The Gender Issue

I wanted to respond to the Sally Morgenthaler article since I first read it, but I have been frustrated with a lack of time to write.

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you may have noticed that this isn’t a topic I bring up often. I will admit that sometimes I feel guilty that, as a representative of the female gender, I have not taken up the cause for inclusion and equality more forcefully.

Before I say anything else, let me be very clear that I respect every woman who has had to and still does fight for this cause, not only for herself but also for others, and for the very real situations in their lives and ministries where they have struggled and persevered.

I wrote this in an e-mail to some friends a couple of months ago:

This isn’t a hot-button issue for me. In saying that, I don’t want to invalidate others who feel strongly about it. Maybe I should care more, but I don’t. Perhaps it’s my age or perhaps a difference in life experiences.

I am not interested in being involved in power structures, regardless of the gender. I also don’t want to be included in groups that don’t want me. There are enough situations and relationships in my life where my participation is valued to keep me busy and content.

I am not interested in focusing my time or attention to fighting for my inclusion. Again, I’m not saying it isn’t important and that someone shouldn’t do it, but my heart isn’t there.

Sally’s article helped me to identify why my personal feelings are conflicted on how I approach this issue. It isn’t because I don’t care about fairness and inclusion of women in ministry. To be honest, I have very firmly established beliefs about equality and mutual submission in the relationships of believers.

However, those beliefs are not specific to the gender issue. They extend to all of our relationships with each other and specifically to how we relate to one another within the church, especially in regard to church government and leadership. My thoughts about leadership and hierarchical church structures overshadow the gender question, and in some ways preclude its importance.

Sally brings up these questions:

“What is it to lead the church in the postmodern context?” and then, more specifically, “What is it for women to lead in the postmodern context?”

The underlying interpretation of these questions in discussion becomes apparent when leadership is reflected upon in terms of servanthood and rulership. If we are actually negotiating for control of power within leadership, something central to understanding the true nature of church leadership is already skewed.

While many talk a good talk about leading as serving, their real beliefs and prejudices sometimes become obvious when the role of women is brought into the picture. There has never been a question about what women are allowed to do in the realm of serving in the church. They have been unhindered in their ministry of service to children, kitchen work, hospitality, janitorial duties, and other less-esteemed roles.

As Sally said, women have been required to be “as organizationally impotent as possible.” In general, the spiritual journey of women is defined by being placed in an inferior status. Women have typically already been required to learn the lessons of descent and marginalization.

The gender issue only becomes important to the discussion when the conversation concerns rulership and government. In that perspective, the true position about leading, whether it is seen as ruling or serving, becomes apparent. Let’s be clear. In that case, the real question is, “who will rule?” I believe that is an invalid question in regard to leadership within the church, regardless of gender.

According to the article, perhaps we are not asking the right questions. Sally said, “Could it be that women have spent so long trying to climb the ladder inside old church and leadership systems that the very questions they’re asking about gender equality, opportunity, and power are stuck?”

Perhaps the real questions go more like this:

What does it mean to seek biblical equality if the Church itself is no longer functioning in biblical ways?

What does it mean for women to pursue the full use of their gifts in the Church if western Christianity has lost its missional purpose?

What does it mean to hitch one’s star to the Christian status quo, especially if that status quo is a narcissistic, capitalistic perversion of the Gospel?

In summary, what does it really mean for a woman to be released into her potential, to be trusted with a ministry role, or to secure a salaried ministry position only to find that, for all her new-found freedom, authority, and seeming equality, she is only rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?

Whether male or female, our questions must ultimately move beyond power and equality to those of ecclesiastical integrity. As important as mutuality is in the kingdom of God, it is quite conceivable to be mutually and equally participating in a failing and misguided enterprise.

For me, this is the most controversial aspect of Sally’s article, way beyond the gender issue. Is this too radical? When I first entered the conversation, this was my impulse. Yet I became convinced that to expect ecclesiological change of this degree was extreme and reactionary. You know, the whole baby/bathwater scenario. How do you feel about her diagnosis of the situation?

She goes on to describe a new conversation that reframes the gender question outside of traditional institutional church systems. 

…the focus must move to the people of God dispersed, a displacement more absolute than that of the first century. And in this new landscape of radical dispersion – beyond buildings, beyond programs, beyond pedestal personalities – what leadership qualities are most needed?

What are the practices and gifts of those who minister well within such a context of deconstruction, chaos, and uncertainty?

