Reflecting on My Role as a Female Leader in the Church by Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton

Let a woman learn in Silence with full submission (I Tim. 2:11)

The recent decision of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to reject the request of Rick Warren and  Saddleback church to be reinstated in their denomination is the hot topic on social media platforms, at dinner tables, and church meetings. Women holding pastoral and teaching titles are the leading cause of his congregation and several others being rejected. Who knew that saying “Yes” to this inner longing of the Spirit would put this issue at the forefront in denominational circles. There are some denominations, like the SBC, who will never see a way forward, because they fundamentally believe that a woman “should learn in silence with full submission.”

While I do not wish to get into a big debate around women in ministry, I felt compelled to say something, as a female, African American leader in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. I have carried the title of Associate Pastor, Christian Education, Minister of New Church Leader Development, and Now Executive Regional Minister of the Great River Region, which gives me pastoral and administrative oversight over 90+ congregations around the region, and 160 Ordained and Commissioned clergy.

In my heart, I believe that I am supported and encouraged in this role. I also know that there are pastors, members, and families who question my calling and gifts to serve in my current role, or any role for that matter. I was taught in seminary that one should study the world in front of the text, the world behind the text, and the world of the text, in order to interpret the meaning of scriptures. However, there is a voice within me that calls and guides me. In times of disobedience, this voice is loud, agitating, moving, and clear. In times of refreshing, it comes as a still small voice. Either way, it comes. I must listen to it because it helps me to grasp who and whose I am. How can the voice that we hear as God be antithetical to scriptures regarding women in ministry?

At this moment in time, I am where I am supposed to be. I have given my life to this call. I am created in the image of a loving and faithful God who called me out of darkness and into his marvelous light. I often think of women sitting in pews, hearing the whispers of their call, yet they are frustrated as they fail to seek meaning and purpose in their lives. They are stagnant in their destiny, living under someone’s interpretation of one or two scriptures written by Paul. I think of hurting people who miss unconditional love, salvation, and meaning because of women who are not doing and/or being what God called them to do and be within this culture.

My dad and I used to have discussions about women called to serve the church. He believed I was called into the ministry. However, because of what he believed about the Bible, he did not believe that women were called to be Pastors. He also believed that women should not cut their hair – he would say, “Your hair is your glory.” And I would respond, “No, God is my glory.”  What he could not deny was the power of God at work in my life. I often wonder if God’s power is hierarchal, selective, or exclusive? After my dad passed away, I was compelled to run on and see what the end would be.

I am thankful that I am part of a denomination that affirms the gifts and calling of women. I am thankful that others see God working in me, even on my worst days. I am thankful that this God who created me, loves me enough to use me to plant seeds of relationships which lead to salvation, transformation, and hope for our future together. There is a great resource that was gifted to me years ago when I accepted the call into full-time ministry entitled, “What Paul Really Said About Women: The Apostle’s Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love” by John Temple Bristow. I offer and challenge you to pick up a copy and read it as you seek meaning around this critical debate.