Healthy Church Life

Why Women Belong on the Front Lines of Ministry

This past weekend my oldest daughter, Margaret, quietly made history. She was ordained as a pastor at United Assembly, the church in Seneca, South Carolina, where her husband, Rick, has served as an associate pastor for several years. Margaret and another woman, Marly, are the first females to be ordained into pastoral ministry at this church.

As Margaret’s father, I couldn’t be prouder. I have watched her spiritual anointing develop since she was a little girl. But I’m also aware that the road won’t be easy for her or for any woman who embraces the call to leadership.

Thankfully, Margaret’s church is affiliated with a denomination (the Assemblies of God) that fully embraces the ordination of women. But there are hundreds of thousands of churches in 2017 that limit women’s gifts by enforcing a spiritual glass ceiling that was actually shattered long ago on the day of Pentecost.

I’ve been a vocal advocate for women in ministry since my book 10 Lies the Church Tells Women was published 17 years ago. I have helped many pastors remove the traditional barriers to women, and I’ve encouraged countless women to fully embrace God’s unique calling—even when this requires scary steps of faith into uncharted territory.

But here I will simply list three simple yet powerful reasons why it’s imperative that we empower women as never before to step into their ministry callings.

  1. We need a woman’s perspective in the pulpit. In New Testament times, the apostle Paul traveled with his colleagues Aquila and Priscilla. They helped lay the foundations of the early church, and in one scene in Acts 18:24-26, we see them instructing Apollos and launching him into ministry. Priscilla co-labored with Paul to build the first churches. She was not sidelined or silent. She was powerful and apostolic.

Paul was surrounded by women leaders who taught the Bible, prophesied, led churches, served as deacons and died as martyrs. Besides Priscilla, he mentions in his letters several female ministry companions including Chloe, Phoebe, Euodia, Syntyche, Junia, Nympha, Tryphaena, Tryphosa and Persis. Beyond that, the evangelist Philip had four daughters who were prophets (Acts 21:9), and John’s second epistle is addressed to a woman who led a congregation (2 John 1, 13).

If women had this level of influence in the first century—at a time when women were typically treated like property—how much freer should women be to preach today? If God’s image is reflected in both male and female, as Genesis 1:26-28 tells us, why wouldn’t we need both male and female to reveal His truth from the pulpit? If a healthy family needs both a father and a mother to provide nurture and instruction, doesn’t the church also need spiritual fathers and mothers?

  1. Spiritual gifting is not tied to gender. In many evangelical churches today, women are told that their “role” is to serve as wife, mother and domestic servant—and that men have the “role” of leadership. Women are told that preaching, pastoring, teaching and even leading worship are “masculine” gifts, while “feminine” gifts consist of teaching children, prayer, cooking, cleaning and secretarial work. But this sexist view is rooted in macho pride, not in the Bible.

The Holy Spirit’s gifts have nothing to do with gender. The Spirit distributes His gifts “as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:11b, NASB). The nine manifestations of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and the motivational gifts listed in Romans 12 have no reference to gender whatsoever. Women can heal the sick. Women can cast out demons. Women can show mercy. Women can preach and teach. We limit and grieve the Spirit when we tell Him who can and cannot function in His gifts!

  1. Certain battles won’t be won without women’s influence. There are many times in Scripture when a woman determined the outcome of a battle. Jael dealt the final blow against Sisera in Judges 4:21; the “certain woman” of Judges 9:53 crushed Abimelek’s skull; and Esther stopped Haman’s genocide plot. If women are supposed to sit on the sidelines while men do all the important work, why are these stories in the Bible?

The truth is that God calls both men and women into ministry. We need both Aquila and Priscilla to build a healthy church. We will continue to lose certain battles until women are trained, empowered and commissioned to engage the enemy.

A few weeks ago, I was in a church in Idaho listening to my daughter Margaret preach a sermon about fighting injustice. Her text was Psalm 45. As she shared passionately about why she adopted an African child and how she traveled to India to fight gender-based violence, I wept—not because my daughter was preaching, but because I could hear God’s voice thundering out of the heart of a 31-year-old mother who cares about the poor and the mistreated. Sometimes it takes a woman to reflect God’s heart.

