Women’s ministry leaders across the country—plus a token guy—were asked: “Do most Christian churches/churches of Christ you’re aware of allow women to reach their full potential in Christ?”
Paul Boatman, seminary dean at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University
Of course they do! The trick is to keep their full potential limited so that they are prevented from exercising any God-given talents that might impinge on our fantasies of masculine control. Some leadership roles just cannot be filled without testosterone!
Having participated in at least a dozen ordinations of women to specialized ministries, I experience frustration at consistently seeing the churches underusing, marginalizing, or ignoring gifted women.
At LCU we have no gender-specific programs and put no gender limits on any programs. For example, we have women in our master of divinity program, but have had females from other schools that either could not take preaching classes or had them transcripted with such titles as “Devotional Speaking.”
The theological debate can be simplified as a question over which Scripture is normative: Galatians 3:28 or 1 Timothy 2:12.
Nancy Karpenske, women’s ministry director at LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, Colorado
I want to be cautious in replying, because I do not want to be disrespectful to my elders and staff, who give me much freedom and respect in ministry. As an ordained woman in ministry, I can’t honestly say that I haven’t been limited in reaching my potential. I’ve often said that if you asked the elders, “Can a woman fulfill this (you fill in the blank) role?” they would say, “Probably not.” But if you asked them, “Can Nancy do this?” they would say, “No problem.” It’s not that they don’t realize I’m a woman; it’s that I have a long history and credibility with them.
But I know of godly women in churches in the Bible Belt who are not even permitted to baptize someone or lead the congregation in prayer. Teaching adults or other leadership roles are not even on the horizon in those locations. That’s very sad and wasteful.
I have never considered it my role to advise the elders concerning what the Bible says about a woman’s role. I have tried to keep my focus on the privilege of submitting to their understanding and leadership. That’s not supposed to sound like I have my act together. Many fellow servants and leaders can testify that submitting is not one of my strong suits.
Pat Rohach, director of women’s ministry, NorthEast Christian Church, Lexington, Kentucky
Well, the norm is that women have a certain place in the Christian churches and churches of Christ, one that does not include public praying, serving Communion, teaching men, or “preaching.” Scholars of course, are divided on these issues, so the answer lies within individual leadership.
At Cane Ridge, Kentucky, when the churches were united, the women served in many different capacities, but when the Christian church separated from the Disciples of Christ, women in the Christian church were under the restrictions mentioned above.
This is an interesting subject and should be studied by all, allowing God to lead. Women are sometimes more than half of our congregations and if they are not allowed to use their gifts in the church, we are missing some valuable ministry.
Susan Lawrence, women’s ministry consultant, also coordinator of women’s ministry, Taylorville (Illinois) Christian Church
The short answer? No. But I don’t think it’s completely the churches’ responsibility. Sure, we have to do the best we can to cultivate the soil in a way that provides every nutrient and opportunity to grow, but each woman still has a choice of how committed she is to grow.
I don’t know how we’d measure the women reaching their full potential, except to ask God!
I’m certain that as a church as a whole, we’re not reaching our full potential. If we were, our communities and country would look drastically different. And in some areas, this is the case!
Rhonda Baker, pastor of women’s ministry, Central Christian Church, Las Vegas, Nevada
I have been ordained at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas to preach the full gospel, administer sacraments, etc., and am given the opportunity to do so in the sphere of women with some additional teaching in our seven-week First Step membership class for men and women.
I believe a woman is allowed to reach her full potential when she has fully embraced the gifting God has blessed her with and a senior pastor/elder board, etc., have fully embraced her gifting, as well, allowing her to utilize them for the kingdom of God. Often what happens is that a church will leave the issue undecided for fear of controversy, or will make a decision to fully embrace women in leadership, preaching, etc., but not model this decision in the body of Christ, causing considerable confusion and hurt whether intended or unintended.
The bottom line is, I believe women are encouraged to reach their full potential privately but not publicly, if that makes sense. We are often guilty of encouraging a woman in a private conversation to reach her full potential, but publicly we do not offer her the opportunity. Consequently this causes her God-given gifts to be stifled instead of fully used as a blessing to build up the kingdom of God.
Kay Moll, women’s and missions ministries, Christ’s Church at Mason, Ohio
I have grown up in Christian churches. It was in a Christian church that I accepted Christ. It was in a Christian church that I felt led to go to Bible college to train for ministry. It was in a Christian church that I first had the privilege of serving as a minister’s wife. It was in a Christian church that I was set apart to serve the Lord as a missionary in Zambia. It was Christian churches that supported me both financially and with prayers and incredible outpourings of encouragement for the years I was in Africa. It was Christian churches who welcomed me home on furlough and asked me to speak and share about what God was doing in that country. It was Christian churches that made it possible me for to be part of the ministry of Good News Productions, International for more than a decade. It has been in Christian churches where I have been able to serve with (husband) Tom (Moll) for the last 19 years, both in paid and unpaid staff positions.
I have never felt that I was not able to minister or to serve because I was a woman. I have always felt that I was under the authority of the elders in any congregation that I was part of, and that has not limited what I have been able to do. If your passion is to serve Christ and to serve people . . . if the desire of your heart is that God be glorified by your ministry . . . if you are not concerned about titles but about service . . . there are no limits.
Lt. Col. Karen J. Diefendorf, chief of U.S. Army Chaplain Center & School’s training division at Fort Jackson, South Carolina; academic dean, Lincoln (Illinois) Christian Seminary
I wonder if our own view of the role of women doesn’t keep women’s ministry “alive” since women feel a sense of segregation from the main church leadership and life. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fulfilling; it just means that women will do something even if they find it a second best use of their gifts.
I don’t want to imply that all women involved in women’s ministry think that, but younger women today have a lot less patience with a schizophrenic view of leadership and gifts (i.e., these women could be doctors, lawyers, CEOs but are told from our pulpits that women can’t lead).
Debbie Scheller, women’s ministry team leader, Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky
I don’t know if I would definitely say yes or no. I think our church does. Could we do some things differently? Yes. But as the women’s ministry team leader, I am satisfied and believe we have to be careful that we are not striving for the world’s definition of success.
We have many wonderful leaders who respect and challenge women to grow and lead. Do all churches look like ours? Absolutely not. I have no desire to have women preaching or to have women elders; in my reading of Scripture, that is not biblical. Could there be a greater diversity in some levels of leadership? Yes.
Sarah Huxford, women’s pastor, Megan Gariss, women’s ministry intern, Savannah (Georgia) Christian Church
The church has always needed women to get God’s work done. Scripture is full of examples of amazing female leaders who advanced the cause of Christ. When talking about women reaching their full potential in the church, we feel there needs to be a balance between seeking the Lord’s guidance and leadership looking at the individual gift mixes.
Women should always submit to the leadership of the church, but the church should also recognize that women need to feel needed, appreciated, and delighted in.
Darrel Rowland is an adult Bible fellowship teacher at Worthington (Ohio) Christian Church and public affairs editor of The Columbus Dispatch.