Archive for March, 2016

Do Women Have to Be Twice as Good as Men?

2 comments Written on March 30th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Rev. Corrie Gustafson is 1 of 11 pastors who lead Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California. She serves as the ACCW board liaison for the Pacific Southwest Conference. Check out her blog at

corrie gThere’s a belief out there that women in ministry have to be twice as good as men to succeed. Here’s what that looks like.

Some women feel they can’t begin to succeed because they can’t get a church to hire them. I’ve seen men make easy transitions from the business world to ministry, but not women. Women talk about needing resumes that are twice as strong as their male counterparts to get noticed by search committees. How can they put heavy-weight experiences on a resume if churches won’t hire them?

For women who have paid ministry positions, the idea of success seems linked to career advancement. This could mean going from a part-time position to a full-time position; getting to preach more often; having their work affirmed through a raise or added responsibility; or moving from an entry-level position into a lead or senior pastor role. I’ve watched for years as men get “head-hunted” for senior positions. I’ve never once heard of this happening for a woman.

Many women ministers talk about the need to have an X-factor to advance in our male-dominated field. An X-factor could be a popular blog, a published book, a PhD or DMin, being a sought-after guest speaker, or having a results-proven discipleship model. Apparently, doing good, healthy, everyday ministry doesn’t make the cut.

Do women really have to be twice as good as men to be hired, to advance, and ultimately succeed in ministry? I can tell you that certainly feels true sometimes, especially when we job search. And there are real roadblocks for women in ministry. For instance, the existence of a pay gap between men and women clergy is verifiable fact. (You can read an analysis of the data collected from the Bureau of Labor Statistics here.) But I image that the answer to this big question depends on how we measure success. And that, I think, is the underlying, systemic issue to the “twice as good” theory.

Most of the North American churches I know evaluate ministry based on numbers—how many people showed up to this program or that service; how many new converts do we have; how many people became members; by how much did the church budget increase; how many staff does the church employ? The higher the number, the more successful we deem a ministry or church. The type of pastors we hire, and how we pay and promote those pastors, are often linked to these numbers.

Does anyone else have a problem with the church—a living organism of people who belong to God—playing a numbers game?

Is anyone else concerned that the church seems to care more about growing numbers than it does about nurturing the spiritual health and maturity of the congregants we already have?

What if it’s God’s will that not all churches grow rapidly in quantity, but grow steadily in qualities like love, joy, and peace?

Shouldn’t the church be more concerned to hire stable, sincere pastors who will discern the needs of a particular church in a particular community, rather than discipleship-system toting, charismatic pastors that bump our numbers but move on to the-next-best-thing in two or three years?

Sure, we should give some weight to job titles on a resume, but shouldn’t we care more about a pastor’s character and ask about their ability to respond ethically and wisely when those messy ministry situations arise?

This is a depressing view of the church. I believe that we have more depth than what I’ve written here, or at least we are capable of more depth. But I also believe that the church is not challenging itself enough to think beyond the numbers game. What if we looked beyond what we have traditionally valued and what has worked in the past? If we do, we might see something fresh that will energize and mobilize us, and expand the kingdom of God in a new direction.

A church with a myopic vision may only grow in one dimension—it may grow in numbers, but it may not grow in depth. Church leaders with myopic vision may only look for, hire, affirm, or promote a cookie-cutter pastor—the white, married with children, extroverted, able-bodied, male pastor—feeling safe that (only) this type of pastor will build a thriving church. But that is narrow thinking.

I worry that the church’s preoccupation with measurable outcomes means we’ve lost our sacred imagination, or God’s vision, for the church. If we believe that God can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, then why are we clinging to what is “safe” and comfortable? Why are we evaluating a living organism the same way same we do an organization?

It’s this myopic vision, this preoccupation with numbers, this lack of sacred imagination in and for the church, that can create systemic injustices against ministers whom God has called to lead.

Too many American churches have little imaginative space for ministers who belong to any kind of minority group. Could we say the same for the Evangelical Covenant Church?

But if God is the Caller into ministry—if God is the Giver of each pastor’s unique story, spiritual gifts, love for the church, wisdom to interpret the scriptures, and ability to lead compassionately—then why should race, ethnicity, marital and parental status, personality, physical disability, or gender categorically deter the church from welcoming any of God’s ministers?

What if the best minister for your congregation right now is one that you’d least expect? He or she may not tick many of your expected qualifications, but they may have the qualities, character, and faith that you don’t know you need for the future God has planned for your church.

This widespread notion that women have to be twice as good as men to succeed in ministry should deeply trouble us. It should make us look long and deep at our churches to see what is driving us. Have we lost our sacred imagination? Are we using the world’s measuring sticks to build fences around the pulpit? Are we setting up women and men that God has called into ministry to fail? To grow disheartened? To compete rather than collaborate with their colleagues?

