Do Assemblies of God Churches in Victoriareally believe in women’s participation in church leadership?
In 1998 and 1999, a major survey of Assemblies of God churches in Victoria (AOG [Vic]) was undertaken. Over 2300 questionnaires were sent out to 170 AOG churches in the state1. The overriding aim was to identify contemporary attitudesamong leaders, lay leaders, and potential future leaders, of the AOG churches in Victoriawith regard to women in leadership and ministry. Do our churches support women in both ministry and leadership? Is there a distinction in attitude towards women performing certain ministry tasks, as opposed to women actually having authority in the local church? Do AOG churches really implement policies that demonstrate gender equality? Or is the proverbial glass ceiling to women trying to walk in their giftings and callings to be found here too?
Need for the Research
The Assemblies of God in Victoria and Australia has been in existence for less than a century, but is currently one of the fastest growing Christian denominations in Australia.2 The 2001 census reaffirmed that, apart from ethnically-based religions supported by migration flow, this continues to be the case. Since the AOG’s inception in 1937, it has never officially had a gender exclusive policy towards women in church leadership. This is not the same thing as an active gender inclusive policy. Nevertheless, there has officially been no hindrance to women in leadership and ministry in the Assemblies of God churches.
Yet in 1998, out of over 170 Assemblies of God churches in Victoria, only seven were overseen by female senior pastors. Since 1998, despite the increase in total numbers of AOG (Vic) churches, the number has continued to hover around the same figure. The fundamental question that the questionnaire sought to explain, was: "If there is no gender exclusive policy forbidding women from leadership, why is it that so few of the leaders are women?
There are four levels of ordination in the Assemblies of God movement (OMC, PMC, SMC and Worker’s Certificate, see Appendix 1), and women can be on any of the levels. The highest level of ordination is the "Ordained Ministerial Certificate." (OMC) This permits its holder to perform weddings and sit on State and National Executive bodies. The Minister’s Manual, in Victoria, (1998), given to newly ordained ministers, clearly states concerning the Ordained Ministerial Certificate:
This is the highest credential … An ordained minister is free to move anywhere within Australia without permission. If he/she leaves active ministry, they have two full years to re-enter ministry before their credential lapses. He/she may also be invited to an elected position on the State Executive after two years; as a State Superintendent or a National Executive member after four years of ordination and as the General Superintendent when ordained for at least five years. . . [Upon application for credentials] forms for referees and your spouse also form part of this application procedure.3 (Italics mine).
The theory, then, is that any man or woman, can become fully ordained in the Assemblies of God. The practice is noticeably different. By comparing the available statistics, some significant differences are observed.
Table 1: Men and women holding credentials with the Assemblies of God in Victoria in early 1998.
Total Creds issued
% Male/ Total
% total males
% Female/ Total
% total female.
* numbers rounded.
The total number of people credentialled in early 1998, in Victoria, was 382 persons. Of the 382, some 52 were women. That in itself is a telling statistic: 13.6 percent of the ordained persons in the Victorian AOG at the start of 1998 were women. Of these women, more than half (as opposed to 22 percent of males) carried them at SMC level. In fact, nearly two thirds of all the credentialled women in Victoria’s AOG Churches are credentialled at SMC or lower. Only 23 percent are fully ordained at OMC level. By comparison, the 330 men make up 86.4 percent of all credentialled persons, only 25.2 percent of whom were credentialed at the lowest two levels. Only 23 percent of as opposed to 59.7 percent of men were credentialed at the highest level. Women are not only in an absolute minority, but also maintain a more junior profile. This is especially important given that the lowest two levels of credential (the SMC and the CWC) have no automatic advance to a higher credential. The decision to make the SMC a terminating qualification (taken in 1998) thus effectively discriminated against women. It is not clear how many men and how many women on that level at the time, then applied and were granted the PMC. But one thing is clear: this procedure placed a new hurdle on the road to ordination which differentially affected men and women.
Even more significant is the fact that only a tiny proportion of women act as senior ministers of local churches. Until 1998, there had never been a single woman on the Victoria/Tasmanian State executive,4 and in 1998, when Melinda Dwight was elected, she became the only woman state executive member in the country. (Queensland did have a woman state executive member in the 1930s – Leila Buchanan, the daughter of Sarah Jane Lancaster and editor of the Australian Evangel and Glad Tidings Messenger).5
Such startling statistics immediately urge the question "why?"
The Frustrations of Women
There is a growing body of literature which suggests that the experience of women in the Assemblies of God in Victoria is not unique. Elaine Storkey notes that "the allegation is made that although women have supported the Christian faith, the faith has not supported women."6 She adds "it is generally true that women who feel called by God to exercise their gifts so often have to sit and watch."7 Her statement that "although women are large in number in the Church, they are small in visibility within in the Church’s leadership"8 is certainly applicable to the status of women in the AOG. In summarising the feminist criticism against the Church, Elaine Storkey in her book What’s Right With Feminism writes:
Women with pastoral, administrative or teaching gifts find in many churches that they must sit back frustrated whilst some man performs very inadequately a task that they would do so much better. . . . on the whole most churches on both sides of the ocean see women as playing only a ‘supportive’, if any, role in their congregations. Men preach, women listen. Men pray, women say ‘Amen’. Men form the clergy, the diaconate or the oversight, women abide by their leadership. Men study theology, women sew for the bazaar. Men make decisions, women make the tea. . . .[The church] is happiest with women who are supportive and domestic, women who are uncritical and non-threatening, docile, feminine, good followers, hospitable and passive. Most churches are embarrassed with women who feel called to leadership, women who are perceptive and analytical, women who are learned in the Scripture and have developed biblical insights."9
As Myrtle S. Langley notes, some denominations do ordain women, but:
This is not to say that all the members of churches which do ordain women are in favour of women’s ordination nor that all women ministers find it easy to obtain full-time pastoral appointments. Many Christians still balk at having a women minister.10
The comments recorded by Julia Duin, in Charisma magazine in 1994, are indicative:
While few denominations or Christian groups say that they don’t ordain women, many more have unofficial policies that prevent women from moving into top positions. . . Ask some of these denominations how many of their large churches are pastored by women or how many women serve on their boards . . . that’s where you find the undeclared prejudice.11
Certainly, though the Assemblies of God in Victoria (and Australia) has never had a gender exclusive policy, there are very few women in leadership. What then are the "unofficial policies" preventing women from moving into significant leadership positions? It seems that the practical position of the AOG is closer to the general religious culture of the society in which they find themselves than their revivalist and Pentecostal theology would suggest.
