I recently did a talk at church on the role of women in leadership. My conclusion was that no role is out of bounds based on gender. A woman or a man can do whatever God has called and anointed them to do. I was asked the question, ‘did we get it wrong, then, about the role women in the church when our churches first began, when we taught male headship and leadership in the church?’ (Our church was part of the Cornerstone network with its roots in Harvestime, led by Bryn Jones.)
I think we did the best with what we had. Our church emerged in the 70s out of male led hierarchical church structure – Brethren roots with Baptist and Pentecostal influences. We sought to be true to Scripture as we understood it. But we have been on a journey to the position we now hold. The requirement for women to wear head coverings was ‘removed’ in the late 80s, wives of elders who did not feel called to leadership were free to ‘step down’ in the early 90s. This was a great relief to a number of the wives! The term ‘elder’ with it’s male only connotations stopped being used in the mid 90s and women were appointed to the leadership in their own right at that time. Where couples function together we celebrate that but we also acknowledge women in positions of leadership who are single or whose husbands are not involved. This has been the ‘position’ of our church leadership for over 20 years. So, across the New Community family of churches we have couples in leadership, married men without their wives, married women without their husbands and single women (no single men at present, interestingly!). We recognise women apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists and pastors. We have in our congregation women in leadership in local government, business, education, health, the justice system as well as the home.
Our journey does mirror something of culture’s journey. The sexism of the 70s (evident in the recent drama Ashes to Ashes), Britain’s first female Prime Minister in the 80s, greater acceptance of women in leadership roles, move towards equality of pay and conditions for women in the workplace, etc. This can only be positive and, I believe, reflects something of God’s heart for man and women seen in Genesis 1 and 2.
The Pioneer network, which we now lead, has been at the forefront of recognising women in leadership roles for over 40 years. You can listen to my talk on the issue on this website in the media section.