Like Pulling Teeth…

1 Comment » Written on October 18th, 2017     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Mary Peterson serves as Pastor of Children, Youth and Family Ministry at Highland Covenant Church in Bellevue, Washington. She is also President of Advocates for Covenant Clergy Women and sits on the Commission of Biblical Gender Equality.

My almost nine year old son has a common problem… huge teeth and a little mouth. So we have ventured into the world of orthodontics early in his life. He was the first second grader to get braces at his school. Thankfully, this was a seriously cool moment in the life of my sanguine boy. The orthodontist explained the importance of making room early in his mouth to allow the permanent teeth to have a place to enter correctly. So with the addition of a spacer and some barbed wire, we have been making space for his new teeth to come through this past year. Overall the results have been amazing, but there are two incisors that are refusing to budge. They are his baby teeth, and they don’t want to come out. They are refusing to make space for the teeth who are anxiously waiting in the wings to make their appearances. My brave son has done the hard work of wiggling those obstinate teeth to encourage them to leave. He was successful with one of them, but the other will require assistance from our dentist to come out.

As I sat around a conference table last week, it struck me that this is the exact kind of work we are trying to do with women in church leadership. After decades of study of Scripture and context, we have decided to fully support the inclusion of women in all levels of leadership within our denomination. And it is difficult work.  I know so many women who are waiting in the wings for an opportunity to utilize their education, giftedness and calling. All they need is a space to do their work. We have to think strategically about where we need to make space for women to enter into leadership roles- to evaluate how the systems that naturally work to increase leadership capabilities in our male pastors need to shift to include women. Just like the spacer stretches the upper jaw to make room for those new teeth, we need to look for places to make more space.

Making room requires more than just stretching. We may also need to do some difficult work of removing obstacles that are preventing women from entering into the roles to which God is calling them. Do our church policies support women who are entering into ministry later in life? Do we support women who need a break to raise babies or care for aging parents? Do we value the life experience of women who took a long time to understand and envision God’s calling on their lives? Do we value the years of hard work in children or youth ministry as valid experience to move into senior pastor roles? Are we including women in church leadership at all levels? Do we listen for the voices of our sisters of color? Do our pay and benefit structures reflect our commitment to equality? Are there churches or organizations in our denomination who refuse to acknowledge the giftedness and calling of women?

It is difficult work to be self-reflective as an individual or an organization, but necessary for our healthy growth. We have lots of room to grow. I can only imagine the beautiful smile that God will have when he sees his church as he imagines it- women and men serving fully as they live and grow into their callings together. I have a feeling it will be an even bigger smile than when my kid gets his braces off in a few months.

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