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For Such a Time as This

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Imagine that you are a soldier crawling through the underbrush, trying your best to stay alive. It’s the Civil War, and you are right on the edge of a brutal battle. You’re crouching alone in the mud behind a large, rotting log, when through the mist you spy a soldier striding through the woods straight toward you. Your heart pounds as you focus intently: what color is his uniform? Is he in blue—or gray?

Within the body of Christ today, an alarmingly similar mentality is escalating. Whenever a certain topic enters a conversation, the brethren lean forward anxiously, trying to discern: which side is this person on? They visibly bristle if their fellow “soldier” is discovered to be on the “other side.”

The topic is, of course, women’s ordination. Suddenly families, churches,ministries and friendships are being ripped apart based on loyalties to what are declared to be the only two “sides.” I am astonished at how quickly people are labeled and defenses are lowered.

I’m afraid for our church. This movement is stark evidence that being “all of one accord” is now of far less consequence to us than conquering each other. Instead of pre-Pentecost putting away differences and coming into sweet accord, we’re bickering like the disciples in the Upper Room. Once again we have fallen into the deadly distraction of arguing about who is the greatest.

Before we start sputtering the arguments of either “side” regarding unity with our supposed enemies, let’s set aside what is, to me, the largely irrelevant discussion about whether we can call women pastors, or pray for them by laying hands on them. In other words, don’t try to figure out what color of uniform I’m wearing as you read this, because if you’re on either side, bad news, I’m not on your side. But good news: I’m also not on the other side.

I’m suggesting that maybe God’s side isn’t either one—that He is the God of unity,not war. He is the God of love, of perseverance in covenant relationship, not of divorce. Because while we argue, because we argue, souls are dying. I know. They’re emailing me. Dozens, no, hundreds of them, from around the world. And those are just the few who have found my email address somehow, or looked me up on Facebook.

And only those actually doing personal ministry like me realize what’s happening. Let me shift gears and explain why.

Decades ago, the humanistic psychology movement duped Christianity. Spiritual leaders were assured that “professionals” could now take over the messy work of counseling. Many relieved pastors escaped hours of tedious counseling regarding marriage problems, addiction issues, depression, anxiety, and the emotional scars of abuse. When concerns arose because secular psychologists were dragging scores of people away from dependence on Christ for answers, “Christian”counseling materialized. Christian counselors could listen non-judgmentally too, helping people “find the answers within themselves” without reference to Scripture unless such was requested (since the gospel was seen as optional for emotional healing). Pastors also dutifully accepted training in Christian counseling,although some pastors admittedly became frustrated at how little actual progress was attained using professional “unconditional positive regard.”

Counseling became synonymous with a huge waste of pastoral time. As it became more and more of a time-waster, pastors were forced to refer out much of their counseling in order to have time to tackle the “real” work of pastoring—administration, preaching, setting up committees strategizing for church growth, and a few stop-smoking seminars and prophecy seminars thrown in for evangelistic fervor. After all, they weren’t really trained to help people with all that other stuff.

In one generation, humanistic psychology replaced the gospel.

This ministry focus shift was one of the most colossal mistakes in Christian history. In one generation, humanistic psychology replaced the gospel as the“well” to quench to the thirst of the heart. Even worse, it became the placebo preventing people from seeking the only cure for idolatry disguised as addictions, marriage problems, and depression. The Christian church abandoned the Word of God as the key to unlocking heart issues. In one generation, we forgot the simple principle of the gospel: if I don’t worship God, I will worship self in the form of whatever idol captures my heart. And without the gospel, I will be powerless to break free.

It’s no shock that divorce, abuse, depression, anxiety and addiction have skyrocketed within the church in nearly identical proportion to the world in the last few decades. In the place of an uprooted gospel that boldly broke the chains of sin, a humanistic self-help culture has mushroomed. No one falls for the ludicrous idea that the water of life could transform a sexually addicted woman into someone who “thirsts no more.” Come on, Jesus. We know better than that now! She needs counseling.

But suppose that nothing but Christ could quench the thirst of the woman at the well—how would He do it? By sending this serial adulteress to her male pastor for counseling regarding her sexual addiction and codependency? Hold on a minute. What pastor wants to be thrown under that bus?

Actually, I’m not sure who would be in greater danger in that situation, her or the pastor. Most pastors at present don’t even know how to apply the gospel to their own addictions. Statistics tell us that nearly 50% of pastors are now addicted to Internet pornography—never mind TV, movies, social media, work,popularity, other forms of sexual deviancy, or—the list goes on.

So where would we send the woman at the well? The secular humanistic psychologist? I hope not. The Christian counselor who will only bring up Jesus if she requests it—and then only as an optional addition to a curriculum of “unconditional positive regard”? That’s scarcely any better.

What she needs is a woman in ministry to come alongside her and lead her to Jesus. And considering the looming disaster that is her life without Christ, I’d say that whether that woman in ministry is called a pastor, or has had hands laid on her in prayer, is somewhat irrelevant. What matters is that she is biblically trained (as a biblical counselor, perhaps?) and available for service.

