As people of God, is it important to encourage and empower both men and women in ministry roles. Karina Kreminski, the Senior Pastor of Community Life Church in Cherrybrook shares with Together her journey of being empowered in ministry, as well as sharing her reflections on what it means to be new creations in Christ.
I first felt God’s call on my life when I was living in Argentina working as a teacher and journalist. I had what I would call a ‘wake up’ experience with God and realised that it was all about a relationship with him, all I wanted to do was to make Jesus relevant to the lives of those around me. So I decided to come back to Australia and enrol at theological college.
I never wanted to work for the church and thought that it was a dying, irrelevant institution, however God changed my mind and showed me his love for the church. Pretty soon I loved it too. I never wanted to be a pastor and due to my background, was not even sure that women were allowed to be pastors. But due to very encouraging men and women around me, who allowed me to explore and exercise my gifts I realised that God was calling me to be a pastor.
Pastoring is hard work and I think it is harder for a female in a few unique ways. Leading a church in the times that we are living in today requires quite a broad skill set in order to navigate through the uncharted waters as the church emerges into its unique expression today. However leading a church and watching God transform lives is something that is addictive, mysterious and humbling and I am glad that I am where God wants me to be right now.
In a chapter on gender in the Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology by theologian Cherith Fee Nordling, she commences by saying
All things are yours,” writes Paul to the women and men of the church at Corinth, be it “the world or life or death or the present of the future- all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Corinthians 3:21b-22). Paul reminds them that because of God’s self-giving generosity, there is no longer any need or place for division over leadership that would limit the gifts of the Spirit poured out equally on women and men alike. To do so would be to go backward, to live as “old creation”. Rather, these diverse women and men, reconstituted by the Spirit are “new creation”’.
What does it look like then for us as a Baptist movement to be a body of men and women who live as new creat ions in Christ?
When Jesus walked this earth he modelled and painted verbal pictures of the kingdom of God. With an invitational posture, he was asking people to imagine with him an alternative reality to the one that they were currently living in. This kingdom was modelled by Jesus as being a realm where divisions which led to privilege, power and hierarchy crumbled in the light of the self sacrifice and humility displayed by Jesus ultimately though the cross. Jesus completely frazzled those who were used to functioning in the old way and had trouble with getting their heads around the new. When we read the Gospels in the light of the context in which they were written, that is a middle Eastern, conservative Jewish setting, we see that Jesus upset the status quo by fellowshipping around the table at dinner parties with the labelled ‘sinners’ of society, he crossed cultural boundaries by holding up as heroes those where were repugnant to the Jews (See the parable of the good Samaritan) and of course he paid special attention to the women around him in a culture in which they were marginalised. There are so many examples of this, however my favourite is when Jesus allowed Mary to sit at his feet to listen to his teaching in Luke 10:39. The story of course does not overtly point to Jesus’ special attention to women however if you place it within its context, what Jesus was doing would have been considered to be highly undermining of the prevailing culture. In a society where women had a separate space to men and they were not allowed to be taught by men, therefore they could not be disciples, Jesus’ action would have sent fear through the religious establishment. If not condemnation, then vehement looks of disapproval would have been given by the religious teachers of the time. Jesus was essentially accepting Mary as one of the many disciples who followed him.
Through the ministry of Jesus therefore we see the old order which identified certain people as more privileged, powerful and blessed than others, disintegrating slowly and that this concerned some people to their core. We all know that a common Jewish prayer at the time went like this ‘“Blessed are you, God, King of the Universe, for not having made me a gentile. Blessed are you, God, King of the Universe, for not having made me a slave. Blessed are you, God, King of the Universe, for not having made me a woman.”
Yet the Apostle Paul I think directly challenged that current day prayer in Galatians 3:28 by saying ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ.’ Was he abolishing cultural and gender differences? Of course not but what he was saying is that those of us in Christ can’t pray prayers from the old order anymore. We can’t live like that anymore. We are a new creation. We no longer live according to old divisions based on the privilege of some over the ‘others’. Instead we proclaim that Jesus is our only Lord. As men and women under one Lord we live crucified lives humbly submitted to each other for the service of the church and our world as new creations in a kingdom that has come now through the resurrection of Jesus. We are together children of God today, enabling one another to be conformed to the image of Jesus as we wait for the consummation of all things. So we live in the now and the not yet of the kingdom carrying the privileges of being children of God as new creations in a world which, while the old order still exists, is increasingly fading to make way for the new.
Will we walk today in our privilege of being a new creation or will we gravitate to the old? As men and women living as new creations how can we enable one another so that we lead together in this kingdom of God that is growing among us today?
This of course is a deeper discussion that we women and men need to have together as a movement of Baptist churches however I want to make some very brief practical observations based on my experience as a leader of a church for eight years now.
Men and women need to work on being friends
This might sounds like a strange place to start however if we are in Christ as brothers and sisters together, then we need to learn to be ‘deep spirited friends’ as Eugene Peterson translates in The Message in Philippians 2:2,3. If we cannot get used to having friends of the opposite gender then this makes it very hard to lead together in ministry. I have found that ministry requires and benefits from a kind of friendship with each other as we serve together. Of course we should always be aware of appropriate boundaries but not allow those boundaries to cause us to live in a fear which constrains us in the necessity of relating to one another and doing ministry together.
We need to not ignore the gender iss ue but ta lk about it
This is a difficult one because I know some people would rather avoid the issue. It saddens me when that happens because people live in fear of ‘gender wars’ erupting. It doesn’t have to be that way. We are gendered beings and will stay that way in our reconciled universe at the return of Christ so this is a deep part of our identity. God has something to say and to heal in some of the deepest parts of who we are and this includes gender. Currently our gender expression is broken in a sinful world however through Christ ‘all things’ (Colossians 1:20) can be reconciled. God has given us a new creation status to work together to reconcile our gender and our relationship with one another as men and women.
We ought to be leading our world in this rather than being on the back foot as is often the case. This requires courage of course, civil dialogue, persistence and a bit of imagination. Talking about gender means talking about what it means to be male and female and then what it means for each to relate to one another with a kingdom of God perspective. How can you gently encourage this kind of dialogue in your church?
We need to encourage each ot her through mentoring
We enable one another as we come alongside one another and speak into each other’s lives. Mentoring helps men and women to be equipped for the task ahead of them in ministry. I’d encourage men to mentor women and women to mentor men in order to break down some of those divisions that have been pointed out in this article
We need to encourage women to enter into public and senior levels of leadership
How can we encourage women to step out of traditional unseen, service oriented roles and into more public and senior levels of leadership within the church? Service and humility are essential values in the kingdom of God of course, we should all emulate them, however women tend to gravitate to these roles. As a result we have fewer role models for younger girls. If a young girl grows up in a church where she has never seen a female preach to a mixed congregation what sort of values are we embedding in her? Likewise for boys if they grow up in this kind of church culture? How can we cultivate the values of the kingdom of God in our churches rather than conform to the status quo?