We Are All Necessary

Big SkyFriday was my birthday. Let’s say that I am old enough now that over half of my kids think I am over the hill.
 
To celebrate the family went to Red Robin so I could get a free birthday burger (yeah, I that kind of tight). I ordered a Big Sky burger, 1/2-pound Black Angus patty with blackened seasoning, topped with crispy bacon, an onion ring drizzled in Sriracha, creamy goat cheese crumbles, arugula and roasted garlic aioli all on a toasted ciabatta bun.
 
Who was most important in getting this burger onto my plate — the rancher that raised the steers, the slaughterhouse that butchered the animal, the transport driver who delivered the meat, the wholesaler who supplied the restaurant, the chef who prepared the burger, or the waitress who brought it to the table?
 
If you are following me, you get it, neither and all of them, it was only as they worked as a team did I have the opportunity to enjoy my birthday sandwich.
 

Paul takes the metaphor of body parts to express what I am attempting to say:

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. (1 Cor 12:14-16)

Do you see the picture that Paul is painting? The foot is feeling undervalued because he isn’t a hand. He doesn’t get noticed for what he does. He isn’t used to make grand gestures, or perform meaningful tasks. It even seems that he is treated as an embarrassment because he is hidden away, tied up in a horribly smelly leather contraption.

Or the consider the ear — It doesn’t get noticed like the eye. The eyes have these beautiful colors, which people often complement. The eyes are used to communicate our anger, our excitement, our joy, and our sorrow. The eyes are even lauded as the window to the soul. But no one ever notices the ear, unless, perhaps, they are monstrously large. The only recognition the ear seems to receive is as an appendage upon which one can display spangles and dangles.

Some of you fear that you are a foot or an ear. You have been relegated to the backstage, and feel that your talents because they do not shine like the talents of others are needless and irrelevant. Perhaps, you have even wondered at times if God overlooked you in the distribution of gifts for ministry. If that is you, listen to what Paul has to say as he continues …

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Cor 12:17-20)

We are all necessary parts of the whole. God didn’t overlook you. The Holy Spirit has placed a gifting inside of you that is necessary to the functioning of the whole. You are valuable. You are important. You are a 10 in some area of ministry. Without your involvement and engagement, the church is incomplete.



Blind Spots

I was surprised last week at the push back that I received when I reposted “An Open Letter (from a non-mother) to Pastors” on a FACEBOOK page dedicated to those serving in vocational ministry. The letter is a plea for Pastors to be sensitive to the pain that some women can experience related to the celebration of Mother’s Day. This woman was taken to be a self-centered, malcontent who was envious of the attention and praise that was being given to other women. Comments were made that being sensitive to those who find Mother’s Day a painful day would be tantamount to failing to observe the Lord’s Supper or baptism, or preaching about sin. Others expressed that these women “need to grow up and get over themselves.” One comment even suggested that women like that “need to meet Jesus.”

What surprised me so much wasn’t comments that were made. I was not even surprised that the comments came from Christians. Let’s face it – some professed Christians can be the most heartless and blood-thirsty people out there. Non-Christians will vouch for that, but also many Christians who have fallen victim to the sharp claws and vicious bite of other believers.

What surprised me was that these comments were made people who are or have served as the senior staff in churches, those who Christians see as lead shepherds of the flock.

It was interesting that this non-mother, and any woman that she might speak for, was branded one of those people looking to be “offended” (a term she never used in the letter). Any possibility that the existence of real pain existed was summarily dismissed.

blind-spot

I’m wondering if we’re looking at a blind spot.

Now, I am well aware that we are living in an era when many people are seeking to be offended … that some people are more than willing to be put off by nearly anything that somebody can say. Living in the location I do, I am especially aware of the likelihood of someone being offended by what could largely be construed as an innocuous statement that is misunderstood due to the assortment of cultural lenses through which it must pass in order to be received.

I am, also, well aware that the “offended” can be found within any church. They can be a minister’s worst nightmare, especially when they are given the ear of some of the Elders within the church. Single-handedly these “offended” can hijack, and even halt, ministry progress. I have even had one of those “offended” serving as an Elder.

But the more I thought it through I had to wonder, “Is this more about a blind spot?”

A blind spot is the spot of vision in our cars which you are not able to see without additional effort when you are driving. When not noticed, you hit the car coming up beside you when you change lanes. Or worse, you could hit the person walking through the parking lot as you back up.

People with limited peripheral vision are plagued with dealing with the problem of blind spots.

But blind spots can also be a mental phenomenon. It is that thought that never dawns on you. It is the need that you never perceive.

Just like when I have begun to pull over into the next lane to be greeted with the honk from the driver who is feeling threatened by my maneuver, I have also found occasions when I have encountered blind spots in ministry. Those places where I didn’t adequately percieve all of the dynamics that were playing on what I did observe.

