Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Post-Restoration Hope #10: Leadership, Women, and the Low Hurdles

We tried. I mean we really tried, but it did not work. One of the goals of the RM was to live the ideal of every member ministry or, “the priesthood of all believers.” Some of us tried having no paid ministers. Some of us took with great seriousness the concept of autonomy. Some of us eliminated missionary societies and anything resembling governance at all. We’ve tried a bunch of things to eliminate the clergy/laity or learned/learning gap. We just never did quite pull it off. I think that there are at least four reasons for this:

1. The leaders (whether elders, ministers, untitled opinion leader or whomever) were invested in keeping power. These leaders had a hard time actually trusting members (followers) with ministry. They became the learned who would impart knowledge upon those who comprised the learning. The learned had a vested interest in keeping the learning learning and letting only a select few become the learned because not everyone can be the learned. Why? What would the learned do if not teach the learning? So, to justify their existence, the learned needed to keep the learning in that same learning status. Whenever a question arose it was the learned who were called upon to resolve the matter. The learning were to learn, but not too much. Too much learning makes one learned and therefore defeats the purpose of having the learned.

2. The followers were invested in avoiding responsibility. Not all the blame can or should fall on the leaders or the learned. Remaining in learning status was sufficient reason for many to avoid ministry. There is an almost limitless power-of-avoidance in the well-planned ignorance of the follower. When is there ever a time when someone knows enough to do anything so as to be ready to make plans allowing of all contingencies? Never.

3. Knowledge obsessed church culture. Combine leaders who want control and mix it with followers who avoid responsibility and cook it in a church context that exalts, empowers, and privileges knowledge and you will get a system comprised of mutually colluding parties forming by default a clergy/laity relationship no matter what names are used to identify these people, if any names are used at all. It all operates just the same no matter what you call it.

4. Church leadership has been reduced to public acts, teaching Sunday school, and organizational decision-making (by men). Let’s consider that leadership was an exclusively male position. Besides teaching children and serving meals (both are noble tasks and needed, but not gender-determined), women were to remain silent. When I grew up and was being trained in the ways of the Lord, it amounted to the following (in appropriate stages of development, naturally after baptism):

1. Be the silent fourth guy at the communion table and help serve the trays.
2. Lead the prayer during the communion for the collection, being sure to say the words, “separate and apart from the Lord’s Supper,” as we got the money right in there with the Lord’s Supper.
3. Lead a prayer for the Bread.
4. Lead a prayer for the wine, oops, fruit of the vine (which reminds me of a story…Oh, I’ll tell it later).
5. Lead a prayer disconnected from the Lord’s Supper (opening prayer, closing prayer, before the sermon prayer…etc).
6. Lead songs. If the church was short on good male voices, then this position was bumped up in the order of priority.
7. After graduating from college, teaching was then added to my list of ministry actions I could do, since I was getting really mature.
8a.Fast-track - get a ministry degree and become a minister and get hired at a church.
8b. Normal track – Get married, have children and then you can become a deacon (in some churches, a pregnant wife will count as you being a parent). Deacons are considered a pool for future elders to be drawn from. So, when an elder’s lifetime term ends upon his death (or perhaps, but not necessarily, a debilitating illness,) a new elder can take his place.
9. Finally, when your baptized children are in high school and aren’t known to be smoking pot or pregnant, then you qualify for eldership. So, when that coveted elder spot opens, approximately one month after the funeral (sooner if there were only two elders) the elder selection process begins and the best of the deacons who have been nicely groomed to take on that role will be selected.

Some might find this list a little or a lot exaggerated, while others are wondering if I have attended their church. The list above is real and not exaggerated in some churches, I kid you not. Spiritual development and formation was tagged with spiritual titles, public acts in the worship service, and the power to make organizational decisions, and perhaps the status to be considered someone who can perhaps resolve disputes. It all had to do with striving to be a member of the coveted learned in-group. Knowledge and status determines power and control.

When spirituality is stripped down to such little things such as the components of the above list, no wonder so many teenagers ditch the church. I wonder how it is that women stay in the church at all. It is a system that retards the potential growth of both women and men.

First, the typical system for spiritual leadership for Churches of Christ and many RM churches completely rejects that value of women beyond the extremely limited roles of child nurturer and food provider. Yes, again, these are necessary and important roles in the church and many women are exactly suited for these roles. The point is this: theologically intelligent women, articulate women, creative women, motivating women, and women with all kinds of talents are forced to either neglect their God-given gifts or they are to use their God-given gifts for secular means, meaning not to support the ministry of the church. A woman who is the CFO of her company does not need to be singing, “this little light of mine,” in the preschool unless that is actually her desire. She should head the finance committee, head up communications for creative fundraising to support the church’s ministry efforts, or something even remotely using what she is good at.

