Several months ago, I visited a new-to-us church that happened to be celebrating its anniversary Sunday in part by having various ministry leads report on the goings-on of the last year. The senior pastor, who went last, began by quoting Luke 4:18-19. In this passage, Jesus begins his public ministry by quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The pastor reported that the leadership team of the church recently read “A Church Called Tov” by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer (point in the church’s favor). He said that it encouraged him to view Luke 4:18-19 as a marker of church health and culture, that a healthy church proclaims good news to those on the fringes. He went further and said that a healthy church will reach out, include, and empower those without influence. The pastor spoke to a couple of ministries the church was specifically doing to reach out to those on the fringes in the community and how the church was integrating teens into worship services.
And then, reader, he said something that made me burst into tears in the middle of that group of complete strangers.
If you didn’t already know this, in many churches and many denominations, women are overlooked and held back from ministry. As a church, we believe that women are given every spiritual gift. We affirm that women can lead and be pastors. And this last year we extended a pastoral call to N as our associate pastor. [applause from congregation]
So we affirm N’s calling and gifts that God has given her and we’re excited to see how God moves through N in our midst. And I just wanted to share a couple thoughts about the grace of God and our culture. This movement is the grace of God. The movement of reaching, including, and empowering is a reflection of who you are as a faith community. It’s an embodiment of the grace that you have experienced and shared with others. This is you saying “yes” to the work of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for following the Spirit’s prompting. The second is this. I don’t think we have arrived by any means. We don’t do this perfectly. This is ongoing work for us, but I do believe that we are on the precipice of doing something exciting and that this is just the beginning of what God has for us.Senior Pastor of Yet-to-be-named Church
You may already know that I have post traumatic church disorder. You may already know that the last three churches I was a member of were complementarian. You may even know that one of the things triggering my post-traumatic church disorder was being labelled (as a female) “possibly aggressive” by a pastor and elder (both male) for daring to say something diplomatically in a solicited feedback form that my husband had already said more directly to this same elder’s face without making waves.
What you probably don’t know is that, prior to visiting Yet-to-be-named Church, David and I had most recently been attending a different local church with both men and women on the leadership team. The very small church had just hired a pastor to help it re-launch. And the pastor, while there were many things that I very much resonated with in his sermons, soon made clear that leadership was solely for men. While this wasn’t the final straw that led David and I to enter the church dating scene again (particularly since David is still making up his mind about the complementarian vs egalitarian debate), it was another pinching of the still-sore wound left behind by former churches.
As embarrassing as they were, the tears were tears of relief. The following Sunday, I brought David to the church. The Sunday after that, we brought the Bees.
While it is too soon to know if we will end up at this church long term, I may have finally found a place where that wound can begin to heal in earnest.
For another woman’s thoughts on being a woman in complementarian churches, please read Aimee Byrd’s recent post My Thoughts on Mike Bird’s Thoughts. For those not familiar with Aimee, up until fairly recently she was a staunch complementarian in a staunchly complementarian denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Then she sought help through her church in dealing with harassment and spiritual abuse by others in her denomination. I won’t spoil the ending by telling you what happened next.