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We Need More Women Like Beth Moore

I’ve been in countless Christian meetings over the years, but last week, I witnessed one of the most remarkable spiritual moments of my lifetime.

I was attending a gathering of Pentecostals held at a convention center in Orlando, Florida. When the speaker concluded the sermon, people began to stream to the altar. Many of them—including pastors—lay prostrate on the floor. Many were sobbing uncontrollably. Some people wept and prayed for an hour after the meeting was dismissed.

You may ask, “What’s so remarkable about that?” This meeting, held on July 26, was unique because the speaker was a Southern Baptist—and a woman. Yet her message was so convicting and so saturated in the Holy Spirit that people ran to the stage even though she didn’t even invite people to the altar.

The woman was author and popular women’s speaker Beth Moore, and the occasion was the 28th General Conference of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. Leaders from the Assemblies of God, the Church of God and Nigeria’s Redeemed Christian Church of God were in attendance, along with thousands of Pentecostals from all over the world.

Moore based her message on Jeremiah 12:5: “If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses?” Without a tinge of self-righteousness or condemnation, Moore lamented the powerless state of the modern church and called us back to the raw authenticity of New Testament faith.

“We are settling for woefully less than what Jesus promised us,” said Moore. “I read my New Testament over and over. I’m not seeing what He promised. I’m unsettled and unsatisfied.”

She added: “I want holy fire!”

I don’t know what is more fascinating—that a Baptist challenged Pentecostals to embrace Pentecostal fire or that a woman who is not supposed to preach to men in her own denomination brought male pastors to their knees in repentance.

“We’ve lost our tolerance for pain and given ourselves to whining,” Moore declared. “We have settled for the spiked Kool-Aid of cool, cultural Christianity. What will make us relevant is not our cool factor. It’s time for leadership to repent.”

I’ve heard a lot of excellent preaching over the years. But listening to Beth Moore was uncanny because her sermon was not about her, and it didn’t draw attention to her. There was no swagger. There was no pretense. The sweet dew of heaven rested on this woman.

I could hear the Holy Spirit speaking loud and clear through a broken vessel.

That’s why people responded so dramatically, even though Moore simply closed her Bible and sat down when she finished her message. Everyone in the room knew they had heard God speak. They hit their knees because the anointing of the Holy Spirit wooed them to surrender pride, complacency and man-made religion.

What is baffling about this whole experience is that there are large numbers of Christians today who don’t believe Beth Moore should be preaching to audiences like the one in Orlando. In fact, some fundamentalists have launched attacks on her because she preaches authoritatively from pulpits. One online blogger says Moore “puts the ‘her’ in heresy” simply because men listen to her teaching. It grieves me that this anointed sister in Christ has been subjected to such disrespect.

The old argument employed by some conservative fundamentalists is that Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:12, forbid women to preach. They seem to ignore the fact that 1) Paul empowered many women in other locations to speak and that women such as Phoebe, Priscilla, Chloe, Euodia and Syntyche were on his ministry team; 2) that the Bible offers other examples of godly women leaders and prophets; and 3) that Paul’s unique concern in 1 Timothy 2:12 was about women in Ephesus who were “usurping” authority and teaching twisted doctrines.

The New Testament is clear that God has called all Christians to be His witnesses, and that both “your sons and your daughters” will prophesy in the last days (Acts 2:17). Our passion should be to see everyone empowered—regardless of race, class, age or gender. If we truly want Pentecost, we should want to see the flame of the Spirit resting on the heads of every person—not just white males over 50.

We really shouldn’t be too worried if God wants to use a woman today to call people to repentance. If He used Catherine Booth to shake England in the 1800s, or missionary Mary Slessor to plant the gospel in Nigeria, or Sojourner Truth to challenge slavery through her powerful preaching, or Kathryn Kuhlman to spark a healing revival in the United States in the 1970s, why are we still arguing about this?

We need an army of women like Beth Moore, and my prayer is that more women will seek the Lord and dig into His Word with the same passion that Moore has. I believe she is a forerunner for a new generation of both men and women who will carry a holy Pentecostal fire that cannot be restricted by gender.