The questionnaire was made up of 58 different questions, many offering a selection of alternative responses to choose from, and some open ended questions as well.
A parcel of questionnaires (the number depending upon the size of the Church (members and adherents), was sent to each church via the senior minister. If the Church had up to 100 adults, as members and adherents, then they received a dozen questionnaires. If they had between 100 and 200 members and adherents, they received two dozen. Any Churches with more than 200 members and adherents received 3 dozen. The total number of questionnaires made and sent out equaled 2376. The total number returned was 522 (22 percent).
The package included the following:
1. A short cover letter endorsing the questionnaire, signed by the then State Superintendent of the AOG in Victoria, Pastor Philip Hills (senior minister of Richmond AOG).
2. A cover letter to the senior pastor, informing him/ her about the project and its requirements, Each senior minister was asked to personally fill in one of the questionnaires, and to circulate the remainder to people in leadership in the church. Those left over were to be circulated to congregational members who held no leadership position.
3. The appropriate number of questionnaires, each bundled with a personal cover letter, a self-addressed envelope to return the questionnaire. (These were individually paper clipped together, and sat in a bundle with the others.)
There is obviously room for error in the decision to send parcels to churches instead of to individuals. If a particular minister was hostile to women in leadership, they might express that hostility by not distributing the questionnaires. Or, if there was hostility to women in leadership, an alternative disruptive response by such a minister might be to only distribute the questionnaires to people who he felt might think and respond the same way as they themselves did. The logistical and financial difficulties of sending more than 2000 packages out by mail, however, made this unpracticable, and so measures were adopted to negate such skewing in the sampling process. Endorsement by the State Superintendent minimized simple dismissal of the mailing. Secondly, the questionnaire was framed in such a way as not to imply bias or to suggest that there was a preferred response to the questions. In fact, the researcher explained to many a pastor that what was wanted was not what might be called "politically correct" answers – rather honest anonymous responses. The project wanted to monitor genuine beliefs, attitudes and practices.
The target group and number sampled in total, was 2376. It was hoped that all senior ministers would fill in one of the questionnaires, and so the target group of senior ministers was 170. Specific questions in the questionnaire clearly identified that category of respondent.
Since, according to State Office figures, there were 382 credentialed persons in the AOG (Vic) at the start of 1998, the survey sampled 100 percent of credentialed people. As there are no figures available for how many members of each Church are considered to be "leaders", there is obvious variance at the local church level. Likewise the remainder of questionnaires going to non-leaders is not known. Despite that, by knowing that we had sent out 2376 questionnaires, we were be able to monitor how the responses shaped up by the actual number returned, by the number of senior ministers that returned questionnaires, and by the number of credentialled people who returned them. As at Oct 1997, there were 22,061 people associated with the Assemblies of God churches in Victoria, made up of: 7,390 signed up members, and 10,646 adherents, and 4,025 children.12 The adult population was thus 18036 resulting in the questionnaire sampling 13.17 percent of the total adult church membership. The return rate was 522 questionnaires returned, realizing a coverage of 2.89 percent of the adult population of the AOG (Vic).
The data from the questionnaires was put into the Statistical Package for Social Sciences Computer program. All analysis and cross tabulations came from that program. What did the questionnaires discover?
It was desirable to seek not just answers about attitudes towards women in ministry or leadership in the church, but to break down the answers into various categories, to see if some types of people were more inclined or less inclined to support women in various roles in the church. Standard questions about the anonymous respondents were therefore asked.
Of the responses, 280 (or 53.6 percent)were female , and 242 were male. Ages varied: a little over 15 percent were aged 18-30; 27 percent were in their thirties; 29 percent were in their forties; 17 percent in their fifties and 10.9 percent were over 60. 1 person did not provide an age.
Occupations were listed and then allocated to one of 10 different categories: low-skilled; semi-skilled; Skills Trades and Crafts ; White Collar/Clerical; Managerial; Professional and Semi-Professional; Home duties; Unemployed; and Pensioner/retired. Professional and semi-professional (39.3 percent) made up the largest group, with Home duties (20.7 percent, made up of 2 men and 106 women) in second place. All other categories recorded an under 8 percent response.
In terms of education, 26.1 percent of the responses came from people holding Bachelor’s degrees; 31.7 percent held Certificates, Diplomas or Advanced Diplomas earned since finishing high school (61 men and 51 women). Some 24.7 percent did not complete High School (37 men and 92 women). Only 2.9 percent held Master’s degrees or higher (11 men and 4 women).
The questionnaire asked the respondent to identify their role in their local AOG church. The options were: paid full time pastor; paid part-time pastor; unpaid full time pastor; unpaid part time pastor; and unpaid voluntary worker. 6.7 percent of the respondents did not fill that question in, implying their category was not an option (perhaps a paid non-pastoral role, either full time or part time). Some 27.8 percent said they were ‘pastors’ of one kind or another (100 men and 45 women).
With regard to senior roles, 77 (14.9 percent) of the 522 said they were ‘senior pastors’ (men and women), with 9 (11.7 percent) having been in the position for up to 1 year (6 men and 3 women); and the remaining respondents being evenly spread across the categories of 2-3 years (14 men and 3 women); 17 said 4-5 years (15 men and 2 women); 17 said 6-10 years (16 men and 1 women); and 17 said 11 or more years (14 men and 3 women). Interestingly, of the 77 senior pastors, 12 were women – and yet there were only 7 women senior pastors in the state at the time of the questionnaire. This can most probably be explained by assuming that some female pastors feel as though they are effectively senior pastors along with the designated male senior pastor of the same church (possibly the spouse of such who is also credentialed. There are some fully ordained husband and wife teams leading some churches). 78 more respondents said that they were assistant or associate pastors (53 men and 25 women).
