Jesus and Women, part 4: Mary and Martha

I believe that we women do not need to begrudge the fact that Jesus was male.  We do not need to be bitter. We don’t need to feel left out. What is truly interesting is that Jesus had interaction with women at all. In a patriarchal society, the male Jesus spoke (and acted) very clearly regarding his opinion of women…and it was good.  Jesus advocated for women, allowed women to serve in the same roles as men, Jesus gave women dignity and value; He made it clear that women were as much his priority as men.

I have an older sister, Jennifer. She carries within her part of me, just as I carry part of her within myself. Sisters are connected, bonded and unexplainably tied together. They often have much in common, characteristics which draw them closer together.

And yet, even with sisters tied together by family and blood and life experience, each one is unique.  Each one is given gifts and characteristics all her own, needs and desires unique to her.  Even sisters, one of the closest of relations, are created distinctive as an individual.

In any given situation there is no guarantee that my sister and I will respond in the same way, nor do we need the same response from those around us. Just like any two people, we are unique.  Look at two other sisters in the Bible, Martha and Mary. Read part of their story here: John 11: 17-35.

Often our focus in this story is on Lazarus, but I want to look at the sisters. As you study the text, what do you see? In verse 21 and 32 notice what the sisters say to Jesus.  Interestingly, both of them say the same thing: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But look at the way that Jesus interacts with each sister! Very different situations result from the same statement. Why is this?

Jesus approaches each sister individually, according to her need. When Martha and Mary approached Jesus after the death of their brother, they needed different things; they were at different places in their grief.

How amazing that Jesus meets us where we are! There is no formula that Jesus abides by, there is no certain response.  Jesus approaches every person individually, according to their need and according to the circumstance. We are each unique, created special and different from everyone else – and so we need different things from Jesus. At any given point in our lives, we need a different side of Jesus. One day we may be like Martha and need theological discussion and assurance that he is in control. The next day we may, like Mary, need Jesus to weep with us at a moment when words do not suffice.

As we see from this story of Martha and Mary, Jesus sees us as individuals, he understands us as unique. Jesus recognizes our need and meets us where we are. What a comforting thought: it is not just that God so loved the world, but that God loves us, and not only that but God loves me.   We are loved individually, we are cared for as the circumstance demands, we are met exactly where we are by Jesus who makes it clear that we are a priority.

Shannon New-Spangler

Rev. Shannon New-Spangler is the Senior Pastor at Harvest Point Church in Lordstown, OH. Shannon has a Master of Divinity from the Anderson University School of Theology and represents the Church of God (Anderson, IN) on the Conference Planning Committee for the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy.

Jesus and Women, part 3: Woman at the Well

I believe that we women do not need to begrudge the fact that Jesus was male.  We do not need to be bitter. We don’t need to feel left out. What is truly interesting is that Jesus had interaction with women at all. In a patriarchal society, the male Jesus spoke (and acted) very clearly regarding his opinion of women…and it was good.  Jesus advocated for women, allowed women to serve in the same roles as men, Jesus gave women dignity and value; He made it clear that women were as much his priority as men.


The story of Jesus is interwoven with women, very deliberately.  Jesus spoke and acted on behalf of women throughout his ministry. This is important, because as Jonathan mentioned in his blog, Surprised by the Controversy, “women in ministry need men to speak out for them.”

There are several times in the gospels when Jesus’ interactions with women seem to be chance meetings. However, as we look into the stories we see great truths revealed. Read about Jesus and the woman at the well: John 4:1-39.

There are so many aspects of this story that we could look at, but at a very basic level, I want to simply look at the interaction of Jesus with this woman.  A first century reader would barely expect Jesus and the woman to acknowledge each other’s presence, much less speak to one another,[1] and yet Jesus invites this Samaritan woman into thoughtful conversation.

Simply the fact that Jesus was talking to her gave the woman two unexpected gifts: acceptance and value. But not only did he speak to her, Jesus engaged her in a theological discourse.  To Jesus, she was not a waste of time, she was worthy of his mission.