To be certain, this reframed conversation is not for the faint of heart or closed of mind…traditional gender conversations in the Church – the inclusion of women in essentially male systems – will seem like pre-school banter compared to what it means to shift out of those systems altogether.

Because, in the end, ministry effectiveness in the postmodern turn is not the result of a leader’s gender, but the degree to which they are embedded in the new world, how little their personal identity is tied to power and position, and how clearly they get what needs to happen now that the show is over.

Ultimately what one believes about the dynamics of power and equality in the  kingdom will eventually be contextualized in all of their relationships.  This will necessitate a radical shift in ecclesiology.  Do you see this as being a shift completey out of existing systems?

In conclusion, the real issue isn’t the exclusion of women. It also isn’t the feminization of the church. The ultimate issue is whether we are ready and willing to embody mutual submission in all of our relationships with one another to the degree that we are even willing to address the structural systems of church and the use of power and position within those structures.

Women are in many ways uniquely situated to recognize imbalances of power and the lack of authentic shifts toward inclusion and also to respond to the shift toward more participatory styles of leadership and ministry.

I am very interested in hearing your thoughts and opinions about this, both about the gender issue and about the degree of ecclesiological deconstruction that Sally suggests.

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28 thoughts on “The Gender Issue

  1. Some very powerful thoughts Grace, especially whether it is worth climbing the greasy slippery pole of power. If that is the sole motivation for anyone, regardless of gender, then we’re all in trouble. It reminds me of Jesus words of trading in your soul.

  2. Grace, this is a good post with good questions. Here are my thoughts to your questions:

    1. In the institutional (in my definition this includes most all local churches and denominational structures extant in the US) expression of church it is clear that men have held the power and positions of leadership. This results from a distorted view of the church that dates back to the 4th century when essentially the Roman empire co-opted the church for its own purposes. From that time forward (I know this is a bit of an oversimplification but I do not wish to write a book.), the idea of minister or pastor was one of a position or role to be held by a “qualified” person, which meant a man, in an institution or organization instead of a gift given by the Spirit to a person to be used within and without the ekklesia, an organism.

    But this creation of a “lay”/”clergy” divide had much broader implications than just for women, although perhaps it was even more restrictive for women than men. So, the problem is really deeper than just gender, it is a lack of recognition that we must mutually submit to one another, serve one another, love one another without distinction of any kind just as Father does with each of us.

    2. But one of the reasons this is not important in the sense of the institutional expression of church is that, in my view this form of “church” is quickly disappearing. Within the lifetime of my children (ages 15-26) it will be gone completely. So, for women to wish to take on roles and positions within a dying structure seems at best an interim situation and probably not a good idea. I agree with Morganthaler’s suggestions that you highlight as the more important questions. Far from being radical I believe we are moving quickly in this very direction. It is not obvious because non-institutional expressions of church by definition will be small and very low profile…..no paid staff, no buildings, no programs, etc. but far more influential and effective. It is not a question of whether we should abandon the institutional church, it is already happening and the pace of abandonment is increasing. Just one statistic: 80% of the financial support for institutional churches comes from people over 50 years of age. Where will the institution, which requires huge sums of money to sustain itself, be in 20 or 50 years?

    3. I would like to add that I think another question that needs to be asked is what exactly is leadership like in the ekklesia? If the ekklesia is de-institutionalized and their are no roles or positions of authority within an institution, then what will leadership be? Does leadership as we commonly think of it even have a place in the ekklesia? Or, is our leader Jesus himself? Is it possible to have an ekklesia without leaders as we think of them? Just followers of Jesus who use whatever gift(s) from the Spirit to encourage one another, to build each other up to the full image of Jesus.

    While I will be the first to caution against using business or secular books as templates for the ekklesia I would suggest a couple of books that might help open the thought processes: “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder” by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman and “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom.

    This may seem impossible, and I will readily admit it is not easy, as some of my experience would indicate but I wonder……

    Sorry, Grace, for hijacking your blog. It seems I did write that book.

  3. I think Sally is writing from the perspective of the cutting edge of cultural change, and from a prophetic sense of where the church needs to go. There’s obvious a large segment of the existing church that has no idea about post-modernity and post-Christianity, and they will probably continue on with their little niche of people. I also suspect there is no one right answer for what the church of the future will look like.