Numerous other questions were asked regarding whether or not the respondent was a member of the State Executive; a board member of their local church; an elder in their church; a member of a leadership team in the church; a department leader; or simply a church attendee. 6 of the men on the state executive filled in a questionnaire. Each person was also asked the gender of their senior pastor. 91.4 percent of the respondents (222 men and 255 women) said their minister was a man, and 7.7 percent (17 men and 23 women) said their senior pastor was a woman. There is an obvious discrepancy here, between the 4 percent of pastors who are actually listed by AOG (Vic) and the 7.7 percent claimed among respondents. This is a reflection of the disproportionately high response rate by members of women led churches, for whom the subject of the questionnaire is an ‘issue’. It is also more likely that female senior pastors will circulate such a questionnaire. The discrepancy is not so high as to seriously distort the conclusions of the research, but it must be noted nonetheless.
Various questions were asked concerning whether or not the respondent’s church had a constitution; a board; elders; how the board and elders were appointed; what authority board and elders had in relation to the senior pastor; and if there were any women board members or women elders in their church. Of the churches self-described as having boards, 293 of the respondents said that they did have women on their boards, while 150 said that they did not. Anonimity, a requirement for the questionnaire, also restricted our ability to discover whether some of these descriptions came from the same churches. A similar gap appeared with regard to the eldership and gender question: 164 respondents said that they had women elders, while 213 said that they did not. Another issue that was not identified was how many women were on boards or eldership teams, as a percentage of the entire group of board members or elders.
Finally, numerous questions were asked that gleaned the opinions of the respondents towards issues of ministry and leadership of women in the local church. Examples included:
· Do you agree or disagree (strongly or generally) with the following statements:
- Biblically, leadership is a job essentially for men
- If God can’t find a man, then he will use a woman.
- Women are not encouraged to become senior pastors in the Victorian AOG.
- Women are actively discouraged from becoming senior pastors in the Victorian AOG.
- Women’s family commitments prevent them from becoming senior pastors.
· Is it Scriptural for a woman to hold a leadership role in the church? (A key summary question that will be looked at in detail below).
· If a woman was nominated for the General Superintendent’s position of the national Executive of the AOG Churches, would her gender be an important consideration in your mind when it came to voting?
· Why do you think that there has never been a woman nominated or elected to the Victorian State or the National Executive of the AOG?13
The inclusion of all the above-mentioned variables made cross tabulation of the data an enormous task. For example, how many men and women would say that a woman could be a senior pastor? How many men and women would say that a woman could be a member of the State Executive? Or a member of the national executive? If there were to be some for and some against, what categories, ages, educational levels, occupational levels, etc – supported or did not support the propositions? Was the attitude of senior pastors similar, or different, to the attitude of assistant pastors, or members of the congregation? How many women would hold that women should not be in leadership? If so – which categories explained their position? The possible number of cross comparisons was far greater than the actual calculations made. Nevertheless, over 1,000 pages of statistical data was generated. The next few paragraphs will try to identify the most relevant and interesting of the findings!14
Is it Scriptural for a woman to hold a leadership role in the church?
Question 24 was essentially a one line summary of the primary intent of the questionnaire: to see if the people agreed or disagreed with women being church leaders. The question simply asked: Is it Scriptural for a woman to hold a leadership role in the church? The options were: Yes – any leadership position; Yes – almost any leadership position, other than senior pastor; No – no leadership positions; and Other (explain) [with some lines to write on].
· 66.8 percent of male respondents and 71.3 percent of women, agreed with the statement: "Yes – any leadership position".
· 20.7 percent of male respondents and 16 percent of women agreed with the statement: "Yes – but not the position of senior pastor".
And 3 percent of male respondents and 3.3 percent of women agreed with the statement: "No – no leadership positions". A small number of respondents did not answer this question.
Overall those figures might seem relatively encouraging for women. Most men and women responded that they do not believe in discriminating in the church because of gender. Still, nearly one-third of respondents (over 30 percent of the men and nearly as many women) did not support the statement. If one third of the church leaders, lay leaders, and active members, don’t support the idea that women can do any task in the church (in particular the position of senior pastor) then it still does mean that there will be conflict and difficulties for women seeking to fulfil that call. And if such women bump into almost every third person telling them they should not seek to take up senior leadership - the long term effects would be extremely demoralizing.
Breaking down that question further these responses were cross-tabbed to occupation (see Table 2). On the basis of occupation, the strongest support for women in leadership in the church came from the unemployed, followed closely by lowed skilled workers. The professional and semi-professional group came in next, which might have been our first guess as to being the strongest of all the categories. Those doing home duties (almost entirely made up of women) were quite divided on the question: with over one third of the group opposing the idea of women being able to hold a senior pastoral position. That indeed confirms the often-speculated view that says a number of women are among the most vocal and critical when it comes to having a female senior minister.
Level of education was another consideration. Among those who agreed that women should fill any position in the church their gifts and calling allowed them were to be found:
· The only PhD respondent.
· 9 (or 69.2 percent) of the 13 Masters respondents
· 103 (or 76.9 percent) of the 134 Bachelors respondents.
· 104 (or 64.2 percent) of the 161 Advanced Diploma, Diplomas, and Certificates respondents.
· 50 (or 67.6 percent) of the 74 Senior High School graduates.
· 84 (or 68.3 percent) of the 123 respondents who did not get to senior highschool.
Table 2: Percentage of all respondents agreeing the statement "Yes, to all positions", by Category.
Agreeing (Men and Women)
Professional and Semi Professional
Clearly the more education a respondent has, the greater the likelihood that they will be sympathetic to full equality, though MA respondents were not as positive as the Bachelor respondents, and almost the same as the Senior High School graduates. The smaller sample of MA respondents should be noted as possibly skewing the results. Nevertheless people with university education showed a tendency to be more supportive of gender equality than those without it.
Table 3: Percentage of all respondents agreeing the statement "Yes, to all positions", by Category.
Breaking down the age groups for this same question was another way of reflecting on the answers.