In a healthy system, in healthy churches, women don’t need to be twice as good as men to succeed in ministry. They don’t need to be super-women or super-pastors. In a healthy church, all pastors are free to be exactly who they are, and to minister in the ways God calls them. The healthy church delights in the diversity of its ministers just as it delights in the diversity of God’s creation, because a healthy church knows that God’s vision for the church is twice as good as our own.


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Leaders on the Margins

4 comments Written on March 21st, 2016     
Filed under: Book & Commentary

Nilwona Nowlin currently serves as the Administrative Specialist for Governance for the ECC and is a member of the Christian Community Development Association and the Redbud Writers Guild. In her “spare time,” she teaches workshops about living successfully as an introvert. Nilwona is a member of the Kingdom Covenant Church (Chicago) launch team and randomly blogs about random things at thedreamerspeaks.

the_next_worship (2) (2)A few months ago, Covenant Pastor Gail Song Bantum posted about her 2015 experience of only reading works written by women of color and her 2016 commitment to expand that to only reading works written by women and men of color. Though it wasn’t an intentional move on my part, the majority of the books I have read, am reading or am planning to read for 2016 are authored by women of color. One of those books, “The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World,” was written by a friend and colleague, Sandra Van Opstal. Sandra currently serves as the Executive Pastor at Grace and Peace Community and has served with the Covenant, but I met her when we were both selected for the CCDA’s Leadership Cohort #4. My life is definitely better because Sandra and I crossed paths; partly because of intentional moments when she poured into me and partly because of moments when I gleaned from her just being herself.

Some years ago, a few of my cohort colleagues, including Sandra, were having a conversation about how leaders of color are often identified versus what this practice looks like in the dominant white culture. The significant nugget that I gleaned from Sandra that day was this: In communities of color, individuals are often invited into leadership. Even if someone thinks that they’re gifted for leadership, they will wait until they are invited into leadership. (It is also often true for women of any ethnicity.) However, in white communities, individuals often self-identify as a leader and seek out leadership opportunities. As soon as Sandra shared this, I immediately began to reflect on other times in my life when I had stepped into leadership and saw the pattern. In fact, even in the present day, I am finally coming to the realization that this is one reason I have such a difficult time “selling” myself when it comes to pursuing leadership opportunities. It goes against my cultural upbringing.

So what does that mean for you? Two things. As you know by now, the Commission on Biblical Gender Equality’s “Develop a Deborah” initiative encourages Covenant congregations to actively identify and encourage women in their midst who are gifted for leadership.

Most times, when organizations or churches seek out candidates for leadership development, it’s communicated in a way that requires people to self-identify. While that may get you a handful of participants, I encourage you to play a more active role in the process. Don’t just throw an announcement in the church bulletin and wait for women to respond. Take time to have conversations with the Deborahs in your congregation, name their gifts and invite them into leadership (whether that’s training, active leadership or a combination of both).

Secondly, I encourage you to read Sandra’s book – not just as an individual but as a leadership team. Though the title suggests that it’s only for worship leaders, I can assure you that it’s not. While it is a discussion about worship practices, it is also very much a book about developing leaders. There are a number of practical tips on how to effectively develop leaders from various cultural contexts, and the book speaks to people from all ethnic backgrounds. I plan to implement some of Sandra’s lessons in my own context, and I hope that you will too.


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“Feminist Critique: Come On Film Industry!”

12 comments Written on March 15th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

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Rev. Cathy Kaminski is the lead pastor of Trinity Community Church in Cincinnati, OH. Before being called into ministry she received a Bachelor of Science in Film & Television from Boston University. She loves movies, but wishes the industry could be better. And she’ll keep fighting for that reality.

“Does that movie pass the Bechdel test?” my professor asked.

The what? Blank stares from the hordes of freshmen taking Film 101.

“The Bechdel test. It’s simple really. Only three criteria: 1) have more than one female character, 2) have the two characters talk to each other at some point in the movie, and 3) is their conversation something other than a discussion about the male characters?”

More blank stares. I’m not sure how many of us had ever looked at a movie this way. I mean, that’s ridiculous, of course a movie would have more than two females…and talk to each other…and discuss something other than men…right?

I have always loved movies. Cheesy, mainstream, arthouse, it didn’t matter to me. I love the way all films, no matter the genre have the capacity to make me think and point me to God. I strongly believe that all artistic expression has the potential to reveal our imago Dei, (our core nature and identity as image bearers of God). Pain, joy, suffering, resilience, conflict, reconciliation, brokenness, triumph, these are elements of any good story. Good stories reflect the human journey and thus reflect our Creator.

