Five Minutes with Carol Lawson
What steps is the Commission on Biblical Gender Equality taking to assist churches in their work of affirming women in ministry?
In the fifteen years since the commission was formed, we have seen growth in the number of women who are serving Covenant churches as pastors. But we still hear stories of women being dismissed by their colleagues. There are still churches that are not open to even considering a woman—even though we have great advocacy from the superintendents. I know we still have some churches where women can’t serve communion.
The prophet Deborah was a leader who settled disputes among the Israelites and who spoke the word of the Lord to them. So we decided to create Project Deborah—a leadership initiative where the church can listen to stories of our clergy women who have been mentored and encouraged in their call to ministry to use their gifts just as Deborah did. The idea is to encourage pastors and churches to ask, “Who are the women, the Deborahs, in your church that you could disciple? Who could you develop or help provide an opportunity to discern their own call?”
What obstacles do we continue to face?
There are pieces that are just plain tradition in certain congregations. There’s one perspective that says, “I don’t know any pastors who are women.” For some, there isn’t enough visibility to even imagine women as pastors.
For some it’s how they read Scripture. They don’t see this idea as biblically based—even with the denomination’s Called and Gifted materials, which explain the biblical basis for the Covenant’s policy. Some people stumble over the difficult texts. But we also know there are people who say, “I don’t like women in ministry, but you’re okay.”
What specific things do you recommend churches do to better promote women in leadership?
I talked to a pastor today who said, “I’ve got a seventy-six-year-old woman in my congregation who’s wondering about her call. She can’t go to seminary, but I thought, Hey, I need someone to help me visit the sick in the community.” That’s what we’re trying to encourage people to do.
It’s important to disciple gifted and called women in our midst. One way to do that is to establish a mentoring program. Another thing is to identify and affirm giftedness. When we see a young woman or a mature woman in our congregation, we come alongside them and say, “Wow, God is really using you in this way.” Then we make space for women to be in places where they can live into those gifts and learn about where they are gifted and where they are not.
It’s also so important to teach—whether in sermons or in lessons—about women who have served God courageously. It’s important for people to know this is biblical—it’s not a reaction to secular culture. God has always been calling women in this way.
We have been ordaining women for forty years. Now we’re asking what are the next ten years going to be like? If we don’t continue to make significant progress, we will have failed the young girls in our churches.
Just for fun, what books are on your nightstand?
I read mystery novels—Louise Penny, Lisa Scottoline, Henning Mankell. That’s what motivates me to get up in the morning and exercise. I listen to audio books on the elliptical.