Women in Ministry Leadership- MB resolutions

Mennonite Brethren General Conference Resolution, 1879
Mennonite Brethren General Conference Resolution, 1957
Canadian Mennonite Brethren Conference Resolution, 1975
Mennonite Brethren General Conference Resolution, 1981
Mennonite Brethren General Conference Statement of Counsel, 1984
Mennonite Brethren General Conference Resolution, 1987
Mennonite Brethren General Conference Proposed Resolution (Defeated), 1993
Mennonite Brethren General Conference Resolution, 1999
MB Church of Manitoba Resolution, 2003
BFL Resolution on Women in Ministry Leadership, 2006

Mennonite Brethren General Conference Resolution
Sister’s Participation
General Conference Yearbook, 1879, 4
That sisters may take part in church activities as the Holy Spirit leads. However, they should not preach nor take part in discussion in business meetings of the church.

Mennonite Brethren General Conference Resolution
Ordaining, Commissioning, and Licensing of Workers
General Conference Yearbook, 1957, 106
C.  That in view of the fact that we as an MB Church, on the basis of clearly conceived scriptural convictions, do not admit sisters to the public gospel preaching ministry on par with brethren, we as a Conference designate the fact of setting aside sisters to missionary work “a commissioning” rather than “an ordination.”

Canadian Mennonite Brethren Conference Resolution
Role of Women in Conference and Church Ministries (Revised Resolution)
Canadian Conference Yearbook, 1975, 106
The Scriptures teach that men and women “are joint heirs of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). They also record the significant role women filled as fellow workers in the early church (Romans 16; Philippians 2:2–3). However, several biblical texts also put strictures on the place of the woman in the church (1 Corinthians 14; 1 Timothy 2) on the basis of which we must recognize a distinction between the function of men and women in the church. God’s creation order has not been abrogated by redemption.

Be it therefore resolved:

  1. That the Canadian Conference of MB Churches go on record as not favouring the ordination of women for the preaching and pastoral ministry nor their election to Boards and offices whose work is of the nature of eldership, such as the Board of Spiritual and Social Concerns, and the Board of Reference and Counsel or its equivalent.
  2. That the Canadian Conference declare women eligible to be elected as delegates to Conferences and to church and Conference Boards and Committees other than those referred to in recommendation #1.

Mennonite Brethren General Conference Resolution
Ministry of the Women in the Church
General Conference Yearbook, 1981, 46–47
Many churches are asking whether we as Mennonite Brethren have been faithful to the Scriptures by restricting certain ministries in the church to men only. The Canadian Board of Spiritual and Social Concerns brought a resolution on this matter to the Canadian Conference some five years ago. Since then the question has come up repeatedly at both local and conference levels and BORAC put it on the agenda for the study conference last May in Clearbrook, B.C. In view of the continuing debate on this matter we would like to present the following concerns and proposals to our General Conference.