Who in the world does not want, desire, even need to be accepted and valued? The woman of Samaria was not accepted well or valued in her own community. Even the time of day that she came to the well suggests she might have been avoiding the other women. This was a woman who knew her place in society, and it was not good.

But when she encountered Jesus, everything was different. He was different. He knew who she was, he knew what she was, but Jesus gave her attention.  He spoke kindly to her; the conversation was deep and profound and it created within her the hope that life could be something more.

The disciples were bewildered by this meeting, as many would have been at that time, but in this story we can see that in Jesus’ eyes all people have value. In this story we can see that Jesus accepts us for who we are and where we are at in life, while gently encouraging us to something greater.

When the woman encountered Jesus at the well, she was changed and when she returned to the city, many people believed in him because of her testimony. In the woman at the well, we see the proper response to an encounter with Jesus.  We are all given the same hope and we are called to respond in the same way.  We are valuable and accepted. We are worthy of an encounter with Jesus and we too are encouraged to proclaim his truth.

Jesus calls those who are willing not those whom the world deems worthy. In the woman at the well we see ourselves, imperfect as we are, yet called to something more. We are accepted and valuable to Jesus and we are worthy of sharing in the mission of God.

Shannon New-Spangler

Rev. Shannon New-Spangler is the Senior Pastor at Harvest Point Church in Lordstown, OH. Shannon has a Master of Divinity from the Anderson University School of Theology and represents the Church of God (Anderson, IN) on the Conference Planning Committee for the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy.

[1] J. Kopas, “Jesus and Women in John’s Gospel,” TT 41 (1984): 201-5.

Jesus and Women, Part 2: Anna and Mary

I believe that we women do not need to begrudge the fact that Jesus was male.  We do not need to be bitter. We don’t need to feel left out. What is truly interesting is that Jesus had interaction with women at all. In a patriarchal society, the male Jesus spoke (and acted) very clearly regarding his opinion of women…and it was good.  Jesus advocated for women, allowed women to serve in the same roles as men, Jesus gave women dignity and value; He made it clear that women were as much his priority as men.

At the bookends of his ministry, Jesus used women to proclaim the truth about who he was and what he came to do.

When the Christ child came – he had been greatly anticipated for many years.  The first hints about the Messiah were made to Abraham and the expectancy had grown, fed by many words from prophets throughout the Old Testament who helped build up the picture of the Messiah. And to further build, to grow it to a point of deep longing, the expectancy of the Messiah was enhanced by 300 plus years of prophetic silence.  The people cried out “God, come and redeem us! Rescue us! Save us!” But they waited.

In the Gospel of Luke, we come across a character that makes her appearance in the final acts of the Christmas drama. She doesn’t appear in any nativity scenes or on Christmas cards, but she is a significant player in that first Christmas.

Take a look at Anna:  Luke 2:36-38

Anna anticipated redemption, a word related to the idea of captivity. The Old Testament Passover and the release of Israel from Egyptian slavery stood, in Anna’s day, as the ultimate redemption and the symbol of God’s power to release captives. But Passover also pointed ahead to that day when God would provide full deliverance from the bondage of sin.

Anna had committed her life to waiting on Jesus. She wanted to see the Messiah because “To see Jesus is to see God’s salvation.”[1] When Anna saw Jesus, she gave thanks to God because his coming spoke to all who were waiting for this redemption. Here, at last, was the One who would save humanity from their sins.

Anna was an advocate for Christ. Like the disciples who would follow her, Anna was driven to bear witness to what she had seen. And while Mary was the first to have the good news announced to her, Anna was the first woman to understand fully and proclaim the good news.

Luke’s Christmas story is full of surprising reversals of fortunes and roles in which outsiders become intimate associates and in which women play as active a role as the men. Luke portrays the rise of a form of Judaism that would rely on the testimony of women (as well as men) and that would empower women to fulfill the roles for which they were intended.

