Making Pathways for Women

11 comments Written on July 21st, 2014     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Corrie Gustafson is an ordained minister currently serving as an interim chaplain at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is the Pacific Southwest Conference Liaison for Advocates for Covenant Clergy Women (ACCW) and a Regional Coordinator for Advocacy for Victims of Abuse (AVA). She blogs regularly at pastorwithapurse.

I grew up in an evangelical denomination that limited its female members to a narrow list of roles in congregational life. Women could run the community preschool, oversee and teach Sunday school, VBS and Awana, and organize potlucks and special events. Don’t get me wrong, these are all important ways to serve, but when I left for college and joined a Covenant church, I began to see my heritage through a different lens. I wondered, were these few roles fulfilling to all women? Was every woman able to use her spiritual gifts? (And for that matter, was anyone encouraging the women to discover and use their spiritual gifts?) How many of the women realized that their gifts were better suited to roles other than the nurturing and teaching of children or event planning? And how did those women handle the tension between their gifts and the roles they were allowed to fill?

During the 9 to 5, the women I looked up to were nurses, bank VPs, teachers, attorneys, artists, sales reps and accountants. They were devoted followers of Christ, competent and respected leaders in the community and corporate world, educated, well-spoken, talented and creative, yet at church they were not permitted to lead any part of the worship service, serve communion, usher, receive the tithes and offerings or speak in any way from the stage or pulpit. The only exception was during our biannual missionary week when one of our many female missionaries would testify from the pulpit about the ministry she was doing abroad. No one ever spoke about the great contradiction we embodied by commissioning women missionaries to lead abroad even as we limited the mission of the women in our local churches.

The truth is that God calls women to a wide array of roles in the church and the world, roles that include, but are not limited to, the teaching of children and fellowship ministries. Many of us in the Covenant can testify that the Spirit has sent gifted women to competently and wisely lead our churches. And few of us would dispute that all Christians are equally charged to carry out the great commission. While not all women will be called to be pastors, every woman in our churches should regularly hear of her worth as a child of God and disciple of Christ. I believe that it’s the responsibility of pastors, elders and lay-leaders to ensure that the women and girls in our congregations are seen, valued and heard, nurtured in their gifts and call, and given opportunities to serve among us as their gifts direct – all to the glory of God. To our detriment, this does not always happen in our churches.

If you are looking for ways to encourage and better integrate women in the life and leadership of your congregation, here’s a shortlist of ideas:

1. Connect to the heritage of women – You’ll only value the gifts of women more when you tap into the rich history of our contributions to the life of the church, especially in the ECC. At Gather ’14, Meagan Gillan gave a great presentation about Covenant women that shaped our ECC story; watch the six minute clip here. Also, pick up a copy of The Unfolding Mystery of Yes: Women Who Were Forces for Change from I’ve used many of these inspiring biographies as sermon illustrations and to frame meetings and events.

2. Make women visible to your congregation – Sometimes a girl’s vision for her future is limited by what she sees. Churches can make a big impact on the lives of women by making sure the contribution of women is visible and affirmed. Did a woman do something significant behind the scenes? Thank her from the pulpit. During your services, invite women to share their testimonies, read the weekly scripture, lead communion or prayer, or give the benediction.

3. Create mentorship pathways for girls and young women in your congregation – I’ve noticed that mentoring happens more naturally for males in the church because so many youth pastors and youth leaders are male. We must be intentional and strategic about coming alongside our girls and young women. How can we nurture their faith and help them discern their spiritual gifts and their unique call to live out the great commission? Whatever your discipleship strategy or system, there’s a vast amount of research and history that tells us that women grow best in relationship.

4. Diversify your staff – For many churches, staff is one man or a group of men. Both your staff and your congregation would be enriched if you added a woman to your staff. If you anticipate a staff opening, expansion or reorganization, why not pursue one of the many gifted, competent, experienced and educated women clergy actively seeking positions in the Covenant? Direct your search teams to check out their profiles on covconnect or ask for leads from your conference superintendent or ACCW liaison. We have so many women to recommend!

5. Ask a woman to fill your pulpit – Every pastor takes the occasional vacation and needs someone to preach in their absence. Recruit a gifted lay-woman from your congregation, a woman from your local pastor cluster, one of the many women listed here, or call your conference office or ACCW liaison for names.

6. Supervise your staff consistently – As an ACCW liaison I hear many stories of struggle from our female clergy. I know of churches that pay their male and female pastors differently even when responsibilities, education, experience level and hours are equal. Some male senior pastors weekly meet one on one with their male staff, but inconsistently meet with their female staff. I’ve had male supervisors call me “sweetie” while they addressed my male colleagues by their names or by “pastor.” While you may believe that women and men are equally called and gifted as pastors, we should also be treated as equals and as professionals. There may be ways in which bias has leaked into your practice as a supervisor. Noticing inconsistent habits is an important step in living and leading justly.

I’m sure there are many more ways to encourage and empower the women in our churches. I look forward to seeing your suggestions in the comments section!

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11 comments “Making Pathways for Women”

Thank you, Corrie, for sharing both your journey and your perspective, offering excellent ideas to clergy and laypersons alike to fully empower women to engage in ministry. We should be creating a culture in which every person can rise and answer God’s call on her or his life! May it be so in the Covenant! 

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This is a fabulous article!!! Thanks so much for sharing it. I’ve cross-posted it here: 

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Fantastic post, Corrie.  This makes it quite clear what congregational pastors and leaders can do in specific ways to help us live more fully into the vision Jesus had intended for his church.  

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Thank you and Amen!

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Thanks for reminding the Church to integrate women into the leadership of the church and for giving such practical ways for us to do so! Love your encouragement to “notice inconsistent habits!”  You are a gem, Corrie! 

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As one of those women you knew back when, I want to say thanks for this thoughtful article, Corrie. I look forward to hearing more of your insights for today’s body of Christ. 

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Thank you, Corrie, for a great run-down on ways to ease the way for gender equality. Too late in the day for my mind to offer more ideas. Well, there is one (rather silly?) idea… and that is when the worship songs feature a “lead” and “follow” repeating of verses, don’t break it down by gender. Because too often the men lead and the women follow. Or reverse that order, intentionally and often. LIke I said, not a very large idea. Hehe.

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Thanks so much Corrie for sharing how we can change culture within the local and broader church. Very well said and your journey and experiences connect with so many of us. Thanks for sharing.

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Well said and well done! I agree totally. We have developed a church planting movement in the UK and gender issues are not ones we have to tackle as it’s newness (15 years old) has meant we were able to establish the culture from early on. 

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