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  • insincere support or respect expressed but not put into practice
  • an expression of agreement that is not supported by real conviction
  • an avowal of advocacy, adherence, or allegiance expressed in words but not backed by deeds

Regular readers are aware of my views on the role of women in ministry. I consider myself egalitarian, but sometimes hesitate to use that word because it is so misunderstood and inaccurate myths abound.

I get discouraged by the divisiveness on both sides of this issue. It saddens me that each side can’t move just a little toward each other in the name of Christian unity, willing to flex their beliefs a little. For example, in the name of unity I can accept women not being lead pastors or elders, as long as most other options are open to them and the input of women is genuinely sought and valued.  Yet, this brings me around to the point of this post…

Many mild or soft complementarians state that women can do most things except be lead pastor or elder, and agree that women don’t have to be strictly confined to  the children/women/administrative departments. Women can serve more broadly in the church, and do things such as: be deacons, pray in the service, hold the communion elements, co-lead adult classes, and even perhaps have associate pastor or “minister” positions. Yet, I’ve observed a terrible disconnect in this regard.

It seems to be lip service only. They say women can do some or all of these other things, yet women in their churches are not actually doing these other things. Gifted women in their midst are not encouraged, their input not sought, and little apparent effort is made to utilize their gifts more broadly in the church body. I was recently pleased and relieved to see some complementarians themselves speak out with similar concerns! Here are the posts, and a brief excerpt from each.

The Complementarian Woman: Permitted or Pursued?

The challenge for any pastor would be to consider whether he is crafting a church culture that permits women to serve or one that pursues women to serve….It is one thing to say women are permitted to be deacons, and quite another to actively seek out and install women in that role. It is one thing to say women are permitted to pray in the assembly or give announcements, and quite another to ensure that they have a voice on the platform.

A Complementarian Blind Spot? Some Questions for Male Church Leaders

I see a failure to value the unique perspective of women…Failing to seek women’s input erodes the overall health of the church and its ability to fulfill its God-given mission. What’s surprising is that these churches [complementarian] teach a theology of men and women that should lead them to prize women and their perspective, to be proactive in seeking them out. These Christians teach that men and women have different strengths and weaknesses…But this belief hasn’t permeated their concept of church leadership. It appears that because they believe God forbids women to preach or exercise authority over men, they think that means they don’t need the wisdom and input of women in their preaching and leading.

An egalitarian who says things like this won’t be given much consideration, but as complementarian insiders I hope their thoughts will be given credence and lead to change.

At two churches I attended in the past, it was known that I was a seminary student yet this fact was essentially ignored. Other female seminary students and grads can echo this experience. Please let me clarify that I am not looking for special treatment, and my goal is not to be a pastor. But does it make any sense to ignore someone in your midst taking advanced biblical and theological training?  I am certain that if my husband was the seminary student, he would have been encouraged, specifically reached out to, and efforts made to get him plugged into ministry. But women are not pursued. And then we are often put between a rock and a hard place…if we speak up, even very gently, we are typically seen as: upstarts, only wanting to do important things, lacking humility, etc.

But I’ll stop as this post could turn into an extended rant and that is not my intent. My point is to be encouraged by complementarians speaking up on the disconnect between what is said and what is done.

Whether we describe ourselves as egalitarian or complementarian, and even if our opinions vary about exactly what women can do…I think we can agree that women are too often undervalued in the church and their perspectives generally not sought out. Right?

Let’s work together to end the lip service!