  1. We should be careful not to take our models for the husband/wife relationship and for the place of the woman in the church from the current feminist movement, which is largely secular in orientation. We recognize, of course, that movements in society at times force students of the Bible to ask whether they have understood the Scriptures correctly, but the church must always hold a critical stance toward such movements, including also Christian interpretations which have denied Christian women their rightful place in family, church and society.
  2. We would caution against those modern currents of thought which tend to minimize the significance of a woman’s high calling to be a wife and a mother to her children, and we should do all that we can to strengthen the family and to establish it on biblical principles.
  3. We, as men, confess that we have not always loved our wives and honored them as we should. However, we believe that the Scriptures teach that “the husband is the head of the wife.” and that a wife’s submission to a loving husband is in no way demeaning. True fulfillment comes to both husband and wife when they seek to serve one another, and to be submissive one to another (Ephesians 5:21, “and be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”), rather than in the desire for equality or even superiority. This, however, does not mean that we condone any form of oppression (either of men or women) in our society.
  4. We recognize that the language of Scripture reflects the patriarchal societies in which the Bible emerged. We should not, however, sit in judgment over Scripture, for God’s Word was given for all times and all cultures. It should be understood that when words such as “brother,” “brotherhood” and the like are used for the believers that these terms include also the sisters. Therefore, we should not accuse those who use this biblical patriarchal language in teaching and preaching, of being anti-feminist. On the other hand we should avoid using sexist language that offends.
  5. We acknowledge the great contribution of our sisters to the work of the Lord in local church, in mission fields, and other areas of kingdom work, and we encourage our churches to continue to discover and to draw upon the spiritual resources found in our sisters for various ministries in the church and in the world. This may also include participation in local church and conference ministries, if the local church so chooses.
  6. We do not hold that the reciprocal relationship between male and female, as established in creation, has been annulled by redemption. We do believe that the Bible’s teaching on the headship of the husband has a bearing on the place of the woman in the church. We do not hold that the passages in the New Testament (such as 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2), which put restrictions on the Christian woman, have become irrelevant, even thought they were given in a different cultural context and, therefore, do need to be re-applied. And while we recognize that women played a significant role in the early church – something we would encourage them to do in our day as well – we do not believe that the Mennonite Brethren Church should ordain women to pastoral leadership.

Mennonite Brethren General Conference Statement of Counsel
Ministry of Women in our Churches
General Conference Yearbook, 1984, 75–76
Times change! So do insights and understandings as we keep the Bible open, and allow the Spirit of God to instruct us. The thinking of our brotherhood has changed greatly over the years regarding the ministry of women in our churches, and in our conferences. Contrast, for example, the resolutions of 1879 and 1981:

  • 1879: “That sisters may take part in church activities as the Holy Spirit leads. However, they should not preach nor take part in discussion in business meetings in the church.”
  • 1981: “We acknowledge the great contribution of our sisters to the work of the Lord in local church, in mission fields, and other areas of kingdom work, and we encourage our churches to continue to discover and to draw upon the spiritual resources found in our sisters for various ministries in the church and in the world. This may also include participation in local church and conference ministries, if the local church so chooses.”

The 1981 resolution on the place of women in the church has, of course, been quoted only in part. The rather lengthy resolution closes with the words, “We do not believe that the Mennonite Brethren Church should ordain women to pastoral leaderships.” The minutes of the conference discussions on this matter conclude as follows: “In response to a considerable number of negative comments from the floor, the moderator declared that the intent of the resolution was to encourage the expanded involvement of women in the work of the church, not to limit their ministry” (General Conference Yearbook, 1981, pp. 46–47).

We wrestle with culture, tradition, but particularly with a variety of interpretations, and authentic ones, of the pertinent biblical passages which speak to the subject of women’s ministry in the church.

Since our last convention the Board of Reference and Counsel has continued some discussion on this subject. This has not a settled issue among us, and this question should receive continued study and consideration in the future. Guidance is needed as we recognize that more women will graduate with seminary degrees who will be available for ministries in churches. We encourage churches and our conferences to be open to their services.

In view of the current need for further study regarding this matter the Board of Reference and Counsel suggests that the following steps be taken:

  1. We urge that the resolution on the “Ministry of the Women in the Church” adopted by the General Conference in 1981, be followed and observed until such a time as the Board of Reference and Counsel and the conference can agree on further guidelines relative to this matter.
  2. We urge churches, as we did in 1981, “to continue to discover and to draw upon the spiritual resources found in our sisters for various ministries in the church and in the world.” More encouragement and more open doors for service should be give to our sisters.
  3. The Board of Reference and Counsel intends to expand the resolution of 1981 and come to the next convention with a report of its findings.