The placement of Anna in this story is significant because, in a patriarchal society, Jesus chose to use a woman (as well as a man – Simeon) to proclaim the good news: that the Messiah had arrived.  Perhaps we could look at this as a coincidence, but I believe it was deliberate. Christ is authorizing the call of women to the proclamation of the gospel.

Jesus, from the very beginning, validated the ministry of women. But it is after the resurrection that we once again see Jesus advancing the ministry and voice of women.  Look at Mary in John 20:10- 18.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus told his disciples that he would rise. He shared his plan and his mission for the world. Even still, when Jesus rose from the grave they were surprised.

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. Like Luke’s Christmas story, John’s resurrection story is surprising in that women play an active role in the proclamation of the good news.  It is here that we see Jesus once again calling a woman to share this news.  Mary is told to go to the disciples and tell them, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18) Mary shares in the joy that Jesus’ promises were true, she proclaims the good news that not only has redemption come, but death has been defeated!

The beginning and the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry are witnessed by women: Anna proclaims who Jesus is; Mary proclaims what Jesus has accomplished.  These are the bookends of his ministry and create beautiful symmetry of the use of women in the proclamation of the good news.

Women proclaimed his birth, interacted with Jesus throughout his life, and testified to his resurrection.  Truly Jesus was greatly involved in the validation of the ministry of women. We can be encouraged by the story of Anna and the story of Mary; we are reminded that women serve in being bearers of the good news. By their example, we can be bold, Christ is our advocate. Christ is for us.

Shannon New-Spangler

Rev. Shannon New-Spangler is the Senior Pastor at Harvest Point Church in Lordstown, OH. Shannon has a Master of Divinity from the Anderson University School of Theology and represents the Church of God (Anderson, IN) on the Conference Planning Committee for the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy.

[1] Darrell L. Bock, The NIV Application Commentary: Luke, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. page 96.

Jesus and Women: An Introduction

Inevitably, we cannot help but identify with that which is familiar. So, let me state an obvious fact: Jesus was male.  As a woman in the church you are (most likely) distinctly aware of this fact.

Knowing that the earthy incarnation of God was a man, does that change the way you feel about God? As women, how do we identify with Jesus? How do we think about him?

As you consider these questions, we should start at the beginning. Men and women were created by God, created equal and with the same value.  Both created in the Imago Dei – in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), both male and female. We know this but despite that knowledge we (women especially) are distinctly aware of the fact that even still, Jesus was male. The incarnate God, Immanuel, God with us, was male. How can we identify with this God?

I believe that we women do not need to begrudge the fact that Jesus was male.  We do not need to be bitter. We don’t need to feel left out. What is truly interesting is that Jesus had interaction with women at all; in a patriarchal society – the male Jesus spoke (and acted) very clearly regarding his opinion of women…and it was good.  Jesus advocated for women, allowed women to serve in the same roles as men, Jesus gave women dignity and value; He made it clear that women were as much his priority as men.

The most striking thing about the role of women in the life and teaching of Jesus is the simple fact that they are there. Although the gospel texts contain no special sayings repudiating the view of the day about women, their uniform testimony to the presence of women among the followers of Jesus and to his serious teaching of them constitutes a break with tradition which has been described as being ‘without precedent in [then] contemporary Judaism.’[1]

In his context, we should acknowledge that Jesus had to be male.  To have an impactful ministry in the perfectness of the time in which he came, this was necessary.  However, we see too that the story of Jesus is interwoven with women, from start to finish and all the way throughout. In my next few posts I’ll focus on a couple of women in particular, but as you read in the gospels pay special attention to how Jesus interacted with women, observe how he spoke to them.  Jesus was an advocate for gender equality. Jesus was an encourager of women in ministry.  Jesus was for us, and so we can be encouraged!

