Midnight Mini-rant on Ministry

Hamo’s latest post stirred up my thoughts again about how we view ministry. I always appreciate his humility and transparency.  His description of his former role as “minister” in comparison to the relational way that he and his wife now minister reminded me of the series of 5 or 6 posts we did here awhile back, starting with the post What Is Ministry?

Bob’s post this week of a letter concerning women in leadership has been like a small burr under my saddle. I typed and deleted a few comments on the post and eventually gave up. According to the letter, the women are serving within the church in relational areas of ministry. However, the men in power are wringing their hands over whether these women should be “restricted from participating in the highest level of leadership.”

“Faithful to scripture”, “honor the work of the Spirit”, blah, blah, blah.

Yes, it looks like a gender issue. But in a way, it is so much more. Our church structures often produce really stupid ways of relating to one another and totally twisted ideas about what ministry is.

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13 thoughts on “Midnight Mini-rant on Ministry

  1. Yeah … I tried to respond at Bob’s too and got the “feel good” response. Which simply served to drive the burr deeper.

    I know the two responders meant well, and do not understand. I’ve tried several times to craft a response … but now I really am too emotional to respond.

    I wonder how the women in that congregation feel? I wonder if anyone has bothered to talk to them …

  2. I think your last sentence really hits at the heart of most of our issues with church as we know it. I heard a guy recently preaching about ‘original sin’ within the context of relationships gone bad, and I really believe it is the institutional b.s. that has produced our models for how NOT to have genuine relationships with each other and God. The gender issues are another poor example of how we should love each other.

  3. Well…the Abbess put her toe in the stream over at Bob’s — because I felt there was something I needed to say about means and ends. I’ve got a thing about means and ends lately….

  4. Grace, I think you are correct, this is important from the gender issue perspective but it is far more than that as well.

    The structures that exist in most institutional settings create all sorts of relational disfunctions, particularly by creating artificial roles and positions that then give the opportunity to restrict people from fulfilling.

    Thanks for turning this on its head….it was needed.

  5. My wife made a very interesting point about this topic when she and I were discussing it the other day. And in doing so, she shed light on this issue from an angle that I never thought of.

    She said that it seems that most of the prominently mentioned women in the Bible all stepped outside of the boxes they were put in and “broke the rules”.

    For example, from the New Testament, there was Mary (Martha’s sister) sitting at the feet of Jesus — it is our understanding that culturally, this would not have been acceptable.

    Likewise, the woman that barged into the room and anointed the feet of Jesus — the men sitting there were appalled, not only at her actions, but at the receptiveness of Jesus to them.

    Sometimes I wonder if we haven’t just put so much expectation into “gender roles” that we fail to see that God can work through anyone at any time.

    By defining roles and “limits”, we immediately wrest control away from the Holy Spirit. I think that’s a huge mistake, and the first step institutionalism takes in its error.

  6. I’ve posted a comment on that blog, but just had to say one thing here as well: I realize how much better life is for me as a woman since I’ve stepped outside the doors of traditional-type church where these discussions/decisions/arguments take place. I forget that this type of thing still goes on! I mean, I had really, truly, honestly (and thankfully) forgotten it. It’s not even on my radar any more.

    How I love being in relationship with folks who really believe and live that there is neither male nor female….this issue is a non-issue in my life now, and what a gift that is. I can still remember getting up to preach at churches and having men get up and walk out since they could not have a woman teach them. Now we all share life with one another and that other “stuff” does not even matter. It’s a small foretaste of heaven, right here on earth. I’m feeling very grateful. Thanks, Grace, for letting us know about this other post as it was used as a springboard for gratitude rising up in my heart yet again!

  7. Oh Tracy, men leaving because a woman cannot teach them. I wonder if anyone could teach them. I often think when I hear this discussion about who really drives whom.
    Think about it, when the men of a male dominated society go out to work they leave a woman home to teach. they leave the woman home to set all things up. I really wonder how many macho males out there are really just figure heads (un aware) of a very wonderful and intellegent woman.
    My wife impacts what I say and do far more than most people would ever guess and I think it is a good thing.
    But then I am neither male or female just a guy trying to live out a calling.
    WaynO

  8. I’ve been wanting to comment and holding back. I have some very strong views on this subject (as most people do, it seems). We’ve been attending a new church for a few months now, and I’ve recently discovered some bias in this area that is unsettling to me. Having been “in the box” of traditional ‘charasmatic’ church for a number of years and then being away from it for the past few, I am discovering that I’m totally unwilling to go back into the box. I would rather die than go back into the box! I was encouraged to become what God created me to be until I stepped out into it, and then I was shut down and censured and reminded that I’m only a woman, and women cannot lead. I’m a child of God also, and now it makes me so sad and sick to be around someone who only wants to make sure I’m “in my place.” As if that were more important than God’s will for my life. (of course, it helps to have a husband who believes I should be free to step into whatever God has for me).

