Women In Ministry

Women In Ministry
David K. Bernard

“In the earliest Oneness Pentecostal ministerial directory that we have (1919), 203 of 704 ministers, or twenty-nine percent, were women.”

The United Pentecostal Church International has always recognized the ministry of women, including ordination to the preaching and teaching ministry. Over the past several decades, the percentage of licensed ministers who are women has declined, but in recent years there have been renewed efforts to affirm and encourage women in ministry. Let’s take a look at this subject historically and biblically.

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church has never allowed the ordination of women as priests, and until the mid twentieth century the traditional Protestant denominations followed this precedent by restricting pulpit ministry to males. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Holiness and Pentecostal movements recognized the ministry of women based on the anointing of the Spirit. For example, both men and women served in the leadership of the Azusa Street Revival. When William Seymour, the founder of the Azusa Street Mission, died, his wife, Jennie, became the pastor. Maria Woodworth-Etter was the featured evening speaker of the 1913 worldwide camp meeting in Arroyo Seco, California, in which the message of Jesus Name baptism was first proclaimed. In the earliest Oneness Pentecostal ministerial directory that we have (1919), 203 of 704 ministers, or twenty-nine percent, were women.

In the UPCI, women have served as general youth secretary, district youth president, district home missions director, Bible college president, national board member (outside North America), and General Conference evening speaker, as well as pastors, evangelists, teachers, and missionaries. Currently, several key offices are restricted to males: all district board members, district Global Missions director, and Men’s Ministry officers. Other key offices are open to women: general superintendent, assistant general superintendent, general secretary, general Global Missions director, and other general and district offices not already named. The reason for these distinctions appears to be more cultural and historical than theological.

I have seen the ministry of women first-hand. My mother, Loretta Bernard, has been a licensed minister for fifty years, serving alongside my father as missionary, evangelist, teacher, writer, church planter, and pastor. For several years he pastored one church while she pastored another in metropolitan Seoul, Korea. My wife’s grandmother, Edith Sharpe, founded a church in Austin, Texas, that grew to two hundred in attendance and was my wife’s pastor until she was fifteen. I preached my first revival for Hazel Frusha, founder and pastor of the United Pentecostal Church in Marble Falls, Texas. Another pastor who gave me early opportunities to preach was Billie Fluitt, founder and pastor of the United Pentecostal Church in Johnson City, Texas. Her husband was also a licensed minister and the leader of their home, but she fulfilled the primary preaching and pastoral responsibilities.

The proportion of women ministers has diminished over the years due to several factors. First, the early Pentecostal movement was about two-thirds female, but as more men entered the movement and it became more socially accepted, men increasingly assumed leadership roles. Second, there was a backlash against the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, as Pentecostal women did not wish to be identified with the attitudes and mannerisms of worldly women who fought against biblical morality. Third, Pentecostals were influenced by the theological and social positions of Fundamentalists, who strongly opposed women in ministry. Consequently, many Pentecostal women fulfilled their ministry without seeking license. Often those who experienced a ministerial call married ministers and worked alongside their husbands without seeking credentials of their own.

In the Old Testament God used women as judges and prophetesses. (See Judges 4:4; II Kings 22:14; Isaiah 8:3.) The new covenant opened the door for greater involvement in ministry by everyone, including public prophecy (anointed proclamation) by both male and female (Acts 2:17; I Corinthians 14:31). The general principle is that in the body of Christ opportunities are not restricted on the basis of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or gender (Galatians 3:28).

In the early church, women served in various leadership and ministry roles. The daughters of Philip were prophetesses (Acts 21:9). Priscilla was a teacher and apparently a pastor along with her husband, Aquila (Acts 18:26; Romans 16:3-5). Phoebe was a deaconness (Romans 16:1). Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Euodia, and Syntyche were Paul’s coworkers in the gospel (Romans 16:12; Philippians 4:2-3). Junia was an apostle along with Andronicus, apparently her husband (Romans 16:7).

In dealing with a situation in Ephesus, Paul explained that women were not to usurp authority over men but to fulfill leadership and teaching roles under proper spiritual authority (I Timothy 2:11-12). Apparently some women there had begun teaching contrary to the established doctrine of the church. Thus he instructed Timothy, the overseer, that they had no authority to teach but needed to be silent.

Because of a problem in the Corinthian church, Paul also explained that women were not to interrupt a public assembly to ask questions (I Corinthians 14:34-35). The instruction to be silent is not absolute but specific to the conditions being addressed. Otherwise, if interpreted absolutely, women could not sing, pray aloud, testify,
or teach Sunday school, contrary to the principles of New Testament ministry that we have already seen. Paul taught that women could speak in public worship as long as they did so with proper respect for authority and while upholding their feminine identity (I Corinthians 11:5-6).

Bishops (pastors or elders) are to be the husband of one wife (I Timothy 3:2). This statement means they must follow the moral teaching of the church with regard to marriage. While it is phrased in terms of the typical or generic case of males, the purpose is not to imply additional qualifications of being male and married. Otherwise, single males such as Jesus and Paul would not have qualified.

In summary, we should recognize the ministry of women as long as they follow biblical authority in the church and in the home. The same is true of men. Women are not to imitate men but are to exercise their ministry in distinctively feminine fashion, for God has called them as women. Indeed all ministers are to fulfill their ministry in the context of their own unique identity, personality, gifts, and calling. The ministerial or pastoral style of a woman will be different from that of a typical male, but it can still
be effective. In fact, we need different types of ministries and churches to reach our diverse population.

We need every available worker in the harvest. Those who are dying need immediate attention, and it doesn’t matter whether the physician is male or female. We urgently need more preachers, teachers, pastors, pastoral counselors, and missionaries who can minister effectively in a variety of ways and relate to different kinds of people. There are many reasons why women in ministry should receive ministerial license: accountability to spiritual authority, validation of ministry, credibility inside and outside the church, participation in ministerial fellowship and decision making, and establishing of role models for young women who are seeking God’s will. Our world desperately needs more apostolic ministers, both male and female.

David K. Bernard is the general superintendent of the UPCI. For historical discussion see David K. Bernard, “A History of Christian Doctrine,” vol. 3. For a scholarly biblical discussion, see David K. Bernard, “The Apostolic Life,” ch. 33. For an exploration of the issue in fictional form, see David Norris, “Cara’s Call.”

The above article, “Women’s Ministry,” is written by David K. Bernard. The article can be found in the January-February 2012 Forward Magazine, pages 8-9

The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study and research purposes.