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My Church now has a Female Pastor - Should I Leave?

Hi Joshua,
Hope you're well.
I've recently left my congregation after 4 years with them because of their new stance of allowing women into the pastorate/eldership. I did so after much deliberation and prayer.
I'm not looking to put the responsibility of that decision on anybody else, but I'm wondering if you consider that reasonable thing to do?
-N

The words 'manhood' and 'womanhood'
are now rendered meaningless
Thank you for asking. As you may have noticed, our culture is currently somewhere north of insane when it comes to its views on gender and sexuality. For some time, we have been driven more by a sexually pagan ideology than by any objective reflection on actual biology.

The recent marches in DC and other cities underline this point. Now, I am not at all against protests on women's issues. A few years ago I took my daughter to participate in a largely female protest against porn in the media - what we here in England referred to as the 'Page 3 Girls'. Also, there are areas of the world where women are genuinely oppressed: where they cannot hold a driver’s license, property, or vote. We should actively protest on behalf of those women. 

But these marches weren’t for them. This march was made up of educated, financially well off women chanting that no one should question their right to murder their pre-born children. While Iraqi girls are being sold as sex slaves to radical Muslims, these women are protesting that their candidate lost a democratic election.

To further add to the insanity of this event, transgender activists protested the protesters for using pu**y hats, saying that such things discriminated against biological men who like to self-identify as women. Given this climate, any talk we have about gender issues in the church of God will seem crazy to outsiders.

My Story

Upon my conversion to Christianity, I was never taught anything about gender issues or gender roles. The subject didn't come up in our youth group. My parents were divorced and my mother had a successful career to provide for us. She was a strong woman. After high-school, I was involved in a gap year/ internship type program working for a well-known and successful woman pastor. It was during this time that I was taught strict social rules about how men and women should interact. I believed a woman could be my pastor – but not a close friend that I hung out with or shared secrets with. During this time I became more familiar with the gender debates and developed a strong egalitarian view of church leadership.

It was my studies that changed me. My undergrad degree is Biblical theology and my post-grad work is in Hermeneutics with an emphasis on feminist interpretation. It was in interacting with others outside of my Egalitarian bubble that I slowly began to see how weak my arguments were. Those few verses that I used to justify female eldership (Isn’t a woman named Junia definitely an apostle?!) began to unravel as I looked at the whole of what Scripture taught.

I had to face the reality that though women are highly active in the early church in regards to using their gifts, governmental authority in the church is overwhelmingly affirmed by New Testament writers as being reserved for qualified men. The hermeneutical gymnastics that I engaged in to get the text to say something other than what it clearly said lacked integrity.

In revisiting all the classic passages on gender, my wife and I both – reluctantly at first – embraced a mild complementarian viewpoint. (See Michael and Debbie Pearl’s book ‘Created to be his Help Meet’ for an extreme complementarian/ hierarchical position. I don’t recommend embracing that view.)

Forbidden Friendships

This move to Complementarianism also made me revisit my view on male-female friendship. I found that a new perspective on mixed friendship naturally flowed from my Complementarian position. The premise is simple: since men and women are essentially different, spiritual sisters will be able to input into your life things that spiritual brothers cannot. I repented of only building friendships with men and sought to cultivate more meaningful relationships with the women who were around me. Then I wrote a book about it.

I do not mean to imply that only Complementarians can endorse heterosociality - though my main critic early on was a staunch Egalitarian clergyman. But as the book has been out for a while now, I can say that it has received both endorsements and criticisms from Complementarians and Egalitarians alike. 

(Some who support heterosociality have claimed that it's 'Patriarchy' which is the reason men and women don't engage in deep friendship - but that view is outside all of my experience.)

Was Leaving Reasonable?

You asked if leaving your church because of its new position on women elders was reasonable. My reply would ‘yes’. But though it is a reasonable action, it is not one I have always personally followed.

Though we are in a Complementarian church now, the previous two churches our family attended were not. We left one of them - in part - because they went too far down the Egalitarian path and 'Mother God' liturgy was introduced. The second church was only very mildly Egalitarian where women could be pastors but not elders (It's complicated... the church used the title 'pastor' in the way other churches might use the term 'deacon'). Though we didn't fully agree on that issue, there was enough good stuff happening there for us to feel comfortable being a part of that church.
Some - on both sides - like to go to war on this issue

In our current church, our female deacons are very active - and outnumber the male deacons - but eldership is only for qualified men. I must admit, it is refreshing. We have other weaknesses and areas that need addressing, but I am glad this is an issue where there is a sturdy theological foundation.

For me, this is not a divisive issue, which is why I don’t blog much on it. But others go to war over this issue. I cringe when I see a Complementarian dismiss all Egalitarians as ‘liberals’ or 'Bible haters'. Similarly, I cringe when an Egalitarian will comment on social media that all Complementarian leaders ‘oppress women’ and how we need to 'fight the Patriarchy'. Really folks?

I can still look back on my early days of working under that female pastor with fondness. I still recognise how God’s grace was at work to redeem sinners and transform lives. Embracing Complementarianism didn't suddenly enhance my prayer life or make me a better soul winner. I still have a lot of respect for my Egalitarian brothers and sisters who are committed to preaching the gospel and following Christ. God is at work there - even if they're wrong on a gender issue. 

I hope you find a good church. Some people make this a defining issue – I would be cautious of doing so. My advice – if you want any - would be to meditate on Scripture and make a list of exactly what you feel a church should be. There are more issues than just gender ones. And simply getting that one issue right – while neglecting other issues like outreach, hospitality, and prayer – will lead to other problems down the road. 

Thanks again for asking,
Joshua
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bkNeed help with a male-female friendship? Check out Forbidden Friendships - available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle in the USA and the UK.

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