BLACK WOMEN IN MINISTRY
Recently I had the privilege to sit in a room with several (six to be exact) African American women who were graduates, or soon to be, of three different Reformed seminaries. These women had been or were in Master of Divinity programs. Needless to say, but needful for you to know, they are smart, gifted, and love Jesus. I did not take a poll to see if each was committed to complementarianism, but took it that most of them were. That they were Feminists, in a less liberal/radical but yet determined fashion with a more respectful and kind demeanor, would I think also be fair. For a fuller self-disclosure I see a profound philosophical difference in a feminism of Biblically informed justice rather than an imposed feminist ideology upon a non-authoritative Bible, or a complete rejection of the Bible as the Word of God.
I was delighted to be with them and honored to be part of their conversation. I am also curious to see what God is going to do with them and how the larger church will treat them. I earnestly hope that years from now they will sit down somewhere and talk about how God led them, used them, and kept them. They represent a tremendous resource for the people of God and I certainly hope they will be treated as the treasure they are.
I have fears for them as well. I am sure there are more women who are not women of color who have also earned a Master of Divinity degree and have had, or have, their own struggles. Black women M.Divs are going to have even a harder challenge in a predominantly white Reformed community. I have fears for them, but I am not afraid of them, as I suspect some might be.
What do you do with a bold, gifted, and theologically astute black woman? The short answer is “nothing”, that is not our place, and might be intimidating to try. It is God’s place and my hope is that the rest of us would open the doors so He can do as He wills, especially in denominations that don’t accept women as pastors and preachers. This is where the fear of such women might be a problem, to suspect they are attempting to change the rules, that if we let them do anything in the church they will overthrow our view of the Eldership and the standards for ordination. You can’t be around these women long to realize that some of them have stronger verbal and oratorical skills than many of our preachers. To fear them would be a real failure of trust and faith in God, and a lack of respect for the humility in these women.
Their education and giftedness are assets for the church but like all the rest of God’s folk are only applicable according to character and servanthood. Education, intelligence, and giftedness become intimidating for us when we only look at an individual on that basis. Sometimes we meet people via introduction with all their credentials, sometimes we know of folks according to their Curriculum Vitae. People known on that level are either wonderfully impressive or scary, and we tend to put them in some kind of box that limits our relationship. The experience and expertise we bring with us does not qualify us for spiritual service. Spiritual service rests on spirituality and godliness, and then the position is filled according to qualification after that foundation is set, or should be.
As a former pastor and older leader in the church I am concerned for them, and jealous to see them included and well used for God’s glory. I hope for godly husbands for them, even though it is not necessarily God’s plan for all of them or none of them to be married. I do not necessarily think they all need husbands to be happy or well used. Yet, I assume some of them may want that and I hope men of God will see into their characters and personalities and pursue them as God directs. Too many Christian men have no courage in pursuing strong women when my experience tells me that what one might see as strength on the outside does not preclude humility and gentleness in relationship and in the home.
One of my concerns for all congregations is the lack of imagination we have in religious vocational positions. We have “offices” that are entered via ordination and thus reserved for men. We seem a bit schizophrenic in determining what ministry can be done in and through the church. Sometimes we proclaim all the members should be doing ministry, and then we insist that only “ministers” do ministry, and we get real sticky about titles. We have had Directors of Christian Education, we have had Church Administrators, we have had Directors of Urban and Mercy ministries, Directors of Music and Worship. We have had Counselors, we have had Directors of Children’s Ministry, we have had youth workers at various levels. We have had Directors of Women’s Ministries, ESL, Special Needs, etc. All of these positions can be filled by ordained pastors, and as far as I know all of them can be and have been held by women who are not ordained.
When we send folks to the mission field the possibilities seem even greater. Works of mercy, medical, development, orphanages, schools, higher education and ministries of all kinds have been done by women who come from denominations that preclude them from the pulpit, but who have given them very powerful, meaningful, and effective areas of ministry. This is not an embarrassment, nor is it hypocritical, but it is sometimes not celebrated and advertised as it should be. I would love to see a comprehensive list and description of such religious vocational ministry, and I would love to see women come together to encourage each other in these positions. I would also like to see more active mentoring of women to pursue these positions rather than leaving it seemingly (I am a Calvinist) to serendipitous chance, or the unavailability of a qualified male.
This is a call to recruit these women into ministry so that the church will be blessed and they will be fulfilled and will fulfill their calling to serve Jesus.