Archive for August, 2016

The Woman at the Well

3 comments Written on August 31st, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Ellie VergoweEllie VerGowe is currently serving as Ministerial Resident for Community Outreach at First Covenant Church on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Ellie enjoys dancing, being outside and reading a good book on a rainy day with a friend and a cup of tea.

I recently read the story of the woman that Jesus meets at the well in John 4. Jesus is traveling and finally sits down at a well in Samaria in the heat of the day. As he is sitting there, a woman comes to the well to draw water. Her story comes out a bit as Jesus talks with her. She is at the well in the hottest part of the day because of her marital situation. We don’t know the whole story, but she has been through a lot. Maybe other women make fun of her when she draws water in cooler parts of the day and she has decided to go to the well alone.

The Samaritan Woman - John 4:1-42It is all very scandalous really…she is a ridiculed woman and left out of her community. She, a Samaritan of not “pure” bloodline speaks with a Jewish rabbi alone. And Jesus and this woman converse, she gives him water and he gifts her with the knowledge of his gift of grace and life…of living water.

Jesus explicitly tells her, this scandalous woman, that HE is the one that she and everyone else had been waiting for…the Christ, the Messiah. This woman sees the truth and in her joy runs back to her community to preach the gospel. But then John tells us that she says this in verse 29: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

What? Didn’t Jesus JUST tell her that he was the Messiah? While I don’t know how all the ways internalized patriarchy manifested itself in this ancient context, this woman’s response was a word of challenge for me when I read it most recently. This woman preaches with a question, though she knows the answer full well, and from the mouth of God, no less. I have noticed this pattern within myself and in many female colleagues. When I enter meetings, when I preach, when I speak to my colleagues, I speak with an air of apology and question. I say, “I don’t know if this would work, but…” and “I am still learning, but what if we…” and “I think…” and “I’m sorry…” while most of my male colleagues state their opinions and thoughts with an air of confidence. In their speech there are few questions and little to no apologies.

While I believe that questions and apologies aren’t bad and can sometimes even welcome others into conversation more, many of us women have been socialized to speak without confidence and with apologizing for the space that we take up in the world…as if the world wasn’t desperate for the voices of women preaching the gospel (whether it knows it or not!). The Samaritan woman preached the gospel with questions but God still ushered people to faith through her words. The gospel is still preached in our questions and apologies and fear…but my sisters…we know the truth. We’ve been gifted. We’ve been called. Let us, we who preach while being women (a scandal to so many!), preach without questioning our place to do so and tell the
truth without apology.

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What Can I Add to the Kingdom of God?

2 comments Written on August 23rd, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

profile pictureRev Cathy Kaminski, lead pastor of Trinity Community Church in Cincinnati, OH. She loves coffee, healthy living and people. Each day she strives to be faithful in the small details of life.

I’ve witnessed an epidemic spread throughout the Church and it breaks my heart. The symptoms are easily overlooked. The sickness seems far from terminal, but the effects are so catastrophic it can change the trajectory of an entire ministry and will eventually lead to death. What is this infectious disease? What is so threatening it chokes off life and kills the spirit?

The illness: failing to see why one person’s contribution matters.

Without meaning to we elevate certain roles and functions in the Church. We esteem governmental leadership and vocational ministry. We celebrate the big and overlook the small. In doing so ministry erodes at its core and little by little the impact of the Church lessens. This effects both men and women, of all ages and seasons of life, but sadly, I have seen this cut the hope from my sisters in Christ and I desperately yearn for this lie to be exposed!

“Who am I that God would use me?” We are not the first ones in existence to have doubts about ourselves and feel inadequate. We are definitely not the last. Throughout scripture we see men and women of faith ask this question. Sarah asked. Moses asked. Jeremiah asked. Mary asked. So many people voice this self-doubt. But here is the difference: they brought it to God. Their questions did not stifle their willingness to follow. Even when they did not understand how they could be used or failed to see how they could contribute to God’s work, they went to God. They were willing to trust that the Lord’s perspective was greater than theirs and they followed.

But it’s not just the prophets, matriarchs & patriarchs, the evangelists and pastors this principal applies to…it’s all of us. The crux of the epidemic is not necessarily with those called to leadership or ministry, it’s with the priesthood of believers. The men and women who are vital to the local church. The people who have been called to be a part of the family of God. They are the literal hands and feet of Christ in the world. These are the ones who count themselves out! These are the ones whose faith, service and willingness to follow changes the future of the Church.

