“Church planting is for girls.”
Yep, I said it. There it sits on the page. Don’t just breeze by it. Sit with it for a minute.
What thoughts or feelings come up?
Ah… another woman with an agenda.
Yes! I’m so glad we are talking about this!
Why can’t women be content ministering to women and children?
I don’t have time to deal with this… I’m trying to plant a church.
As an honest reader and gospel partner, I invite you to allow your thoughts to surface as you consider mine. I write trusting that this will be a moment when we can take a deep breath and open ourselves.
Maybe God intends to say something to us.
My goal in offering this essay is not to debate complementarian/egalitarian theology, or to persuade you of anything. My intention is to fully express my thoughts and to create some space for you to consider yours, in hopes that some dialogue will follow. We need more conversations where there is full expression coming from hearts of full respect. I have come to call it “respect-full-expression,” and I want more of it!
A vital discussion.
At the risk of being misunderstood, I am compelled to open this dialogue on the role of women as church planters for several reasons.
The planting of biblical churches requires a full expression of the gospel, which requires both male and female voices.
Tradition is holding my tribe back from fully empowering women.
Men’s efforts to communicate value can heighten the feelings of disrespect when those expressions come without real empowerment.
Qualified women are being overlooked, or intentionally kept out of leadership roles in the church, based on tradition rather than Biblical directive.
Women need men to call them out of one more Bible Study, into direct ministry roles.
The EFCA is taking steps to empower women and I want to help perpetuate that.
I fear a generation of women will leave our tribe in search of their value elsewhere in the body of Christ.
Living in a post-Christian city has deepened my conviction that, we, the church, must change how we present ourselves to the world if we want to be heard.
Perhaps the greatest reason that I am compelled to dialogue around this statement is this: I am both a girl, and a self-identified “church planter.”
As long as I can remember, I have had a passion to impact the world in profound ways. Then at age 18, I met Jesus! Since then, my vision has been set by scriptures such as Isaiah 49:6 and Matthew 28:18-20. Anything less than a multiplying impact to the ends of the earth, from generation to generation, feels too small. I want to live so that my kingdom impact continues long after I am gone. How could I be less than fully committed to, and daily engaged in a life of multiplying disciples and churches?
A fascinating reality.
If I were to sit with a team of people to be assessed for church planting, they would discover that there is no other role in the church for which I am more perfectly designed. But because of my gender, I have only sat on the other side of the table, as an assessor, or as a tag-along wife.
I am a born pioneer and people gatherer who thrives on equipping and unleashing others to relationship-driven disciple making that reproduces disciple makers. I had no way to learn those things about myself in the context of the church, which is sad. I’m grateful God connected me with a para- church organization where I could live out the full expression of my gifting and calling. How many other women are like me?
I loved being a full time mom. I have always loved supporting my husband’s ministry and wearing the title of “pastor’s wife.” Yet in light of my gifts and passion, I always knew that obedience for me meant additional kingdom investment. When our oldest was fifteen, I found Young Life. Here was a group of believers who valued me for something other than being married to the pastor. They invited me to lead, and I spent eleven years investing my life in students and young adults. It was an incredible season of highly fruitful ministry that created another avenue for me to invest in the leadership development of my own children. The permission I was given to fully express myself for the sake of the gospel brought me to life!
When God moved us into a church planting scenario, I realized how applicable my Young Life experience was. In the context of this ministry opportunity, my husband presented us as a package. I was made part of the plant team. It turns out that the very things God used to make a small YL club thrive and grow were applicable in church planting. What began as one small club at one school multiplied its impact to thousands of kids across the city, reproducing dozens of leaders and four more clubs. I loved the freedom I had to invest myself fully and freely in the local church.
Maybe that’s part of the reason why more than ever I feel the limitations of being a woman in the EFCA. When my husband accepted the role of Superintendent in the EFCA’s Western District we moved across the country to San Francisco. I brought my passion for the gospel and love for people, along with every ounce of my time and energy. I was eager to invest it all in my new city for the sake of creating new expressions of the gospel. I also brought forty years of ministry experience, tested character, a deep understanding of God’s Word, and evangelistic fruitfulness. I immediately began to live out my God-given design in a “fuller-than-full-time” way.
Four and a half years later, I find myself both surprised and sad to realize that no one has been able to see my church planting efforts for what they are. I am defined as a ministry wife: A woman exercising her gifts in support of her husband’s ministry. Had I been male, I would have been pursued as a valued church planter on any of several fronts.
I have experienced ministry in the local church from many angles for more than forty years. I get it. I know how overwhelmed most men in church leadership are, and I’m aware of the many complex issues that must be addressed. I get the DNA of the EFCA and the power of tradition. I know how easy it is for us to put others in a box according to labels, without even noticing. I am also struck by the part that I, along with other women, have played in the dilemma we face. I’ve chosen to walk on egg shells to avoid the risk of being misunderstood. I have wanted others to rock the boat on behalf, so that I wouldn’t have to be seen as the one creating waves. I have waited to be called on, tying my hands behind my own back in humble cooperation with the culture of my tribe. I have worked hard to live down the horror stories of pushy women at the expense of authenticity. Often, I tried to lead without looking like I was trying to lead, and came away feeling manipulative.
A moment of reckoning.
Now God is calling me out of the game playing and into a full and respectful expression of my gifts for the good of the body. I am ready to move beyond the kind of behavioral submission that keeps everyone comfortable. Obedience demands that I lean more fully into my deeply rooted heart of submission as a member of the royal priesthood, a sanctioned ambassador for Christ and a minister of reconciliation.
Today, as a certified professional life coach, I find myself more equipped and passionate than ever to play a significant role in the planting efforts of the church. My dream is to invest all that I am into raising up ordinary believers—men, women, and young people—to see their unique design as intended by God to fuel church planting in America.
Why? Because I am convinced that every believer is both called and capable of effectively gathering people around the gospel. I am also confident that with a little bit of encouragement and coaching, we can send out core team members who own the calling of a church planter. So I am going to ask, and keep asking for the opportunity to live out these convictions in partnership with my tribe. Something in me has shifted and I find myself compelled.
I understand this may create theological concern for some, and pragmatic concerns for others. I think all of us will feel it bumping up against a long-standing tradition. It’s my prayer that we are not too attached to our old wineskins to take this application of the gospel to it’s fullest implications: “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
No matter how many men God calls to start new expressions of the church, we will never be as effective as we want to be, until we identify, empower and unleash people who are not seminary trained, ordained, full time, males with "pastor" in their title.
Oh that the church would lead the way for a full expression of God’s perfect design!
Judy Brower serves on the Western District Multiplication Team as the Bay Area Director. She is a professional Life Coach living on mission in San Francisco, always seeking ways to enhance gospel effectiveness in the Church.