As you may recall, in 2021, the PCNSW Women’s Ministry Committee (WMC) distributed a paper and accompanying survey to PCNSW Presbyteries, Sessions and Churches titled “The Engagement of Women in Decision Making Processes”. We received 120 responses- very broad and varying in nature.
Some churches provided multiple responses from individual members, whereas some presbyteries provided a collective response, or no response at all. We were surprised to hear from a significant number of women who contacted us, off the record, disappointed that their church leadership would not engage in the discussion with them, or allow for the paper to be distributed in their church.
A third of those who did respond to the paper, chose to write their own responses rather than answering the suggested questions. These responses tended to be more emotive in nature, either voicing strong concerns about the increased inclusion of women in decision making forums or expressing anguish about the lack of women’s voices in the denomination.
Collective support centered around the importance of women’s involvement in disciplinary and complaints procedures, at all three levels of governance. The establishment of a formalised office of Deacon was suggested by multiple responders as one way to hear godly women’s voices; and some women admitted their discomfort to raising their pastoral concerns to all-male eldership.
It’s inevitable, when we raise the hot-button issue of women - to do with anything in our denomination - that the voices that engage the discussion are emotional, heated, defensive and accusing – regardless on which end of the spectrum the speaker stands.
Numerous times, in the feedback we received, Genesis 3 was used as the rationale for the current climate of relations between men and women in our Church. Genesis 3, of course, is the story of the fall. It is the story of the great rebellion against God; disordered relationships, God’s established order turned on its head. The result of the fall is the curse, and the curse that is handed down to Adam and Eve is enmity and disordered relationships.
Genesis 3 is a great basis for us to consider why every discussion about “women’s” is so fraught in our church. There is fear on both sides of the spectrum: some fear that the men are abusing their power and lording it over women; and others fear that the women are trying to usurp the power of men.
But brothers and sisters – we are not a cursed people. We are the children of God, bought by the blood of Jesus.
If the curse is the basis of anything we are doing – whether in our ecclesiology, governance or relationships - then we are doing Church wrong.
We do a great disservice to the church, the holy bride of Christ; to Jesus who redeemed us from the curse; and to the honour and glory of God’s name when our gendered relationships are conformed to the Curse.
What does our Church governance look like when we live as the redeemed
What do our relationships look like when we live as the redeemed?
How do we engage and relate as men and women, redeemed by the blood of Jesus?
Jesus offers us the most beautiful picture of what it looks like to live as a redeemed people.
It’s an astonishing idea that Jesus would bend down and wash people’s feet.
But what’s even more compelling is the sentence that comes just before, in John chapter 13…let me read it for you:
“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist.”
Jesus, knowing that he has supreme power….bends down to serve in the most humble and lowly of circumstances.
You see...Love transforms power. Love completely changes the way that power is used.
And power transformed by love is the power that made and saves the world.
As leaders you have significant power and influence in our denomination.
As men, you have opportunities to be present,
to speak into discussions
and to make decisions that women do not have.
As we look around, there are not many women here at Assembly, and I imagine, not many on zoom.
Women in the PCNSW are largely not present at sessions or presbyteries either.
So, if I may, I’d like to ask you, how will you let love, redeemed love, transform your power? How will you use your loving leadership in shaping our denomination?
I heard some good advice recently about institutional change, and where change is actually located.
Change is rarely found in one big change, but what normally works is a number of smaller solutions….smaller changes.
Those small solutions won’t be overly dramatic..it won’t feel like something is being fixed straight away…....
But if the change is going to stick,
solutions need to be smaller
and relational and
local and long term.
What struck me about this, is the idea that solutions have to be rooted in relationship.
As we’ve said, an issue like women and the church, it’s easy for the dialogue to become reactive and divisive, fear driven….an assumption that when women talk about the issue it must be a grab for power.
Or they must want more than they are asking for.
So, as we think about the way forward, we encourage our leaders, with the power that you have;would you be willing to consider changes that are not overly dramatic, but smaller, relational, local and long term?
The WMC are proposing a number of deliverances that will encourage changes
(small, not overly dramatic changes) in the courts of the church, so that women can be more engaged and better included-
So that the decisions made will be fuller and richer and more thoughtful, because the perspectives and wisdom of both men and women as complementary ministry partners, will be heard.
The WMC have also prepared some reflection questions that you can take back to your local context, in order to assess for yourselves how women experience your leadership and your ministry.
These questions can be found here – but, to give you a taste, some questions we would encourage you to reflect on are:
Hopefully these questions will give you time to reflect and to consider how small, relational and local changes could shape our denomination in ways that are truly for our good, and for Gods glory, as the redeemed people that Jesus has made his own.