I teach an unusual class at Covenant Seminary. It’s a lab of sorts, a three-hour stretch on Tuesday afternoons. In this intimate class, theology students try their hand at communicating both the truth and the ethos they’ve learned through their systematic theology, Bible, language, and other classes. They teach each other and me for twenty to thirty minutes on a chosen passage, recording themselves for playback.
Needless to say—they’re nervous.
Some of these students may have never given a public presentation like this before. My presence and that of their peers increases their anxiety. They know they’ll make mistakes. Their regard for the Word of God is high. Their experience level is low. This combination is a recipe for nerves. It’s also fertile ground for relationship. Public speaking is a vulnerable act, especially when you’re new to it. Students listen carefully, ready to comment but always remembering they’re next up to the podium.
There are a variety of women in my classes, referred to as non-ordination track students. They do not desire to be pastors, campus ministers, or chaplains. They plan to serve Jesus’ church in other roles such as women’s directors, directors of spiritual formation, PhD students, or RUF campus staff. My female students have no ambition toward ordination or preaching, only a steadfast desire to faithfully proclaim the Gospel in their own context, wherever God might lead them. These are the boundaries of our confessional commitments in the PCA, the “limits” for women.
In class recently, I saw something beautiful that reminded me of what is possible when men and women are allowed to support one another in ministry.
What Is Possible When Men and Women Work Together
Sophia documented her fifteen hours of preparation for the message she was giving that day on her manuscript. As she attempted to attach the microphone box to her belt, she simultaneously checked her phone, anxious to know if a friend she had invited would be on time. She shared his reply with us, “Do you want me to come to your class first or pick up the couch for your office?”
Puzzled, I asked, “Who is this?”
“My boss!” she replied with a laughing smile on her face. “I invited him to listen in the lab, but he’s also picking up a couch for my office.”
Sophia’s boss, a pastor of a local church, was apparently coming to listen and support her. As I finished hearing her explanation, another listener walked into the room. Steven also worked at the church where Sophia served as the women’s director and was coming to listen.
As we waited for the furniture-moving pastor, they began to tell me the story of their relationships. Steven, Sophia, and one other student of mine had begun the MDiv program together years before with summer Greek, an intense class full of verb parsing and pop quizzes. There they had bonded and formed a study group that continued for years. They’d walked through Hebrew, Bible classes, and systematics. Along the way, Sophia had been hired by a local church, as had Steven. Now both her boss and co-worker had come to encourage and support her as she tried her hand at a biblical message.
I was curious. What kind of relationship did Sophia have with these two men that gave her the freedom and desire to invite them into such a vulnerable space? As I listened to their conversation, the blanks were filled in for me. Their relationships were full of respect, mutual care, encouragement, and trust. They knew one another’s spouses and children and had eaten at one another’s homes. They had inside jokes. They showed familiarity with one another’s daily lives that was both appropriate and affectionate. They mattered to each other, not just as coworkers, but as friends, confidants, and teammates.
This, I thought, is what is possible. This is the kind of relationship between men and women that bears fruit, encourages gifts, stamps out shame, and brings joy.
Sons and Daughters Working Together in His Kingdom
Ministry in general is complicated because it involves sinful people. Ministry together as brothers and sisters is doubly complicated. Of course, we must be wise about our relationships and put proper boundaries in place. We must be true to the Bible’s teaching about reserving certain offices for men only. But there is so much potential and wonderful fruit that comes from the partnership of God’s sons and daughters working together in his Kingdom when we explore what is possible inside those boundaries.
My class is not the only place within the PCA where I have seen the good fruit of ministry relationships between men and women.
My husband assumed the lead pastor role of a church in Nebraska in 2013, and inherited an ordained male youth leader and a female administrator. A couple of years later he hired a women’s director. These four people laughed more together than any staff I had ever known. They frequented a local Mexican street taco joint for their meetings, and I sometimes joined for the lunch portion. It was like joining a loud family for a meal. There were poorly stifled giggles, 10,000-steps-in-a-day contests, recipes, and childcare shared among these people. They did their work together, but had a lot of fun doing it. Their joy and enjoyment of one another bled out into the congregation.
My own writing team of At His Feet Studies (a Bible study company producing exegetical studies found at www.athisfeetstudies.com) just finished our tenth bible study, each of which has been resourced and shaped by professors at Covenant Seminary. Over the years, these partnerships have been a joyful part of life in the work of the Kingdom. These are my brothers, who welcome me, make me laugh, challenge me, fix my Hebrew verbs, and encourage me. My own publisher and theological editor, a PCA pastor in another state, has read every word of every book we’ve published and offered tutorials on topics I’ve misunderstood, patiently teaching my entire team a more precise reading of the text or passage.
But that’s not all. I’ve seen a local church’s women’s director celebrate a book launch with a party where her boss was a server of the guests. I’ve heard stories of sessions forming advisory women’s boards in order to hear women’s voices in their congregations and rely on their wisdom in difficult pastoral situations involving other women. I’ve met women on staff at church plants who feel loved, heard, seen, and supported by their head pastor.
Participation is allowed. Degrees are allowed. We work within the boundaries of what we believe is appropriate and obedient given what the Bible tells us about men and women serving in the church. Within those boundaries so much more is possible than what strictly separating men from women would allow. Fellowship, building the kingdom of God together, and deep, shared joy, the fruit of the Spirit flourishing among our congregations—this is what is possible.
What would the PCA as a whole feel like if this positive male-female dynamic was the experience of most staff members? More importantly, how might God be glorified when we as brothers and sisters serve side by side with this kind of love and trust?
God has given each of us the gift of one another, each of us being reflections of his own image. One day we will serve him together perfectly in the new heavens and earth. My prayer is that we as children of God can enjoy together some of the first fruits of that fellowship now that awaits us then in God’s coming kingdom.
Christine Gordon (MATS, Covenant Theological Seminary) is wife to Michael and mother of three. She is the co-founder of At His Feet Studies and a visiting instructor at Covenant Theological Seminary. She loves to walk, make music with other people, share bad puns with her family, and snuggle with her ridiculous dogs.