    That said, I think some of us are going to be called to work out a pretty radical deconstruction of the power and privilege the church has enjoyed in Western culture. I don’t know how that can happen except that we first give up the positions of power and privilege within the church. There will be still be leadership, but it will be leadership by example, through service and openness to others, the leadership of character and commitment to empowering others. I think the church will have to get a lot smaller to accomplish this transition.

  4. Grace,

    I thank you for your wonderful thoughts here… and you already know some of my thoughts, as well!

    But for me it comes down to envisioning the ekklesia as an organism filled with all leaders. We are each to lead as we follow the Holy Spirit and the gifts we each bring to strengthen and build up the Body of Christ. That means we must all be leading and following all the time. This speaks to the mutual submission to which we are all called as we submit to the Body’s head (however you choose to define it!!!)–the only leader–Jesus Christ.

    My experience is that people just don’t understand the concept of a group of all leaders. And history would agree with them…because there so often is something that starts out well, but eventually devolves to the following of some dynamic individual. Someone who rescues them from the pain and difficult work of change and the chaos that must be gone through, not under or over or around, in order to grow up into the image of Christ.

    I agree with M. Scott Peck, M.D., and call this the human problem of the dual idols of ease and comfort. Mutual submission is daily dying to self in order for the best interest of the partner/other to be served. Not easy or comfortable, this dying to self.

    And into this picture enters the whole organic/house church…yes, Maria, the church will have to get a lot smaller to get it!

    Be blessed….

  5. The gender issue is not an issue in the Roman Catholic or Orthodox traditions. It is simply understood any priestly office is after the manner of Jesus: masculine. There is no argument or alternate perspective. It is not an issue of exclusion but of design, function, & role. I do not believe it was ever intended to be repressive, but simply tradition. Not arbitrary or misogynistic…

    And then you will have many in the Protestant expressions that also accept a male only arrangement for pastoral positions. Could be the precedent Jesus established in His earthly ministry by appointing 12 men as apostles neither a cultural nor an historical convention, but simply deliberate.

    Then you have the controversial Pauline epistles establishing the manner which churches were to function. Could there be sound reasons for considering female leadership positions today? I think there is leeway within certain cultural settings that such an arrangement would be acceptable. But not universal in scope. Many cultures outside the Western industrialized countries do not view such an arrangement as appropriate. And then you have the pick-and-choose mentality of church affiliation here in America that will cause membership shifts based upon the appointment of women in leadership positions. Simply appointing women to leadership positions does not guarantee allegiance from other women or men.

    My church abuse history was because of a woman ‘co-pastor’ with a strong personality. It was the inevitable friction between this co-pastor & my wife that sparked the control issues & pseudo-prophetic rhetoric that became positional abuse. I would not be accepting of having a woman in spiritual leadership over me & my wife is now more convinced than ever that it is as close to an abomination as you can get without it becoming outright cultic! But then we are considering personal preference more than theological leeway at this point.

    Even after 2,000 years the issue still evokes strong passions from both genders. And the Holy Spirit does not seem to be strongly addressing the issue throughout the Church catholic today. Personally I do not see the issue being pivotal. But then I am not a woman that is convinced of her giftings, callings & God given desires that are being restricted by the ‘gilded ceiling’ of male dominated leadership positions either…

  6. Paul,
    Thanks for your thoughts. The use/misuse of power within the church is a topic I am very interested in.

    traveller,
    I’m glad that you wrote a book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    1. I agree that existing power structures have been restrictive of the talents and gifts of many, not just women.

    2. I envision this, yet I have trouble believing that we will actually see it, especially around here.

    3. I love talking about this, wish we could do it over a cup of coffee. For now, I tend to think that there will be smaller, leaderless groups that function organically under the leadership of the Spirit. I believe that there will also be slightly larger, more organized groups that have a degree of “organizational” leadership, yet operate with an understanding of the leadership of the Spirit, allowing community and ministry to flow out of the gifts of the Spirit. And I think we will still have traditional churches operating under traditional structures of leadership.

    I’ve heard of the Starfish book, but not the other one. I’ll check into it.

    You are right, it isn’t easy, but I think it’s good to keep wondering.

  7. We must stop thinking in terms of “power structures” and “positional leadership”.

    I picked up the following quote somewhere–don’t remember where–and think that it’s appropriate.

    Quote from a Graham Cooke interview at Luthern Renewal:

    **In terms of ministry, we believe there are three titles that are clear in New Testament scripture. The first is that we’re all supposed to be servants of the Lord. So we’re training all of our people to be servants in the kingdom, servants in the house, and so on.