In this context, it suddenly becomes clear why our church has been advised, from the earliest years of its organization, to put women into ministry positions,and pay them similarly to men. In the current context of explosive controversy,perhaps it is best that, rather than arguing about historical or biblical limitations or opportunities for women in ministry, we focus on at least obeying what all of us agree God has commanded: that we put women into ministry, at least to other women, and pay them. Because I can tell you, while we stand on the shore and argue about lifeboats, our women are drowning by the thousands for lack of personal ministry from other women.

The woman at the well is not an irrelevant example. As I write, one-third of those watching Internet pornography are female. Lest we think that sexual addiction is still primarily a man’s problem, add to that the number of women addicted to novels, music, movies and fantasy. Based on my experience as a biblical counselor, I’d say we should be as concerned about sexual addiction among women as among men.

But it’s not the only crisis crying out for personal application of the gospel. What about the women dealing with bitter marriage problems, who will only too eagerly welcome the caring attentions of a godly male pastor? In addition, with the skyrocketing of porn has come sexual abuse like the world has never seen. Conservative statistics tell us that at least one-third of our women have already been sexually abused by age 18. That number is escalating every year. Where should we send these women for help? To male pastors? Seriously? I’m asking the question because these women need answers.

These women need personal ministry, and they need it from other women. Sexual abuse strikes at the heart of a person’s ability to keep the law of God, because it is one of the most powerful arguments against God being a God of love. If God does not seem loving to me, how can I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Never mind loving my neighbor as myself! To love and forgive abusers is impossible without the empowering love of God within us.

In this context, how can we shrug off the desperate need for women in ministry?Let’s stop arguing about calling them pastors and ordaining them. Let’s focus on what matters: obeying the commands of God. Let’s put women into ministry,at the very least to other women, and pay them. I have a hunch that if we prayerfully focus on Spirit-filled obedience to what 99% of us agree is the clearly revealed will of God, the other stuff will work itself out. Unlike a bitter couple hurtling toward a nasty divorce, let’s focus on our 99%agreement: we need women in ministry, at least to other women.

What I am proposing is simple and radical, and could change the face of the debate: Let’s lay down our crusades for all-or-nothing. Rather than making our goal“winning,” like the disciples in the Upper Room, we can instead make our goal Spirit-filled unity in doing what we all agree God has commanded.

Either way, we are defying the commands of God to put women into ministry, at the very least to other women, and pay them.

Let me be more specific. If you are convicted that women should be pastors, big deal–seeking to unitedly obey God’s clear commands is not failure. If you are convicted women shouldn’t be pastors, big deal–see previous answer. Because all of the options on the table right now are, in my opinion, bad ones. Put women into ministry only in cultures where calling women “pastor” is culturally acceptable, while shrugging off the needs of our desperate sisters in other regions of the world? Those women are writing me despairing appeals for help, and I’m telling you, that’s not enough. Successfully ban all women from the main avenue to paid ministry currently available in the church? Practically, how does that solve this desperate need for women to help women? Either way, we are defying the commands of God to put women into ministry, at the very least to other women, and pay them.

Perhaps this battle has not been a distraction from God’s call. Maybe it has been the opposite: a wake-up call from our loving Savior, showing us how far we have fallen from Spirit-filled willingness to put aside our differences and wash one another’s feet. Maybe, rather than being a call to arms, this is a call to service, to radical humility, to the “one accord” experience necessary for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s not make the same mistake made in 1888. Because I don’t know about you, but I want to get off of this rock and go home.

“The righteousness which Christ taught is conformity of heart and life to the revealed will of God.” DA 310

 

387961_10151189420875204_236355998_nNicole Parker was once a zealot intent on changing the world, but is now an astonishingly domesticated homeschooling mom living in quite possibly the tamest town on earth–Collegedale, Tennessee. While engaged in her mundane tasks of chopping veggies and sweeping floors, she enjoys lofty theological ponderings, a pursuit also enjoyed by her husband Alan, a professor at Southern Adventist University. This penchant has led her to inch her way through a master’s degree in biblical counseling, and now has her devouring a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Andrews University. However, she has zero intention, and even less desire, to become a pastor. Check out her website at www.heartthirst.com

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This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. I agree heartily. That being said, I have heard it said by a pastor that pastors’ wives should do this ministry to women as part of their ministerial team. He said that his wife and many others do this without pay. He seemed to imply that a pastor’s wife who seeks to be paid for this role is selfish. I find it interesting that male pastors who expect to be paid are not considered selfish and that a pastor’s wife who gets paid for non-ministerial work is not considered selfish. So how can we combat this attitude?

  2. Of course pastors’ wives should minister for free. So should every follower of Jesus. Do I expect to get paid every time I have an intentionally helpful conversation with the guy next to me on the plane? No. I am laying up treasure in heaven. But do we expect all of our pastors to work for free, too? Were priests supposed to work for free? Or is the laborer worthy of her hire? I think there is a clear difference.

  3. Hi Nicole,
    I always look forward to hearing your insights coming from the trenches of ministry! I’d like to offer my thoughts in response to your blog post coming from the “Christian counseling” perspective.