Yet, from the moment my professor posed this simple question I began to look at movies in a new light. Is there a disproportional amount of mainstream movies told through the lens of the male viewpoint? And if so, what is the effect? Our Creator formed a beautifully diverse people and when we tell stories through one point of view, we miss out. Not only that, but it reduces the “other” to flat, foil characters whom only serve to propel the male story forward. And this isn’t just a male/female bias, sadly people of color and minorities are also marginalized in this capacity. And I believe we can do better.

Recently I watched the movie Risen,

and was a little taken aback. Why? Well call me foolish and naïve but I expected a story about Jesus’s resurrection to include women! After all show me one person in all history who had greater impact on the empowerment of women? Jesus was RADICAL in his treatment, interactions and view of women. He broke down barriers, gave women a voice, disregarded social norms in order to give women value and purpose. He called them friends, disciples, and allowed their testimonies to transform the world! Jesus gave women a seat at the table when most never even let them in the house.

So upon watching a film about the resurrection and the days that followed, I was tremendously grieved that this fundamental story of my faith had ONE, I repeat ONE female character. And to boot, their interpretation of Mary Magdalene painted her as a one-dimensional prostitute who served as a means to connect the other male characters to the greater story. Needless to say I was outraged. Again you may ask: why?

Beside the fact that NO WHERE in scripture is Mary Magdalene portrayed in this capacity, this understanding of a “composite Mary” takes the witness of Mary of Bethany, (you know Mary and Martha, Jesus’s close friends, sisters of Lazarus), the woman saved from adultery (John 8), the woman who anointed Jesus with oil (Matthew 26), and Mary Magdalene (woman who had seven demons cast out of her in Luke 8), all into ONE CHARACTER! Which, if you really think about it, devalues the magnitude of their stories. And in Risen, Mary Magdalene was basically a tool the story tellers used to connect the Roman soldier to the real disciples. (Italics used to underline the absurdity of such a statement: Mary Magdalene WAS one of the disciples!)

I’m sorry, but I expect more. And so should you!

For years I struggled with the idea of feminism. I thought it meant somehow disregarding or devaluing men. But with that understanding I missed the whole point. Feminism is about recognizing the value of women, seeking equality, and empowering women because ALL HUMANITY misses out when our world is skewed to one point of view. I miss out if a story is only told through a female view point. And I miss out if a story is told from only a male’s.

So again, EXPECT MORE! Tell better stories. Recognize the lens in which stories are told and seek out more complex, diverse representations of humanity. Because we need diverse stories. We need other viewpoints. We need to be aware when we pigeonhole people and take away their voice and importance. We will all be better if we do. We will all see a more whole picture of God when we do.

I still love movies. And I haven’t given up on the film industry. But I will keep challenging them to be more. Be better. And I hope you will too.


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Women’s History Month

6 comments Written on March 9th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Catherine Gilliard is co-senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Atlanta, Georgia. She holds an MDiv and DMin from North Park Theological Seminary. Catherine mentors many pastors, leaders, and believers, both male and female, to live faithfully into their call to ministry and mission. She has been married for 36 years and is the mother of three adult children and grandmother to one amazing grandson.


March is Women’s History Month. In 1981, Congress passed a joint resolution to make the week beginning March 7th as Women’s History Week. In 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. We have this month to remember the many ways women have used their gifts to lead, challenge and change the church and the world. God’s call, Jesus’ inclusion and the Holy Spirit’s gifting of women are stories worth sharing.

There are future generations of men and women who need to know the stories of women who lead. We are inspired by their stories of preparation, stories on how they continue to engage a world that insists women are not equal to men, stories about being mentored and mentors and how they kept going and were faithful to their call; all of these stories need to be told.

There is a narrative, being written about women who lead, that is being adopted by those who desire to widen the hostility that exists on so many levels between men and women who are called by God to lead in the church and the world. As I write these words, I am mindful of how formative this negative narrative can be. I am convinced that men are not the enemy of women and women are not the enemy of men. We are not the same, we are equal; equally called, equally gifted and equally faithful to lead.

I think about the women who have inspired women and men throughout our history. I am so thankful to know their stories. I look at the women today who continue to inspire women and men. They lead in the church and the world, knowing God is calling and using them to shape and transform the hearts of men and women who believe men can lead women but women can’t lead men. The Spirit of the Lord is upon these courageous women and all of us are better when we know their God stories.

Stories of struggle and pain are a familiar themes of all pioneers whom God calls to challenge the status quo. Women leaders who share their testimony of call and journey raise our awareness and consciousness of the many ways systems are supporting and sustaining practices that are harmful, hurtful and misguided. I encourage you to read their stories and continue to listen to the voices on this blog. We need to know the stories of women that are woven into every fabric of our history and society.