We think about the big acts of faith: moving to another country to do mission work, starting a church plant, quitting our jobs to do ministry, etc. But we overlook the small acts. Cleaning up after Sunday’s coffee hour, teaching Sunday school, preparing a meal for new parents, bringing a parishioner to a doctor’s appointment, praying for the church, etc. The collective weight of these Kingdom acts transforms the world!

article pictureI think of the maidservant of Naaman’s wife, (2 Kings 5:1-19). She was an Israelite slave girl in captivity. We don’t even know her name. She was not some great leader. She did not do some monumental act. She did not lead armies, heal the sick, or preach to the nations. What did this young Hebrew girl do? She had faith in God and His mighty power. Although she found herself in a foreign land among foreign gods, when her master’s husband fell ill she shared her faith in the Living God. When no one could heal Naaman of his leprosy, this slave girl spoke up and pointed to the prophet Elisha and the God of the Hebrews. Such a small act, with profound consequences. When all the physicians, sorcerers, and false prophets could do nothing for Naaman, this young woman told him about the one true God. Her faith, her boldness, her willingness to share about God ultimately brought about Naaman’s healing and gave glory to the God she loved. How many other unnamed women out there have the potential to be used by God? How many of us are being called to live out our faith, be transparent with our hope and point others towards the God who heals? How many small acts are before us that have greater impact than we could ever fathom?

The sickness that threatens the Church is as simply as overlooking the small acts of faith that God places before us each day! “Who am I that God would use me?” God created you to be loved and to love others! You were knit together in a unique way, called precious and ordained for this time and this place! Apathy could kill the church. But faithfulness in the day to day will be Her hope! Please don’t count yourself out. Please don’t belittle your contribution. Cast light on the lie that you don’t matter! Be faithful in the small things. And allow God to amaze you with the impact.


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Does. Not. Compute.

1 Comment » Written on August 16th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Debbie Montzingo teaches Bible at Bellevue Christian School and serves as an itinerant preacher at a variety of Covenant and other churches in western Washington. She awaits permanent call.

I admit I have not always believed that women should be pastors or leaders in the church. In my case, a series of “Wait, what?” moments over the years directed me towards the better way, moments where the practical application of a males-only model just did not quite make sense. Here is one of them.

In my young adult faith, the Bible as a foundation to Christian living and thinking was important to me. I valued “Where is it written?” long before I was a Covenanter. So I agreed with my church on what seemed a plain reading of the Bible: women could serve God, equal in value with men, but not in role. I bought into the glorious vision of the church that women expressed their submission to God by submitting to men: their fathers, their husbands, their elders, their pastors.

The service opportunities for women were primarily confined to women, children, congregational care, and worship. Women could speak from the pulpit to give a missions trip report and the like, but never to preach. It sounds more restrictive than it actually felt; it was not a primary doctrine or issue there, but it did affect many areas of ministry.

I had taken the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement class, which is an excellent resource for understanding worldwide missions from biblical, historical, cultural, and strategic perspectives, taught in church consortiums and Bible colleges all around the world. Eventually I trained to coordinate classes. In the process, I met a young woman who served as a speaker with an agency that gathered and shared information with churches about unreached people groups. She was dynamic and knowledgeable, a true advocate for world mission. She was also pragmatic.

In conversation one day, she talked about the times she had spoken at churches that did not affirm women in preaching or leadership. With a shrug, she said, “Usually they will let me speak as long as I promise not to speak from Scripture.”

Wait, what?

I have never attended a church, whatever their view of women in ministry, that did not want women to study and learn from the Bible, to be informed by biblical preaching, to read books that brought them into deeper understanding of God’s Word, to have their lives shaped by biblical truth, to know the Savior revealed in its pages, to reflect his character in their choices, to aspire to the gospel that Jesus preached. If the church is educating its women well, how do we then not speak from Scripture when talking about world mission? How do we not speak from Scripture when talking about how to raise children or serve the poor or teach Sunday School or live our lives, when Scripture has been so appropriately instrumental in making us who we are?

Are they asking us to compartmentalize our lives so that the Bible box is over there and our experience box is over here? Are they saying that there is a truth that is not God’s truth? Are they saying that it is more biblical to speak non-biblical truth because we are women? Are they saying that less Scripture is better than more Scripture if it is spoken by a woman?

Does. Not. Compute.

