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A message from Life’s vision team on women in leadership:
Three years ago Life’s vision team concluded a year-long study on the topic of women in leadership. As many of you know, this is a question the Church has wrestled with for centuries, right up to the present day when evangelical scholars, pastors, and churches are fairly evenly divided as to which position best represents the Bible’s teaching – the full inclusion of women at every level of church leadership (“egalitarian”), or whether some leadership roles are meant only for men (“complementarian”).
For me (Tim), after years of my own study and wrestling, I had come to the conclusion that the stronger biblical case was for the full inclusion of women at every level of church leadership. I asked the vision team to study this with me, and at the end of a year we came out (much like the church in America) divided as to which was the stronger case. Consequently, we determined to do our best to reflect this in our practice as well, by trying to live into a sort of middle position, with the understanding that we would revisit the topic at some point in the future.
In practice, living in the middle meant inviting women with teaching gifts to be part of the Sunday morning preaching rotation, and asking the congregation to elect women as well as men to serve on the vision team (though the women served as adjunct, non-voting members, like our staff pastors do).
It has been three years since that time, and as the topic seemed to bubble up from many in the church as 2016 came to a close, the VT concluded it was time to revisit this topic. After much prayer and study, this is our unanimous conclusion:
It is the collective wisdom of the team that God has led us to fully embrace women in every area of leadership.
Why the change?
In short, our desire is to bring our church’s practices into better alignment line with the Scriptures, as best we understand them, and with our sense of what God is doing in us as a church.
First and foremost, we see this position as the best read of Scripture. We say this in a spirit of true humility, fully recognizing that this is not an easy question to resolve. Interpreters on both sides of this question adhere to a high view of the Bible, do their prayerful best to accurately discern what the Bible teaches, and sincerely want God’s best for both men and women.
Coupled with this, we did our best to discern what God is doing in our particular congregation, and how that should inform our practice. In doing so, there was a sense that in some ways this feels less like a decision than it does a simple acknowledgment of where God has led our church. Three years ago, it turns out that our membership was far more egalitarian in their read of Scripture than we expected. In the three years since then we have become much more egalitarian still. This view matches the convictions of our pastors and our denomination as well. As we’ve prayed about the potential significance of this, our team’s discernment is that this is not accidental, but how we believe the Spirit has led us as a church.
What will this change mean?
On the one hand, there will be little visible change in the way Life functions. Women already teach in Sunday worship, and elsewhere throughout our body. Women are already elected to the vision team, though the change here is that they will now do so as full voting members.
However, we think the most significant changes will be the ones that are perhaps not as immediately visible. In particular, we anticipate that over time this will affect:
• The quality and fruitfulness of ministry. A church thrives as its members live out the gifting and calling God has given them, and is impoverished when it does not. At Life, we want to do what we can to see that every member lives into the totality of their gifting, and that no one is unnecessarily restricted in living out the call God has for them.
• How women view themselves, and how they view God. In spite of the sincere insistence by complementarians that God sees women and men as equals in spite of any difference in roles, many women wrestle with a subtle perception that God somehow sees them as less than men. Dallas Willard puts this well:
“The exclusion of women from ‘official’ ministry positions leaves women generally with the impression that there is something wrong with them. Perhaps that is a mistaken inference on their part, and some may manage to work around it without being deeply affected. But if God indeed excludes women from leadership of the Church, there must be some reason why he does. What could it be? And if leadership, speaking, etc. is good work, and work manifestly in need of good workers, what, exactly, is it about a woman that God sees and says: ‘That won’t do.’ Or did he just flip a coin and men won? This line of questioning of course affects all women, and not just those with aspirations to official ministry.”
(Dallas Willard, in the foreword to How I Changed My Mind About Women in Ministry, ed. by Alan Johnson)
• How Life’s children view women as they grow up. What women do and don’t do affects how our young girls see themselves, and what they can envision themselves one day doing. And it affects our boys as well, and the way they grow up viewing their sisters in Christ. Our expectation and hope is that as both women and men at Life live out the full range of their gifts, that our children will grow up with a deeper understanding that God has designed men and women as equals, and specifically, that they would imbibe a biblical view of women’s worth and capabilities.
A final note on grace
For some, living in the middle these last few years came pretty easily, while for others (on both sides of this topic) it was very stretching, and came with a host of challenges. I want to say a hearty thank you to all those who struggled, yet persisted in fellowship and service.
This struggle highlights one overarching positive which I want to call attention to, and which I want to see continue.
One of the best things that came out of our last three years as a church is that it provided a space where God could teach us to “to bear with one another in love.” Faced with one of the most contentious issues in the Church today, we chose to listen to one another, to extend grace, and to accept one another in an area where studied and sincere interpretations of the Bible differ.
In Romans 14, Paul calls these areas of legitimate biblical difference “disputable matters.” In these, he tells us, we are not to quarrel nor to judge, but rather to “accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom 15:7). In an age when Christians are far too quick to fight, to judge, and to part ways, it is one thing to say that we are a church that will not separate over the Bible’s gray areas. It is wholly another thing to live it. We have lived it, and I’m convinced we are far better for it. As we move forward, it is essential that we continue to extend this kind of grace to one another, thinking and speaking the best of one another as we encourage each other forward in our shared faith.
Attached you will find a brief ten-page paper explaining the biblical rationale for this position. I hope you will take the time to give it a prayerful read. Then, this Sunday, September 10, I will be teaching on this topic, and we will have a discussion time after the service for any who would want to dig deeper.
Thank you friends, for being a church that loves and seeks after Jesus. Lord bless you –
Tim, and the VT (Adam Bettino, Donna Delonti, Johnny Dibernardo, Deanne Funk, Tony Gervase, Janell Gibson, Charley Miller; with Doug Lee and Cameron Coulter, adjunct members)