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Strength in Diversity: Working With an All-Male Team

Maria Khaleel

I am a senior pastor with five staff members who are males. I also serve as a district presbyter with some 30 male presbyters and district officials. So I can look at our subject from a unique position.

First, we will consider the historical precedent for involvement of women in ministry. Then, a biblical precedent for women in ministry in a male-dominated culture. Then an Old Testament model of a female who served in a predominately male situation. Then, a contemporary setting of some dynamics of being a female in a predominately male ministry environment.

Historical precedent for women in ministry

In Pentecostalism’s early years it was not unusual to see women preaching, pastoring and leading. And although the Assemblies of God has the highest per capita percentage of credentialed women among any denominations, with our most recent statistics showing that there are 5,225 credentialed women, yet the number of women who are serving in senior leadership roles presently is minimal. Presently only 387 serve as senior pastors, and 10 serve as sectional presbyters.

The Assemblies of God ordained women at the first General Council in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1914. And by 1936 there was one ordained woman for every four ordained men. At one point six of Azusa Street’s 12-member credentials committee were female. Florence Crawford founded the Apostolic Faith movement out of Portland, Oregon. Aimee Semple McPherson founded the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel; at one time 37 percent of its ministers were female.

While most denominations allowed women to preach, few have them allowed them to hold leadership positions. Some felt as though women should be allowed to evangelize and do missions work, but not pastor. We must be biblically based in our view of women in ministry and how God calls, ordains, and appoints women. No Scripture says that a woman is called only because there is not a man to do that job. What validated the ministry of a woman and what opened the door for her ministry was the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon her life.

We have about 30 nationalities in our church; about one-third of our members are Hispanic. In the Hispanic culture, men are macho. About one-third of our congregation is Caribbean. Caribbean men are strong and they dominate their culture.

A Caribbean gentleman from Jamaica came to our church. The one who invited him did not tell him there was a female pastor. The moment he saw me on the platform he said he became angry and said, "This is not right. That’s against God." He decided to stay because he didn’t want to offend his friends. He said that, once I started to preach and he saw and felt the presence of God, all of that melted away. Eventually he gave his heart to the Lord, was baptized in the Holy Spirit, and served on our board and in various positions of leadership.

In the Book of Acts, the Spirit brought down the racial, prejudicial, and gender barriers. We do not have to march for equal rights. God’s anointing witnesses to the call even if denominations and individuals deny recognition and opportunity for ministry.

Things changed after World War II. Some women chose to remain in the workplace, while evangelicalism superimposed the picture of the stay-at-home mom as the ideal Christian woman. In effect, the message to women was: "Your calling is your family. Your calling is your kids." And so there was a decline in the involvement of women in ministry, and today female pastors are rare.

Today a woman in ministry is generally playing on an all-male team. That’s where we started and how we got to where we are. Now the tide is turning as our leadership is saying, "We have done an injustice – not intentionally, but in practice – because the Assemblies of God has always recognized that God calls and ordains women." I praise God for that.

Biblical precedent for women in ministry

Deborah in the Book of Judges was a prophetess, a proclaimer of God’s Word, and the judge of Israel. That made her both the spiritual and political leader of God’s people. She exercised leadership over men (Judges 4:6).

The male spiritual leadership, the priests, sought counsel and instruction from Huldah, the prophetess (2 Kings 22:14).

Miriam, the sister of Moses, was a prophetess (Exodus 15:20), and Isaiah’s wife was a prophetess (Isaiah 8:3). Because of the culture, it was rare for women to rise to that position of leadership. Yet God did enable these women and their ministry was recognized.

Anna, the prophetess (Luke 2:36), stayed in the temple and prayed for the consolation of Israel. And she became the first one who prophesied over Jesus.

The women (Matthew 28:7,8) were chosen by the Lord to be the first to proclaim the news of the Resurrection.

The four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9) were prophetesses. Paul visited in Philip’s home and did not rebuke them or try to silence them.

Of the six references to house churches in the New Testament three are specifically in the homes of women which would indicate that those women were in some position of leadership or pastoral care over those who met in their homes. Two are cited to be in the home of a man and woman, which appears there might be a copastoring situation. And the sixth is closely connected to the greeting of a woman in Philemon 1:2. In Lydia’s case (Acts 16:40) the congregation was founded upon the conversion of a woman, and it was a group of women at first but then later an established body of Christ.

Priscilla was knowledgeable in the Scripture. She and her husband, Aquila, instructed Apollos, already "a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures" (Acts 18:26).

Paul identified Priscilla, Mary, Tryphena, and Tryphosa as ministers on a level equal to men (Romans 161). One-third of those mentioned in Romans 16 are women.

Phoebe (Romans 16:1) is commended to the entire church at Rome. The Greek word used for her is the word deipneô, and it is translated deacon as well. It is also used in reference to a pastor who serves the body – deipneô.

Greek is a gender-specific language. That means that the nouns have both a female and a male gender. The ending specifies whether it’s female or male gender, but it’s the same noun. Now deipneô is a male gender noun, and Paul uses the male gender noun to refer to Phoebe to show equality and position in leadership. Because if he was being grammatically correct and he was a very educated man, he would have used the female noun to refer to Phoebe. But there was an intentional point, I believe, that was being made by the Holy Spirit inspiring Paul to use the male gender noun.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:7 pastoral ministry is portrayed as motherly care. The nurturing aspect to pastoral ministry is natural for women. Christian growth in the New Testament is pictured maternally by Paul. He speaks about how he travailed in labor over them that Christ may be formed in them. Nurturing and travailing come naturally for women.