Shannon New-Spangler
Rev. Shannon New-Spangler is the Senior Pastor at Harvest Point Church in Lordstown, OH. Shannon has a Master of Divinity from the Anderson University School of Theology and represents the Church of God (Anderson, IN) on the Conference Planning Committee for the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy.

[1] James Hurley, pp. 82-83, citing W. Forster, Palestinian Judaism in New Testament Times. London, 1964, p.124.

Community: I’m no superwoman.

It must have been my first year of seminary when a friend got me hooked on “Scrubs,” a TV series about a group of medical interns. Sure, it was funny and witty, but what I remember best is this line from the theme song:

“But I can’t do this all on my own
No, I know,
I’m no Superman.”

 You see, I found the grueling experience of medical interns was so relatable because of my own seminary experience. Through the late nights writing papers, and juggling showing up at class and ministry outside of academia, I learnt quickly I couldn’t do it all on my own. I’m no superwoman.

Why Community
It began with the cup of coffee a friend brought in the middle of a terrible day. Then there were conversations in the hallways where we continued theological debates over where life and ministry intersected with academia. Then came days of crisis and doubt, and (in my opinion) the darkest days of ministry where we found ourselves questioning our call—and the community that shows up to remind us to simply be faithful to the work we were called to even when it doesn’t make sense.

The reality is, we are created for community.

We need people who will offer wisdom to help us navigate the waters of ministry, and those who can commiserate with the struggles.

We need people to hold us accountable to theological orthodoxy, and those who challenge our worldviews and offer a different perspective.

We need people to hold us accountable to spiritual and ministerial health, and those who remind us we are a part of this big Kingdom work.

As women in ministry in particular, we need other women clergy. When the voices begin telling us that we’re not good enough, not doing enough, not “man” enough (as we know they do), we need women clergy friends to gently shake us and say, “you know that’s not true.” But we also need our clergymen peers that will advocate for us to those that hear them better than they hear us. They need to know us and hear our struggles to know how to rally for us.

But How?
As important as community is, it’s hard work, and it takes intentionality. Life gets busy, and coffee dates with clergy friends get dropped to the bottom of the to-do list because it seems frivolous. Or we move to a different part of the world, and keeping up with Skype dates just seem like too much work because we have new relationships to maintain.

So how do we do it? Perhaps it requires a little thinking outside the box.

A group of my clergy friends came together via e-mail and experimented with a way of “being together” over the Lenten season this year. Morning and evening, we prayed short prayers for the Kingdom, for ourselves, and for each other. The prayer times helped set a spiritual rhythm to our day; never mind that we were spread out in 3 different time-zones between Auckland, New Zealand and the Midwest of the United States. It wasn’t a matter of being in prayer at the exact same moment, or even being in constant communication. It was simply the awareness that we were all part of the same spiritual rhythm, and there were friends we were accountable to. Even now, these are the people to whom I shoot an e-mail to process ministry and depend on for prayer.

I share our story not to say that this IS the only way to do community differently, but to simply offer that there can be non-conventional ways of doing community. Because we need each other, even if for no other reason than to sustain ministerial health. And we owe it to our churches or other ministry contexts to stay healthy because they stand a better chance of being healthy when their ministers themselves are healthy.

Jael Tang


Jael Tang is a 2011 graduate of the Anderson University School of Theology. Originally from Singapore, Jael currently serves the Church of God at Westside Christian Fellowship in Auckland, New Zealand.

Achieving Balance: A Primer

After 35 years in ministry, I still haven’t figured it out! You would think that I would have gotten a handle on this thing! I was raised in a pastor’s home…a parsonage that was less than 500 yards from the church building. I loved the church. It was a weekly anticipated pleasure to meet with the saints who became my other parents at times, to hear the sermons, sing the hymns, go through the angst and emotions of my childhood and teenage years in a safe place. I owe my experience with God to countless lay persons, Sunday School teachers and youth pastors – some who corrected me, some who challenged me, all who influenced my life.

