Nazarenes and Women in Ministry
Today, as I write this, I am trying to keep it together as my children went back to school and I need to be straightforward as much as I can as to my feelings in this. I am struggling to see the children that I held in my arms and changed diapers now just run out the door to school and not need me to hold their hand and walk them in (thanks COVID!) as they are heading to 3rd and 1st grade. I feel like life is giving me a gut punch today and I am feeling extra emotional and old at this moment.
So naturally, in this emotional state and seeking direction, I thought an excellent way to deal with parental distress is to write about something that comes up in my discussions and the denomination I pastor on women in ministry. Let me give you some context on my background and family to level set my natural inclination in this matter.
When I was a young warthog and growing up in West Virginia, I had the privilege of growing up in a great household with a father as a pastor. I can always attest that he backed up what he preached as he loved my sister and me and always provided for us. Now, if that isn't a remarkable fact to know about me, then prepare to have your mind blown. Not only is my dad a pastor and ordained in the Church of the Nazarene, but also my mother is an ordained elder as well. That's right-double whammy, baby! I had not one but two pastors in my house, and yes, all we talked about growing up was ministry, and yes, they taught me how to experience Jesus, not just to follow the rules. Having both parents as pastors can be a great blessing, but can also have some downsides. Like when I got into trouble, as a lesson, I had to go to my room and memorize a book of the bible (I always chose Song of Solomon). Or times when I would randomly wake up from sleeping and see my mom praying over me. Even the "dreaded" circle of family prayer and constantly being asked if I was sanctified every Sunday.
When I was in my teens, my sister, older than me, got a call to be a pastor. So no joke, I grew up where my father and mother were pastors, and my sister was called to become a pastor. You can't make this stuff up! I never thought anything against women in ministry and never thought it wrong as, in my perspective, that is all I knew. Even my father would talk about when he was growing up, and there was a woman minister who would drive up to his house and pick all ten children up in her station wagon to take them to church. So he, too, was a product of a woman pastor. So, in my naïve young mind, I thought it normal in the Christian faith.
When I saw how fellow “pastors” treated my sister in becoming a pastor, I was taken back. I saw pastors in the Church of the Nazarene who, from its beginning has supported women in ministry, attack the ladies in my life, and no one would stand up for them in leadership. I realized that what I thought was a traditional belief was not always welcome. I saw my mother never be considered a "real" pastor but always a bubbly personality with a great smile. I have recently seen pastors attack my sister all because she is a woman. They negate her calling for their flawed biblical interpretation and honestly, toxic masculinity.
You see, I had an awakening when I was in college at MVNU that I am egalitarian as opposed to complementarian. Complementarianism and egalitarianism are theological views on the relationship between men and women, especially in marriage and ministry. Complementarianism is a view that women are limited regarding leadership roles in the Church (such as elder/pastor or deacon). Egalitarianism is the view that women can serve in all forms of church leadership, including ordination as pastors.
The egalitarian view is based on the biblical idea that men and women are both one in Christ. For example, Galatians 3:28 states, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
The complementarian view agrees that men and women are equal in Christ, yet God has specified different roles for men and women regarding church leadership.
I believe women and men are equally:
• Created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)
• Share authority, dominion, and agency in the world (Genesis 1:28)
• Responsible for the consequences of sin (Genesis 2:17, 3:11-19)
• Redeemed by Christ (John 3:16)
• Gifted by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17-18; Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28; Ephesians 4:11-13)
• Responsible for using our God-given gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7, 2 Timothy 1:6-7)
This is one of the reasons I love the Church of the Nazarene and its view. We need to work better on talking about this in the church. I have always felt that in the Church of the Nazarene if you can't support this statement, you probably shouldn't seek ordination as a pastor. Some other denominations would welcome you and your stance.
Let me introduce you to some great women pastors from the Church of the Nazarene throughout its history.