From Table 3, it seems that the younger the respondent, the more positive the are to full equal opportunity for women in the church. This fits with societal emphases and norms. It does seem to confirm the researchers suspicion, that gender discrimination is not as big an issue amongst the young as it still is for some of the older members of church and society.
Given these trends, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the people in AOG churches are just as influenced by ruling societal norms as people outside of the church. It is something of an anomaly that low skilled workers and unemployed being more prone to full gender equality in the churches than more professional career people. The work place has seen equal opportunity legally enforced and up and running for longer than people in the churches have been openly and widely exploring the issues.
If God can’t find a man, He uses a woman.
Another of the key questions that reflected a commonly held belief by many, and which is often heard from pulpits and in general discussion, was the statement: "If God can’t find a man then he uses a woman." The respondents were asked to tick whether they strongly agreed with that statement, generally agreed, generally disagreed, or strongly disagreed. If they agreed with the statement, it revealed a general attitude that men lead unless there is no other option. In that case, God will bend his general principle and allow women to fill a gap. Of the 522 questionnaires, 486 people answered that question. The following were the results:
· 98 (20.2 percent) of the total 486, said they strongly agreed with the saying. One in five respondents admitted that they are strongly committed to the view that men should be leaders, and it is God’s purpose for that to be so. Interestingly, this group of 98 included 40 men and 58 women.
· 130 (26.7 percent) of the total said that they generally agreed with the statement. (68 men and 62 women).
· Combining the two responses we see a total of 228 of the 486 people (108 men and 120 women, totaling 47 percent) saying that men should be the leaders. In some ways this probably reveals more about the heart felt attitudes of the respondents. If some people see men as being the God ordained preference for leadership, then they might still say that it is Scriptural for women to be leaders – because of times of exception when no man is available. It is also arguable that people will be more inclined to state the more politically correct answer when it is asked of them "up front" ("Can women be leaders in the church?"). The same people may reveal more of their real feelings when more popular and less direct reflections are made (such as this question: "God uses a women when there is no man to fill the task"). Popular clichés do not carry the same weight of political correctness as untarnished statements of ideology.
· 102 people (58 men and 44 women, or 21 percent) said that they generally disagreed with the statement
· 156 (61 men and 95 women, 32 percent) strongly disagreed.
· Of the total number of women (259) responding to this question, 46.3 percent did not believe women should be leaders (except in circumstances when no man was available) and 53.7 percent believed women could be God’s first choice.
· Of the men (227), 47.6 percent said that God only used women if men were not available, and 52.5 percent said God could use women as his first choice.
The statistics between men and women are almost identical on all counts. It thus seems to be a view widespread among both genders, that God should have men in charge and that he only uses women when no man is available or willing. Almost half of the total number of respondents hold opinions similar to this. This must be a discouraging reality for women who believe they have the call of God on their lives to pursue the pastorate.
The Open Ended Questions
The questionnaire had a number of places that permitted the respondents to write their own thoughts. These open ended questions are notoriously challenging to turn into data that can be analysed statistically, but sometimes, the actual anecdotes and reflections are more insightful than just the numerical data that they become transformed into. A few of the more insightful or revealing comments are listed here.
One of the questions was: "Have you ever had a female member of the church ask your advice regarding her calling to become a pastor in the AOG Church? If "yes" what was your advice?" There were a lot of positive comments in this section that did encourage women to pursue the pastorate if they believed it was God’s call. One of the many comments, however, is worth reflecting on. One respondent commented: "If it is not God’s will the doors probably won’t open." Arguably, this kind of thinking allows unjust structures to stay in place. If there are problems that hinder the call of God on a person’s life, then silence only helps maintain the injustice. Of course this kind of reflection opens up the long-running theological debate as to the ordering of all events and whether or not all that happens to you is God’s will. The establishment is either forced into a predestinarian view (unsustainable for a largely Arminian movement) or forced to hold the contradictory view that unjust structures are ordained by the same God who calls us to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly. To be fair to the female respondent who made that comment to another woman, her comments were surrounded by exhortations to pray and trust God.
Another question asked only of people with credentials, or pastors in some capacity: "Upon your decision to pursue the pastorate as your calling, did you find it difficult to follow that path?" Some of the comments from women included:
· "No I never found it difficult. Once I acknowledged the call and began to move towards walking in it, God himself opened the doors. I have my husband’s full support, encouragement and approval, as well as his recognition of God’s giftings on my life."
· "I’ve never pursued my calling individually as I have worked alongside my husband all the time. He is very progressive and open and continually encourages me. Perhaps I would encounter difficulties because of gender if I were on my own as the A.O.G. is without doubt male dominated."
· "The hardest difficulties have all related to prejudice against my gender."
· "I’ve had men get up and leave a meeting when I began to preach; I seem to have had more criticism of my preaching and ministry than ever my husband has; Financial pressures; lack of consideration for us being a family who needs time together has been a major area of difficulty; Disloyalty and betrayal has occurred hurtfully at times (from fellow ministry team members)"
· "A number of men told me I was out of God’s will. Some walked out as I got up to preach. Teaching women was OK but not men."
· "Because I am a woman – there was very little tolerance from both my male peers in the ‘ministry’ and from my own pastoral oversight. I had to work 10 times harder to prove that the calling I had was genuinely from God."
· "Other male colleagues did not recognize me as being a pastor! Working in a predominantly male environment (colleagues) male thinking; put into a position of defending the concept of ‘women in ministry’, constantly sexist joking – being labeled a feminist. "Mocked"."
These kinds of comments were significantly different to those of the male pastors who also recorded difficulties of various kinds (financial pressures; family pressures; jealousy of a senior pastor; concern over pastor’s youth etc), but with one less obvious problem to handle: sexist attitudes towards their gender.
Comments, Reflections and Personal Stories
The final request of the questionnaire was to make any reflections or comments at all. Some 63 (21 men and 42 women, 12 percent) of the 522 respondents chose to write either short of long messages. A sample of some of the women’s comments in this area follows (a selection of 16 different comments).