I have lived my adult life in ministry – trying, failing, reaching, and at times succeeding. But where is balance? Have I found out one thing about that elusive concept? IS healthy balance a possibility? If so, how? How do I achieve a healthy lifestyle that glorifies God and sustains my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being?

I guess I would boil it down to four things I have learned – no five! (with apologies to the writer of Proverbs!)

  1. You can’t have it all!
    This myth of the modern era is destructive. In order to be successful in what God has called you to, you must recognize your choices of some things automatically result in your rejections of other things. On rare occasions, yet certainly it happens at times, my husband takes me by the shoulders and says to me, “All right, you are going to accept this ministry task. What are you going to give up? There is only so much room in your life.” Women are particularly susceptible to this temptation – to try to prove we can do everything. We want so much to prove we are capable that we endanger our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. Realize that you cannot (and should not) have it all!
  2. If you are too busy doing God’s work – you are NOT doing God’s will!
    Simply that – God does not ever have a plan for you that includes you burning out because you are doing too much ministry. God’s plan is for you to be healthy and to model a healthy personal and ministry life. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will not be all God created you to be! If you don’t set boundaries in ministry, nobody else will do it for you.
  3. Don’t try to be like a man.
    If God had wanted you to function like a man, God would have created you one! In each gender, God has given specific gifts and perspectives, for the good of the whole body. Males and females each contribute different ways of perceiving theology, issues and people and different ways of relating and leading. When we try to preach (teach, pastor, serve) like a man, we thumb our nose at who God made us. BE YOU. That’s who God loves – not your version of anyone else.
  4. Love God first and God will teach you how to love yourself and others
    This is ultimately how to achieve balance. If we do not love God first, we will not love others in a healthy way. Don’t read what I am not saying! I did not say DO God things all the time. Develop a relationship with God. God is always reachable. We all need to be frequently reminded that our work for God is not as important as our relationship with God. Learn God’s love for others by allowing yourself the joy of experiencing God’s love for you. It will inform your ways of taking care of yourself and it will inform your ways of relating to other people.
  5. God’s work doesn’t depend on you. Your work depends on God!
    Never lose the perspective that God’s work is going to go on. The question to ask is “Am I going with God?” It is easy to get ahead, thinking God is working too slowly, or to drag your feet, thinking God is somehow not aware of all the details. The truth is that God’s plan and timing is perfect, and that we need to get on board and ride with God. It is the ONLY way we will keep from crashing.

Nothing profound here! You knew every one of these thoughts. However, I have found that I get focused on a project or the crisis du jour and forget these very basic concepts. My desire is to live out God’s plan for me – and that starts with making sure I am healthy.

Rebecca New-Edson


Rev. Dr. Rebecca New-Edson is the Director of Western Pennsylvania Ministries of the Church of God. She serves as the Chair of the General Assembly of the Church of God (Anderson, IN).

Surprised by the Controversy

I was raised in a home where both parents were ordained pastors. I watched my mother, Rev. Joanie Frymire, become ordained. Unfortunately my memory of the event is vague at best. That’s partly because I was too young to understand what being ordained meant, and partly because I was completely unaware of the tensions surrounding women in ministry. Since I had grown up around ordained women, I had no reason to assume that women shouldn’t be ordained, or become pastors, or serve in leadership. I just grew up with an understanding that women could do all of those things as a default; which, in my opinion, is the way it should be. I was in college before I became aware that there was controversy over women in ministry.  The biggest surprise was that the person who expressed reservations on the topic was a woman! I remember going back to my dorm room, calling my parents, and saying, “Can you believe this?” It was almost comical to me. Then my mom began telling me her stories of going through the ordination process and having people from our church question that decision; telling me how there were people in our church that were uneasy, at best, about having a woman Worship Pastor.  Suddenly, I was introduced to a controversy I hadn’t known even existed, and yet, it had been affecting my family for most, if not all, of my life. This issue has never been a theoretical one for me. It has always been one that has real ramifications for real people trying to follow the real call of God on their lives.

