A Resounding “Yes”

Post a Comment » Written on September 5th, 2017     
Filed under: Project Deborah, Testimonies and Stories

Brian Wiele has served since 2006 as the Lead Pastor of River Ridge Covenant Church in Olympia, Washington.  Brian and Linda have been married for 36 years, and have two children and two grandchildren.  He is an avid reader, and wishes he could play golf more frequently.

At Gather ’17 – the annual meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church held in late June – something was formally renewed, a resounding “yes” from the delegates to work done so far and work still to be addressed. As that “yes” was affirmed, there was a silent accompanying “good-bye” said from afar by one person – a farewell spoken with joy and appreciation.  

What was renewed?  The continuing work of the Covenant’s Commission on Biblical Gender Equality.  Formed in 2002, the question comes up every five years – should we continue the work of educating about and advocating for women in ministry?  In those fifteen years, dozens of your fellow Covenanters have served in that effort to create documents, awareness, and hope.  

I am the one who said “good-bye” from afar, as I was not able to participate in Gather this year. I joined the commission in 2011, and served for two three-year terms. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and I considered it a special honor to have been asked to lead the effort as chair for four years. Having left the Commission, I have been asked to share some reflections, looking back upon where we’ve come and peering forward into the future.

I am thrilled with the progress that is being made.  We continue to rely upon solid resources [hyper-link to BGE resources here] that were prepared by the first members of the Commission.  But more importantly, we see an increase in gifted women thriving in various ministry callings, in the local church, in Covenant leadership, and in various segments of our culture.  As I write this, the new Chair of the Commission, Abby Jones, has begun her work as Lead Pastor at Paradise Valley Community Church in Phoenix.  Abby is the first woman to lead a multi-staff congregation in the Pacific Southwest Conference. May her tribe increase!

As I think about the present situation, with many women languishing without a call, and search committees refusing to look at their profiles, I’m struggling for a different word to use beside “discouraged”.  I am grateful for and appreciate how the Covenant works, where each congregation makes their own decisions. As a result, denominational leadership has no leverage in bringing about change.  Part of the Covenant DNA is to “keep the peace”, which often prevents pastors from starting the women in leadership conversation in their churches out of fear of potential dissension and division.  This is our disheartening reality, which means in one sense not much has happened after fifteen years of work for the Commission.  

I know well that pastoral concern, because that’s exactly how I operated for the first twenty years of my vocational ministry. My view on women in leadership had evolved by studying the scriptures more carefully, but I didn’t let my theology effect who preached on Sundays or who served as leadership Chair. That changed when my convictions were given a name, a gifted woman in our midst named Colette who was on a home assignment from her mission work in Mexico.

Which is why I am hopeful in leaving the Commission. In 2017 we launched Project Deborah, a wonderful set of tools for pastors and congregations.  Looking at the Old Testament leader raised up by God, people are encouraged to ask the questions: who are the gifted women in our midst?  Could God be raising up a Deborah among us, and what are we doing about that?  The Commission believes that Project Deborah will have a long-term effect, as dozens of individual women will be affirmed and encouraged in their local settings.

It may sound like I’m overstating the case, but my life has been changed by serving on the Commission for Biblical Gender Equality.  The issue of women in leadership has become far more for me than just another interpretive matter over which we can agree to disagree. To quote John Weborg, “all God’s people are called and gifted.” To prevent half the Church from fulfilling their call by misinterpreting a couple of difficult passages deeply offends me, and I believe it breaks God’s heart also. I will continue to advocate for women to serve passionately and faithfully in the Kingdom wherever God calls them.

I am so grateful for the leadership and encouragement I have received from the staff of Develop Leaders, especially Mark Novak and Carol Lawson.  It has been a joy and an honor to serve alongside them and so many others in this crucial work. There is admittedly still much to be done, but I have no doubt that God also contributes a resounding “yes” to his daughters who faithfully serve Him.  

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