The Simple Pastor: We differ on eldership not leadership

From The Simple Pastor » Book Review: House churches will they survive? » Simplicity & Generosity.

We differ on the inclusion of women in eldership (not as so many detractors say to leadership)

My apologies. I just do not understand.

My reading of this is that Phil believes that a woman cannot be an elder but that she can be part of a leadership team. That would seem to be supported by the values statement of "North Shrewsbury Community Church" which includes: 

The oversight and direction of the local church is exercised by the elders in conjunction with the wider leadership team.

When that is read in conjunction with the "Who's Who" which includes a number of women listed with "job titles" I think we can assume that some/all of these are part of the "wider leadership team".

So it seems to me that Phil is unhappy about "detractors" complaining that a woman cannot be in leadership when in fact they have a mixed gender "wider leadership" team that works in conjunction with a set of all male elders.

So hands up. Guilty as charged. I am clearly one of the "detractors". I read what Phil is saying, look at the values and the who's who and I still say that it is wrong to say this structure includes women fully in leadership.

In this structure the elders are the key leaders, the senior leaders, the final authority in the local Church. Sure they appear to be working collaboratively with a wider team but the authority is clearly still with the elders. While it would be interesting to see the formal rules for decision making (to see how the leadership team and elders are chosen and who has final say in what areas) it is not necessary in order to say this does not meet the requirements to be able to say women are fully included in leadership. The key decision making role is one that is not available to women, therefore their inclusion in leadership is by definition limited.

At the end of the day there is a simple definition. If there are roles or positions in a Church that are not available to women then the Church is based around a form of male headship. Churches can try to present this in many positive or gentle ways but the definition is simple and there is a clear line. Either there are no restrictions or there are some.

There are many attempts to fudge this line and to try to bring in side issues. For example we can say that the Methodist Church still has a number of ways in which it fails to be equal on gender issues – BUT the line is still clear. The Methodist Church clearly states that no role or position can be restricted by gender (or ethnicity etc). So while the Methodist Church is clearly far from perfect and fails in many ways it is also clearly on the other side of the line.

Clearly there is a wide spectrum of Churches who are on the male headship side of the line. Some are much closer to the line than others. When we look at the far end of that spectrum for example with Churches that do not allow women to speak in Church we can easily see that many would not want to be seen to align themselves with that.

But this is why the line is important. The line is so thin that you cannot sit on it. On one side humans are equal on the other side there is male headship. You cannot have both.

There is another big difference between the two sides of the line. On one side we have Equality or as Americans like to call it Egalitarianism. This side is a level field. Contrary to the way that it is often presented by male headship devotees this side of the line has no slippery slope. No dangerous extreme. If you believe in equality then what does it mean to be an extremist. You believe people are equal or not, they can't be shades of equal. These is no such thing as dangerous or extreme equality.

However, the other side of the line is quite different. This is a steep and slippery slope. Once you have said that people are not equal because of their gender you continually face the scary slope towards extremism. Once you say that people are not equal due to gender then you (you being men only at this point of course) continually face challenges to decide what this means in practice. If people are not equal then there are always going to be pulls towards restrictions to protect this view.

There are plenty of scary examples to be seen and those on this side of the line are always going to have others trying to pull them down the slope. Take one example. John Piper is a favourite of people on the Male Headship side of the line. He said:

So if this man, for example, is calling her to engage in abusive acts willingly (group sex or something really weird, bizarre, harmful, that clearly would be sin), then the way she submits—I really think this is possible, though it's kind of paradoxical—is that she's not going to go there. I'm saying, "No, she's not going to do what Jesus would disapprove even though the husband is asking her to do it."

She's going to say, however, something like, "Honey, I want so much to follow you as my leader. God calls me to do that, and I would love to do that. It would be sweet to me if I could enjoy your leadership. But if you ask me to do this, require this of me, then I can't go there."

Now that's one kind of situation. Just a word on the other kind. If it's not requiring her to sin but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.

You may say we value women, we include them in leadership. However, if you are not able to say: "We believe women and men are equal", if you are not prepared to say "No role or position is restricted by gender" THEN you are on the same side of the line as John Piper when he says a wife should endure "verbal abuse for a season" and "endures perhaps being smacked one night". This is the slippery slope towards extremist views.

So it is simple. Are you on the flat, stable and safe side of the line where people are equal, even extremely equal :-) Or are you on the slippery slope side where having claimed that women are not equal to me you are forever being drawn to extremes with no safety net.

2 thoughts on “The Simple Pastor: We differ on eldership not leadership

  1. PamBG

    We value women in leadership just as long as they know their place.
    I dream that in the next life people will understand how damaging these sorts of subtle devaluations are.


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