When I attended seminary, I took a class on women in ministry from Dr. MaryAnn Hawkins. I don’t remember what I had originally expected to get out of her class. What I certainly did not expect was that a class on women in ministry, in which I was the only male student, would have a significant impact on my own calling in ministry. Here are a couple things that I learned, that have profoundly affected my ministry and my development as a pastor:

We Need Women Pastors

The Church is a diverse community. There are people from all walks of life, and our pastors and leaders should reflect that diversity. One of the foundations of what it means to be part of the Church of God is our commitment to Unity. Unity only exits through diversity. Without diversity, we can only achieve conformity. Women ministers, you have a distinct voice that needs to be heard, a unique perspective that we (men) cannot duplicate. If we fail to allow your voice and perspectives to be heard, it is the Church that suffers. We cannot continue as the Church without the leadership, preaching, and work of the women of the Kingdom. The Church needs you to keep fighting, to keep bringing your passion, your voice, and your perspectives into the body.

We Need Male Pastors

I want to state up front that this is not meant to be pretentious or condescending. However, as long as there are places where the voice of women are not heard, then women in ministry need men to speak out for them. Men, the Church needs you advocate for the place of women in pastoral and ecumenical leadership. Not because women can’t defend their right to be there; but because they shouldn’t have to. Women do not need men to defend their qualifications for leadership. We have, for the first time, a woman as the Chair of the General Assembly. Neither I, nor any other man, needs to justify why Dr. Rebecca New-Edson is sitting in that chair. She can do that just fine on her own. But there are women still fighting to have a voice. There are women still struggling to find their place in the life of the Community of Faith, and they need to know that there are men who love them, believe in them, and are excited that they are pursuing the call God has placed on their hearts. Women don’t need men to fight for them; Women need men to fight alongside them.

Jonathan Frymire

Rev. Jonathan Frymire is the senior pastor at Orchard View Church of God in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he lives with his wife, Maria.  Jonathan is a graduate of the  Anderson University School of Theology.

Let the Women Sing!

Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them:

“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

Exodus 15:20-21 NRSV

We don’t know much about the prophetic voice of Miriam. We are left with a short couplet in which she rallies the Israelite women and celebrates the work of God at the Red Sea. According to Bernhard Anderson, these two little lines are some of “the oldest pieces of poetry in the Hebrew Bible” that “probably originated with the actual event it celebrates.”[1] The scholars believe that these are the actual words Miriam was moved to use to praise God for rescue and redemption. This is the instantaneous poetry of a prophet celebrating a holy event.

Miriam’s soul must have been weary. She was born into slavery in Egypt, she lived through the plagues, and then she found herself, with her people, on the lam from Pharaoh. I wonder if there was a tiny voice inside her head that whispered, “How much more can I take?” But then, God showed up in a huge and miraculous way. The sea was divided and the pursuers where swallowed by the waters. Even though she was still far from the Promised Land, Miriam could suddenly taste freedom. Her rejoicing led to singing and dancing. As the prophet, she proclaimed the salvific work of God.

Miriam’s song was a song of hope and victory. The struggle wasn’t complete; there was a wilderness before the Israelites. Yet, Miriam and the women recognized that this was a time to rejoice. In a true prophetic voice, Miriam and the women celebrated the work of God before it was even completely finished. Walter Breuggemann rightly offers that the Israelites could “dare such an exaggeration, because [their] hope is more powerful and more compelling than any present circumstance.”[2]

Women called to ministry may find themselves weary and wandering. Some will question the call, some will tirelessly seek placement, and others will find challenging situations in the midst of the picture-perfect faith communities. Therefore, it is ever important that we pause and rejoice when we witness a holy event orchestrated by God. We must not only listen to the prophets among us who will sing the song of victory and hope in our lives, but we must be prophets ourselves. We, like Miriam, need to sing and acknowledge that God is for us. We must proclaim a hope that is more powerful and compelling than any present circumstance.