All of the following are worthy of serious reflection and comment. Respondents 1 and 2 (R1 and R2), are very insightful as they compare two specific women’s experiences who have come from different Christian traditions before joining the AOG – one is from the more conservative Anglican tradition, the other from an alternative Pentecostal tradition (CRC). Both are quite negative about women’s options and experiences in the AOG. Of course, it is anecdotal, and there may be other anecdotes that say the opposite – but if they exist, they were not recorded in this questionnaire. R3 grapples with the mothering role of women and its impact on her calling. R4 admits the struggles women have to become ministers, but is positive and philosophical about those struggles. She quite rightly says that it makes the woman who survives it a better minister for the effort. (One could then ask, of course, why not share such a valuable growing experience with male ministers!). R5 laments a lack of sound teaching on the topic, and R6 shares mixed experiences in different locations. R7 seems to convey a frustrated response that is arguably true, but does not explore how to put her call into action. It is especially difficult to ‘get on with the job one is called to do’ if there are structures of inequality in place. R8 admits her cynicism, but also identifies that it comes from a history of poor treatment in retaliation for raising such issues in the past. R9 appears not to want the status quo to change (for what ever reason) and her frustration is directed towards people asking hard questions about equality and gender (such as the writer of this paper). "Let’s just evangelise!" sounds good, but not if a woman with that call and gift, is told that such a leadership gifting like ‘evangelism’ is a man’s job. She might still evangelise, but she will be continually battling ill-will, negativity or lack of support. And R10 offers a typical mixed reflection that accepts women in secondary roles in the church, but admits confusion, pining for clarity of teaching. R11 identifies the natural bias towards men being given positions in the church, when men and women share similar giftings. R13 recognises the reality that some of the most hostile opponents to women in leadership in the church can be other women15. R12 and R14 are certainly the most positive, though their perspective is not really supported by most of the comments being shared by the others (I have included them as examples, because the sentiments they expressed were relatively rare). R15 and R16 offer worthwhile insights as well.
The selection of comments will be presented with little commentary, other than the job description given by the respondents themselves.
1) [From a minister] "I came into ministry in the Anglican church and was a credentialled minister there for 7 and a half years before moving into the AOG 3 years ago. The differences between being a female minister there and here are quite interesting. In both positions I was the first female pastoral staff member. In the Anglican setting – the opposition was primarily theological. "Women ought not be in leadership." It became particularly aggressive when I began preaching. Opposition was direct & in your face. In the AOG setting – everyone has been very encouraging verbally. Everyone is pleased to have a female on the team. However the culture that surrounds men & women is prohibitive. Changing that culture is proving to be quite difficult because on the outside everything appears so positive. I have to admit I am glad I grew up within the Anglican communion. Direct opposition is much easier to deal with. I am completely convinced that if I had grown up within the AOG, I would never have moved into leadership."
2) [From a housewife with some day work] "Before I attended the current AOG church where I worship, I was 26 years in a CRC church. Moving towns required a change. It was a very common in the CRC for congregational women to preach communion messages, share messages from the word (a "softer" version of "preaching") & a lot of body ministry & vocal prayer from the congregation none of these things has happened in the year I have been at the AOG. I miss it tremendously. The male pastors do all of the above which I find amazing, yet they would not consider they are "robbing" the women in any way at all. It simply isn’t the way it’s done here. My former pastor considered it part of his job to encourage all to speak up and do leadership training whether they were aspiring to "pastor" or not. . . . In talking with the pastors wife here, I learned that they have had communion rosters in the past, but people would complain they wanted to hear the pastor, not all these ordinary people!! Never heard of such a thing in a Pentecostal church."
3) [From an office assistant] "In my old church, there were more women than men, however all the top leadership positions e.g. senior minister, associate pastor, worship leader, youth leader etc were all fill by men. Women are busy looking after the family to have the time to fill one of these positions. I think it would be looked down on if the husband looked after the house and family while his wife held a leadership position. It would be seen as if she is neglecting her duties and putting her ministry before her family. "
4) [From a pastor] "There is no doubt in my mind and in my experience that currently women pursuing the ministry have a tougher road than men. However, this is not such a bad thing because it really proves and strengthens the gift."
5) [From a worker in the church] "My personal view is that women are often used in roles within the church if there is no male around either willing or able to take the responsibility, I find that often these women are not accorded the title that is automatically accorded to men in the same position. I feel there is a great lack of teaching & sound comment within the AOG on the roles & scope for women."
6) [From a minister] "I would like to comment, that in the 10 years I served as an associate pastor in the previous church, which we ourselves had planted, only a few men made it difficult for me as a woman in ministry and leadership, simply because I was female. However, having moved on to a larger, more traditional – type church, I haven’t found it easy to minister from a platform level, as it seems I am being judged by a small number of traditional-thinking men, more severely than the men who minister from the platform. In saying this though, I’ve been encouraged with the larger percentage of the congregation responding well to me – as this is a first for this church – to actually employ a woman in ministry two days per week."
7) [From a secretary/administration assistant] "I don’t think much of this whole topic. Too much is made of being a pastor or being in the executive. What is important is the local church and the equipping of the saints for the work of God."
8) [From a respondent who did not identify her occupation] "I find the whole topic so wearisome! If anyone – man or woman – wants to be a senior pastor, then what’s to stop them getting out of the assemblies of God structure and pioneering their own church? Then they can be what they want to be, and choose any title they wish. Cynical? Yes! I’ve had to put up with the label of ‘Christian feminist!’ for many years."
