A paper studying the decline of women in ministry in the Church of God during the last half of the 20th century by Dr. David Roebuck, Church of God historian, served as the foundation of the discussion.
“Back in college, I was blessed to know some wonderful women ministers. (I) went to a general assembly (business meeting in the Church of God) in which there was a discussion of should the roles of women be expanded. …There was immediately an overwhelming vote to table the issue and I could see the pain in the eyes of my friends, these women I respected,” Roebuck said.
A great decline in women in ministry in the church of God was seen by 1990. Roebuck said his dissertation sought to find why 18.2 percent of people in ministry in 1950 in the U.S. and Canada were women, and why that number declined to 7.7 percent in 1990. Today, worldwide in the Church of God, 15 percent of ministers are women.
During this decline, women were often regulated to being “lady evangelists” or serving groups such as children or other women.
“Generally, people viewed them as less powerful … in a hierarchical society,” Roebuck said.
Few were seen in church pulpits. Roebuck said women would be given the churches that men did not want to pastor.
“Of the major Pentecostal denominations the Church of God has been one of the more restrictive regarding women ministers. Throughout our (history) we have supported women in preaching roles, that is roles that are spirit-empowered, and (yet) excluded women from the highest ordination (as bishops) and administrative offices,” Roebuck said.
Changes were also seen in how the church approached evangelism. In 1956, a committee was formed to “create programs to assist churches with revivals” to provide more structure to evangelism efforts. In church publications, many times women were simply acknowledged as pastor’s wives.
The establishment of ministries just for women also contributed to a decline in women in pastoral positions. During World War II, the Church of God emphasized women’s roles as mothers, discouraging them from taking jobs outside the home, Roebuck said. Rather, they were encouraged to stay at home and care for their children.
A contributing factor, according to Roebuck, was putting women in a category of their own and giving them different titles limiting the positions they filled.
The remaining panelists spoke on how the current view of women in ministry and their positions might be changed to give true freedom in ministry.
Dr. Daniella Augustine, assistant professor of theological ethics, said the baptism in the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost made the Church a continuation of Jesus’ ministry, “doing the will of the Father through the power of the Spirit.”
Augustine said the shift and decline in the role of women in ministry was influenced by a societal shift in their view of God.
“What can we do to change this disturbing trend? … In order to empower women for ministry we need to construct a theology of empowerment that reflects our heritage … across gender, racial and economic divides,” Augustine said.
For such a theology to be constructed, it must be built on the framework of equality through salvation which restores human beings to a relationship with God as bearing his image. She said this leads to a wholeness and equality. She said subordination of women is the result of the curse brought on the world by sin in the book of Genesis.
Redemption “empowered us to live in His (God’s) likeness,” Augustine said.
Women throughout the Bible served in key ministry roles. Augustine pointed to Lydia as the first pastor of a house church in Europe, Phoebe (deaconess), Photini “The Samaritan Women” (evangelist) and others.
“In order to empower women, our holiness needs to translate into anthropological wholeness,” said Dr. Lisa Stephenson, assistant professor of systematic theology. “Within (American) Pentecostalism, women have repeatedly received a restricted freedom despite the beliefs of Spirit empowerment.”
Stephenson said the root of this is allowing the Spirit-led freedom from Acts 2 to be understood differently based on gender.
“However, this need not and should not be the case,” Stephenson said.
She said the baptism in the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 brings brought unity eliminating restrictions in the church society as men and women received this gift. Stephenson pointed out that after the events in Acts 2 those previously restricted from being close to God, such as the Samaritans, became Christians.
To empower women, the church needs to work to not separate women solely into their own ministry opportunities. Stephenson said as women have been limited to ministering to their own they have been viewed anthropologically as “the other.”
Dr. Angela Waltrip, adjunct faculty member at Lee University and the seminary, and the Rev. Cathy Payne, Global Missions coordinator for the Church of God of Prophecy, shared more personal experiences with the events described.
“When we speak of holiness we think of testimony,” Waltrip said. “Our stories join God’s stories. ... Women have testified that they have a call to preach. ... When I preach I come to a greater knowledge of who God is in my life and in the lives of brothers and sisters around me. I have to preach. It’s my testimony.”
Waltrip said she knows she has been called to preach and it is her response to what God has done.
A change in vocabulary is needed for true equality of positions, Waltrip said. She said sometimes a women’s role in ministry is seen merely as assisting or serving while someone else can take a break. She said often there is not an expectation that a women with credentials with minister in the pulpit.
“We must instill expectation (for women who are called to preach and minister),” Waltrip said.
She said when she worked with female ministry students on Europe, “none could say they received expectation to minister,” Waltrip said.
Waltrip said expectation is essential to Pentecostalism.
Payne said as leaders in the church have limited women, “They were limiting the work of the Holy Spirit.”
“I have often reflected on my place in ministry and leadership, as I have been told many times I need to find where that is,” Payne said.
She said often in ministry she has been placed in positions under male authority other than her husband.
While men in the church may not have made room for women in ministry, God makes “a place” for those he calls, she said.
“I have been amazed at the opportunities God has used to position me and many other women in a place of liberty and anointing, not by title but rather by him finding a space and getting us there ... positioning for purpose,” Payne said.