Pastoring the Flock in the Field
Back to Genesis
Lately, I have been revisiting the Book of Genesis and looked at it more intently so that as I search, God would be so kind to deliver nuggets of gold which would help me in the ministry. I have pondered on the perfect world created by God where He gave equal stewardship responsibilities to both Adam and Eve. I pondered on the usage of the word “man” as a collective noun used for both male and female created by God.
Genesis 5:2 Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.
I have pondered on the constant and consistent integrity of the Creator , His faithfulness, His love and His grief towards the masterpiece of His creation. I love how the narratives of each character have constantly been woven to point out one main fact: He is God and there is no other.
As a servant of Christ who equips pastors and leaders, I am intrigued by the pastorship demonstrated in the 21st century. We have come to a place where educated, young Christian men and women are calling out “pastors” who display unholiness in public or mislead their congregations with false teachings and heresies, on social media platforms. This was socio-culturally unthinkable just a decade or so ago. In light of this calling out by young Christians, many other churches continue to mind their own business and continue to be inward-looking. The fear of God has been overtaken by the fear of men and the need for false peace. The authority of such pastors and Christian leaders have been reduced to match the applause of man. this needs to be elevated to match the applause of the Heavenly Father. Or have the young ones become more biblically educated than their pastors?
If you hold the egalitarian position, you would have thought about both male and female pastors in the above paragraph.. If you hold the complementarían position, you would have immediately thought that I was addressing only male pastors in the previous paragraph. It is, partly, natural to think of male pastors because that’s whom you would mostly see at the pulpit in most churches in the world. Gender seems to be significant in church pastorship. Christ-like character, knowledge of Biblical truths, wisdom of God and especially, the call of God on one’s life seem to be secondary in position.
Let Not the Fall Confuse Your Calling
No, I am not a liberal Christian or a feminist. Who am I that I should speak my mind openly and without fear? Let me tell you: I am a child of the Most High God who has assured me of His love, salvation and promises to prosper me, never to fail me (Jeremiah 29:11). You see, He does not see me and many like me differently from the man who accepts Christ as his Lord and Savior. My Bible states that my brother and I are made in His image. Yes, we may look different, be shaped differently by The Sculptor of Life and even have different roles and responsibilities which is not in any way lesser or more for both of us as leaders. The world, however, continues to either exalt the women above the men or vice versa. I believe that God created us equally and gave equal tasks to both (Genesis 1: 27-28). What do you think?
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1: 27-28)
Ah, yes…the Fall - that is exactly the chaos that messed up this equality in image and tasks. And since then, it has been a generational curse that has come to the 21st century. You see, man desires to be better than the woman and the woman desires to be better than the man. It was not so according to God’s Perfect Plan. The global church needs to be reminded about the Original Plan rather than moving continuously to promote the chaos of the Fall. The latter has done nothing but to prove that the pain continues as long as one is focused on the curse and not on the blessing meant in the Original Plan of God.
We are born again in Christ to soar like an eagle - as high as His Holy Spirit will carry us and as low as we need to feed our spiritual hunger with His Word. We are free from the curse that locks and limits both men and women from soaring for God. If God Himself has many audiences for demonstration of HIs love through the Only True Gospel, then why do we limit our audiences who should receive Kingdom Truths and Services?
Excuse me, are you a Pastor?
So, there’s been this generational contention that women cannot be or should not be pastors. I tell those who learn with me - that it’s a Genesis situation that no one really wants to talk about. The word ‘debate’ rises up in a person’s mind as soon as the subject of ‘women pastors’ or ‘women teachers who teach men’ become the main topic. What is the fear here? Why is there an assumption that we would be debating on this topic rather than dialoguing on this topic?
We have different camps within the body of Christ over this issue. Each camp is able to produce their biblically-based reasons, or so it seems. I went back to discovering the etymology of the word “pastor”. Partly because I was reading about Rachel, a shepherdess, who was looking after her father’s sheep (Genesis 29:9). I mean, she was not at home cooking over a stove in that hot afternoon. She was out in the field with the hot sun beating down on her, keeping an eye on her share of the huge flock. As a shepherdess, she needed to draw the water from the well and feed her sheep. Either she was a strong woman or she had her brothers to help her. Rachel, definitely was slower in bringing her flock to join her brothers’ flocks of sheep. As a woman, she was probably not as fast with her steps but she accomplished her work as well as her brothers.
I am prompted to think that the culture accepted the fact that the patriarch (perhaps even the matriarch) had no issues about letting his daughter work hard, like a man, to shepherd / pastor the flock. Can you imagine the large number of sheep that Rachel was responsible for? - she had to be alert, keep an eye and like her brothers, probably know her sheep. I wonder if she named each one of them. And I wonder if she spent an entire day out in the sun during warm days and wrapped a thick shawl around her during the cool days. If she had to pastor this flock everyday, I salute this woman. Wouldn’t you?