So, again, I wonder if I stumbled into a blind spot.

Jesus when talking to that Samaritan woman, made the disciples raise an eyebrow. They didn’t get why Jesus was talking with her.

Jesus spoke of blind spots when he said, “They say three more months until the harvest. But look, I tell you, the fields are white unto harvest.” I bet the disciples looked at Jesus, turned to the fields, and back at Jesus, with puzzled looks on their faces, and thought, “It is a good thing Jesus isn’t a farmer.” You think they have a blind spot?

Peter had a dream of spare ribs and pork chops, calamari and jumbo shrimp, and said, “Nah. Do you still serve from the kosher menu?” Three times God prepared Peter by sending that dream before He finally spoke up, and said, “Nothing I have made is unclean.” Blind spot?

But did he get it? Later on, when he was at Cornelius’ house, he finished his message, and was at a loss on how to close it out. Usually, he would have extended an invitation, but Cornelius was a Gentile. Blind spot! God had to reverse the normal order of conversion (baptism then Holy Spirit) to give Peter a sign that it was alright for a Gentile to be converted.

I wonder if “needs, hurts, and pain” could be a blind spot for many ministry professionals. Because so many people are inclined to be offended, are we too inclined to relegate the pain that people may experience to a trash heap of offense? Could we as ministry professionals become so calloused that we mistake a cry for a complaint? Do we get so busy getting our job done that we forget that the people are the job? Do we get involved with doing things a certain way, and responding to certain issues and needs that we fail to see and respond to the hurting before our eyes?

Does that blind spot get manifested by a promise to pray when someone asks for a moment to share the crisis they are experiencing, rather than taking the time to pray with them right then and there?

Are we more prone to passing someone in need to shuffle off to a meeting than passing on a meeting to shuffle off to meeting a person’s need? Or worse yet, do we even notice? I sure hope that we care.

When it came to Mother’s Day, I had to think through the assortment of women with the vast diversity of their experiences that I have come to rub shoulders with in ministry, and view the day through the lenses of their life experiences.

    • I thought of the couple of women who early in life had abortions, one of which resulted in sterilization, still battling the guilt of their decisions.
    • My heart broke again for the family who were unsuccessful in attempting to bear children, and after adopting a child from foster care had the child die in her sleep, and another foster child removed as the parents struggled with depression and grief.
    • I wondered at the grace of the ladies who chose to value the life of their child that was conceived in violence over the option of ending that life as a painful reminder.
    • I thought of the several adults that as children were abused by their mother, through physical and emotional abuse, or just plain neglect.
    • I spent a moment thinking about the faithful unmarried, those who desired to get married and have children, but never had their lives unfold that way.
    • I paused a moment to think of the blended families where the step parent has generously poured themselves into the lives of their non-biological children, only to be reminded that they weren’t their parent.
    • I shed a tear for the mother who would be celebrating the day on the third anniversary of the death of her first born.
    • I grieved for the family that shared during the previous week that their mother had been diagnosed with cancer.

Taking the time to turn my head, in order to get a good vision of that blind spot, helped me to grow in compassion for the flock to which God gave me charge.

I have not always been so good at checking my blind spots. Not taking the time to adjust my vision, I have missed numerous opportunities for ministry. I have caused more than a few accidents by not looking good enough at the traffic around me to get a good look at what is going on in the life of the other drivers on the fast lane of ministry. I am not aware that I have ever forced someone off the road by carelessly cutting them off. But more than once, somebody has had to “lay on the horn” in order to beep me back into observation (and just in case you missed it — I’m not really talking about driving).

But may I never grow blind to the real pain that other experience.

Responses:

Chuck Thompson:

As an elder I think your point should be drummed into all who serve the church.

I have counseled with many mature Christians who simply opted out of attending on mothers day because they don’t want be marked as “the offended” simply because the day is spiritually and emotionally to painful for them.

Thank you for validating the Pain of many believers.

 

Reply to “Blind Spots”

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Toward A Biblical Understanding of Women In Ministry

One of the most divisive issues in Christendom over the last century has been defining the role of women in teaching and leadership within the church. As women have risen from positions as administrative support to executives within the business community, churches have either chosen to embrace the cultural trend or further bar the doors to women in key leadership roles.

In this document, we share some observations concerning the question about whether women are given Biblical authorization or restricted from the principle teaching role (Sunday messages) within the church. Yet, actually the fuller question is “Does Scripture draw a line that limits a women’s role in the leadership of the church? And if so, where is that line?”

Those who argue that Scripture disallows women to do the principal teaching (preaching) during church worship marshal two passages of Scripture to defend their position:

As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 1 Cor 14:33-35

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But woman will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. 1 Tim 2:11-15

From these two sets of verses, it seems clear enough that Paul is teaching that the normative practice is that women should “sit down and shut up” in the context of worship. However, if there are any other verses in scripture that do not so nicely fit into this theological package, we need to question if what these verses seem to say is really what Paul is saying.