    And then when you become a really excellent servant, you can get promoted to stewardship. And your stewardship is where you take responsibility for other people’s lives. So you take responsibility to bring other people into what God has brought you into. You take responsibility for discipling, for mentoring, for assisting other people to grow and develop.

    And when you become a really excellent steward, you get promoted to slavery. Because bondslave is the highest designation of ministry that exists in the kingdom of heaven. **

    So, if “designations” seem to be necessary we might consider those mentioned, especially in view of Paul of Tarsus referring to himself as a “slave of Christ”.

    I don’t think the “Institutional Church” will disappear any time soon, but I do think I’m seeing a large swell in the diverging stream away from from our “normal” ecclesiological forms. Given that divergence, which I think is a good thing for many good reasons, Sally Morgenthaler rightly points out the wasted energy of “fighting for inclusion” in a structure(s) which is Biblically/Spiritually disfunctional.

    Good comments and observations, Grace.

    Tom

  8. Maria,
    I love what you said here. I think it is important to remember that it isn’t likely to be a situation of either/or. The traditional church will continue to serve a role in the body of Christ. However, as you mentioned there will be aspects of the church who experience radical changes in their expression of gathering, worship, and ministry.

  9. Peggy,
    I share many of the ideals you have expressed, especially regarding mutual submission and the idea that we are all leaders and all followers, which of course necessitates understanding mutual submission.

    I think that in some circumstances that a type of organizational leadership could be helpful for maintaining ethos and facilitating group life. However, with the natural tendency toward political climbing, it would have to implemented with care and intention.

    For many of us trained into the passivity of being a congregant, the real work of community life does require a change of heart and commitment.

    I appreciate your thoughts.

  10. Joseph,
    I have no desire to challenge the traditional systems you mentioned. Neither am I interested in participating in their systems.

    The disciple argument is pretty flimsy for gender exclusion since the disciples were also single and Jewish yet those aren’t also considered as qualifications for churh leadership.

    Overall, I don’t believe in hierarchical structures of church government. Therefore, attempting to determine where women fit into those structures, which I don’t see as strictly valid, is a bit of a moot point.

    However, it is likely that traditional systems will continue as they are. In those circumstances, I believe that ideally women are scripturally allowed full participation in all aspects of church life.

    I am sorry for the abuse you experienced. I agree that the positional abuse of power is an abomination in whatever form that occurs.

    I won’t put myself under spiritual authority again. I have people that I trust and follow, but I don’t believe that there is positional spiritual authority among fellow believers.

    I think that we should live to the fullest expression possible of our gifts and talents in the circumstances in which we find ourselves without allowing ourselves to be limited by organizational obstacles.

    I enjoyed hearing your perspective. I hope you hear the kindness with which my response is intended. Whether or not we agree, I enjoy the discussion.

  11. Tom,
    Thanks for your comments. The quote was familiar to me.

    The divergence is interesting as it pertains to leadership structures. Possibly hierarchical leadership structures and traditional church systems are mutually dependent on each other.

  12. We have discovered firsthand that even in churches with flattened leadership structures the gender issue is still huge. Our culture still sees women as inferior and many people with any sort of church background at all are preprogrammed to assume that women can’t lead at all (as in have a voice, lead discussions). It isn’t about power, it is about being willing to learn from women. There were still major hurdles to overcome.

    So its a complex issue. Often by saying that church in general needs to change, the underlying gender issues get brushed aside as not worth ones time. But they still exist and will rear their ugly head even in the post progressive and post-modern of church structures.

  13. Grace:

    I brought up the other traditions to remind us all that ‘we’ are all part of the Church. No other intent on my part. The Protestant expression is the youngest of the traditions & it is the most disparate of the Big Three. Protestants champion their independence & hold closely their interpretations of scriptural application as tightly as the other 2 apostolic traditions. Yet they dance to the beat of ~30,000 different denominational drummers. It is the Protestant liberal expressions that are often more open to women in positions of leadership. Then you have the issue being considered by a very narrow range of more conservative and/or charismatic church expressions worldwide. On the grander scale it is not deemed a hindrance to the advancement of the kingdom or a grieving of the Holy Spirit IMHO.