I recently injured my wrists and could not even carry a kilogram of anything. So, imagine a pitcher of water and more pitchers, to satisfy the sheep, carried by Rachel and even before her, Zipporah and her seven sisters (Exodus 2). All were responsible for pastoring their flock of sheep which included carrying pitchers of water to the trough. They did not have a hose pipe back then. These women are the exemplary pastors in the Bible. Digressing just a little, you can also find a woman vineyard keeper, warrior, judge, businesswoman, tentmaker and teacher among the array of women in the Bible. All of the above professions were also for men. Back to pastoring the sheep, it was common to have women as pastors of the sheep in ancient days but not so common in the 21st century. You might find some in Australia, Egypt, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Russia or even in the United Kingdom in these days.
What Might be the Church's Responsibility in Light of God's Good Intentions?
When Jesus calls himself as the Good Shepherd, He truly means that He is our Ultimate Pastor who has laid down his life for all - both male and female. The called have a great responsibility to appropriate the Great Commandment and Great Commission in their lives. Is pastorship one of the calls to be obeyed? Should women be confined to only teaching women and children when the field biblical example is clear that
1. God included all in His plans.
2. God included women in the same field as men (as mentioned above)
3. God gave the same stewardship and authority to both Adam and Eve in the perfect world and inevitably to the rest of Man.
4. Isn’t it the responsibility of the church to bring the God-intended perfection to an absolutely imperfect world instead of promoting patriarchal tendencies since the days of the early Fathers of Christian history?
5. When Christ attempts to break down barriers, why would the Church further segregate and divide congregations based on the only two genders created by God?
6. What does it say about the leadership example of the Church when women are limited in their kingdom service but not so in their corporate service outside of Church?
7. Shouldn’t the Church truly espouse the freedom in Christ with the famous Loren Cunningham question “Why Not Women?”.
Can We Dialogue, Not Debate?
Friends, the suppression of women is continuing in the 21st century in different guises: transgenderism, lesbianism, men competing in women’s sports, men in women’s public and locker room bathrooms, women being paid less for the same responsibilities as men…etc. The leadership of the Church becomes sadly questionable in the true empowerment of women to fulfill the Great Commission as the time of Christ’s return is getting shorter each passing day. I recognize that there are agencies and churches that are leading in little pockets here and there. There needs to be a wider and larger net to cast out to bring in the women pastors and recognise them for their gifting and leadership. More than 70% of the mission force in the world are women, and these women are technically pastors in some form. We need the brother-pastors to be truly brothers by demonstrating leadership and equipping more women to walk in their footsteps. We need sister-pastors to demonstrate leadership by equipping more men to become Christ-like in their acceptance of women in pastorship, and not feel guilty about this multiplication which will honor God. In the same regard, whether male or female, if the pastor does not exhibit the qualifications neccessary to step into those shoes, then they should not be appointed to shepherd their flock.
What about mothers? Are they pastors? I would think so. They have been given their children (their flock) to care for till they are grown. But has the Church educated her people to understand that mothers are pastors too?
So, when both brothers and sisters are focused on honouring God, there will be no place for gender discrimination within the Kingdom of God. There will also be no deception that women need to be relegated to ‘womanly’ duties only. In God’s economy, everyone is a worker who has talents to be used effectively. The parable of talents is meant for both men and women, and not just for the men, is it?
Finally, from a personal dual perspective, I view myself as one of the sheep in God’s huge flock and Christ is my Shepherd. Next, I view myself as a shepherdess who has my share of flock to work with, to feed and to ensure that they do not go astray. Like Rachel in the Bible, I need to carry many pitchers of water to feed my sheep. But sometimes, when I get to the well, other shepherds can cause a disturbance, close the well and deny me the water. Would I be expected to give up the service that my Heavenly Father has entrusted me? The answer is a clear “NO”. I will wait for my Jacob-like helper/brother to move that heavy cover on the well and maybe, even help to draw the water for me. I have met so many such good-hearted men of God who have encouraged me to excel for God.
God bless you more for helping a woman of God to excel for Christ, for recognising her gifts and for standing by her - whether you are a brother or a sister. We need both of you to be Barnabases, Pauls, Joshuas, Moseses, Priscillas, Esthers…etc.
Much blessings of grace and love in Christ
Do explore this link for further understanding on life as a shepherdess in ancient Israel.
