leadership

7 Reasons We Don’t Empower Women for Ministry

This week the Church of England overturned centuries of tradition by voting to allow women as bishops. Anglicans already approved women priests 20 years ago, but on Monday they opened the door for women to serve in the highest office in the church.

Reaction to the landmark decision was mixed. Government leaders in England applauded the move. Others vowed to fight it. And some observers scratched their heads, wondering why it took this long. After all, Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, served as Prime Minister for almost 12 years, and Queen Elizabeth has been on the British throne since 1952.

Here in the United States, the issue of women in leadership is a hot potato. Many conservative denominations bar women from top positions, citing a biblical mandate that men must always be in charge. Meanwhile, Pentecostal and charismatic groups, while biblically conservative, allow women to function as top leaders—yet their policies are reflected more often on paper than in actual practice.

Many Spirit-filled women still feel resistance if they volunteer to lead anything other than a women’s Bible study. Why is this? During the 14 years that I have been a vocal proponent of women in ministry, I have observed these key reasons why conservative evangelicals tend to limit women in the church:

1. We misunderstand Scripture. Conservatives who bar women from leadership typically cite 1 Timothy 2:12 or 1 Corinthians 14:34 (“women are to keep silent in the churches”), and yet they ignore verses affirming women’s spiritual gifts. Deborah, who served as senior leader of ancient Israel, is ignored, and New Testament women leaders such as Priscilla, Phoebe, Euodia, Syntyche, Junia or the daughters of Philip are dismissed. We also conveniently forget that Peter announced on the day of Pentecost: “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17b). Scripture actually calls certain women to leadership rather than banning them from it.

2. We are bound by religious tradition. Martin Luther was a prophetic voice to the church when he exposed religious corruption and heresy. Yet he was still so bound by his own 16th century bias against women that he believed God created females only for the purpose of childbirth. Many conservative Christians still hold antiquated ideas about female inferiority. This explains why so many churches didn’t allow women to wear pants or makeup a decade ago, and why women today are still expected to serve only as cooks or babysitters in some denominations.

3. We don’t give the Holy Spirit full control. Paul the apostle wrote: “There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28b). He understood the amazing equality of the Holy Spirit, who gives spiritual gifts to “each one” (1 Cor. 12:11)—not according to gender, class or race but simply according to God’s choice. Scripture teaches that God chooses whom He wills; He does not qualify based on human criteria. This means we must affirm the valid gifts and callings of our sisters. If God calls an Esther to lead, we should not hide the scepter from her.

4. We are afraid of “feminizing” the church. Some insecure Christian guys have complained that there are already too many women making decisions in the church. One author even demanded that flowers be removed from church altars because they are feminine! My response: The same God who created deer antlers and buckskin also made carnations and orchids. Genesis 1:26-28 says God created male and female in His image. Only when we have men and women functioning in their full capacity in the church will we see His image fully manifested. It’s silly to try to rid the church of women’s influence when God appointed both fathers and mothers to run a family. It took Abraham and Sarah to give birth to Israel; God wants both genders involved in His work.

5. We associate women leaders with a liberal agenda. In the United States many of the women who hold political office do not reflect Christian moral values. For this reason some people automatically associate women preachers or pastors with a radical feminist agenda. This is unfair. In America’s past, some of the greatest leaders of social change were women who held Christian beliefs—brave women like Harriet Tubman, Phoebe Palmer and Sojourner Truth—and they would have never advocated abortion or same-sex marriage. We need an army of women leaders who will speak as prophets on the national stage.

6. We don’t see enough positive examples of female leadership. In the early Pentecostal movement it was not uncommon to see women preachers traveling across our nation planting churches and conducting evangelistic campaigns in roadside tents. Women preachers including Aimee Semple MacPherson, Carrie Judd Montgomery and Myrtle Beall made a huge spiritual impact on their generation. Today, while there are significant numbers of women pastors and missionaries in the Assemblies of God and other Pentecostal groups, the most prominent Christian women featured in mainstream media tend to stay in their place. They are incredibly gifted, but they are viewed as Bible teachers to women only.

7. Some Christians hate women. It’s sad but true. Misogyny is alive and well, and sometimes it is even preached from pulpits. In one prominent evangelical church in a Central American country, the pastor often jokes about women and seems to trivialize adultery. It’s no wonder domestic violence thrives in that country. Until some brave men have the guts to challenge the sexism of the good ol’ boy network, abuse will remain a problem among Christians. (I am not saying that there aren’t women who hate men, or that men are never abused—but statistics show the majority of abuse cases involve women victims.)