9) [From a lady calling herself a home executive] "Do women in the AOG of Australia feel the need for recognition? Do they feel like a sore toe? What about the body of Christ that we supposedly make up? Are we all to be leaders? What does God think of these questions? Was this drawn up with prayer? Do women here in the church really feel discriminated against? By whom? By God? I believe there are greater needs in the world today to address: #1 is lost souls! Come on, church, wake up!! "
10) [From a homemaker] "When I preach on a Sunday night, I often struggle with the whole concept of a woman teaching men. This is centered on the different roles & natures of men & women. I genuinely believe that where a man is available to teach & preach to the men of a congregation as well as a woman, then he should be given precedence. This is because women can tend to let their emotions take over which can be off-putting for the men. My senior pastor’s comment for that is "get over it" which is singularly unhelpful. I think we need some good teaching on this as I doubt I am the only confused woman in the AOG. "
11) [From a wife and mother] "If I might make an extra comment. While I believe the AOG has never excluded women from ministry positions because they are women, I do also believe that it is more difficult for women to gain these positions than men. The reasons for this are many. Probably the most significant reason in my understanding is that family responsibilities fall upon the shoulders of the mother, & that many women are excluded from pursuing their callings during the child bearing and raising years. This is just a fact (single, unmarried women may find it easier to pursue their callings than their married friends, & do seem to). Furthermore, while in theory women are not excluded from these positions, I do believe that if a man and a woman with similar giftings, experience etc are considered for a position, the man will be offered the position ahead of the woman, because he is a man. If there is no man to be considered the woman would receive the offer without hesitation, and if the woman is obviously a much better choice she will receive it, but all else being equal, a man would be chosen ahead of a woman (so in that sense her gender may go against her). "
12) [From a minister’s wife and homemaker] "When you are in the pastorate you hear many stories. Some of those involve women being discriminated against in ministry because of their gender. Fortunately all fellowships within the AOG are autonomous & for every male in leadership who is sexist, there are many who are not."
13) [From a senior minister] "I could predict that the times will change with the next generation. There is a lot more tolerance & acceptance & understanding amongst younger males & females of women in leadership roles in the church. In fact I have found they take it for granted. I would like to add that the lack of tolerance comes just as much from females as males – I’m not certain why. "
14) [From a pastor] "I am a woman pastor, I have been a senior minister. I have always been encouraged never discouraged by executive members, on the basis of gender. "
15) [From a student] "Our church runs a program called fascinating womanhood – hence the pastor does not teach on women in ministry/leadership. The program leaves women feeling their place is in the home not in ministry."
16) [From a home maker] "Women in leadership & in authority is a very contentious issue. Whilst it is true that in Christ we are equal, the two sexes have basic differences, like it or not. I believe that women can make good leaders, but that overall authority, the final word, should rest with a man. I say this because it has been my experience that women in general make poor disciplinarians. One only has to look at the children of absent fathers to realize this. Excuses and a lowering of expectations are the norm. Whoever would rule the church must be able to rule their family. In closing, I enjoy ministry, yet I recognize that God gave me a feminine side & that cold hard rules are better enforced by men. "
Remaining Problems and Questions
After any major research project, holes in the research and gaps in the conclusions become apparent. "If only I could do it all again, I would do this part differently . . ." is a commonly voiced frustration. My own can be listed as follows:
· Do the conclusions drawn from all this, hold true in other states of Australia? My own instincts tell me they do, but it has not been demonstrated.
· Did people write what they thought should be written? Or did they write what they really believed? Even though the questionnaire was anonymous, there is always a powerful dynamic that goes on when filling in forms. Are the respondents really writing their deeply held convictions, or rather their perceived convictions? Are people sometimes self deluded? (The sort of people who say: "Of course I believe in equality but . . ."). Are some people giving answers that they technically feel they should believe and therefore want to convince themselves that they do believe, but women around them would argue that they don’t really hold to those stated views in practice?
· Because the questionnaire was anonymous, we can’t know which of the 170 senior pastors filled it in and which did not. 77 of the 522 responses came back from people who identified themselves as senior pastors. But that means 93 senior ministers who received the parcel did not. That could be an indication that 93 parcels got tossed in the bin, and so the sample would them be a sample of less than half the AOG churches in the state at that time. What would the results have been if the other 93 pastors had filled out the questionnaire? More negative towards women in ministry and leadership? Or more positive? I suspect that the more positive ones filled in the forms and the more negative ones did not, but I can’t prove that. I suspect that the findings are in reality a lot more positive than they really are in the real life experiences of women in most AOG churches. But until another questionnaire is done that nets all the churches and all the senior ministers, we can not say that with certainty.
Why are there so few women senior leaders in the AOG Churches?
Getting past the limitations of the survey, let us now draw some conclusions/speculations about the reality regarding senior women leaders in the AOG in Victoria and Australia. Why are there so few? Possible reason may be located in the structure of the AOG Church as a whole; the structure of the local church; the way our ministers and those who teach in churches, handle and interpret the Bible; and social realities (acknowledged or not).
1) The Structure of the Assemblies of God movement.
Only the executive of the state invites people to the ordained ministerial level, usually on the recommendation or agreement of a local church pastor. Until late 1998, the State Executive of AOG (Vic) has been 100 percent male. In late 1998, at the State National meeting, history occurred when one of the then seven female senior pastors (Pastor Melinda Dwight), was elected. A second factor is that people can not apply personally for the credential. One has to be a Probationary minister for at least two years (and often more) and that can only be done on the invitation of an ordained minister (which is nearly always a man). In this case, the question is not only ‘is this a person a fit minister?’ but ‘do I want to work with a woman on my staff?’ These factors in themselves should not necessarily be a problem. If all the ministers on the State executive genuinely believed in the gender equality statements in the Minister’s Manual, all would be fine. But such is not the case. And if all local ministers of the churches, who nominate future ministers, accepted the gender inclusive intent of the movement, nominations for ministerial credentials would not be a serious gender issue. But again, such is not necessarily the case. The diversion of talented women onto SMC’s and progression of talented men onto PMC’s must worsen the problem in the immediate future. When a conscious and reflective decision is made to ask the question: "What level should this man or women be credentialed at?" for every applicant, only then will there be more potential for positive change.
