Women Church Planters – Changing the Landscape

Post a Comment » Written on July 31st, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (July 31, 2009) – Planting churches already presents plenty of unique obstacles and opportunities. Being a female church planter can multiply the challenges, say some of the women who are starting Evangelical Covenant Church congregations.

Much of the general populace still is resistant to women pastors, they believe, and the issue is even more heightened in some ethnic contexts.

One“My challenge has been being a Hispanic woman church planter,” says Gricel Medina (top photo), who is planting Rain Covenant Church in Carrollton, Texas. Part of the challenge has been a lack of role models, she says. There are few people to turn to for advice or shared experience. “I’m pioneering.”

The challenge also has been a blessing, she says. “I can be innovative and creative and not be confined by the preconceived ideas that history can give us. History can be wonderful, but it also can limit us.”

The cultural idea of “machismo” also has been an obstacle for Medina to overcome. She notes that many young Hispanic men still do not believe women should be pastors.

Medina says she has to work hard at establishing credibility with colleagues of all ethnic groups, but especially Hispanic ministers. When she has been successful, she says, “I’ve accomplished that through being relational and authentic.”

Medina doesn’t debate people about women in ministry or try to convince others of her ministry’s legitimacy. She responds to questions and criticisms by sharing “with graciousness and humility” that she simply is responding to the call of God, who has equipped, strengthened and ordained her.

Men serve on the board of the church, which is set to launch in September, along with a satellite of CHET (Hispanic Center for Theological Studies). Medina says she intentionally is seeking for the church to be multicultural. A vocational translator who has translated at the The Feast, as well as the Midwinter Pastors Conference and Annual Meeting, she plans to preach all of her sermons in Spanish and English.

TwoCamille Russell Wooden, pastor of Abundant Life Covenant Bible Church, says at least some of people’s expectations are obvious when she and her husband (second photo) are introduced in settings outside the church. “If they hear Pastor Wooden, they would go to him first.”

Like Medina, Wooden also says her culture has presented unique stereotypes to overcome. “In the African American context, the pastor traditionally has been seen as one of the father figures in the lives of African American children,” she says. They also have been viewed as community leaders.

“When people do wrestle with it and shift the paradigm, it is easier to embrace a female pastor because in the African American community, women are seen as strong,” Wooden says.

Wooden’s church, which was chartered in 2004, already has started to impact the community through a nonprofit organization. Due in part to that work, the Association of Covenant Clergy Women honored Wooden with the Phoebe Church Planter’s Grant at the denomination Annual Meeting in 2007.

The grant helped fund the Life Community Enrichment Corporation. The LCEC’s mission is to impact the community through family enrichment, children and youth development, and community outreach. One of its programs has included starting the Pasadena Community Youth Orchestra.

ThreeLife House Covenant Church
in Longmont, Colorado, began in 2001 with a Bible study in the home of Pastor Win Jackson-Houwen, who pastors Life House Covenant Church in Longmont, Colorado. Participants began praying about forming a congregation and began discussing the possibility with the Covenant in 2002.

Jackson-Houwen, who formerly served in the Free Methodist Church, has pastored four churches – including Life House – over the course of 29 years of ministry. Life House is the first congregation she has planted. The third photo includes Jackson-Houwen and husband, Steve.

She doesn’t believe being a female pastor provides any advantages or disadvantages. “I just want to be responsive and submitted to the Lord,” she says. “He has really been faithful to open doors for me. If someone doesn’t agree with a woman pastor, they don’t have to come to our church.”

She adds, “I just figure that if Jesus calls me, he will work out the details, and that’s pretty much how ministry has gone for me.”

Her husband, Steve, is Life House’s associate pastor of worship. “The overwhelming majority of the people think it’s cool that we are a team,” she says. “Steve and I wear so many hats with each other – this is just one more.”

FourStill, there have been times when people have wanted to box them into specific roles. “We have, in the past, had some questions like, ‘Who really is the boss of the family,” but we just smile and say, ‘Jesus.’ ”

Ellen An, pastor of Chinese Neighborhood Covenant Church in Rosemead, California,  says, “The Asia culture may have some obstacles to women pastors that give me more chance to practice the humbleness, to trust God, to work in team, to let God work more than I work by myself.” An is pictured front row center in the bottom photo.

An believes she has experienced advantages as a female planter. “Ladies have more opportunity to show care to the non-believers,” she says. “It’s a key point when starting a new church.”  She adds, “Ladies easily confess our weakness before God. When we give more of our authority to God, he has more opportunities to work inside of ourselves and also outside. That means he has more chance to work on the people around us and on our ministry.”

Obstacles still remain, however. Kevin Miller, executive vice president of Christianity Today International, entitled a blog post earlier this year, “The Final Church Barrier For Women: Church Planter.”

Women planting churches is essential to providing depth to the Covenant, says Dave Olson, executive minister of the Department of Church Growth (CGE) who previously was the director of church planting. “The gospel requires it be told by men and women,” he says.

Olson has been impressed with the women who are planting Covenant congregations. “I think all of our female church planters who have been through the assessment center have outstanding ministry gifts.” CGE is developing a ‘think tank’ event for female church planters, says Olson.

He believes the acceptance of women in ministry is growing gradually. “Every year that goes on, there will be more and more appreciation of women’s gifts for ministry,” he says. Still, he adds, it likely will be years before women will be fully accepted as pastors, especially in the senior role, or as church planters.

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