College is a time when students begin to think critically and where they begin to more fully understand their personal identity. Students develop their worldviews and begin to find out what kind of person they want to be.
My experience in this is still ongoing, but I would like to share one aspect of my journey up to this point.
A part of my identity will always be bound up in the fact that I’m a woman, as well as the fact that I feel God has called me to serve in ministry. In some circles, these two things cannot coexist. Women are often not allowed to preach, to lead, or to be the heads of ministries. It is not uncommon to encounter the stance that women are equal, yet have inherent “differences” which make them somehow less capable of fulfilling a call to the ministry than their male counterparts.
Within my university, I have found widespread acceptance of women and an affirmation of their equality to men from the staff and faculty. A woman’s ability to preach, teach, and lead is largely celebrated. The difficulty often seems to be when women try to move into the role of a leader or pastor in the church. The number of female ministers to male ministers is vastly disproportionate, and even more so between denominational leaders and officials. This is a problem even within some circles of Pentecostalism, as there is pushback against egalitarianism preventing women from being equally represented in the pulpit or other positions of authority.
Although women are affirmed in the act of teaching and through the understanding of Scripture as “equal,” authority is afforded predominantly to men. Many times, inadvertent actions on the part of both males and females betray their theological affirmations of equality. There is a pervasive mindset that wants to say that women have a specific role: one which subordinates them to men. Within this schema, a few exceptional women will be called by God to evangelize or preach, but women should mainly find their place in places of subordination to male leadership. This is a mindset which doesn’t expect women to actually excel in ministry work, and makes its belief evident through dismissive attitudes and behavior toward females pursuing roles of leadership. While Pentecostalism allows women to serve in ministry, our rhetoric doesn’t always match what is modeled in our communities. This subversive attitude of women’s inferiority at large, and specifically in ministry, exists because our understanding of gender equality is not grounded physically as a creation made in the imago dei (Image of God – Gen. 1:26-27). Instead, it is spiritually conveyed that women’s “differences” are often overlaid with the “anointing,” or the special ability to minister, which then allows women called to ministry to overcome their inherent inadequacy to men.
As Pentecostals, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the Spirit has been poured out and continues to be poured out on all people – both men and women. Through our equality that comes through the image of God and the power of the Spirit, both genders can function in leadership. In order to fulfill the Great Commission, we must not diminish the importance of Peter’s words on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17). We must be open to hearing female voices and create space for women to succeed in their calling. All are able to be used and capable to lead – men or women, young or old, uneducated or schooled, rich or poor. The ability to fully pursue the call of God in the local church community or other areas of ministry should not be contingent on one’s gender.
There are several things we can do to advocate for the full capability of each woman in the body of Christ.
- Be vocal about your support for women in ministry, and encourage women around you to pursue the call of God on their lives. Pentecostalism affirms women’s ability to preach and work alongside men in order to spread the Gospel. Their understanding and defense of this position rests on Peter’s proclamation that in these last days, God is pouring his Spirit out on all flesh – both sons and daughters will prophesy. Who are we to deny someone the ability to lead or pastor based on gender when the same Spirit poured out on men is poured out on women?
- Explore egalitarian organizations such as Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) or The Junia Project, which work to educate and empower all believers to carry out what God has called them to do. There are many local chapters of CBE that you can join and partner with to help educate others about gender equality.
- A Christian who is called into the ministry and leadership should not be denied their God-given calling because of their gender. We must be ready and willing to celebrate not just when men are placed into their calling, but women as well. We must also mourn and seek God in the times when those who are called by God are denied their calling because of their gender. Christians are not put into a place of ministry and leadership by other Christians, but rather by the call of God placed on their lives.
In these ways, Christians can begin to affirm women in who God created them to be, not a subserviented gender, but as a part of the mankind created in the image of God, equally capable and created to fulfill the specific call of God on their lives.
This is one article in a series of posts about women in leadership. More posts on this crucial topic will be forthcoming.