When we receive news that one of our sisters is beginning a new position at a church, we must sing. When a woman enters seminary, let us rejoice. When a woman is invited to preach, let us celebrate. Sing to the Lord for women are being used by God to share the gospel and proclaim the kingdom. Commemorate these holy events that bring hope for a brighter future. 

Mary Stephens
Mary Stephens is the Ministry Coordinator at Christian Women Connection (formerly Women of the Church of God) in Anderson, IN. Mary is a graduate of the Anderson University School of Theology and is a sought after speaker and preacher. She lives in Anderson with her husband, Kenneth, and their 7 month old son, Henry.


[1] Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998), 74-75.
[2] Brueggemann, Walter. “Exodus,” In General and Old Testament Articles, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus. Vol. 1 of The New Interpreter’s Bible, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994) 799. 

Why We Keep Talking About This, Part 2: On Traveling Together

Earlier this week, Jen Carney posed a crucial question: What about the young girls who are sensing the call to ministry, who do not have women clergy in their lives? I used to be this girl and I would like to share what made a difference for me. I started attending church alone when I was in 8th grade. I have no rich heritage of faith in my family. I don’t know what compelled me to get involved at that church, other than I felt a warm acceptance that was unfamiliar to me. In 2002, I told my youth pastor that I experienced a strange feeling like indigestion (just kidding, I later learned this was called “conviction”) during a commissioning for students called to ministry. In the following years, I developed an insatiable appetite for learning about ministry as a vocation. I didn’t know then how lucky I was to have landed in a movement (Church of God, Anderson, IN) that has historically affirmed the leadership of women. At that time, however, I also was unaware of how far practice can stray from doctrine.

In the spring of 2006, I was a bright-eyed college freshman at Anderson University (AU). I began to meet mentors who, for the first time since my call four years earlier, would serve as female role models. They demonstrated the leadership I yearned to develop. Kimberly Majeski, campus pastor at the time, was one of those women. In what may have been a momentary lapse of judgment, she invited two awkward, giggly freshman girls to travel and room with her at a conference called Come to the Water. I had never heard of the sponsoring organization, Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy, and had no money, but Kimberly has a knack for getting things done. I received some scholarship funds from AU and my church and was on a plane to San Diego.

I arrived at that first Come to the Water conference full of enthusiasm and naïveté. I learned a lot. I learned that women have been blazing trails in ministry for generations before me. I learned that there are many brothers eager to advocate for us. I learned that there is a fellowship of denominations and movements similar to ours; our shared theology is unique and can empower us to bring about justice and mercy in the world. I learned that the experience of worship is totally different when you’re surrounded by women seasoned in ministry.

I was too inexperienced then to have faced any opposition in my path to ministry, but listening to the stories of those women, I learned that pain and disappointment are part of the journey. I learned that even in churches that say they support our leadership, women are sometimes unfairly criticized, passed over, or just plain hurt. Shortly after returning home from the conference, I discovered how true this was. I had written my church a heartfelt letter thanking them for their support, which meant more to me after the conference having learned how often women are burned in ministry. One of my pastors confided that while I was gone, the search committee had a heated argument over one of the frontrunners in the search for a new senior pastor—a woman—ultimately deciding that she wasn’t the direction they wanted the church to go. I felt betrayed. These people had been my only support network and I was left questioning the validity of their convictions.

In the years since that first conference, I’ve experienced my own share of disappointments. My enthusiasm runs out. My dedication waivers. There are realities about ministry in the church that I wish I hadn’t discovered. I can’t claim to have the gifts of faith or mercy, but I continually lean on women who do. The women I’ve gotten to know over the past seven years at Come to the Water—the theologians, the prayer warriors, my Southern mothers, Anderson University School of Theology alum, my late night talkers, world changers, the vulnerable hearts, those who weren’t responsible for me, but reached out to me—have taught me that although ministry can be terribly lonely, we are never alone.

Ashley Fletcher

Ashley Fletcher is a Master of Divinity Candidate at Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, IN.  