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Don’t Misuse the Gift of Personal Prophecy

Twelve years ago, when I was preaching at a Brazilian congregation in Florida, the Lord directed my attention to a young teenager sitting in the back of the church. He was leaning his head against the wall and looking very bored. But God gave me a prophetic message for this curly-headed guy, so I asked him to stand; then I spoke to him about his spiritual calling.

“God says you are going to be a spiritual warrior,” I told him.

The boy’s name was Felipe, and we became good friends after I gave him that word of encouragement. Today, at age 27, he’s a passionate follower of Christ and the youth pastor of his church.

I love the gift of prophecy because I’ve seen countless people like Felipe transformed by it. One prophetic message from God can break the power of discouragement. It can also launch a person into ministry or confirm God’s divine direction. As Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” A personal prophetic word is like a priceless piece of heirloom jewelry. You will treasure it for life.

Some people question whether personal prophecy is biblical. Yet prophets often delivered detailed messages to people in Old Testament times. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul urged believers to “earnestly desire” prophecy above all other gifts (see 1 Cor. 14:1). He also told the Corinthians that true prophetic ministry can expose the secrets of men’s hearts and bring them to repentance (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

In Colossians 4:17, Paul issued a word of prophetic encouragement to an individual on his ministry team. He wrote: “Tell Archippus, ‘Make sure that you fulfill the ministry which you have received in the Lord.'” Paul delivered this short but powerful message to Archippus to strengthen his friend. I am sure Archippus never forgot Paul’s very personal words.

Personal prophetic ministry is vital today. People need to know that God is not a dry doctrine; He wants to know us intimately, and He wants to speak to us in a personal way. Yet we must be careful to avoid the abuses that have given personal prophecy a bad name. Here are some helpful guidelines that will keep it healthy.

  1. Don’t chase prophecies. I know Christians who will travel across the country to attend a conference to get a word from God, yet they haven’t read the Bible in months or sat still long enough to hear from God on their own. Never treat the gift of prophecy like fortune-telling. When God needs to speak to you in an unusual way, He has faithful messengers who will deliver the message to you at the exact time you need it. Meanwhile, soak your mind in Scripture—and never elevate personal prophecy above God’s Word.
  1. Never give prophets elite status. Nowhere in the New Testament are prophets exalted to a privileged class. Paul himself said all members of the body need each other, and in his discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, he warns against ranking spirituality by gifting. He wrote, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you'” (1 Cor. 12:21).Some people are mesmerized by prophets who claim to know people’s phone numbers, addresses or Social Security numbers. Be sure to test the validity of a prophet’s gift if he attempts to impress people with his exotic prophetic abilities. True prophecy does not have to be spooky; its main purpose is to encourage the hearer, not to draw attention to the messenger.
  1. Never give harsh prophetic words. New Testament prophecy should encourage, comfort and exhort believers (see 1 Cor. 14:3). That rules out condemnation and harsh criticism disguised as a word from God. Our heavenly Father does not speak to His children in a hateful, scolding tone. He is an encourager, even when He brings needed correction. Remember: Paul said that if you use the gift of prophecy without love, it is useless (see 1 Cor. 13:2).I know of a church where a lady routinely gave personal words to people warning of calamities or judgments. She even claimed God wanted to kill them! Usually angry “prophets” like this woman claim to know all the unconfessed sins in a person’s life; the truth is they struggle to understand God’s love themselves, and they are seeking attention. Stay away from weird, abusive people who claim to be prophets but don’t show the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
  1. Soak in God’s Word. Prophecy will never, ever contradict the Bible. So if you want to speak God’s prophetic message to others, you must hide the Scriptures in your heart. If you fill your well with the Word, it will spill over and refresh many when you speak under the anointing of the Spirit. I often meditate on Proverbs 10:32a, which promises: “The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable.”

If you feel called to prophesy, that’s great! God wants to speak through you to others. But don’t assume you know everything. Don’t be so eager to go until you grow to maturity. Find a mentor and learn how to minister with grace, love and biblical balance.

