Decades ago, grandfather clocks were common fixtures in homes. I haven’t seen one in years, but I remember my grandparents’ clock loudly announcing its presence each hour. Between those disruptive chimes, one could faintly hear its pendulum swinging. A pendulum is designed to bypass the midpoint as it swings to extreme positions.
Certain issues within the church can cause such pendulum swing reactions in an effort to correct or compensate for the past. The roles of women in vocational ministry, for example, can easily garner such extreme reactions. One extreme keeps women from any leadership role, while another eliminates role distinctions altogether.
As Christ-followers, we are all called to ministry and given gifts to edify the church. God’s Word gives us guidelines for clarity and health. It is always our responsibility as church leaders to look first to Scripture, allowing it to steer our decisions and correct our biases. With a Christ-centered focus, we can affirm and honor our sisters in Christ and their calling to vocational ministry.
Differing viewpoints exist within a complementarian framework, and each church and its leaders will guide specifics appropriate to their setting. Defining that framework is far beyond the scope of this article. Instead, my hope is to encourage those in any framework to embrace biblical role distinctions and honor the women who lead in those roles while elevating Jesus alone.
How can we do this? There are a few intentional ways to establish a nurturing church culture affirming women called to vocational ministry:
We can move toward excellence in developing women in vocational ministry by creating a culture valuing growth and increased opportunity. Creating this kind of environment requires time and intentionality. In our church’s context, we have protective guidelines necessary for the integrity of our staff. At the same time, lead pastors have a responsibility to ensure the development of both men and women on their teams. Here are a few practical suggestions:
- Create a monthly rhythm to invest in the women on your team in an appropriate manner.
- Include your wife in meetings and development.
- Use tools such as regular ministry supervision conversations and long-term vocational-goal conversations.
- Connect women on your team with a mentor who is further down a similar ministry path.
- Encourage conferences and cohorts for continued learning and relationship building.
Each person has leadership gifts and abilities. Intentionally celebrate women on your team for leadership accomplishments and in using their gifts for kingdom impact. In this, we nurture both the individual and demonstrate the value of women in vocational ministry for our churches. A few other ideas include:
- Using Sunday morning as an opportunity to honor and celebrate women on your team.
- Celebrating major accomplishments when ministry staff and church leadership are gathered.
- Writing cards of encouragement after ministry wins.
- Providing a bonus or gift of gratitude after leading through a challenging season.
While the lead pastor is ultimately responsible, it is wise and helpful to gather perspectives from various individuals when making major decisions—including decisions that involve directional changes. It is easy to fail to intentionally make room for women on ministry teams to speak into decisions. This requires slowing down enough to create room at the table. Their perspectives can greatly benefit and protect the team in helping make wise decisions.
One of our staff values is: “We love our families more than ministry, and they know it.” Women in vocational ministry who are moms need added flexibility as they embrace their primary role in their family. Recognizing and honoring this need in our church culture reinforces the family as the primary place of ministry. Thankfully, in our post-COVID, remote-work world, this option of flexibility can often be more easily applied.
The church has an important privilege to create an environment that honors and celebrates women, especially those called to vocational ministry. While the specifics for each church will be different, the need to affirm the leadership and service our sisters bring to the body is worth the time and energy. Let us be leaders who build a healthy culture in our churches.
I am grateful for the women I serve alongside for the sake of the gospel. I am grateful for the leadership abilities of my wife and the investment she makes daily in the ministries of our church. I am also grateful for my daughters’ investment in ministry and the women who continue to invest in them. By God’s grace, they will carry that forward and entrust to others what they have received.
Let me encourage you to pause a moment and think through how you can practically affirm women called to vocational ministry in your context. Let’s choose to correct any unbiblical pendulum reaction in our hearts and lay a healthy foundation for the next generation of men and women looking to serve the bride of Christ.