    Church structure & organizational arrangements simply exist. Now we may wish to downplay the significance of title or position or areas of responsibility or role or function, but it was setup that way at the beginning. Certainly we could all be Indians without Chiefs with the mutual understanding that we all are peers in this tribe. But it is going to become apparent quickly that leadership skills or giftings will soon point to the person that will become the point man, or woman, as you imply.

    Dispense with formality. Wait until every individual in the tribe actually gets that Holy Spirit ‘witness’ in their spirit that hey, yeah, that person over there is the leader (allegorically speaking)…

    And how does the tribe function until then? Well, let’s have the appointed or accepted or recognized elders (or other neutral termed group) lay hands on those that they believe the Holy Spirit has indeed set aside to lead. And all others will know this person now as what? With what fruit being expressed that is now recognizable & obvious to all?

    Whatever arrangement ensues will only be effective if the group practicing it is in agreement. Those that are not so hip to such an arrangement may well move on to other more orderly setups. And it then becomes more of a smorgasbord offering competing with all other expressions instead of the one true God designed format claimed by its remaining participants.

    This idea of Godly authority & positional roles in His Church still carries with it quite a bit of baggage. And that one authentic blueprint for the most expressive/releasing of church arrangements seems elusive still.

    I am not convinced that discovering and/or establishing the more holistic version of church expressions dependent upon the role of women in positions of leadership. But I am not involved in church leadership nor do I believe I am so gifted as to be involved in establishing a new fellowship expression without barriers. I think no matter how inclusive the arrangement there will always be those individuals that think they are marginalized, ignored, passed over, considered second class citizens, etc.

    If there were no barriers to both men & women, would the ratio in church leadership roles be 50/50? Or based upon the percentage of genders in attendance? Schooling? IQ? Personality traits? Servant minded track record?

    And really, does God truly gift someone with leadership anointing? Or not inform the followers? I suppose wanting to have power, influence, title, position & authority to lead a concern for those that would recognize & accept such an arrangement. Is the motivation pure? Is there a difference between climbing to the top vs. being ‘released’ into one’s calling? And if we are now being equal opportunity church establishers have we now acquiesced to an artificial quota system?

    If there is perceived gender bias in all church model assignments, will it be cured by a fair & equitable quota system? Would women be agreeable to a Holy Spirit direction that does not resemble any manmade fairness ratios? I understand the ideal you espouse when you say women are scripturally allowed full participation in all aspects of church life. But then that goes back to my consideration: what would that look like & how do you determine when such a goal has been reached?

  14. Julie: Please allow me simply to raise some points here without anyone feeling I am making a case for or against women being in leadership.

    History: It seems the Church up to the Reformation the only one making advancements into every culture, nation, tribe & tongue through its 1500 year mission. It did so without the presence of women in ecclesiastical positions of power & influence. Now it could be argued that the Church may have actually fulfilled the Great Commission in a few hundred years had women been ‘released’ to chair the necessary subcommittees to see it through. Could have ushered in the 2nd Coming early. But that argument has to assume that yes, women not selected for positions of power & influence was in fact deliberate, evil & contrary to God’s design+purpose. It crippled the Church for centuries. It led to its bloated hierarchy & the abuses of prestige & power that ushered in the Reformation. If you are Protestant & not at all enamored with the apostolic traditional view of women, then you would have to look to the great reformers for their views of how women were perceived at that time.

    The Church during its first 1500 years incorporated every known culture, ethnic & social caste, tribe & tongue into her fold. It was incredibly inclusive. And in every culture it flavored, the role of women did not dramatically catalyze their inclusion into positions of authority, title & oversight. It is the same today in most cultures throughout the world. Your mention of ‘our’ culture still harboring these restrictive attitudes begs the question: is our culture perceived or expected to become the golden standard? Enlightened? Tolerant? Accepting? And should this be established throughout the whole earth?

    As you conclude, yes, it is a very complex issue. But if the point grace was making actually argues for downplaying the prestige of title, position, role & area of responsibility, why would women still be seeking such?

    I happen to have been taught by women my entire school career. Never had a problem with it. And I assure you, if there is a woman behind the badge of the police officer stopping me for speeding it will be, “Yes officer. No officer. I understand officer” as I sign the ticket. Gender will not be an issue for me. Now if she happens to offer me different directions for the destination I was speeding to, I will simply weigh them as an alternative, not gospel. If she happens to add the fact that she is aware of congestion along the way due to an accident I may indeed heed her advice. But if she is simply being superior in her new direction giving I would tend not to want to be told where to go & how to get there… :)

  15. Joseph – I mentioned “our” culture because it is what I exist in and what I go to church in. It is real life for a lot of people. And if women here are seeking a better life the argument that women elsewhere think different doesn’t really matter.