I love God, and I know that he loves me. I have lived my life trying to do and to be all that God has created me to do and to be—in other words, to obey. Every time I have tried to live by any other standard, I have been miserable. I realize that sometimes God asks us to do things we do not always understand or that are difficult and painful. I get that his ways are not our ways.

But although God is above human reason, he is not unreasonable or capricious. I am pretty sure he does not ask me to separate myself into pieces so I do not accidentally violate a gender divide when I open my mouth. I do not believe that God is pleased by the hairs we split to maintain an unmaintainable position. So either we need to keep women from speaking at church whenever men are around to prevent us from accidentally communicating Scriptural truth, or we need to re-think the whole idea. Is it possible we have missed the point, even as we have tried to obey?

Years after the conversation with this young woman speaker, its influence remained in my mind. I finally decided to go to seminary after a year-long discernment process because I realized that writing and speaking about biblical truth brought me great joy. Every time I had an opportunity to write or speak, biblical truth naturally enriched the content. My readers and listeners seemed to receive what I offered, often in life-changing ways. Twice after speaking at school events, others said to me, “You have missed your calling. You should be a preacher.” Before I had even entertained the possibility, those around me were pointing me in the direction of God’s call, although it took many years for the circumstances of my life to allow me to hear that call clearly.

The church has done its rightful job in me. And now I believe it is time for the church to let me and my sisters do ours—as God has gifted and called us.

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Thinking is Good

2 comments Written on August 9th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Brian Wiele is Lead Pastor at River Ridge Covenant Church in Olympia, Washington, and serves as Chair of the Commission for Biblical Gender Equality for the Evangelical Covenant Church, which exists to equip the church to articulate the truth about Biblical equality regarding gender; and to advocate for women in ministry and leadership in all possible venues within the church. 

Last week I had the honor of joining eight-hundred-fifty women for Triennial, the outstanding conference for ECC Women Ministries. As one of the two dozen or so men attending, my presence created a light-hearted cognitive dissonance, like seeing a giraffe standing among a group of swans. At six foot three, towering over the fifteen women in the hotel elevator, I was once again politely asked the question: “What brings you to Triennial?”

Thinking is good. It’s natural and healthy to attempt to resolve conflicting thoughts in one’s mind. “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong.” What’s up with that?

My official reason for attending was to co-lead with Pastor Abby Jones a workshop on the Develop a Deborah initiative. (You can learn more here). A small (two dozen) but lively and responsive group of women attended. The low turnout can partly be attributed to the fact that our seminar was added to the slate of workshops after many people had already registered. Realistically however, the topic of women in ministry is not necessarily the primary thought on the minds of many people.

Because of my role serving on the Commission on Biblical Gender Equality I was also invited to attend a breakfast for women clergy, at which the fortieth anniversary of the ordination of women in the ECC was celebrated. Near the end of the meeting, I was given the opportunity to briefly share about our commission’s hope for Develop a Deborah – that many local congregations would identify and encourage girls and women who have leadership gifts.

I told them that I could trace back my role on the commission and even my participation at Triennial back to cognitive dissonance, specifically the effect one woman had on the collective mind of our congregation. In 2007-8, Kirsten Kronberg Burdick was the first woman to serve our congregation for a year as a North Park Seminary pastoral intern.

No one could deny that the Holy Spirit was powerfully present and active in her ministry among us, especially as the year progressed. This had an unshakeable impact upon those in our fellowship who were not comfortable with the idea of women in ministry. Kirsten’s presence and pastoral gifts caused people to attempt to resolve the conflict in their minds – God was blessing them and speaking to them, but it was through a woman. Hmmm, what does that mean?

Thinking is good, but it’s not always comfortable or easy, which is why it’s often avoided or discouraged. An ordered and predictable life is much preferred; uncertainty can just make us grouchy. When someone rearranges the cupboards at home or the aisles at our favorite store, it causes an existential vertigo. If my long-held convictions are shown to be suspect, that means I might also have to examine other areas of my theology, so I’d rather not think about it.

Jesus made people think, which sometimes also made people mad. Parables without a moral application – what does it mean? Why is he talking to that woman? God desires to stir up the placid waters of our minds: When you did these things and I kept silent, you thought I was exactly like you. But I now arraign you and set my accusations before you. (Psalm 50:21 NIV).

The Commission on Biblical Gender Equality is attempting to distill the Develop a Deborah initiative into one simple question: who is the girl or woman in your ministry context who follows hard after God? Whose obvious giftedness will subsequently stir up a healthy debate in the minds of those who like to keep God in a neat little box?