One such verse would be 1 Cor 11:5, just three chapters prior to Paul seeming to close the door on women teaching ;

And every woman who prays or prophecies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is just as though her head were shaved.

An honest wrestling with this verse does create a hurdle for those who read scripture to say that women are completely barred from the worship teaching role. Paul in this verse is talking about propriety in the worship setting, and mentions women praying and prophesying. Now if the rule for women’s silence was universal and transcultural, he could have simply affirmed that women are to be silent. However, what he does is take time to instruct women on the proper manner of speaking before the church.

At this point some would give a little ground, and suggest that Paul was speaking about prophesying, not preaching the Sunday sermon, yet that position relies on a serious misunderstanding of Biblical terminology. We hear the words preaching and sermon, and think the main message during worship. We hear teach, and we think Bible school or class environment. And prophecy, well that is something that has gone the way of the do-do bird.

Biblically, preaching is the presentation of an evangelistic message to people far from Christ to persuade them to draw near to him. Teaching is the instruction of believers which informs their ongoing walk with Christ. Neither term is limited by the context in which it is performed, and leaves open whether it could be sharing a testimony, leading a Bible study or even sharing a prophetic message, which is not so much forecasting the future as it is applying God’s word and promises to the present and future. Both could occur in worship, but normally worship would entail teaching since it is principally the gathering of believers.

Well, then, is the prohibition to women teaching men? Once again this is a position that is impossible to support Biblically. Particularly in light of:

    • The Samaritan Women leading her entire community to Christ through her testimony;
    • Women, serving as the first witnesses of the resurrection, were sent to tell the apostles;
    • Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, provided further theological instruction to Apollos.

Clearly there is little to support the idea that women cannot teach the Sunday message. So, if Paul is not telling women to “sit down and shut up”, what is he teaching them?

The key to unlocking the 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2 texts is the same key that we find underlying the 1 Cor 11 text.

In 1 Cor 11, Paul’s emphasis is on the submissive role of women as determined by the created order of things. This text is not really about hair styles and hats. Those practices are cultural expressions of a transcultural principle. As God has authority over man, since man was created in God’s image and for his glory, woman is to respect the authority of male leadership.

The same lesson, with a slight twist, underlies the 1 Cor 14 text. Here the women are told to respect the orderliness of worship, by not speaking out during the service, but by waiting until they are able to discuss the matter with their husbands following worship.

The normative principal in both texts is that women are to be submissive (note the italics in 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2), recognizing their position as one under the responsibility and authority of Godly men.

Does that principal extend to 1 Tim 2? As we look closely at the text on 1 Tim 2, one item of importance is that Paul uses an unusual word for authority here. This is the only time that it is used in scripture. The root of the word is “murder,” and here, as well as elsewhere in Greek literature, carries the idea of “seizing or usurping authority which belongs to someone else.” What Paul has in view, as he addresses Timothy, is women who are revolting against the authority of male leadership, and leading the church into theological error.

The problem with false teaching is why Paul emphasizes that Eve was the one deceived, and not Adam. Eve usurped Adam’s role as leader of the home and introduced sin into the world, while Adam surrendered his leadership role within the family.

It is no accident that Paul immediately proceeds to define the role of Elder in terms of male leadership (1 Tim 3:1). What Timothy is facing is a “feminist revolt” that is resulting in heretical teaching, and to combat that Paul reminds the women that they are to be subject to a clearly defined male leadership, which is the way God created things.

What then do we learn from this exploration? Can women speak during worship? Certainly. Is the door open for them to teach the principal message during the worship gathering? Yes, if they are have deep enough spiritual roots to correctly handle the word of truth, while also respecting the authority of male leadership found in the Eldership.

Does this mean then that there is no line that limits a woman’s role in ministry? On the contrary, that line is drawn by the transcultural principal of a woman’s submission to the authority of male leadership, namely the Elders. Since Elders hold the “buck stops here” responsibility and authority over individual congregations, accountable directly to the Lordship of Christ, women are excluded from that role.

As to “why” women should not serve as an Elder, I do not have an answer beyond the reasons in 1 Tim 2-3 and Titus 1:5f, as well as the practices of the early church (Acts 20:28-31). The churches of the New Testament era knew of no women Elders and the qualities of Elders are phrased in terms of men.

Doesn’t that then arbitrarily lock women out of leadership within the church? No it doesn’t. Perhaps the confusion over the role of women in leadership in ministry is due to confusion over the role Elders play in the life of the congregation. Elders are not the only leaders in the church, but they are the ones who have ultimate responsibility for the welfare of all its members. Numerous other opportunities for women to serve in leadership are present within the church body.

 

Respectfully submitted,

Steven Chapman

 

Adopted by the Elders – November 2012

 

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