    And as much a I love and respect history, life is different now. Times have changed and doing things the way they were done in ___ year doesn’t fly. And yes, I don’t give a flip about church hierarchy or stuff like that. Not part of my culture.

    I think what I really have to question is the idea that women wanting to live out God’s calling in their lives, use their talents, and help others is ALWAYS seen as a power play. If women don’t see it as such, if we just want to be who we are, why are we told to shut up and stop seeking power. I really really don’t get why women wishing to stop being banned from serving God has to be about power. To that that has just become a easy way for naysayers to end the discussion. But maybe that’s just me.

  16. Julie, I agree with your assessment that through much of church history and world history women have been hindered from exercising fully the gifts Father has given them through the Spirit. This grieves me greatly. But as a man I am sure I do not understand this as women must because of their experiences of these prejudices. For me, scripture is quite clear this is not what Father intends and is not the way it was at the creation. This is a direct result of the entry sin into God’s creation. I am looking forward to the day when Father will redeem his creation and these injustices will be gone forever. In the interim, may we all find ways in our own context to work with Father in his redemptive process. My prayer is that you will find followers of Jesus who will recognize the giftings of the Spirit in your life.

  17. Julie & traveller:

    Throughout Church history has there been a consistent restriction of women exercising giftings of service to the world or other believers? And my choice of using the words service & servant hood deliberate.

    If we accept the passing of authentic, God-given authority from Jesus to His apostles & from them to other godly men through the laying on of hands, did they misunderstand Him by choosing men to be elders & overseers (bishops)?

    Did the early Church in fact miss the obvious? Did Paul address the issue of women in positions of church organizational structure? Do we have any history of women being appointed to positions of authority as a common practice? Regardless of cultural setting or historical period?

    Power is indeed heady stuff. Positional authority & title & associated prestige even more so. And the real issue I think Jesus was getting at when telling the disciples not to lord over others as the gentiles did was simply to exercise authority rightly…

    But just as Jesus conferred onto them a kingdom He also conferred authority. And they would have been the ones most intimately aware of Jesus’ intent in setting up church structure & the expression of said authority. At least that is my assumption.

    I can appreciate the consideration that yes, the Church in its infancy was mostly preoccupied with the most important core elements of being His Body. Could be not every issue confronting the Church today even a blip on the Holy Spirit’s radar screen then. Could be we do need a contemporary Holy Spirit connection that addresses the concerns that seem to have been ignored or repressed for the past 2,000 years.

    Are there not Protestant denominations that do have women bishops and/or clergy? Is there opportunity for women in those expressions? Are these denominations considered cutting-edge or inclusive or more open? Or are the denominational choices not so attractive to more conservative Christians or those of charismatic persuasion?

    I would think there is really nothing stopping a godly group of women that sincerely believe they are gifted & called to start their own church/fellowship/gathering. If they really believe such authority & power is God given & direct from the throne there should not be any reason to hesitate. Every new movement or rediscovery of truth must begin with a brave group of souls stepping out with the courage of their convictions. Why would God not honor such an effort? Are there any such fellowships you are aware of? And can they be patterned or established in other parts of the world?

  18. Julie,
    I agree that there are gender attitudes that continue in spite of inclusive and participatory leadership structures. It is a complex issue. Realistically what can be done about the issues of another person’s heart? My inclination is that we move forward with those who understand serving, empowerment, and inclusion, both by participating and setting an example.

    I like how you said that church hierarchy isn’t a part of your culture. That’s how I feel also. I don’t want to participate in that culture. Because of that, I don’t see the full expression of my gifts as a play for power. In a system where the gifts of all individuals are valued and encouraged, there should be as much of a place for my gifts as there is for the gifts of others.

  19. Julie & grace:

    It could be the concept of mutual submission & yielding one’s rights for the benefit of the brethren a matter of personal preference more than universal in application.

    After all it was the Protestant Reformation that decided to not submit to Rome & papal authority. They established the precedent of Sola Scriptura. Dispense with the Magisterium. Now each denominational flavor ‘released’ to interpret & apply scripture as they deem suitable…

    Every man a priest. Every woman also. No need for layers of ecclesiastical title or position to get in the way of me & God. Yet it is now left to the individual to rightly divine interpretation & application?