Yes, thinking is good. But may we never settle for thoughts that limit God or that lull us into a comfortable slumber. The people of your congregation may not want to think about women in ministry, but it’s vitally important that their minds be engaged on the subject. Our apathy can have the effect of stifling or discouraging that one person from living into the call of God on her life. I can’t imagine God would be pleased with that kind of thinking.

For the sake of the Kingdom, Develop that Deborah among you.

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The Creation of Patriarchy

1 Comment » Written on August 2nd, 2016     
Filed under: Book & Commentary, Testimonies and Stories

Dru McLeland graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from Northern Theological Seminary in June and is currently seeking God’s next place of ministry call in the ECC. In the meantime, she and her family are enjoying their new Cavachon puppy, Zoë Ruby Regina.

Recently, I had a conversation with a young woman who is a chaplain in training about women in ministry and I mentioned the ECC’s Commission on Biblical Gender Equality. She asked, “Is there gender equality in the Bible? Isn’t the Bible patriarchal?” I answered, “Well, yes, especially in the Old Testament.” I started asking, why? I don’t see patriarchy in the creation of Adam and Eve. Both are created in the image of God. God blessed THEM, and told THEM to “fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion…over every living thing that moves upon the earth. God did not give a command that society has to be patriarchal. I wonder is patriarchy God’s design or is it something humans created?

Several years ago, I read All God’s People (here). In that book, Jay Phelan’s brief history of hierarchal development was my first introduction to the idea that patriarchy may not be God’s creation, but I wanted to know more. Since I had thousands of pages to read for seminary classes, I set aside my question but occasionally returned to it and asked God to show me more. The Teacher did not forget my question. My final class in seminary, Women of the Old Testament, addressed it. One of our texts was The Creation of Patriarchy, (here)by Gerda Lerner (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.) the first in a two-volume work.creation of patriarchy

Lerner, who died in 2013, had an unusual childhood in the early 20th century that included a Bohemian mother, escaping the Nazi’s, and targeting by McCarthyism. She made the study of African American and women’s history her life’s work. For a brief biography of Lerner, click here.

Her book is an attempt “to trace, by means of historical evidence, the development of the leading ideas, symbols, and metaphors by which patriarchal gender relations were incorporated into Western civilization” (p. 10). As one who is newly conscious of the role of patriarchy in Western society and witness to its creep into the Church, but not a historian, I found her book a great place to start and a springboard for further investigation and study. She includes anthropological evidence of societies that may have been egalitarian and others that may have been matriarchal to show that not all ancient societies were patriarchal. She challenges the tradition of patriarchy which she asserts has been “mystified… making it ahistoric, eternal, invisible, and unchanging” (p. 37). This may seem a little over the top to some, but I think it challenges us to think about our views of patriarchy and how it effects our lives as well as those around us.

One of the main ways Lerner’s writing challenged me was the connection she made between the oppression of women when they are seen as objects and how this paved the way for slavery of all kinds. Women came to be seen as a commodity, as belonging to a man or household, with their status established because of their ability or lack of ability to produce offspring. The strength of the natural urges of a mother to protect the life of a baby set her apart from men. Especially in war, this vulnerability made women more easily subdued and subjected to slavery by conquerors. Lerner hypothesizes that the enslavement of women was a precursor to slavery in general. Women came to be seen as less than human, “other” and treated as an object or commodity. Lest we think this is history only, we have only to look at the numbers of people who are victims of human trafficking because someone is willing to pay for them as a sex object. (See the US Government 2016 report on human trafficking here; find your state here.)

Against the context of Lerner’s book, I see the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians as just as radical in our day as in his. Christ came to break down the divisions patriarchal systems create. He came to create a new humanity where all are one with new identity as members of the household of God, no matter what we are able contribute, but because we are human beings, created in God’s image.

But now, in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Eph. 2:13-22, NRSV)

Whether one agrees with Lerner about the creation of patriarchy or not, I believe there is a challenge for us as we look at others. I ask myself and invite you to ask yourself a couple of questions. When interacting with others, do I see them as objects or commodities in anyway? Do I remember I am united in Christ with other Christians when we interact?

I would like to continue this conversation. Where have you discovered that you might be seeing another as an object or “the other” rather than God’s created person? If you have read Lerner’s book, what do you think about it? Please leave a reply.


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