    I do get a bit aggravated when I read “letters” or articles like the one on the other site.

    It is like they are trying to decide whether to have pancakes for the church dinner, or if that is against scripture so we’d better have waffles after all. But it is so much more important than pancakes… these are people we are talking about. People (yes, women are people too) whom God loves… and died for. Not some possession or object to be stepped upon and tossed aside.

    I’m not a liberal by any stretch of the imagination. But I am no longer conservative either. My desire is to live in truth… not tradition. I have no interest in being in a ‘position’ because of my gender. I just want to be free to step out in whatever calling God has for me. I figure if he calls me, if he justifies me, if he equips me… then it doesn’t really matter if people think I should do it or not… but yet I still struggle with the ‘disapproval’ of it.

    Frankly, I don’t care all that much what they decide to do. But I hope that they would make their decision, and their reasoning crystal clear for their congregation so that those who aren’t in agreement can move on if they need to. Yes, I’m wishing that in our new church also. Just tell me what you really believe God thinks about women, and I’ll leave if I need to. But don’t string me along and put me off until I have stepped back into the chains again and cannot leave without damage.

    Yeah, this is a crazy comment… sorry if it makes no sense! My mind is struggling to understand my emotional reactions to the entire topic.

    Thanks, Grace.
    Heidi W.

  9. Heidi … your comment is not crazy at all and I think you’re very astute. Some of the worst damage is done in churches where the thinking is not clearly published.

  10. WaynO,

    Reading your comment took me back to my senior year in high school … many moons ago! There was a real need for a Bible study/fellowship group for the high schoolers in this kinda small church I was newly attending — but they were lamenting that there was no one to lead such a group.

    So … not knowing better about this church … I said “Hey, I’ll be happy to lead a group!” To which they replied: “You can’t. There are guys over 13 years old.” To which I replied: “Huh?”

    So, I called for a meeting with the Elders (yes, I was cheeky way back then, too!) and heard their story that women may teach boys up to the age of 13, but after that, they may not teach them because they are “young men”. To which I replied … with a very big chip on both shoulders, I’m sure … “Fine. You give me 13 years with them and then just try to erase my influence.”

    They were not amused.

    I did, however, begin a non-sanctioned group. And all the guys came. And Jesus joined us and it was transformational.

    It was, however, a long road back up the hill after that church knocked be over….

  11. I didn’t read the letter (not sure if I want to get all fired up right now). But I have been thinking lately about how sexism is so deeply rooted in our culture here in America. I just watched this movie called Music Within about the guy behind the American Disabilities Act. It’s a story of a man seeking equality and justice, and also for plain human decency and recognition of the disabled.

    And yet the film was littered with jokes that were sexually degrading to women, and a debased attitude towards them in general. (Granted, the guy’s mother was mentally ill and greatly wounded him, so maybe that’s the source of the mysoginistic tone of the movie). Other than that, I really liked the film.

    But I realized how totally hypocritical it was to promote recognition and respect for one group (disabled) while maintaining disrespect for another (women). Like I said, it’s deeply ingrained in our culture, and the double standard isn’t even recognized.

    I once had a commenter come on my blog and mock the women’s movement. (Granted, there’s a lot about the women’s movement I don’t agree with – but still, I can now own property and vote because of women who paved the way). I wondered if he would feel it appropriate to go onto a black American’s blog and mock the civil rights movement. Probably not.

    Yes, women’s issues are different from African American issues. But in some ways, the oppression of women is more insiduous since it is more hidden. We’ve heard the stories of lynchings and they are atrocious. But we don’t hear the statistics of how many women are killed by their boyfriends and spouses. Nor how many girls are sexually molested in this country (only among those cases that are reported – it is currently at 1 in 4 girls). These gender attitudes have very direct manifestations that are quite devastating, but it’s often behind closed doors.

    As believers, these attitudes ought not be so prevalent in our midst. But, we have tended to absorb the dominant world culture around us rather than absorbing kingdom values of honor and equality… It’s the same reason slavery could be justified by a Christian nation. Crazy!

  12. Great thoughts and comments everyone, both here and at Bob’s blog. It looks like the conversation may continue there when he posts a response.

    Like many of you, I find this an awkward and odd discussion to be having. It reminds me of stories I have heard of white people discussing whether black people were fully human. Of course we can look back on that and say, “Come on, you’ve got to be kidding!”

    Yes, it should be a non-issue, but instead the church is the place where it is most likely an issue. And even when it is addressed, there is a greater concern for potential controversy than there is conviction about the injustice being perpetuated.

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