    Seems the issue regarding authority becomes just what we as individuals wish or are willing to accept? Wasn’t that much of the abuse of the prophetic movement? And supposedly those ‘words’ direct from the Throne?

    So how do we fulfill this admonition: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

    If I am unconvinced of your authority how am I expected to submit?

    I would think if the issue is not such a pressing one there should be a growing number of fellowships releasing those women that are convinced God has indeed anointed them to be movers-and-shakers in the kingdom. And those that concur would then flock to such an arrangement. I do not perceive an artificially established ceiling keeping women out of positions of influence & service & impact for the kingdom. I think the loose confederation of Protestant expressions roomy enough to include all women of every gift & expression. Heck, have all those stodgy positions of authority filled with qualified women. Somehow the argument about the Church being restrictive or repressive or male dominated is weak if truly gifted women are intent on releasing the full power of the Holy Spirit through a valid church expression.

    If indeed the power structures & arrangements of title, position & authority are flawed, deficient, restrictive & simply wrong, setup a correct expression. From what I understand of your perspectives there are many women qualified to do just that. Band together. Affirm, commend & release one another. Could become a radical new flavor of church dynamic for this millennium. And if it is God ordained, who then can thwart such an effort?

  20. Joseph,

    I appreciate that you and many, perhaps even most, hold to the view of authority expressed in your posts. However, there is another equally strong interpretation of scripture that would say that “all authority in heaven and earth” is given to Jesus and he did not delegate that to any human. Likewise, scripture, in my view, never speaks of roles or positions within the “church”. This is the reason Paul speaks of family and body as metaphors for the ekklesia of followers of Jesus. None of Jesus, the apostles or Paul ever speak/write of the ekklesia as an organization or institution.

    I understand these likely are not persuasive points to you and respect your view of scripture. One of the wonderful things about being a follower of Jesus is that we do not have to hold a uniform view of all matters to be in unity with one another through the Holy Spirit. May you know the peace and wisdom of Father today and each day.

  21. Joseph,
    We are coming from really different positions about what the church is and should be. You’ve made many statements as facts that I simply don’t accept as true. I’m not sure where to go with that because I don’t want to argue or attempt to change your view.

    For example:
    Church structure & organizational arrangements simply exist.

    No, organizations were established during the time of Constantine.

    it was setup that way at the beginning

    No, at the beginning, gathering was viral and organic, spreading from house to house.

    He also conferred authority.

    Yes, authority over principalities and powers, not over other believers.

    Jesus’ intent in setting up church structure & the expression of said authority.

    Jesus intent was the kingdom of God, and when he said not to rule over one another, I think that’s what he really meant.

    Those are just a few examples of how I see things. I have no doubt that traditional church will continue as always, and as I said earlier, I have no desire to change them. However, I also believe that God will work through movements that will reach those who wouldn’t be reached by traditional churches.

    There are groups and movements that recognize and embrace the giftings of everyone involved, men, women, and children. They tend to be under the radar in the church realm.

  22. traveller,
    I appreciate your responses to both Julie and Joseph and the points you bring up, especially the fact that we don’t have to agree on all of these things to maintain our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ.

  23. Okay, I may generalize as much as the next guy, but I think using Constantine as the traditional church’s whipping boy might by overly simplistic.

    A closer study of church structure & organization from the writings of the early Church Fathers indicate as much. And just a look at the First Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 indicates leaders, authority, organization, structure & pronouncements made. Am I missing something there?

    Funny thing though. Right after the understanding reached at that first council Paul & Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement they parted company. Even apostles had unity issues…

    But let’s get back to the concept of church arrangement or dynamic or function. Every group or gathering will have its own unique personality. And for each member to function as the God ordained intent there must be a way of recognizing such. And then for efficient coordination each member must be getting its cue from the Head. All gifts, talents & abilities being expressed without chafing or misunderstanding or ulterior motive?

    So, there is a pattern or ideal you have in mind. Call it non-traditional or a peer consensus model or church without tiers/hierarchy. I think most of us have some ideal in mind when we think of a healthy fellowship united at carrying out the priorities of the kingdom as it is understood. Heck, I even have an ideal in mind. I tend to think in terms of what such a fellowship would not be like. We all have negative examples in mind forged by actual experiences. So my ideal is how it shouldn’t be more than how it should be.