2) The structure of the local church
While the structure of the executive hierarchy has an influence on the participation of women in leadership, so does the structure of the local assembly. The local Assemblies of God congregation is typically established by a founding "church planter." This is usually an individual who testifies to a call to start a church. Some churches begin as "daughter" churches, founded by an already-established church. Even then, one key person will become the senior pastor. In both founding church scenarios, the senior pastor does not have to be credentialed in any way, but can apply for credentials if and as the new church becomes established. This could be a way for more women to become ministers in the movement, since it is a way that an individual can make the state executive consider their application for credentials16. (Whether or not the State Executive then credentials the person, and at what level of credential, is still dependent on the State Executive, of course). But note: the structure of the Local Church is determined entirely by the founding pastor. This is critical. Nearly every Assemblies of God congregation in Victoria and Australia is run the same way: the senior pastor (credentialed or not) has total control of what goes on it the church. If the church has a constitution, (and not all have troubled themselves with one), then the constitution will nearly always give the senior pastor full control of the church. Because the founder writes the constitution, the founder will protect their "vision" and their "goals" for the church by writing that control into the document. If there are elders, or associate ministers or assistant ministers, or a board, the normal pattern will be for the pastor to nominate and select these people. And the board and elders will usually have no voting power over the senior pastor. If the congregation is allowed to vote on who should be the elders or board members, the constitution will be such that the senior pastor will nominate the people to be voted for, and then the final authority in decision making will always be in the hands of the person at the top. The board or body of elders will not be able to overrule any decision of the senior pastor. Even the model constitution officially supplied by the Victorian/ Tasmanian Assemblies of God, reinforces this pattern. When this structural phenomenon is added to the other problems of poor understanding of Biblical teaching, and male ministers recommending other people for ministerial credentials, it suggests a reason as to why there are not many women in leadership. An unconscious "boys club" can be in operation, even without the male leaders being aware of it. Indeed, they would be horrified at the suggestion that such is the case. But societal habits picked up over a lifetime, are hard to break.
3) The perceived meaning of specific passages of the Bible that reinforce the idea that "men should be leaders".
The Christian Bible is made up of many hundreds of pages, including scores of references to men and women. But there is one sentence that is consistently used to keep women out of leadership: "I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, she must be silent" (I Timothy 2:12 NIV). This one verse more than any other is understood to say that women can not be in leadership in a church.17 The issue is bigger than one sentence: it is all about how ministers and teachers in the Assemblies of God perceive and interpret the Bible. Issues surface that have to do with the authority of the Bible and infallibility of the text, but even more than that: issues of hermeneutics, or how one interprets Biblical writings, also surface. Even if two ministers agree that the Bible is, in their understanding, "the Word of God" and "infallible", they might still disagree on how to interpret it. Should the history and culture of the times be evaluated and considered? Should the broader context of the passage be investigated, and not just the words of one sentence standing alone? Should we go back to the original text – the Greek for the New Testament writings – and see if the English translation has missed any ambiguities or alternative readings? Should we consider other references made by Paul to women, and evaluate them all to see if we need to qualify this statement? Most Bible teachers and scholars would answer "Yes" to every one of those questions. Bible teachers and scholars, even in the Assemblies of God, would then interpret the verse quoted above in a cautious and qualified – and even radically different way – to its surface appearance with no surrounding context. (Indeed there is a very strong argument that the passage was limited to a temporary problem in Ephesus and that it was never intended to be a permanent instruction for all churches for all time18). But most Assemblies of God ministers are not Bible Scholars and would probably not answer ‘yes’ to the above questions. "If it’s in the Bible it is good enough for me" is not an uncommon phrase heard among Assemblies of God people and ministers. Very significant hermeneutical questions are hardly given a thought. Indeed, there is a whole volume of theological writings that contribute to a significantly different conclusion to that reached by simply taking a sentence out of context and insisting on what is then called a "literal" interpretation. Despite this, such literalism seems to flourish in Assemblies of God churches.
4) Social realities
If women leave active ministry to have children, the time elements in the Ministers manual mean that they often lose their OMC after two years; or their PMC after 1 year. This also applies to men, but men generally do not leave full time ministry to have a family. There is a commonly heard criticism of women in leadership when they also have children. It goes like this: "How could they try to do all that work in the ministry – they must be neglecting their children. They are not being good mothers." One almost never hears the same being said of men who are ministers and who have families. Men are allowed to find the call of God for their lives and be dads at the same time. Men are rarely questioned (at least outside the literature of pastoral theology) about the dual roles they have to juggle (career/calling and parenting). But if a women seeks to do both, somehow she has betrayed her very being. While such attitudes persist, they contribute to the lopsided reality of men being the overwhelming majority of leaders in the movement. And women with the gifts and the call of God to do the task sometimes don’t.
Working with the above statistics, it is possible to conclude that between a third and a half of all the current leaders and members in our AOG churches in Victoria, do not believe that women should be leaders in the local church. Ministry is one thing, but leadership is another. Deeply held convictions are such that nearly half of the men and women in our churches think it is God’s plan and purpose to have men in charge. Women can minister in other capacities, but a large proportion of our congregations just do not believe that women should have final authority. This must cause trauma for many women who seek to fulfil what they perceive to be God’s call upon their lives.
The challenge is now in the camp of those committed to the view that God gives gifts according to His will and purpose and not according to gender. This group should be challenged to better teach the Scripture and demonstrate the flaws in the opposition’s arguments. It is not enough to appeal to what is "fair" or "just" (as important as those issues are) – members of AOG churches want explanations to be "Biblical" too. Of course, even then, we still have to overcome some people’s lifetime of traditional hermeneutics and biases.19 But good sound teaching and persuasive arguments will help. So too will the testimony of successful women ministers. Indeed, sometimes actions speak a lot louder than the best words, and men (and some women) who see terrific ministry being done by women leaders do end up changing their view in the light of empirical evidence.
Appendix 1: Levels of Ordination in the AOG
For the complete list of questionnaires sent out to churches, please contact the author. The following table focuses on the Assemblies of God churches in Victoria, and considers the different levels of Ordination available in that Church, and just how many men and women hold the various credentials.
1: Main credentials of the Assemblies of God.20
What it permits one to do.
Total No. hold-ing it
Ordained Ministerial Certificate. (OMC)
men and women.
she can be invited . .”
Highest level of ordination. Can perform weddings and can be elected to State and National Executives. Recognised Australia wide
the holder leaves active ministry, it lapses after two years.
Application for this credential can only be made by the State Executive Presbytery.
men and women.
she will be under the oversight . . .”
May pastor any type of church. Recognised in the state of issue.
Ceasing ministry, will see this lapse at the end of the year the ministry ceased in.
men and women.
she” is under “the oversight of . .”
It recognises a specialised gifting such as Music Ministry, Administration, Pastoral Care, etc. There is no longer any automatic review that might lift a person from this level to one of the above two levels.