Why am I so passionate about women in ministry? When our spiritual enemies are attacking and the hour is late, both Deborah and Barak are needed on the battlefield. This is an issue that is on the Lord’s heart. I pray we will affirm and celebrate all women who sense a call from God to lead.

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A Practical Checklist for Your Next Mission Trip

Twenty years ago I prayed a dangerous prayer. I said to God: “Here am I, send me”—and I knew He would take me seriously.

Since that holy moment, I have traveled to preach in 29 countries, and I will leave tomorrow for Iceland. Last year I slept in 58 different beds, some of them extremely uncomfortable, because I surrendered to the call to share Jesus in other cultures.

Missionary travel is biblical. Ever since the Lord called Abraham to leave Ur, God’s followers have been hitting the road to carry His message to foreign places. (And many, like the prophet Jonah, have resisted the call!) The early disciples carried the gospel from Israel to the entire known world in the first century without the benefit of airplanes, smartphones and credit cards. So today we have no excuse when it comes to fulfilling this amazing global assignment.

Perhaps you are preparing to go on a short-term missionary journey this summer. A mission trip can change your life, but it can also turn into a disaster if you fail to plan. Here are a few reminders to help you prepare.

1. Don’t go alone. Jesus sent His disciples two by two. It is best to go on mission trips in teams. There have been times when I flew alone and met other people in the country I was visiting. But my preference is to always have companions with me. And a mission trip is a perfect opportunity to take disciples with you so you can mentor them along the way.

2. Be sure you are covered in prayer. It’s vital that you have intercessory support while you are on a missionary trip. I always send a prayer letter to my supporters before I leave, and I give them specific information so they can pray effectively. It’s also a great idea to have your pastor and other church leaders lay hands on you and pray before you depart. You will feel the support!

3. Get the right documents. You can’t travel outside the United States without a valid passport. You may also need a visa in your passport depending on what country you are visiting. To find out if you need a visa, check out the country’s embassy website. In some cases you will have to mail your passport to the embassy with a fee. In other cases you simply need to pay a fee at the airport when you arrive at your destination.

4. Get your shots! Some countries require travelers to have certain immunizations. Go to the U.S. State Department website to find out if you need these. It’s cheaper to get these at your local health department than from a doctor. You will receive a yellow health card with official documentation of your shots. Keep this card with your passport on all trips. Do not be foolish and presume that God will automatically heal you if you didn’t protect yourself from disease.

5. Pack wisely. Find out from your hosts how they want you to dress. In some countries preachers are expected to wear suits even though it is extremely hot! Don’t assume you can dress however you want. Be sensitive. You should dress in a way that honors your hosts. (In some countries it is considered inappropriate for men to wear shorts, for example, or for women to wear pants.) Also, be sure you research what type of electrical plugs are used in the country you are visiting. If you don’t take the right plug adapter, you will not be able to recharge your phone or other devices.

6. Take the right amount of cash. I avoid using my credit card in developing countries because some vendors will steal your number. Determine before you leave how much cash you need, and store the cash in a concealed pocket. Go to a bank to exchange currency. It is unwise to use currency vendors on the street unless your host is with you and he feels the rate is good.

7. Take interest in the people you are ministering to. Mission work is incarnational. To be effective you must identify with the people. Eat with them, laugh with them, be affectionate with them and serve them. Set your cultural differences aside and be relevant. I do this by learning some phrases in the local language, learning facts about the country and eating the local food. I also try to build lifelong relationships and I stay in touch with the people after I get home. Never engage in “hit and run” missions. Stay connected!

8. Learn to use a translator. If the people you are visiting do not speak English, you must depend on a good translator when you teach or preach. Usually your hosts will provide the translator—but you should make sure this has been arranged before you leave. You may have the best translator in the country, but if you don’t know how to speak properly using a translator the people will not benefit from your message. Speak in short, clear phrases or complete sentences, and then let the translator translate. Don’t use slang or American expressions. And don’t scream or be theatrical. Remember: The people need to hear your translator, not you.

9. Prepare your heart to be a servant. The last thing the world needs is a spoiled American traveling to a developing country. We are called to deny ourselves as we follow Christ. Don’t make demands when you are with your hosts. It is wonderful if you have hot water in your shower, Internet access or a nice bed. But don’t go expecting to be comfortable, and don’t complain about anything when you are there. You might suffer a little from heat, mosquitoes, broken toilets, thin walls, noisy roosters, leaky roofs or gross food, but I promise those inconveniences won’t kill you.