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6 Ways Not to Take an Offering

I’ve seen it all when it comes to church offerings. Once when I attended an outdoor service in Nigeria, deacons used wheelbarrows and pickup trucks to collect money because more than 500,000 people were in the audience. Yet I know a pastor in Malawi who collects the equivalent of 80 cents in his offering plate each Sunday because his members are so poor. With that money, he has planted several churches.

Giving is a huge part of the Christian life. Jesus encouraged generosity; the first disciples collected offerings; and the apostle Paul said, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7b). Paul taught us that collecting money to support the church’s mission should be done with integrity and that believers should respond with generous hearts.

But even in those days, some Christians resisted the idea of giving to God’s work. Others used strong-arm tactics to get their hands in people’s pockets. We are still dealing with this problem 2,000 years later. Here are six of the most reckless tactics used today to raise funds in church:

  1. The endless appeal: Some preachers drone on and on for 45 minutes to collect an offering—and then they take another 15 minutes to pass the buckets. This is rude and insensitive—and it reveals a lack of faith on the part of leaders. You don’t have to talk people out of their money or hold them hostage until they give out of frustration. Trust God to supply the need rather than begging.
  1. The salesman’s extortion: Certain slick preachers in our movement are known for their uncanny ability to open people’s wallets. But these fundraising “skills” are more akin to those of a used car salesman than a minister of the gospel. They promise magical benefits to those who give large amounts. They also set deadlines. I once heard a preacher suggest that if people gave “right now,” their unsaved children would find salvation!

Never give in response to manipulation. Paul taught us that when we sow, we will reap. But in the same passage, he also said if we sow to the flesh we will “reap corruption” (Gal. 6:8). If you give in response to a prompting of the Holy Spirit, you will be blessed. But if you give because the preacher twisted your arm or used pressure tactics, your gift will not be blessed. Paul told us to give “not grudgingly or out of necessity” (2 Cor. 9:7).

  1. The give-to-get tradeoff: There is no question that God blesses generous people. If you keep your hands open to God by giving, He will open a channel of blessing for you. But God is not a slot machine, and His goodness is not for sale. Never believe a preacher who says you can buy the Holy Spirit’s anointing. And never follow a preacher who guarantees you will get a new house or a new car if you put a certain amount in the offering plate.
  1. The Holy Ghost auction: Numerous times I’ve heard a preacher announce that he needs a certain number of people to give $1,000—and he will wait for hands to go in the air. Next, he needs $500 gifts, $250 and so on. Within a few minutes, the church has become a cattle auction. Sometimes the donors are asked to stand—suggesting that God blesses rich people but not the widow on a fixed income who doesn’t have means to give a big amount.

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they liked to blow trumpets in public to announce they were giving to the poor. He told them: “When you do your charitable deeds, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deeds may be in secret” (Matt. 6:3-4). Can you imagine Jesus asking rich people to stand and give their large checks while everyone in the audience applauds them? He actually pointed out a poor widow and raved about her tiny gift.

  1. The railing judgment: I cringe when I hear pastors tell people they will be under a curse if they don’t tithe. I don’t tithe to appease God’s anger; I give more than a tithe because I love to share God’s goodness. We should never put a guilt trip on people while collecting money. The church is no place for threats. Zacchaeus was a greedy tax collector, but Jesus did not attack him for his thievery; He extended mercy—and this melted Zacchaeus’ heart and made him a lavish giver.
  1. The pathetic apology: Sometimes we act timid about collecting offerings, maybe because the world thinks all Christians are fakes and that churches are “all about money.” But we have nothing to apologize for! We are involved in the greatest mission on planet Earth, and God Himself supplies the funds needed to evangelize the world.

When we collect offerings, we are engaging in a holy process. God is just as much involved in the offering as He is in worship, the preaching of the Word or the demonstration of spiritual gifts. God allows us to be His vessels to give, and then He rewards us abundantly so we can give more. The church has been sustained for 2,000 years by supernatural giving. He is in our midst. While we seek to become more generous, let’s learn to be more faithful in the way we steward God’s money.

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