of faith where they can ask questions and work through spiritual dilemmas

Chris Folmsbee and Barefoot Ministry offer a great model for this approach:

Simplicity- Complexity- Perplexity- Humility.

For too long, youth ministry has intentionally tried to keep students in the Simplicity category by providing a simple faith and really not allowing much room (or time) for questions and doubts. We shied away from difficult passages and stories and offered cliche and trivial Bible answers to really tough questions and situations are students faced.  And then, they go offer to college and, in light of knew knowledge and experiences, everything they grew up learning seems to simple to be believable anymore.  Has this happened to anyone?

One of my favorite sections of the book contains a great chapter entitled The How of Discipleship

Tony shares his plan for catecissms and the spritual formation (education + trasnformation0

Re-reading this chapter causes me to rethink my plan for spiritual formation and to strive to teach not only bible, but history, doctrine, ethics, etc…

Included in Tony’s plan were the Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer, Apostles Creed, the sacraments, early church history, Old Test, New Test, Worship, Prayer, Missions and Outreach, denomicational distinctives…all combined within a structure of service, community, and hands on experiences.  Imagine restructuring your Sunday Am “Sunday school” (a.k.a babysitting and online curriculum) and have a real purpose and plan in place.

“Every church has to find a regular method to disciple its students appropriate to its local culture, its denominational heritage, and the congregation.”

At my church, I am currently in coversation about doing just this which the possibility of offering either a 6-month or 10-month class for all incoming freshman and a similar type of thing for outgoing seniors.

We would also combine such ancient practices such as lectio divina, the labyrinth, the spiritual disciplines, etc..

I’ll keep you posted on our progress, but I have thanked Tony for pushing me towards this thinking.

The last section of the book discusses relooking at how we view (and talk about) the Bible.

Doug Pagit’s voice is heard in the pages when he writes,  “The Bible is the nonfiction storybook of God’s interaction with his people.  It’s the lens through which we look at the world- not simply the object we study.”

J. Heinrich Arnold writes, “You will never be able to prove- even to yourself, that Jesus exists. Belief must be an inner experience.  As long as you try to prove the object of your belief intellectually, your efforts will stand in the way of such an experience.”

We read the Bible with our own lens that are fashioned by our surroundings. To try and say that we come to the text objectivity is self-deceptive.

In postmodern youth ministry, instead of trying to defend or prove the Bible (especially to the postmodern mind where objective Truth simply doesn’t exist), we must reclaim the Bible as narrative.

Tell stories.

A great job description for future youth workers could read something like this.

Youth pastors: Brings the Bible to life for students.

We do this so they can fully enter into the story and then have their lives changed and transformed by the story, kind of like that 80’s movie The Never Ending Story

What if  everything we did as youth workers was focussed on the goal that we might be conformed to Christ’s image!  No more measurements based on numbers or size of budget of staff.  And our annual review, the senior pastor would ask, Are you and your students being conformed to the image of Christ?

That is ultimately the goal of postmodern youth ministry.  The goals is the same (or should be) of all types of youth ministry.  The difference resides in who we are trying to reach, acknowledging that the realities of postmodernity necessitate that how we do it and what we say change and adapt to the culture…adapting for the result of transformation!

In conclusion….

Tony is attempting to do this in a postmodern context. In many ways, he is a missiologist and practical theologian.

If you do not understand postmodernity, you may not understand what Tony is trying to do.  If you are thoroughly emerged in a modern mindset and worldview (and no one is claiming that to be bad mind you), then you may in fact question and disagree with Tony on many levels.

Personally, I am glad that people like Tony Jones has a passion to reach a particular people with the gospel of Jesus.
Though his methods and message may be different than where many of us have come from and feel comfortable, it needs to be that way in order for a genuine and culturally approcatiate encounter with God to take place in the hearts and lives of postmodern students.

I am glad to hear that Tony is desiring to get back involved in youth ministry on some level whether speaking, teaching, or hopefully some more writing. (I personally think his heart has always been there)

As a final side note:  One of the great aspects of this book is that Tony was among the first to include commentaries infused within his content.  Authors such as Brian McLaren, Mike Yaconelli, Kara Powell, Dan Kimball, Mark Driscoll, Leonard Sweet, and others offer their opinions, critiques, and unbiased views on Tony’s thoughts.