Speaking of Margaret Feinberg, thanks to her latest blog post I have been informed that Irving Bible Church opened their teaching pulpit to a female pastor a few Sundays back.
Some of you are hearing crickets chirp right now, but for those of us in the deep south, this is BIG news.
Obviously, how teaching is handled in our congregations is one of the theological issues that has been weighing on my heart:
I've noticed, with any theological issue, I start by scratching at the most obvious itches and only later do I discover the true rash underneath. At first, it was a question of: Can a woman be a pastor of a church? Then I had to ask myself: By pastor, am I referring simply to ministering in a church, or to preaching before the church? Soon enough, it begged the question: Where did the role of a single individual standing before a watching congregation and teaching them in a monologue style originate, and does anyone have the right biblically to hold that position? and, How was teaching among congregations handled in the bible? The questions went on: Are there passages about women teaching in the bible? Does teaching equal authority? How should we teach one another as members of the body? What about dialogue?
...and so we beat on.
But with most congregations, you have to start by scratching the first itch.
Now, here in the South, its only those "liberal" churches that have women pastors, or maybe a few of those "holy-roller" churches, too. When churches down here first started adding women to their staff in roles other than secretary, there was a distinction in titles. Men who presided over certain ministries of the church were denoted "minister of ...", whereas women were designated "director of ... ministry". Women could "minister", they could direct "ministries", but they could not be "ministers". Some churches have loosened up over the years, allowing the women who directed their preschool, childrens and womens ministires to be called "minister of ...", seeing as these were "safe" areas where there wasn't too much controversy about their serving there. Letting a woman teach from the pulpit, where THE minister guides the church, was just unheard of in a "Bible-based" denomination.
I want to applaud the Elders of Irving Bible Church, and thank them for even taking the time to consider the issue and courageously ask the questions.
I had an opportunity to explore their building while at the LeadNow conference last fall. If you can't tell, my preferences lean more toward a "gather-at-the-table" type of communion experience, than a "mega-multi-purpose-with-espresso-building" type of church. IBC is big, there is no doubt. But I also would never want to discredit another part of the Body because they don't choose to worship in the same way I do. I loved their coffee shop. It was comfortable and refreshing, and the staff was downright delightful. The conference was amazing, and could not have been pulled off as effectively without the use of IBC's facilities. They are big, but they also seemed to have a big heart.
Irving Bible Church was in a comfortable position. They have great people, great facilities, great outreach and great connections. They did not have to address the issue of Women's roles. They did not have to question their status quo. They did not have to take a risk. The Elders of IBC made a decision to wrestle with scripture and prayer and discernment, and in the end decided that there was nothing hindering them from honoring teaching from their sisters.
Not everyone looks at scriptures and comes to the same conclusions. Some congregations are still strictly opposed to women teaching males at all, including youth males in Sunday School. Some denominations, such as the Anglican Mission in the Americas, have done extensive study and decided to ordain women as deacons but not as priests (though, they remain open to clarification and discernment). Some denominations fully open the pulpit and leadership of their congregations to women.
I still think a lot of the issues come down to the titles we give people and the offices and structures we've created in an effort to efficiently organize the growing Church and to preserve theological consistency, more so than how the Lord designed each of his children with unique gifts to be used in service to the Body of Christ. I think a lot of things. That's one reason I write. I write to wrestle with what I am learning and questioning and exploring through scripture.
I take no issue with a woman in the pulpit, though I kind of have issues with anyone being in the pulpit, or with the pulpit itself, for that matter. I take issues. I know this. But so does everyone, its just that some people's issues are for maintaining the status quo and some peoples issues are for questioning it.
Regardless, I am excited for the IBC news. I am excited to see Elders continuing to wrestle with complex theological issues. It would be expected that, despite wrestling, many of their views will not change. We can't make scripture say what it does not. But in the willingness to ask questions, to explore the mystery, to listen to the Spirit's teaching, to consider and reconsider, just maybe some truths will be revealed in a new light. I do not believe in the cessation of gifts, and I do not believe in the cessation of revelation. The Israelites watched Moses carry the commandments down from the mountaintop, having just experienced the presence of the Lord. They knew the covenant, but they still didn't get it. They still had to wander. They still had to learn. God still speaks. God still moves. God is still mysterious. I just want to learn to listen and respond.