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Women explore ministry in new book

Billie Silvey, Editor. Trusting Women: The Way of Women in Churches of Christ. Orange, Calif.: New Leaf, 2002. 224 pages; $14.95; ISBN 0-9714289-2-1; (877) 634-6004.
Many male readers will not be surprised that there are deep waters in this eye-opening, often humorous “women’s book” which raises issues that call for spiritual discernment by church leaders.

The title, “Trusting Women,” fits the ambiguous nature of this book in which 19 women describe their experiences growing up in churches of Christ and serving its congregations or parachurch organizations.

On one hand an inspiring portrayal of women who have trusted God to lead them in fulfilling their calling, it is also an appeal by many of the essayists for the church to have more respect for the calling of women to various forms of ministry.

Readers will recognize the voice — even in the “quiet 50s” — of women close to preachers and elders whose deep thoughts influenced the direction of the church through the men of whom they asked questions at home.

For most women in the church of Christ — and for a number of these essayists — that has been enough, and they feel they honor God by adhering to a pattern of “silence,” at least as regards public leadership and worship. For other women, such silence denies them opportunity to fully answer God’s calling, and they see a legalistic, hypocritical inconsistency in the levels of participation in leadership and public worship allowed to women.

Thus one essayist who hungered for and obtained advanced theological education writes: “What is the church going to do with a woman like me?”

The women, who range in age from their 30s to their 80s, with most fitting the 40-to-60 span, reflect socioeconomic, racial, and cultural diversity. Occupational niches include social work, higher education, journalism/publishing, drama ministry, foreign missions, university and hospital chaplaincy and, in one instance, preaching.

Seven hold advanced college degrees, with four having advanced theological training. Photographs and biographical sketches identify each contributor’s family and educational background and accomplishments.

Joyce Hardin’s essay, “For Everything There is a Season,” bears out editor Billie Silvey’s suggestion of a generational correlation with women’s attitude toward ministry.

Women coming of age in the late 1950s often developed their ministry in stages, sometimes in response to family travail, as with Anita Johnson’s concern for the elderly and Anna Griffith’s AIDS ministry. In a scholarly exegesis of scripture, Griffith poignantly considers “mustard seed faith:” one may be “left in a jar on a shelf somewhere to be used at the discretion of (one’s) owner, … ground up … to grace someone’s hot dog, … (or) planted in the ground, cultivated and watered,” thus bearing fruit.

Representing women of the 1960s, Lindy Adams, in “Backwards and in High Heels,” portrays a precarious effort to balance the simultaneous demands of home and of career ministry. Younger women — Jeanine Varner, Amy Bost Henegar, and Katie Hays — display less anxiety with balancing roles and more intentional direction regarding their calling.

There are, however, exceptions to the generational model, notably Geannetta Bennett’s and Karen Logan’s differing perspectives on drama ministry.

These essays will make you think. Positively speaking, one recognizes God’s marvelous creativity in gifting his people — even his daughters!

Surely He gets glory from the nurturing ministries of Jackie Warmsley and Billie Silvey that create havens for the homeless and jobless. Holly Allen’s and Joy McMillon’s essays describe new approaches to children’s and women’s education, traditional areas for women’s ministry, but ones in which change still provokes opposition. Henegar’s ministry to the heartbroken and dying displays her gift of mercy being fully realized and integrated with advanced studies in the word of God through her career of hospital chaplaincy.

Some essays frankly portray very human struggles with frustration and wounded pride, but more than half the women ignore or minimize such wounds, stressing instead the urgency of their mission.

A child of missionaries, Julie Magos insists that we keep the main thing the main thing — getting the gospel to the lost. Regarding her role, she simply states that she and her husband work well as a team, a point that Sherrylee Woodward, co-director with her husband of the Let’s Start Talking ministry, also makes.

Remembering the co-ministry of Aquila and Priscilla and speaking from personal experience, Woodward describes sending out pairs of personal workers.

Does one subordinate the female worker who happens to be more articulate? She observes that often the only voices in churches on the mission field are those of women, but once men become converted, honoring God’s creation principle — “God, Christ, man, woman” — enhances spiritual development.

At the same time, Woodward considers God’s “upside down hierarchy” described in Ephesians 5. Would the church in its most perfectly restored state be characterized by such spiritual maturity of mutual submission that full participation by spiritually-gifted women would be not a threat, but a blessing?

Thus, “Trusting Women” reflects the wider significance of the “women’s role” issue; it parallels the current debate in churches of Christ regarding form versus function in restoration. Has our zeal for restoring the pattern caused us to neglect the full restoration of the spirit of Christ?

Is the issue of “women’s role in the church” a peripheral one, a distraction from gospel imperatives? Speaking from experience, the most venerable essayist, Lucille Todd, contends that churches of Christ lagged regarding racial equality, thus giving a poor testimony to society. Will we act similarly regarding the Christ-like principle of “gender justice?”

Perhaps unavoidably, “Trusting Women” has an in-house tone. Autonomous churches of Christ must seek the true message of Scripture regarding the appropriate ways in which both men and women can reach full spiritual maturity in Christ and best achieve the church’s mission to a perishing world.

Churches must certainly come to grips with the greater educational and career advancement now available to women and raise the level of “conversation” in women’s activities. We accept women who lead in other arenas — lawyers, businesswomen, educators, doctors — and encourage them to follow their dream. How can women with strong gifts for theological scholarship and church leadership fulfill those callings within our fellowship?

CONTACT DEAN at [email protected] . Dean has a doctorate in modern European history and is a member of the Richland Hills church, Fort Worth.

Filed under: Reviews Staff Reports

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