Example of a female model in a predominately male situation

Deborah (Judges 4) was a female on an all-male team. The period of the judges was one of Israel’s darkest hours. The book covers the years between the conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the beginning of the monarchy of Saul – a 200- to 300-year period when immorality and idolatry reigned. The enemy oppressing Israel was described as having 900 chariots of iron. Yet as Israel cried out to God, He raised up Deborah.

Of all the judges Deborah was the only one of which a failure or mistake is not mentioned. So the people went to Deborah who had already established herself in their eyes and in the eyes of the nation as a woman of God and one through whom God would speak. What had validated her ministry? The anointing of God upon her life.

For any woman who wants to be a woman of influence in ministry, the first step is to be a woman rooted in the Word of God. A prophetess is a declarer of the Word of God. That’s where Deborah’s authority came from. She spoke the Word of God. In order to speak forth the Word of God, you have to have a relationship with God. You have to know God’s voice.

Our authority comes from God’s Word. It does not come from our testimony. It does not come from our life’s experience. We can use our life’s experience to explain and illustrate and apply God’s Word. But our ministry should flow from God’s Word. So we need to be grounded in God’s Word. And we need to deliver Spirit-unctionized messages from God. There’s a difference between a sermon and a message from God.

First, Deborah was a prophetess; second, she had her priorities right. Verse 4 sets forth Deborah’s life. That verse shows first her relationship with God. She was one who heard from God and spoke for Him. Second, she was the wife of Lappidoth. Family came second. Third, she was the judge of Israel.

In the culture in which Deborah lived, women were not allowed to own land. Women were viewed as not having the same access to God. There was a court of the women, which was one of the outer courts of the temple. Yet God calls, lifts up, uses, and confirms Deborah’s ministry by fulfilling the words that He speaks through her and by giving the victory into her hands just as He had prophesied.

Lappidoth is not mentioned as having a ministry role or any position of leadership. So he was not Deborah’s covering. Her covering was God. Judges were chosen and appointed by Him. He ordained her for and He anointed her for her ministry.

Our challenges are also unique. We can get bitter and start marching with our placards, but that hinders what God wants to do through us. If we are faithful with what God does open to us, He will make us ruler over much.

Deborah sat under her palm tree in Ephraim. She did not go down to Shiloh and break down the priest’s door. She did not take up a placard and protest that doors of opportunity were not being opened to her. She made herself available to God where she was. And God exalted her.

So be the best prepared, the best equipped, the most knowledgeable vessel you can be in God’s hands, so that your life and your skills are not a limitation on what He wants to do through you. Remember that promotion comes from the Lord.

Woman of God, if God has called you, you’re going to face obstacles. Do not let a root of bitterness spring up in your heart. Don’t get a chip on your shoulder. Avoid an I’ve-got-to-prove-myself mentality; it will grieve the Holy Spirit. And remember always that what God starts, He is able to bring to completion.

Female dynamics on an all-male team

One contribution that women bring to the table is in the area of communication. Women are naturally more communicative than men. This is an excellent quality in leadership. But we have to make sure this is under the control of the Holy Spirit.

Deborah called for Barak, the military general leader of Israel. She did not just say, "Go to battle," but she explained to him the Word of the Lord. She explained the strategy. She explained what the outcome would be. She wasn’t directive; she was relational. And that is powerful as far as leadership skill is concerned. In leadership training you learn that knowledge is empowering. The more people know, the more they will function well in their position or their task. So we can communicate knowledge because we are communicators. Men are more the just-do-it type, "because I said so."

When everyone knows what’s going on, there’s less murmuring, less second-guessing. It equips us well to be in positions of leadership and staff positions and senior pastor positions, because we can communicate well the vision and the direction of God.

A second contribution that women can make is women tend to be more team players than men. Women are much more relational, whereas men tend to be more conquest oriented. God created man with that independent spirit, and He created woman with an interdependent spirit.

Another contribution is that women tend to be more intuitive and men more logical. Men tend to be more left brain, which is a task-oriented, give-me-the-bottom line, get-the-job-done side of the brain. Women use both sides of our brain. Women don’t just see facts; they see beyond the facts. Because the right side of the brain tends to be the more creative, intuitive, sensing, feeling side, women tend to be more attune to their senses. Have you noticed that women generally tend to be more responsive to the Spirit? We don’t have as much of that independent spirit due to the fact that we are more attune to intuition and move along by those impressions that we have within our soul.

People ask me, "Do you have difficulty working with men in leadership. Do you have difficulty with the leaders in your church?"

I really don’t. I see them as people that I respect. I do not talk down to them. I keep them in the information loop. And I allow them to take their positions of leadership.

And then the final thing is that anointing brings affirmation. The anointing was evident upon Deborah’s life and brought the affirmation for her so that all of Israel sought for her guidance.

Women, we need to wait upon the Lord to validate our ministry, if we are going to be effective for Him.