LUCY PIERCE KNOTT
Lucy Pierce married William S. Knott in 1882. In 1887, they took their three children and moved from Kentucky to Los Angeles, where they met Phineas F. Bresee, founder of the Nazarene Church. They became strong supporters of Bresee and followed him to several churches in Southern California. They became charter members of Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene when it was organized. Bresee wrote down some of his memories of Lucy Knott. He noted that she was a "minister" among young women at Los Angeles First. He called her "pastor" of the Mateo Street mission, later organized into a church. "As a preacher and leader in the church, she has shown peculiar ability." He noted the substantial effectiveness of her evangelical efforts and insightful and powerful work with small groups. He also stated that she had the full support of her husband for her ministry. She was licensed to preach in 1899 and was ordained in 1903. Her congregations loved her.
When DeLance and Elsie Wallace moved to Spokane, Washington, they brought a passion for spreading holiness in that area. They fostered a mission, which she headed. C. W. Ruth, the Church of the Nazarene's assistant general superintendent, was invited to preach a revival there in January 1902. He reorganized the mission into a church during his visit upon the unanimous consent of the congregation, appointed Mrs. Wallace as its pastor. Later that year, Bresee visited Spokane and ordained her to the ministry—the first woman ordained by his hand. Her Church grew. Elsie and her husband established other churches in Washington and Oregon. Bresee urged Elsie to become the pastor of Seattle First Church until it grew strong. Later, she conducted a revival in Walla Walla, where a new church was organized and urged to become its pastor. She remained there for nine years. She was appointed as the district superintendent of the Northwest District in 1920. After a short stay in Kansas City, where her husband served as manager of the Nazarene Publishing House, she returned to Washington to again pastor Seattle First Church. After another stint as an evangelist, she moved to California and pastored three churches there. She retired in 1941 after over 40 years of highly effective pastoral and preaching ministry.
Nina Griggs Gunter grew up on a farm in South Carolina, the youngest of eight children. One of her favorite pastimes was playing church with her two older brothers and cousins. They would take turns preaching, being the "seeker," leading the music, or playing the piano. Nina sensed God's call to ministry as a preteen. While searching the Scripture to affirm God's will for her life, she was drawn to 1 Samuel 1:18, "Samuel ministered before the LORD, being a child." Although she wrestled with this call for a couple of years, Nina accepted God's plan. Immediately, her pastor had the 14-year-old speak at a prayer meeting and then helped her obtain a local minister's license. Nina began to write sermons and speak in neighboring churches.
Nina and Dwight Moody Gunter were married while attending Trevecca Nazarene University, and both preached on weekends, attended classes, and worked during their schooling. Nina's leadership became evident as she challenged her church and later her district (as district NMI president) to higher goals, especially paying the World Evangelism Fund (then General Budget) in full. She was elected to the General NMI Council in 1976. When General NMI Director Phyllis Perkins resigned in 1986, Nina was elected to that role. During the 2005 General Assembly, Nina was elected as the first female general superintendent of the denomination. In the four years that she has served in this capacity, she saw the awareness of women in ministry raised. Nina ordained the first female elders in Papua New Guinea and presided over the Japan District Assembly when they elected their first female district superintendent. Nina was the first female leader of any denomination to ordain elders in South Korea.
Dr. Gunter has written The Traveler’s Psalm, Our Defining Moment, Christian Perfection, The Cross—Seize It! Share It!, and Holy Leadership in a Hectic World. She was named a contributing editor to the Leadership Journal magazine published by Christianity Today International.
*Source: Grace and Peace Magazine, May 2014
These are just a few amazing women who have been impactful in the Church of the Nazarene, and their faithfulness has helped the denomination out so much that I am a product of their ministries.
Maybe you have a woman in your life that wasn't a "pastor," but she was called of God, and you are a product of that. If you have someone like that, let me know! I'd love to hear your stories!
Grace & Peace,
Rev. Abraham Williams