The following post is from my perspective as a woman who has served in the Evangelical tradition of the Church for the past thirty years. There are many groups marginalized from the Church today, at the center of each group are those that hold the power to give access, to share power with those at the margins or those that have been denied to function in all of their God-given gifting, talent and calling.
As a woman navigating leadership in the church (not the church I serve but the wider church) my experience has been “ being caught” between two worlds. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church where I didn’t question the issue of leadership. From my perspective the way a woman attained leadership was to become a nun. Having left the RC at the age of eighteen, my next church experience was in a Pentecostal/Evangelical church where male and female leadership was modeled. My next church experience was in a Vineyard church that embraced biblical equality. It wasn’t until the time of my ordination in 1996 the realization hit, I had been insulated from how far behind the wider church was on this issue.
While I believe this falls under an issue of justice, I have learned to restrain from pugnacious arguments on this issue. In some ways, restraint has been necessary to get a hearing, but at other times, since this is an issue of justice, I have used my power to speak up even when it is not “politically correct” to do so.
Part of the issue of power and understanding power is being self-aware enough to know when you are reacting and when you need to stand for what’s true. These are not easy issues, especially when you have felt the injustice of someone judging you because of your gender. In many ways this injustice is not unlike the caste system, one does not have control over what position in life they are born into.
This brings me to the question at hand. How do we change structures in the Church that have not allowed women access? I know this is a complex issue with many implications when you are dealing with denominational structures. What I do believe is that if people that are in the seats of power will not share power (this usually comes with a cost), i.e., step aside and let those without access have space, then real change, systemic change does not occur.
The Vineyard is in the midst of navigating how to give women access to all levels of leadership. This means changing structures that have been in place since the Vineyard’s inception that have not allowed women equal access. This is reflected in the amount of female lead pastors, the AVC Board of Directors, (all men, while their wives attend and give input, their vote does not officially count), and in countless other ways.
My husband and I have been asked to participate on a task force within the Vineyard to address empowering women for senior leadership. This is a great start. However I still have questions.
How do we navigate this kind of change? Local Vineyard churches are autonomous, with each church deciding its own governance and stance on women in ministry. It is a centered set movement. However, when we come together for regional or national events, there will now be women recognized in senior leadership. I believe this decision has caused some churches to disengage from the Vineyard.
The implications of how to move forward in a movement that embraces both sides of the issue of women in ministry but nationally adheres to a Theology of the Kingdom in this area is no easy matter. I don’t for a minute think I can speak to all of the issues that this kind of change in a movement raises.
What I can speak to is the issue of power. You see, I believe when this kind of change is on the horizon, the people that hold the power must be willing to step aside and make room for those very ones that have been without access. This means when you have an all male board of directors, a few of them would give up their vote to qualified women. It means that if you are a woman with access to power in the existing system you lobby for the women who are as our founder would say are, “doing the stuff” and you hand them the mic so to speak. Does this come with a cost, you bet it does. This kind of change does not come without the cost of someone giving up their “rights” their “place” for the sake of the “other” think Jesus.
I am hopeful that our movement can have the courage to make the necessary change structurally to give women access. I believe that the intention is to do so. Will those that actually hold the power be willing to step aside (not out) and share the power they possess to make space for others…I hope so.
What changes in structures do you see that must happen for this kind of change to occur?