10. Be flexible! In most foreign countries, especially in the developing world, people think differently about time. Church meetings start late. Schedules change. Transportation is unreliable. Electricity goes out often. It is easy to get frustrated if you are used to American efficiency. You must learn to relax and rest in God. Your hosts may tell you the meeting starts at 9 a.m., but don’t get upset if everything is two hours late. This is the reality of the mission field. Remember the old adage: “Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be broken.”

And finally, when you return from your trip, it’s important to debrief. Don’t just jump back to your office job. Take some time to process. I minister to many abused people when I travel, and I hear a lot of horror stories. I also see a lot of poverty—and this can weigh heavy on my heart. It’s important to talk to some friends about what you experienced after you return.

Don’t just bottle up your feelings. What did you learn? Share what troubled you. Cry if you need to. Be open and let God speak to you about what you saw during your trip. He will expand your compassion so He can love a broken world through you.

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10 Occupational Hazards of Ministry

When I surrendered to the call of God several years ago, I did it soberly because I knew I was stepping into a dangerous assignment. Despite what you might hear from a few prosperity preachers wearing silk suits and pancake makeup, ministry is not glamorous—nor is it risk-free.

When you answer God’s call, you put your life on the line. Just ask the apostle Paul, who told the Galatians, “From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:17). The Greek word for “marks” is stigma, and it refers to the marks that were burned into the flesh of a slave to show who owned him.

Paul was saying, “I have the scars to prove I serve Jesus.”

Ministry has a long list of occupational hazards, and I do an injustice to any young leader today if I don’t warn him or her of what might happen on the job. I’m not sharing this to scare anybody. But if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can require businesses to display a poster to encourage workplace safety, we should at least read this list of ministerial hazards when leaders are ordained.

To all my young friends who are considering a ministry career, I offer these warnings:

1. The devil will attack you and your loved ones. I don’t focus on the devil or his demons, but it is foolish to be ignorant of hell’s schemes. Satan hates ministers. You are in a war, and your enemy plays dirty. You must learn to fight both defensively and offensively if you expect to win.

2. Religious people will hate you. Jesus and Paul both proved that persecution comes not just from worldly unbelievers but from self-righteous saints who think they are doing God a favor by discrediting you. Religious people hate change. Many pastors I know have been chewed up and spit out by mean-spirited people who love their sacred cows more than they love Jesus. God’s leaders must have the guts to challenge lifeless, status quo tradition.

3. You will face discouragement often. Preaching is a unique effort that requires you to lean wholly on God for a word from heaven. No wonder it is emotionally draining! Charles Spurgeon told his students that he often got depressed after intense ministry. He wrote: “How often, on Lord’s-day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break.” Don’t be shocked when heavy feelings come.

4. Your pride will be wounded. You may think your sermon was awesome, but some people will yawn, some will sleep and others will remind you of the points you missed. Don’t let the criticism make you bitter; allow it to nail your flesh to the cross so you can remember that ministry is not about you anyway.

5. Your heart will be broken. You may invest your time and energy into people who eventually walk away without even thanking you. Sometimes a close disciple may prove to be a Judas. Don’t let disappointment cause you to close your heart to people. Keep on loving and giving, despite the heartache.

6. Your knees will become calloused. Any good leader knows that prayer is the fuel that keeps him or her going. As long as hands are raised to heaven and hearts are bowed low, heaven’s oil will not run out. Never let the flame of prayer go out in your personal life.

7. Your priorities will be turned upside down. For me, God’s call included traveling—which meant spending lots of time away from home. I would personally rather sleep in my own bed than in a strange bed in Nigeria or India, but when you pray, “Here I am, Lord, send me,” you do not have the luxury of running your own schedule. Your life is not your own.

8. Your dreams and ambitions will be misunderstood. Joseph was thrown in a pit after he shared his dream. David’s brothers questioned his motives when he came to the battle to challenge Goliath. Anyone who attempts great things for God will be maligned. If you are worried about your reputation, or you want everyone to say nice things about you, don’t pursue a ministry career.

9. Your faith will be stretched to the breaking point. God gave Moses a stick and told him to split the Red Sea. He told Gideon to win a battle with 300 ill-equipped soldiers. Leaders who are following the Spirit will be constantly challenged to look beyond natural circumstances and believe in God’s supernatural ability. This is never comfortable. Jesus calls us out of the boat and onto the water. Get used to it.

10. Your character will be tested in the heat of God’s furnace. The work of the Refiner is never finished. You are engaged in a heavenly process, and you go from one level of glory to the next. The Spirit will regularly turn up the heat to test your motives, adjust your attitude and chisel your character until you look like Christ. The best leaders have learned to live in the fire so they can be examples to the flock.

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