Reflection of Seminary Student, Tan Keng Tiong
Needless to say that I am proud of this young man who is passionate to see the love of God spread to the nations. Read his thoughts:
The Trinitarian theology of mission, that is hardly discussed in the church, has impact on how the church (both men and women) participates in God’s redemptive mission in the world. We must ask, when reading Genesis, how does reading it missionally change the way we perceive God’s mission, church leadership and pastoral ministry? How one understands the Trinity has significant implications to one’s missiology. Three areas for our
consideration are submitted:
1. A missionary God invites and calls all to participate in His redemptive work through
Jesus Christ. The division over male-female leadership is a form of institutionalism problem and a challenge. Institutionalism (human agenda over God’s agenda, man’s way over God’s way) can entrap churches to act as if mission is “purely human enterprise subject to human
calculations.” (Escobar, 2003, p.89) Churches facing the danger of institutionalism must recapture the heart of God, i.e., the Creator God is not just a loving Father, but his love for all of creation expresses himself as the sending Father (Sunquist, 2017, pp. 177-179), a missionary God (Escobar, 2003, pp. 85-96) . When we approach Scripture from missional lens, faultlines of gender, socioeconomic and racial inequality can potentially be eliminated, because our focus is on the missionary God who sets out to redeem all Creation.
2. Christ is the embodiment of the missionary God. In His incarnation, He entered our world.
In fact, His ministry is defined in places of brokenness and lostness and in the
limited space, places of prejudice and misused power. He redefines power and
leadership in first century Greco-Roman world. As the Exalted One, Christ the advocate
pleads the cause of all people of all religions (and irreligion) with the Heavenly Father.
Jesus has modelled for us the kind of leadership and servanthood He expects us all to
emulate in ministry and mission regardless of our gender. Being a man does not excuse
one from exercising humility and servanthood when serving God’s people. And being a
woman does not excuse one from assuming leadership when one hears the Shepherd
leading her into shepherding God’s people.
3. Church leadership must also not forget the role of the Holy Spirit in mission. Church
leaders must be constantly reminded that “The age of the church is pre-eminently the
age of the Holy Spirit, the age of world mission” (Glasser, 2003, p.243) and not the advancement of one's organizational goal and/or agenda. It is certainly not advancing one’s gender agenda. God’s own end goal is that the whole earth may be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Yahweh, just as the water covers the sea (Habakkuk 2:14) . Those in favour of male leadership must put aside such divisive agenda and look to what the Spirit is doing in the world and ask ourselves how we, both men and women, can participate in God’s mission. We are all made in the image of God, we have gifts and assets endowed by the Creator to be used and stewarded to show God’s love to the world.
We must also consider the historical aspect of treatment toward women. The role of women in the enlightenment period is one of inferiority, subordination, imprisonment. Roles that focus on reproduction and to be mother and wife. They were being viewed this way because of prevalent belief that women have no natural right to freedom and are incapable of thinking and acting. A challenge the two-nature theory of sexual difference; and gender equality through education has led to social and political movements that reject traditional social hierarchies that confined women. All women must be given equal access to education (especially in the majority world). The strengths of women must be released to serve the church, not just seen as loving supporters and collaborators of their husbands (often the case in mission, men assuming front facing roles), notwithstanding there are still challenges. Historical example includes more women like the Quaker women also started to engage in missionary work, and occupied leadership roles. In Singapore today, the biggest Assemblies of God church (Trinity Christian Centre) was planted by American Missionary Naomi Dowdy (a personal friend of the author of this blog). Today this church has blessed generations of Singaporeans and their families, empowering even more women leaders in Kingdom service.
Scripture and church history has also demonstrated that women play a significant role in
God’s mission. Think about the story of Rahab. The power and greatness of Yahweh through Israel is witnessed not only by nations but also by the vulnerable women, children and strangers living among Israel leading to “corporate worship” (Joshua 8:35). It was also acknowledged by Rahab, a believing Gentile whose faith and fear of Yahweh saved not only herself, but also her whole household (Joshua 6:17). Her exemplary faith, an indispensable faculty to first “see” and then participate in God’s mission, is recorded as example to follow in Hebrew 11:31.
Advancing into current times, the Lausanne Movement’s The Cape Town Commitment also states that “Many men and women, who are clearly gifted in pastoring and teaching God’s people, exercise their gifting informally or without official denominational structures, but with the manifest blessing of God’s Spirit. They too need to be recognized, encouraged, and equipped to rightly handle the Word of God.” The global church must come together in unity and acknowledge the vast potential of leadership and pastorship in both genders.
Finally, “The history of Christian mission must focus on women, for the majority of Christians in the world are women. If judged by numbers of members, Christianity is predominantly a woman’s movement.” (Robert, 2009, p.141)
1 Escobar, Samuel E. A Time for Mission: The Challenge for Global Christianity. (Nottingham: England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003).
2 Sunquist, Understanding Christian Mission. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017).
3 Glasser, Arthur F. Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God's Mission in the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Academic, 2003).
4 Robert, Dana Lee. Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion. Blackwell Brief Histories of Religion Series. (Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009).