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A Culture of Respect for Women in Ministry

From the moment it started, the scene had that familiarity of the questionable-looking character standing on the street corner opening his raincoat and asking, “Psssst… Buddy, wanna buy a watch?”

I was at a church meeting when a guy leaned in close to my ear and asked in a hushed tone, “You know this church is wrong, right?” 

“No, I don’t,” I whispered in reply. Bemused, I queried, “What seems to be the trouble?”

“This church allows women to be pastors, and that’s contrary to Scripture,” he explained. “And I’m not staying.”

Attempting to explain the basis of his protest, he said, “Women aren’t supposed to teach or have authority over a man.” An attempt to discuss the cultural/historical context of 1 Timothy 2:12 did nothing to change his mind.

I did not give chase.

Developing and maintaining a respect for women and women in ministry should start when we’re young. It should increase over time with the understanding of Scripture. It should free us to get Kingdom work done at the times needed most (as in now!) instead of quibbling over who is speaking or leading or teaching. Developing and maintaining ministry culture that regards, not relegates, women is a way to honor God.

Let me share a bit about my journey.

Start ‘Em When They’re Young.

As a boy, then as a young man in my teen years, admittedly I didn’t have a good handle on the matter of women in leadership, and that’s probably for three reasons.

First, there was no specific teaching on the subject in my church though women were an integral part of the Pentecostal heritage in which I came of age. Second, what instruction I did have was given at home, directed more toward the what than the why. And third, the struggle to always do righteous works is just that – a struggle. And our enemy, with the help of his impish miscreants, is always around to assist our fleshly inclination to disrespect others.

The teaching I received at home came in the form of edicts such as “Don’t you EVER hit girls” (Dad’s emphasis), a focus on the Golden Rule, and instruction on ways of demonstrating courtesy toward women and girls. That I had a mother and four sisters, though, gave me an immediate opportunity to apply what I was taught.

The why came more through years of contemplating Scripture, considering what the Bible has to say regarding gender roles and human dignity. As part of that, Scripture was clear as to what my responsibilities are for the things God calls me to think and do regarding others.

The noun form of respect means esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality, or ability. The verb form of the word is simply using our feet, hands, minds, and mouths to properly demonstrate respect.

Doing Right by God’s Daughters

Since Scripture describes men as sons of God, then logically women are daughters of God (Romans 8:16; Galatians 3:26-29). It occurred to me years ago that if I treat a woman disrespectfully, then I’m disrespecting her father too. When that thought hit this Christian male’s mind, it translated to an even higher thought: to disrespect women as a whole is to disrespect God’s daughters.

Another of the noun-form definitions of respect is deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment.

Sounds royal to me. And since our heavenly Father is the King above all kings, by being deferential to God’s daughters, I show respect for His Majesty too. And to live in the favor of the King? I’ll take it!

Doing Right by My Spiritual Sisters

For me, this gets right to the issue of sexuality. One of the weapons I’ve used as a disciple and minister to battle lustful thoughts is to remember a simple, spiritual family formula: Since God is our Father and I am one of His sons and women are His daughters, then women are my sisters. Let me qualify the importance of this.

Gender differences between sisters and brothers offer immediate opportunity for young boys to respectfully broaden their horizons in how to relate well with others. Yet the nature of having sisters on earth is temporary while having spiritual sisters is forever. If I can understand how wrong it would be to take sexual advantage of or abuse one of my temporal sisters, how very wrong it would be to take advantage of a spiritual sister.

Satan is thrilled to help a male minister exploit his spiritual sister’s vulnerability in times of crises. A female minister shared with me an eye-witness account: 

A young lady she knew had observed the way a certain minister treated his wife and longed for the same kind of relationship. The lady expressed her admiration to the male minister, going so far as to express her desire for the same thing. Unfortunately, the minister began giving the young lady the affirmation she craved and … well, you can guess the rest of the story.

Men, we need to take every thought captive. Don’t give any advantage to Satan. Make sure you don’t become his “trophy” or facilitate making a sister in the Lord one either. Remember: it is God’s will that every woman be your spiritual sister (1 Timothy 5:2).

Doing Right by My Wife

Partnering with me 100 percent, following me as I follow Christ – this is a tall enough order that God calls my wife to (Genesis 2:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-24). However, Ephesians 5 alone puts 300 percent more focus on the husband’s responsibilities than the wife’s (Ephesians 5:22-33). It’s clear to me that as a husband there’s a template for me to follow: Jesus, as the Bridegroom, gave His life for the Church, His Bride, and He never treats us disrespectfully.

I had been working to succeed on this point in several ways during the first few years of our marriage. One of the ways I failed, however, was by making jokes at my wife’s expense from time to time.

At a leadership meeting in March of 1991, our senior pastor asked my wife, Kelly, to stand, be recognized, and say a few words as the newly-hired children’s pastor of our church.

For those of you who don’t know my wife, let me describe her relevant to this anecdote: she’s only four feet eleven, but she’s going to heaven. 

So when my wife stood to be recognized, I blurted out, “Kelly, Pastor asked you to stand,” which elicited a lot of cheap laughs from people within earshot. 

My boss’s response to this in my next weekly meeting with him? “That was totally disrespectful, and I rebuke you in Jesus’ name! Never make jokes at your wife’s expense. Didn’t anyone ever teach you that?”

Embarrassed by my lack of respect, I’ve never done it again, and I have found chivalry to be a much better guidance system than chauvinism.

Pushback on Women in Ministry Leadership

Of late, I led a church in our movement that has included women among its pastoral staff since 1991. Back in the earliest of those days, serving as the church’s youth minister put me in the unique place of having opponents of women in ministry try whispering gossip in my ear against the senior pastor and board members. 

At staff meetings, when we discussed the negative feedback our pastor received for this inclusion, we had opportunity to formulate godly perspectives on the matter and we pushed onward. The truth is, over these past years I have heard the same objections, and they haven’t been scholarly; rather, they have been ugly and ignorant.

Isn’t it ironic to assert that women should be kept silent in the church and have no authority over a man … unless, of course, a woman wants to teach a boys’ Sunday school class?

One of the ways I’ve explained the place of women on my staff has been to equate it with the men who serve: no pastor on my staff is operating on his or her own authority. Each is an extension of my authority over the ministries of the church.

That has quenched some ungodly fire in some but not in others.

Doing Right by Women’s History in Ministry

Where would Open Bible Churches be without the sacrifice, service, and insights – you know, the leadership – of women? 

I’ve read Heritage & Horizons: The History of Open Bible Standard Churches three times, so I can earnestly pray, “Thank you, Lord, for calling women into apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral, and teaching offices to help birth this movement so long ago!”

Now, holding myself to account for a lifetime of opportunities, instruction, successes, and failures is how I’ll maintain a respect culture for women, and women in ministry.

Chuck Loftis is the lead pastor of Prairie Family Church in Bismarck, North Dakota. Raised in western Oregon, Chuck is a former youth pastor, church planter, and regional executive director for Open Bible Churches. Married for over thirty years, Chuck and Kelly, his wife, share a passion for making disciples, facilitating community among believers, and developing and deploying leaders.

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