    Populate such a group with like minded individuals. Somehow they are more in tune with the Spirit? I also assume more mature? Able to mutually submit & edify & affirm & build up one another in love? All spiritual gifts in operation? Regardless of gender, marital status, ethnicity, age, social status or theological bent?

    Yes, that sounds ideal. I would think such an arrangement so unlike any church I have been involved with. But how refreshing to actually experience it…

    Could be the first 2,000 years of Church history & practice simply baby steps? What would a mature Bride look like? I am curious & maybe even desirous to see it in action…

    My points-of-view about this topic will not sway anyone of different perspective. I do not consider myself particularly anointed to change other people’s minds. I have been told that I do have the gift of stating the obvious at times. :) Hope my dialogue was received in the manner it was given: simply to stimulate discussion & present another perspective. Thanks for letting me participate.

    Blessings.

  24. Joseph,
    I’m not sure I can give you much beyond simple and general at this point, although I could suggest quite a few books. If this topic interests you, I would recommend Alan Knox’s blog, Assembling of the Church. Alan’s views are similar to mine, but he is a teacher and his posts are thoroughly backed with historical and Scriptural references.

    I am not completely against organization and structure. I just believe that the organization should support the organic life of the body rather than vice versa.

    I do trust in the Holy Spirit’s ability to orchestrate a gathering of believers as described in Corinthians. That would be the model I have in mind.

    You are always welcome to participate in the discussion here.

    Blessings to you too.

  25. Grace:

    I like church history. Mostly because I wanted to determine how it was then compared to what I experienced. I wondered how God would have directed & protected & developed (evolved?) the practices of being the Church. And of course my negative experiences motivated me: “Hey, this is messed up! How should it look?”

    I have an ideal in mind. Not practical though. And I am still gun-shy about getting wholeheartedly involved in another church or gathering or fellowship or community, however you want to label it.

    Human interaction seems so messy. Although we may be termed “saints” in Holy Writ, the working out of personality differences & diverse opinions & all the baggage that comes included with each individual is oh-so-obvious when we all claim to be following God, “together”…

    Christians are hardest on other Christians. Immaturity levels make for much friction. Scrutiny subtle & maybe even subconscious. But we all have that standard of decorum we insist is the minimum expectation of anybody calling themselves my brother or sister in the Lord.

    What we appreciate about our interpretation of the Corinthians church model may not be achievable. They had a very passionate apostle involved using, you guessed it, apostolic authority to keep those Corinithians on an even keel. And I think Paul a type AAA personality. Most probably not somebody I would ever gravitate toward or become chummy with.

    I do wonder how many today could tolerate Paul’s management style. It would be interesting to have him visit churches today & get his assessment on what is working & what is not.

    What has the Holy Spirit been doing the past 2,000 years? How many generations has it been? Has He been asleep at the wheel? Have godly men & women of Catholic, Orthodox & Protestant expressions throughout the ages been so contrary that He has not been able to teach, reveal, direct, strengthen, inspire & convict? What has God been up to all this time? Is His true blueprint for church expression just now being rediscovered?

    I was involved in church leadership once. Been there, done that. Now I am a semi-regular attendee of a kinda post-modern Protestant evangelical church model. It resembles the Protestant genetics it was birthed out of. The thing I like most about it is that is refreshingly “unchurchy”. And it is very missional in practice. It is far from perfect. Made up of imperfect saints. Myself included. But I would not think this is the standard God wants replicated everywhere. And the anointing oil not so plentiful that any hint of friction eased. It is simply being a blessing in a less glamorous section of town. No fanfare. No mega-programs. No ministry superstars. And in spite of its organizational structure & denominational leanings it is simply about the business of the kingdom…

    Thanks for the convo…

  26. Joseph,
    It sounds like our experiences are similar in many ways. I agree with your perspective on the messiness of relationships. It is one of the things that also leaves me gun-shy and hesitant to jump too quickly into something new. As Peggy mentioned above, real community is work and requires a lot of those involved.

    God has used the church over the last 2000 years, perhaps in spite of the models. I agree that there are many congregations in a variety of forms and models that accomplish the work of the kingdom.

  27. Grace wrote;

    **The divergence is interesting as it pertains to leadership structures. Possibly hierarchical leadership structures and traditional church systems are mutually dependent on each other.**

    Yes. I would posit that form is dictated by leadership perception.

    T

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