Why We Keep Talking About This…

I got a text last Sunday, during the Global Gathering of the Church of God in Anderson, IN, from my friend, Shannon. Shannon is the senior pastor of a church in northeast Ohio. Shannon’s text read that her 8-year-old niece, Natania, had said to her in the service, “I’m going to be a pastor. God wants me to be a pastor. Will you mentor me?”

I think it is easy, as adult women in ministry, to wrestle silently against the voices that say we are not, and can not be called to vocational ministry because of our gender. Especially if we have been fortunate enough to find a place of vocational service. Yet, there is a great need for women ministers, as well as our male advocates in the church, to keep the women in ministry conversation alive. We must continue this conversation for the sake of biblical justice, for the sake of our own heritage, and for those who are in the generations to come.

Our theology of women in ministry is an issue of biblical justice that was modeled by Christ, himself. In Christ’s life, death and resurrection, the barriers that have been used to create inequality among the people of God have been removed. We are not more or less valuable to God or in our usefulness to God because of our race, gender, or economic status. Repeatedly in the biblical text, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, God has used women to lead the people of God and to speak a word on behalf of God to God’s people. Christ continued this message in his coming, lifting women to a place of dignity and voice in a time and culture that had left those women without. This is Kingdom of God equality. That we are all co-laborers for the work of God in the world. When we are intentional about our conversations about women in ministry, we are upholding a biblical standard of justice, prying open the doors for those whom God has called into vocational service in the Kingdom of God.

For those of us within the Church of God (Anderson, IN) the women in ministry conversation is also a matter of our heritage and identity. The Church of God has long stood for the equality of women in our movement. At one point in our history, women pastored 32% of our congregations. That was in 1925, when women had only had the right to vote for 5 years. The Church of God, historically, was a progressive voice for the equality of women. Charles E. Brown, former editor of the Gospel Trumpet, wrote in 1939 that,

As a matter of fact, the prevalence of women preachers is a fair measure of the spirituality of a church, a country or an age. As the church grows more apostolic and more deeply spiritual, women preachers and workers abound in the church; as it grows more worldly and cold, the ministry of women is despised and gradually ceases altogether.

The practice of affirming the work and call of women in vocational ministry is a part of our identity as the Church of God. How actively we do this, is a demonstration of how clearly we understand ourselves and how faithful we are to who God has called us, as a movement, to be in the world.

The truth is that God is already at work, calling up a new generation of young women to serve the church vocationally. These young girls are attending our campmeetings and conventions, they are sitting in our pews each week and they are hearing every word the church is saying to them about who they are and what God is doing in their lives. They are also hearing what the church is not saying to them about what God might be doing in their lives. I saw one of the most wonderful things, recently. I took a young ministry student to the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy conference this past year. The conference is quite expensive and this young woman who has such a strong call on her life for vocational ministry was wondering where the money would come from. Soon, the men’s group at her church sent her a check in the amount of her registration cost so that she would be able to go and be encouraged in her call to ministry. The men’s group from her church. This young woman heard what her men’s group was saying to her, that they believe in her call. We must continue the conversation of women in ministry for the sake of these young women, that their road will not be as difficult as the roads some of our foremothers have walked to be faithful to their Lord.

Little Natania is blessed. She comes from a family where her aunt and her grandmother have served the church vocationally on both local and national levels. She is also surrounded by men who believe in women in vocational ministry and will encourage her. She has wonderful role models in her life who are affirming to her that God does, in fact, call women to ministry. They will be there to mentor her. But what about the young girls who are sensing that call who do not have women clergy in their lives? What are their churches saying to them about how God calls women to ministry? What is their pastor saying to them? Their state pastor?

May we be faithful to the Scripture, to our own church heritage and to the ongoing work of God in the lives of women by continuing to bring the conversation about women in ministry to the forefront.

Jen Carney

Jen Carney is a 2009 graduate of the Anderson University School of Theology.
She is the communications coordinator for Qara.