Until 1999, it was “given to those who wish to enter preaching and Pastoral ministry but are considered to be inexperienced or uncertain of their call.” (p.11.4). But not so any longer.
men and women.
“This . . . is designed for people who need some form of recognition . . .”
Not part of the church ministry team, nor expected to proceed to higher levels of ordination.
not vote at any conferences, state or national. It does not proceed to any
other level of credential.
Considered to be “of a temporary nature.” (p.11.6). And “Not specifically part of the church’s oversight” and “without sufficient responsibility of authority to require a SMC or PMC.” (11.6). They should not be called “Pastor” or “Minister” (p.11.7).
1. See Appendix for the table of the churches that were sent questionnaires.
2. Technically, the Assemblies of God churches are an association of independent churches, not a denomination. Fierce debates have been held over the century concerning the issue of officially being a "denomination" or an association of independent churches, and the discussions are not ended. But even if the term "denomination" is not officially used by some, the reality is that the organisation works as if it were a fully recognised denomination. The term "denomination" will be used throughout this paper.
3. Assemblies of God Victoria/Tasmania, Minister’s Manual, 15 June 1994, chapter 11 page 1.
4. At the time of sending out the questionnaire, the Victorian/Tasmanian State Administration was undergoing discussions towards separating and creating a distinct Tasmanian Executive. Until then, Assemblies of God churches in the state of Tasmania, had been under the administrative umbrella of Victoria. It is now separate.
5. See Barry Chant’s Heart of Fire, S.A.: Tabor Publications, rev. ed. 1997, p. 265.
6. Elaine Storkey, "The Feminist Case Against God" in Kathy Keay (ed.) Men Women and God, UK: Marshall Pickering, 1987, p. 5.
7. Storkey in Keay, p. 7.
8. Storkey in Keay, p. 12.
9. Elaine Storkey, What’s Right With Feminism, London, Great Britain: SPCK 1985, pp. 47-48.
10. Langely, "The Ordination of Women" in Keay, p. 80.
11. Julia Duin, "Women in the Pulpit" Charisma and Christian Life, Vol. 20, No. 4 (November 1994):26.
12. Phone conversation with Pastor Iann Fenn from the State Office of the Assemblies of God Church in Vctoria. Oct 1997.
13. This question is no longer accurate of course, but it was when the questionnaire was produced.
14. Naturally this will be a radically small sample of some of the results of the questionnaire. The questionnaire was originally designed to be a part of a PhD thesis. A book could be written on the data and its implications.
15. There are numerous speculations as to why some women work and teach against women being leaders in the church. Included in a short list of reasons would be: some women are happy with what power they have and they don’t want to disrupt the status quo; some women might not want certain other women to be leaders over them; some women have had a lifetime of suppression of their gifts – they may be very hesitant at the thought of other women being allowed freedoms they never enjoyed; some women may be firmly committed to the teaching of male leadership and genuinely persuaded by the arguments they have heard over the years; some women may be likewise persuaded that the woman’s role is motherhood and being a supportive spouse, and that this cannot be done alongside major ministry commitments; and some women may be happy to abrogate responsibility to others (just as some men are).
16. Technically, any man or woman can apply for a credential, but unless the senior pastor of the church they are in endorses it with a reference, the chance is slim that the application will translate into reality. The State Executive will receive applications from anyone, but would be reluctant to give a credential to a person without local pastoral support. Naturally there has to be wise discernment before giving anyone a credential, and pastoral checks are an important tool. But if a local pastor is inclined to be opposed to women in leadership, another hurdle is seen to exist for some gifted and talented women to jump.
17. This verse has caused considerable consternation for women in the church over the centuries, and for men who have advocated the cause of equality in the Church as well. When early Methodism and some of its offshoots were permitting women to preach and be ordained, they had trouble with other Christians over this text. W.B. Godbey, a Methodist evangelist in the late 19th century, wrote a pro-women pamphlet in 1891 entitled Woman Preacher. He is quoted: "I don’t know a Scripture in all the Bible by whose perversion the devil has dragged more souls into hell than this." Quoted by D.W & L.S. Dayton, "Women as Preachers: Evangelical Precedents" in Christianity Today, Vo. XIX, No. 17 (May 23, 1975), p. 6.
18. Regarding the Pauline statement quoted above, (and one or two other favourite sentences in the Bible that are also used to suppress women in the Church) Andrew Kirk makes a similar comment when writes: "It is not so clear, however, whether a cluster of texts from Paul’s pen are designed to be universally valid principles or culturally conditioned injunctions, elaborated to meet a specific set of circumstances." "Theology from a Feminist Perspective", in Keay, p. 33. And as Val Webb writes: "Doctrines that have managed to convince women [and men] for centuries that their voice is less legitimate than men’s have been woven very tightly and need much unravelling to tease out the knots." Why We’re Equal: Introducing Feminist Theology, Missouri, Chalice Press, 1999, p.x.
19. To be fair, that would be true of us all!
20. The information in this table describing each level of credential, has been taken from material in the Assemblies of God Victoria/Tasmania, Minister’s Manual, June 1994, pp. 11.2-11.7. There is a fifth level of credential on a similar "level" to the SMC, but it is so rarely used that it is not even mentioned in the Minister’s Manual. It is the AMC – the Associate Minister’s Certificate. It is given to some people who are not members of the AOG, but who work for us in some significant capacity, that has influence over members. (Conversation with Ps. Ian Kruithoff - a previous Church Planting Committee member for Victoria - on June 22nd 1998). The 1998 Directory, confirmed that there were only 3 people on that credential in early 1998 in Victoria. All the statistical data in the table is calculated from that Directory: The 1998 Directory Mitcham, Vic: AOG Publications, 1998.
21. This level of credential is actually critically important, since it is this level that people usually "enter in on" if they are to be fully ordained at some point in the future (Minister’s Manual p.11.3).
22. This level is not as significant as it once was. Up until 1999, one could graduate upwards from here to the PMC and hence be in a position to be evaluated and considered for full ordination. The national conference of 1999 voted to change this and it no longer automatically articulates.
© Southern Cross College, 2003