…between Greek or Jew,
male or female…*
A recent newcomer to the neighbourhood church arrives on a Sunday when the new elders of the church are being announced, honoured, and prayed for on stage. The newcomer notices something strange: although the church seems to be fairly diverse, all the elders have Jewish-sounding surnames. After the service, the newcomer approaches the pastor (who also happens to have a Jewish surname). Tentatively, “Can I ask you about something? I noticed during the service that all your elders seem to be of Jewish-descent. Can I ask if that was just a coincidence: that it just turned out that those with the specific gifts and anointing needed for elders in this church at this time happened to be Jewish? Or is there another reason?”. The pastor quite confidently replies, “Oh! They are definitely Jewish for a reason. We believe that God has given Jewish people specific gifts which enable them to lead with great authority and anointing. We believe that Jewish people were specifically created to lead: that the Good News is available to all, that those of non-Jewish descent have been beautifully and wonderfully created as equal in all ways, but not to lead.”
The newcomer, himself a person of gentile descent, replies, “That is quite a hard thing for me to hear. Surely everything which Jesus taught about the Kingdom, and the work of the Holy Spirit through the early Church points to equality in all ways between Jews and Gentiles?”
“Of course everyone is now equal! All the dividing walls have been broken down and we are all one in Christ. But leadership is different. You will notice that Jesus only chose Jewish people as disciples… and that Jesus himself was Jewish. We may not understand why He didn’t choose people of other races, but we need to accept that as a mystery and acknowledge that it clearly points to the unique giftings of Jewish people for leadership and authority.”
The newcomer asks, “Does that mean that I would not be able to use my giftings in this church?”. The pastor hastens to assure the newcomer, “No! Not at all! We need your gifting. You must not feel at all that you are not able to use your gifts here. It would be completely terrible if you felt that! You must be absolutely free to bring all your gifts to the Lord’s work”.
“But,” the newcomer clarifies, “You’ve just said I wouldn’t be able to be an elder here.”
“Oh, no no!”.
“But, what if the gifting and anointing I have received from God would best be put to use in serving as an elder.”
“Well, we don’t believe that the Lord has created you in such a way that you would be able to be gifted to serve as an elder, but you mustn’t feel at ALL like you can’t use those gifts fully in the church. If you feel that way, then we, as leaders, need to create a better space for full body ministry to take place.”
* Roles, situations, characters and categories have been changed in order to (un)mask the actual conversations about women in church leadership in 21st century South Africa…