    I completely agree with the sentiment that pastors have abandoned their responsibility to do personal ministry one on one with people. Personally, I think that’s why so much preaching is devoid of power. Ellen White wrote frequently about the dangers of too much “sermonizing” at the expense of spending time listening to people. That’s why I agree with you that pastors need more training in personal ministry and counseling.

    To be fair, you make it sound like “humanistic” is a dirty word, when Christianity really is “humanistic”–it just means seeing good in people. While Christians recognize that we’re all sinners, we are more “humanistic” than evolutionists because we believe that deep within us there is an “image of God” somewhere, however distorted that image may be. We’re not biological determinists–we have hope that people can change. I’ve talked to many secular people who could use the “humanism” that Christianity has to offer.

    Yet I also agree with you that there is a tendency in our church to replace the gospel with psychology. In fact, I’ve been to Bible studies and vespers where they show videos of pop psychologists rather than study the Bible. We need to study God’s words, not other people! Frankly, I get tired of hearing all about “five languages of love” or MBTI types when we’re starving for God’s word.

    While it’s true that Christianity seems to be neglecting the Word of God, it seems unfair to paint such broad strokes about the profession of Christian counseling. It comes across as if you’re trying to bolster your own professional role at the expense of others. As a Christian counselor, I have NEVER believed that the gospel was “optional for emotional healing.” For me, my deepest, greatest life-changing moments were a result of the gospel, God’s love shining into my life. The deepest transformation happens as a result of the Spirit of God working. (I’ve also gained some wisdom from “professionals” too, though I see it merely as God speaking to me through them. After all, “All truth is God’s truth”!)

    However, you seem to suggest that there is absolutely no “Christian” value in counseling that does not involve quoting the Bible. But you’re assuming a willing audience of Christians who share the same belief in the Bible as an authoritative guide. Therefore, you limit your ability to work with people who do not believe in the Bible.

    God calls us to be the salt/light of the earth. We can speak the language of people who would not otherwise listen to the Bible. Recently, I have shared the hope of God with people who do not believe in the Bible. I have called out sexual idolatry, helped atheists to think about their purpose for existing, challenged a Jewish man to find grace and forgiveness, healed an abused lesbian’s view of men, and helped addicts to see what they’re really looking for is God–all without opening the Bible. But my hope is to awaken their interest in a higher power, God, to lead them to study the Bible. I see “Christian” counselors as as on the front-line of ministry, working with people who are not believers, while “Biblical” counselors as working with people who already have some interest in the Bible. Christian counselors such as myself ultimately want to lead people to the Bible for the ultimate answers, but we are a few steps out into the water with life preservers, so to speak.

    Please don’t assume that Christian counselors don’t care about the Bible. We are missionaries going into “foreign lands” trying to learn the language of people in order to share the gospel in ways that they will understand.

    I also agree with your point that we NEED women in ministry. However, suggesting that women should minister primarily to other women, in my opinion, seems to me to insult the ability of women to be effective healers for women AND men. I have seen many female counselors effectively work with men. And vice versa, I have worked effectively with many women, some of whom have been abused by men. It varies on a case-by-case basis, but some women actually prefer to have a male therapist, and some women need to work through issues with a man. And the opposite is true too. Let’s not “settle for less” and limit the capabilities of what God has called men and women to do. Remember, even Jesus sought help from a woman at the well. 🙂

    Keep up the great work, Nicole. I appreciate your passion and courage to speak your mind. Our church is blessed by women like you.

    God bless,
    Tom

    1. You make many great points, Tom! Some of them I wanted to make in the article, but just didn’t have space. Writing articles instead of books necessitates oversimplification, which I hate–but I don’t have time to write a book. 🙂

      Christian counseling is not a single approach, but rather a spectrum of approaches. (So is biblical counseling.) Some “Christian counselors” lean far toward secular humanism, seeking to help people find the answers hidden deep within their naturally good hearts. Others take a much more biblical approach, but also call themselves “Christian counselors.” Because of space, I made black-and-white categories when things are much more nuanced in real life. 🙂

      I also counsel with people who have serious doubts about God, or who reject His existence altogether. It is my goal to help them understand the principles of the gospel, even if they don’t call it that, or understand it fully. (Who does?) I don’t use a simplistic, here’s-a-verse-now-go-apply-it approach, as you can see in my seminars. Rather, I seek to listen well, and help people discern what biblical principles are lacking in their picture of God’s character. But I ultimately don’t believe I do them any good if I don’t bring them to Christ somehow. Happier and healthier sinners are still going to be lost eternally without Christ.

      According to my definition, “humanism” IS a dirty word–but only because I am defining it as “the belief that, at his heart and without God, man is truly good.” I agree–according to your definition, humanism is a wonderful thing. I seek to see good in everyone, and recognize that, however dim, the image of God is in each of us. That’s why there’s always hope.

      Finally, I do agree that limiting women to ministry to women is pretty sad. (I minister to men too, incidentally–just very carefully.) But doing half of what God says is better than doing nothing at all! If we can at least start somewhere and let the Spirit of God work, I think we can make progress. The field of women desperately needing paid ministry from other women is huge, and right now, almost completely unworked. I’d rather at least light a candle than just sit here cursing the darkness.

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