As a mother, pastor, mentor, and leader it is deeply troubling that I am listening to the same harmful, hurtful and misguided stories that I shared with my mother during the beginning of the civil rights movement. It has been a long history of building collaboration and advocacy in order for all of God’s creation to live obediently into call. So I thank the Lord for women past and present who share their journey and their hopes for a new narrative to be written. We can begin by remembering some of the timeless words written by women and share your own this month as a way of honoring, remembering and sharing them with other. I hope that you each are inspired to dream, endure, and advocate as you are inspired to remain faithful to call. Which words speak to you? Add your own.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” – Harriet Tubman

“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” – Corrie Ten Boom

“Life will reward you, but not always by the route you expect.” –Edna Rodriguez

“No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you.” – Althea Gibson

“Give light and people will find the way.” -Ella Baker

“Your silence will not protect you.” -Audre Lorde

“Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.” – Coretta Scott King

“Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and welcome the beauty of life!” — Carla Sandoval

“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” – Mother Teresa

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” – Fannie Lou Hamer

“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision. – Helen Keller

“It is when you have a crack in your heart that the light will come in.” – Gabriela Rodil

Next to God we are indebted to women, first for life itself, and then for making it worth living. – Mary McLeod Bethune

“You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through.” – Rosalynn Carter

“We can choose to be a character in a story written out by someone else or we can choose to be the author of our own story.” –Ruby Garcia

“Knowing what must be done does away with fear.” – Rosa Parks

“Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe

“If we are to better the future we must disturb the present.” – Catherine Booth

“Do what you can in the time that you have in the place where you are.” – Shirley S. Raguindin

“Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible.” – Corrie Ten Boom

“Remember your roots but expand your worldview.” – Soledad Muesco Manaay


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Why NOT You?

5 comments Written on March 2nd, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

After receiving the MDiv degree from Fuller Seminary in 2013, Debbie Montzingo served Renew Covenant Church as Associate Pastor. Currently she serves as an itinerant preacher in the greater Seattle area while awaiting full-time call to a church. Debbie has raised three brave children who love Jesus and refuse to accept easy answers. Shoreline Covenant Church in Shoreline, WA, is where she and her husband Darrel currently find home.

My 26-year-old daughter—a novelist, screenwriter, and artist—has nearly always been a person of faith, but she has struggled with church her whole life. When she was very young, she would volunteer in the nursery, even though she didn’t particularly like children, just so she didn’t have to sit in the service.

But recently in her adopted city of Nashville, she found a church that made sense to her. The worship and preaching made sense to her. The value tangibly expressed towards art and creativity made sense to her. The teaching on mercy and justice made sense to her. The idea that with God leading the way, even a single person could make a discernible difference in the world made sense to her. She sent me links to sermons that had made her think. It all made so much sense to her that she signed up for the membership class.

And then she read the membership covenant.

The scary language about giving the church leadership nearly blanket authority over its members aside, she realized something that didn’t otherwise seem obvious: this church specifically excluded women from positions of pastoral leadership, claiming that the Bible required it. Just a few years before, my daughter had said, “If I really believed the Bible said that women could not serve the church in the same ways that men could, I am not sure I could still be a Christian.” I was angry. She finally finds a church home and immediately encounters a stumbling block.

Publicly, she asked some pointed questions. The elders leading the meeting were visibly uncomfortable, but they held their position. She said, “So you’re telling me, if you had, say, a Pastor of Missions position open, and my mother, who is a preacher and a pastor, wanted to apply for the job, you wouldn’t even consider her application?” Yes, they said, still uncomfortable, that’s correct. They said they would be willing to meet with her privately to discuss it further.

She called me, and I encouraged her to read The Blue Parakeet, by Scot McKnight, as a sort of easy entry primer on how you can read the Bible more faithfully and affirm women in ministry. She downloaded it immediately and started reading it. “How can I change their minds?” she asked. Well, I said, I don’t think you can. They will probably be polite and listen, but in the end you will not be the one to change their minds.

But she would not be deterred by my cautions. She had learned something from their very teaching from the pulpit about the power of even one person forging forward in the cause of justice in the power of God. She said, “What if I’m the one God uses to plant the seeds of change? What if they never hear a dissenting voice?” She scheduled the meeting and asked them to read The Blue Parakeet.

One of the elders met with her. He already had a copy of The Blue Parakeet in his hands when she arrived. He said to her, “We really believe that we would be unfaithful to Scripture to change our minds. We know we are losing good people because of our position, but if we change our minds about this, what are we saying about the authority of the Bible? So we really hope that we can find a way to read Scripture differently.”

Wait, what? Oh, me of little faith.

Now, they haven’t changed their position (yet), but she got them into dialogue. She didn’t become a member of the church, but she is volunteering in some of their ministries and remaining involved.

Beloved daughter, don’t listen to me when the Spirit’s voice is so compelling. Be bold, be brave, and be kind. Maybe you are in Nashville for such a time as this. Why not you?

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