I love how our 5th Core Value, Egalitarian Ministry, encompasses both our commitment to upholding the roles of women in all aspects of the church, as well as the need to deploy, celebrate, and support leaders from every ethnicity.
Our value reads, "Egalitarian Ministry: We believe in unleashing the ministry gifts of women, men, and every ethnic group."
Though our denomination is constantly growing in size and maturity, in the past, we have been much better at unleashing women in ministry than unleashing the gifts present in leaders of various ethnicities. This month, I will introduce our core value in the form of two separate blog posts. First, I will focus on what is often traditionally called egalitarian ministry: the equal ministry roles of men and women, then I will write a second blog on our desire and need to catalyze leaders of all ethnicities in ECO.
I am grateful, and may I even say proud, that from it's inception, ECO has been unequivocal in its commitment to upholding the role of women in all aspects of the church. As part of my role as Synod Executive of ECO, I interact with other leaders of other denominations and networks. Many of these denominations and networks would be considered to the “right” of ECO. I have enjoyed sharing with these leaders our biblical hermeneutic that supports our position on women in ministry. While not all agree, I enjoy sharing how our understanding of women in ministry is not choosing to ignore scripture but to lift it up.
There are multiple advantages to having ECO take the position that we take. Some obvious advantages include our faithfulness to scripture. There is the other logistical advantage that it would have been difficult, and sad to have been formed out of the PC(USA) and not joyfully had our evangelical female colleagues with us.
There are two other advantages that I have observed. First, our affirmation of women in ministry makes us an advantageous denomination for those looking to plant a church who are both evangelical and egalitarian. Many people have observed that some of the best church planters are those who have been successful in college ministry. I have been in conversation with many leaders in InterVarsity, both men and women, who are now feeling called to plant a church. There are not a whole lot of denominations and networks with whom these individuals could plant, and are finding that ECO is potentially a great denominational home.
In a similar way, there are some churches from denominations other than the PC(USA) that are considering realignment. As ECO has become more established, these churches are becoming more and more interested in joining us. The two primary reasons they are excited about ECO is our flexibility for ministry engagement as well as our egalitarian approach.
For all of the positive that can be said about our affirmation of women in ministry, there are certainly places we can grow. In many cases (especially in congregations with solo pastors), there is often an affirmation of women in ministry, but little exposure to female pastors. Certainly one remedey to that situation is to invite solidly orthodox women to preach in your church or speak and lead at a church retreat. I have always found that it is great to expose the congregation to other voices and it helps the congregation to see our theology in practice.
Inviting women into leadership also provides role models and examples for younger women who may be called to the ministry. When, my wife Beth baptized our little friend (who was about 9 years old at the time), Halle told her parents she wanted to grow up and be a pastor like Beth. It was important that as she grew up that she was able to see who Beth was in and around church, and not just experience seeing male pastors lead from upfront. As people of all ages get exposed to wonderful women teachers and leaders, our local church body and our national denomination will become even stronger. Prayerfully seek out women leaders of all ages and stages in life from within your congregation and invest in them! God will work mightily as we seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ together as men and women in ministry.