No longer should we emphasize the misreading of, “women keep silent in the church,” to the neglect of a proper reading of, “when your women pray…,” and “…there is neither male nor female…,” in order to justify the systematic exclusion of half the talent of the church.

Second, the system mocks and vastly underutilizes men by making them jump the low hurdles and then cheering them like they are Olympic champions. I remember getting the most praise as a kid when I prayed publicly and did a youth group devotional talk. Not bad things, but that was it. That was the pinnacle of my spiritual training. OK, I was praised for enduring a door-knocking campaign I never wanted to go on and that was vastly ineffective, but that was it.

So, not only are our churches not utilizing almost any gifts of women, we are vastly underutilizing the gifts of men. That is just like deciding (for theologically sound reasons, of course) to play basketball with only half of your left leg. I guess you could give it a try, but you are not going to win many games.

Some might think this to be a call for the abolishment of church leadership or a call to ecclesiastical anarchy. It is not. Look at scripture. There are leaders there. Paul, Peter, Priscilla, Lydia, and on and on. Instead, this is a call for leaders to become learners again and for learners to activate their learning for something more than teaching.

If you look at scripture, learning drives ministry, not merely more learning. And to push even further, ministry drives learning. We are called to be the priesthood of all believers in more than merely name only.

It's not the priesthood of smart believers, the priesthood of male believers, the priesthood of savvy believers, but it is ALL BELIEVERS.

My hope is that every member ministry will be the conduit of the post-restoration church loving God by loving the world.


Brandon Scott said...

amen, dear brother-in-law. Great stuff. Love you, man. WHEN ARE YOU COMING TO SEE US?

DJG said...

It is just like with our children, they usually will not rise higher than our expectations. For too long we have expected NOTHING from our members other than attendance or the "front and center" things you mentioned.

Most people want grow unless pushed a little or at the very least challenged. And yes, I have done more than my fair share of "This little light of mine"

don said...

Chris, I was laughing all the way through the development (egg, pupa, nymph, butterfly) stages of the male in church. I recognized each of those stages, as did many of your readers. I know it wasn't meant totally for comic effect, but it was there, anyway.

I would only disagree with one point in your whole post today, and that would be when you imply (or openly state, I can't remember which, and don't have it pulled up on the screen) that a lot of the reason for the laity/clerical positioning is the desire for power on the part of the elders. I don't think I've EVER met an elder who was doing it for power or position. I know there must be a few out there, but as I think back on the elders I have known, they have all been humble servants who were just trying to do what they felt was right. This may come across in pronouncements now and then that sound arbitrary (and might be), but I've never known the motive to be powerlust. In fact, I think most of them would tell you it is a lot of hard work, and mostly a thankless job. I think 99% of the blame for the situation lays in your second point, and that is the failure of more of us to get involved on our own.

Your comments about the wasted talents of women are particularly good, and should be published somewhere. Maybe I can find a powerful media magnate and get her to help with that.

Keep prodding us, bro. I think you are doing what you need to be doing, even though you aren't in Duluth.

Fajita said...

Don, you confirmed my suspicions about myself that I may have come on too strong about the leader's power thing. I don't think it is derived of powerlust (although some it) as much as it is the expectation of the office (position) itself.

I dare anyone to become an elder and avoid being thrust into a power role. "You're the elder, you do it."

Eldership is a setup under the current system. "You make all the decisions so I can sit back and pelt you with criticism."

don said...

I think that's what I meant by thankless. We have all been armchair quarterbacks after the game is over saying "why didn't they do this" or "that was a boneheaded move" by the elders, and it IS a setup. I really appreciate the ones who will take on that responsiblity knowing that they're going to get criticized.

Greg Brooks said...

I have encountered elders driven by power lust. My grandparents were pushed, shoved and abused out of their congregation 4 or 5 years ago. They had served there for more than 30 years. They, and many of their generation, were forced to leave. One couple (again, members for decades) were told fellowship was being removed from them because of public, unrepentant sin. The gentleman asked, 'What sin?' The elders involved said, 'You used to smoke, didn't you?' The gentleman replied, 'Yes, when I was a teenager.' The elders confirmed that was the sin they meant.

After several dozen older members (not just older by age, but by years of service) were gone, the elders took upon all the responsibility of the various committees that had existed. There may have been financial corruption in some of the things that have gone on since then, and now the church is gasping for breath.

