I wanted to call this, “Where on earth are the men?” But I thought better of it. At the time I was sitting around a table with five women, all of whom had highly responsible day-jobs, but were there at the table determined to do everything possible to set people free. Yes, they were among the contemporary abolitionists, abhorred over the reality that 30 million people have been stolen, sold, hijacked, beguiled or by some other means taken into the possession of others to suffer the loss of their humanity, their freedom, and possibly their very lives. The women and the two of us guys were there in the interest of such slaves in general, but also in particular to open a safe house that would receive women who had been rescued and provide an environment for recovery, healing, and support for their God-planned and blessed future. An exciting meeting it was, though also tedious, since setting up the protocols and dealing with the powers-that-be to open a safe-space for the once-captive can be complex and challenging.
As I sat there I recalled several other meetings I had been in recently, some of which might be considered pretty high-powered where responsible people moved through their agenda and accomplished important things. Indeed, really important things, though I must say none of it would rise above the Jesus-sanctioned mandate to call captives out of their bondage to freedom. At those other tables for the most part there are far fewer women. At some of them no women are to be found. As I recalled those recent meetings, where important and strategic matters were discussed and often acted upon, usually matters that related to women as much as to men, I wondered to myself, “So, where are the women?”
As I was wondering, I recalled the women who in earlier Free Methodist times, heard God’s call in major urban centers, like Chicago, and out of love for Jesus and for young ladies pressed into drugs and prostitution, determined to be a force for kingdom good. So, they began to shine a blazing light into the darkness where such trades enjoyed a monopoly over other human enterprises, sometimes bodily removing victims of sex trade, sheltering them, and somehow caring for them. These women got it done! Then some others came to mind who at about the same time sensed God moving them way beyond the shock and shame responses to young girls who found themselves in the “family-way” without benefit of a husband (though never without the complicity of a man!) to offer shelter, care, midwifery, training in the care of babies, all of which amounted to tangible support in saving unborn lives and launching trajectories of grace and love for them and their mothers that continue to bless the world today. Yes, indeed, the women got it done!
I continued musing to recall the several celebrations that happen around the church from time to time–Silver, Jubilee, Centennial, Sesquicentennial. In fact, I have participated in some of them in recent years. These celebrations almost always include historical reviews of the local church’s history. And, I have noticed, that almost always there were key women without whose prayers, vision, and actions the church would not have been planted or would not have thrived. Almost always, there are stories of bold determination to care for children and welcome them in Jesus’ name, to hold classes, to visit folks in their homes, hospital rooms, or jail cells in order to assure them that Jesus’ knows all about it, cares about them, and calls them to a better way. Of course, we wouldn’t be having the celebrations if they had not been powerful in their witness and fruitful in their ministries.
I then thought about the several mission fields Lavone and I visit regularly on the continent of Africa. I reflected on the stories of missionary pioneers who braved the elements and environments to go, to stay, to embed themselves in local cultures, to show and tell Jesus, so that Jesus could show himself beautiful and mighty and draw people to himself and shape into church. Once again, all those stories are filled with women who didn’t need a man, other than Jesus (but in the very same way men need Jesus!) to prevail over enormous obstacles to bring the good news to other people groups who needed it desperately. Some of them served themselves all the way into the next life!
Of course, what is true to the FM tribe is true of all tribes within the global family of Jesus. The women show up, report for duty, get down and dirty in the nitty-gritty of gospeling all over the landscape. As a result, the lost are found, the corrupt are corrected and cleansed, the broken are mended and made strong, the poor are enriched, and wherever they are–wherever such things happen, hope for more and better abounds. This happens quite apart of the church’s formal processes of recognizing, authorizing, ordaining/certifying, and deploying them. They hear from God and act! God blesses with fruit! End (and beginning) of story!
So, back to that table around which sat the five women and the two men, in the middle of the gospel God-stuff of setting people free, calling perpetrators to account, offering shelter, giving hope, empowering new life. I marvel over the women God uses, and also the men, to bring God’s kingdom. I praise our God’s wisdom in gifting and calling them to “holy co-laborer-ship.” I stand in awe over the record, often sadly diminished or denied, of courageous sacrifice, bold witness, and extreme exploits rising from these sister-servants of the Lord Jesus. They certainly belong among those about whom Hebrews says the world is not worthy of them (see 11:38).
I am glad to be part of a branch of the church that, in understanding and teaching, acknowledges and seeks to align with God’s prerogative to use whomever God calls in whatever ways God chooses. “In understanding and teaching” we affirm the full empowerment and deployment of women as God calls and gifts them. In practice, however, we have made too little progress in welcoming and celebrating when Jesus calls women into the ministry of the church. In some places women are not welcomed or encouraged in ministry at all. In other places, they are but the opportunities seem limited. There are a few places where practice and profession are closer, but they tend to be exceptions that highlight the general reality.
I can and will continue to make the case from the scriptures, especially the broad sweep of the unfolding salvation story, that demonstrates how God will undo all the damage human sinfulness has caused, including the imbalances and dehumanizing that occurs between women and men. Indeed, that story shows clearly how the good news of Jesus brings restoration to humanity so full and free that we–male and female together–have opportunity to steward, oversee, and care for a world that will be very good once again. I can make the case and will. I live in hopes of a better, more consistent and faithful future in this regard!
Meanwhile, as we make the case, debate the issues, and all the rest, out of the corner of our eyes we can see God not waiting for us, but pressing on with kingdom initiative and bold apostolic adventure here and there making right the world, and in the middle of it all are women who do not wait for us–men and women–to get it all straightened out. It seldom occurs to us that attentiveness to what God is actually doing and how, and has been doing throughout the course of the church’s mission, might illumine our understanding and instruct our practice.
We must keep pressing on with making the case and telling the larger scripture story, but from time to time it is good to pause and note what God continues to do. And, in response, to celebrate the women. So, during October which our pop-Christian culture has named “Pastors-Appreciation Month,” I am appreciating and celebrating the women who pastor among us! I am also praying and working so that their numbers increase.