A number of years ago while I was still in a student at Canadian Baptist Seminary. I wrote a paper entitled, “Women in Ministry? Of Course!” It was a biblical study of the role of women in ministry and attempted to wrestle with the ongoing debate of whether or not women should be pastors.
The other day I was in conversation with a colleague and we were discussing the pastoral role. He has gone on record as saying that the call to be a pastor is the highest calling. I have gone on record as saying that the call to be a pastor is not the highest calling. In fact it is equal with all other callings of God, whether to be a teacher, a plumber, a carpenter, a businessman, etc. As we were chatting about the issue, I took note of my assistant working away at her desk and realised that if it is indeed the highest calling to be a pastor, she would have not hope of responding to that call. In fact, if it is indeed the highest calling to be a pastor, one half of the human race has no hope of fulfilling God’s highest purpose for their life.
It got me to thinking about the book I am now reading. I have been captured by The Forgotten Ways, by Australian missionary Alan Hirsch. In it he talks of new forms of church that have been emerging in the last 40 years or so that are better equipped to respond to the cultural milieu within which we live and minister today. His contention is that attractional models of church that were so valid in the years from Constantine (ie. Christendom) are becoming less valid in a world where there is an increasing plurality in the religious scene. No longer can we assume that society is Christian.
This reflects the wisdom of Dr. Ken Davis, my seminary church history prof. He talked of two types of Christianity existing in the world. One he called Corpus Christianum. or the Body of Christianity. This is that organisational force that is formed when Christianity becomes official, established, powerful, etc. It may or may not truly reflect the desires of Christ even though it says it does. The other he called Corpus Christi or the Body of Christ and reflected the Believer’s church – ie. those who have chosen to follow Christ and who actively on a daily basis to take up their crosses and follow him.
Hirsch says that the current concepts on church leadership were formed out of the Constantinian model of church (ie. Corpus Christianum). Since society was officially Christian, there was no more need for Apostles (to protect the truth) or evangelists to proclaim the truth. The church settled on pastors to shepherd the flock that already existed. This form exists until today but was developed out of the new realities of church in AD300. He contends that the church needs to return to the 5-fold leadership described in the Ephesians 4:11 – “He also gave apostles, prophets, missionaries, as well as pastors and teachers as gifts to his church.”
Coupled with Hirsch’s thoughts on church leadership, I was also reminded of another book i’m reading, this one by someone perhaps as diametrically opposed to Hirsch’s philosophy as you can get. After serving on the staff of one of the most famous “attractional” churches of our time – Willow Creek – Don Cousins moved on to create his own church consulting agency. His latest book, Experiencing Leader Shift, is his take on church leadership today. He clearly states that there is no specific spiritual gift of leadership mentioned in the Bible and that in fact our present understanding of leadership today focuses on only one type of leadership: namely that of the leader-who-can-make-grand-plans-and-carry-them-to-fruition. In layman’s terms, basically people who can successfully lead their faith communities into mega churches. Cousins discounts this leadership style as being the spiritual gift of leadership. He also points out that 92% of American pastors don’t see themselves in this way and therefore feel that they are not adequate to the task. He proposes (and this is where the comparison with Hirsch takes place) that biblical leadership is in fact plural – made up of 5 different gifts that all create leadership in different ways within the church.
So how does all of this relate to the issues of women in ministry? Perhaps we have created a debate where no debate needs to exist. If, as contended by Hirsh and Cousins, church leadership is not defined by one individual who preaches every Sunday, heads up board meetings, leads Bible studies/cellgroups/home groups/care groups/etc, casts vision for the church, protects the church theologically, declares the will of God for the congregation, etc. and is rather a plurality of people gifted in the areas of apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, shepherding, and teaching, then (boy this is a long sentence) there is a place for both genders to be involved in church ministry and even leadership. Now women, along with men, have the chance to achieve their highest purpose in Christ through the appropriate exercise of their gifts and new understandings of church leadership.