Elders, like any humans in leadership roles, are vulnerable to the corrupting effects of power. This may not merit the first position in a ranked list of historical problems, but it exists and deserves to be continually prayed over.

Matt said...

Chris- you continue to speak to a place where my heart has been dwelling a lot lately. With every one of these posts, I'm becoming more and more certain that I am a post-restorationist.

Keep it up, friend!

TCS said...

I too found the developmental process funny. Although you left out a step. #5 really has a part A and B. You get lead the closing prayer any number of times before you get to lead the "big one" you know the one after the first two songs, it is characterized by being longer than most, the longer the better. It reminds me of a thing I received once called "The church of Christ rules" Have you seen it? Maybe I should dig that up and post it.

On a more serious note, I really think most elders are just stuck in a system that they inherited and can't see how to they become managers instead of shephards. I know of two congregations that have changed this model to where there is a team of "deacons" (not what they call them, but I will for the sake of common understanding) that oversee the other deacons or minstry leaders. This team takes away all the "power" of business decision and frees the Elders to shepard the sheep. I am sure this is happening elsewhere, but I think it removes some of the problems.

Joe James said...

Thanx for not dancing with the issues and squaring up with the core cause.

Fajita said...


I would love to have acopy of the CHurch of Christ Rules. I'm kind of giggling already just thinking about it.

TCS said...

I think I lost my electronic copy of the rules unless it is at home. I know I have a hard copy that I will scan and post tommorrow. The scary thing is that the first time I saw it I thought it was from a "real" church.

Keith Brenton said...

Elders at Highland in Abilene have developed a "shepherding" model, too; as well as investigating women's gifts (I'm avoiding the word 'roles,' can't you tell?).

My favorite anecdote about this subject is about the preacher - who will remain unnamed - who was approached by a colleague at a lectureship a few years back with this: "Well, I suppose you've got women serving communion at your church now." His response was, "Well, yes - side-to-side; just not front-to-back yet."

There are lots of people questing about women's gifts and their use beyond there; the Gal3:28 group, for one. It frustrates me often to see my wife's gifts neglected in our assemblies; for crying out loud, she has even advised the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on techniques of reconciliation!

Whenever there's a "women's event" at church and she or one of the other blessed ladies there speaks or prays or sings, I'm always frustrated about what I'm missing out on.

Keep preaching, brother Fajita.

don said...

Keith, your comment about your wife's gifts made me think about one of my wife's gifts, in which she does take an active part in "corporate" worship services. She is an interpreter for the deaf, and I guess she is not in a "leadership" role, and she is definitely remaining silent, so it has never once been questioned by anybody in the four different places we've lived and she has served this way. I can't imagine anyone even raising an objection to this.

However, if there were women helping to serve the Lord's supper, (not praying or speaking, just standing up and passing it along) it would be an issue to be dealt with. What's the difference? I would think the serving would even be less an "up-front" role than the interpreting would, because Suzi has to paraphrase a lot of stuff that just doesn't translate into ASL, and is thereby tweaking the message a bit. But nobody even thinks a thing about that, and praises her for her service.

I think we are just comfortable with some things, and not with others, and there is a great range of things that are good and "scriptural" that we are simply not comfortable with, but need to be.

Fajita said...

I know that most elders are not in it for the power. But I also know many of them cannot help but exercise it. And some, yes, are driven to abuse with it. Elders, preachers, anyone who can get their hands on the power. I have been badly treated by elders in a church once upon a time (this church no longer even exists). Deception, control, manipulation, and and handful of other evil tricks were used on me (and several other), all with loving tones and firm hugs.

It's been almost ten years since that happened and I can still feel the wounds every now and again - like a touch arthritis in the soul when the weather turns. But it is not bad pain - it has a purpose. As James T. Kirk once said, "I need my pain." ON this point I do need my pain. I want to remember what it is like to be abused because I never want to do that to anyone else.

jettybetty said...

Yes, you have the promotion system of church leadership identified. Really, the way the CofC does this is just not in the Bible. Weren't elders (pastors) appointed by the evangelists? Don't think the elders in the NT were exactly like what we have now.
I so agree with you on your thoughts on women's issues. Do I sound like someone that would enjoy teaching preschool?

bobbie said...

i'm not church of christ, but have hit up against much of what you've described here - you have written it well, thank you! it gives me, as a woman, great hope that my daughter may not have to endure the silencing i have in my near 35 years in the church.

bobbie said...

i'm not church of christ, but have hit up against much of what you've described here - you have written it well, thank you! it gives me, as a woman, great hope that my daughter may not have to endure the silencing i have in my near 35 years in the church.