Mennonite Brethren General Conference Resolution
Women in Ministry (Revised Resolution)
General Conference Yearbook, 1987, 46–47
The Board of Reference and Counsel submitted a resolution in 1981 that was designed to affirm and free women for ministry in the church. The resolution was interpreted as too negative by the conference delegates. BORAC was mandated in 1981 and again in 1984 to prepare a more affirmative statement. BORAC submits the following resolution for approval and implementation in our churches:

We believe that God created both men and women in his image, and therefore both share an equal humanity before God (Genesis 1:27).

We believe that Christians are joint heirs with Christ, and therefore both women and men experience full salvation in him (Galatians 3:28).

We believe that the Spirit grants gifts to all believers, irrespective of gender, for diverse ministries both in the church and in the world, and therefore both men and women minister God’s grace (1 Peter 4:10).

We believe that God calls all women and men to serve in the church and in the world; we also believe he calls some women, as well as some men, for ministries within the context of the church (Acts 2:17, 18; Ephesians 4:11ff; Romans 12:4–8; 1 Peter 4:10).

We believe that since God has gifted and called both men and women, the church should recognize and affirm them in their ministry for the common good of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7; Romans 16:1–6).

We encourage our churches to free and affirm women for ministries in the church, at home and abroad, in decision-making, evangelizing, teaching, counseling, encouragement, music, youth visitations, etc.

BORAC recommends a careful biblical study process by our congregations on the role and ministry of women in the church, and has commissioned the preparation of a book and study guide of all relevant biblical passages.

In the meantime, the guidelines of the 1981 resolution remain in effect.

Mennonite Brethren General Conference Proposed Resolution (Defeated)
Women in Leadership
General Conference Yearbook, 1993, 33–35

Terms of reference
The Board of Faith and Life recommends the approval of Recommendation 4, Women in Leadership, with the following terms of reference:

  1. That we understand the recommendation as a mediating and interim solution to diversity and disagreement in the denomination, including this Board. The Board’s intent with this resolution is to act in a pastoral manner.
  2. That we understand the issue of women in ministry as a polity issue that is based in disagreements about biblical interpretation. It does not involve a historical central theological teaching of the Christian church (e.g.. Christology, salvation).
  3. That this resolution supersedes the 1981 and 1987 resolutions.
  4. That if a local church calls a woman to leading pastoral ministry, that affirmation is for that local church.
  5. That this recommendation does not address the question of ordination of women to pastoral ministry. Reflection on this issue will be part of the ’94 Denver Consultation on ordination and authority in ministry.
  6. That the Board of Faith and Life be authorized to work out some of the practical implications and issues of the recommendation (e.g. licensing, pastoral support systems) in consultation with district and provincial boards of faith and life.
  7. That the Board of Faith and Life work on the continued study of the issues and the processing of disagreements with the goal of greater consensus and unity.

Preamble
The subject of gender, ministry and leadership has been on the agenda of the Mennonite Brethren Church in North America for 20 years. As the debate concerning “women and ministry” developed in the 1970’s, the Canadian Conference endorsed the appointment of women to service on committees, church councils and as conference delegates but not for preaching, pastoring or functioning as “elders.” In 1981 the General Conference Board of Reference and Counsel presented its resolution on “The Place of Women in the Church.” Responding to this resolution, the convention delegates agreed that women should be encouraged to play significant roles in Mennonite Brethren congregations, but that they should not be ordained to pastoral leadership. The 1984 report of the Board reaffirmed the 1981 decision but also urged that “more encouragement and more open doors for service should be given to our sisters.” This exhortation to open more ministry opportunities for women was made more specific by the Board in 1987, and women were affirmed for decision-making, evangelizing, teaching and preaching, pastoral counseling and serving as associate pastors, but not as a senior pastor or leading elder. Convention delegates, however, were not prepared to accept wording which invited women to preach or serve in associate pastoral roles, but they did agree to female participation in “decision-making, evangelizing, teaching, counseling, encouragement, music, youth, visitations, etc.” Delegates also approved the preparation of a book dealing with all the relevant passages relating to the subject women and ministry, and agreed that “in the meantime, the guidelines of the 1981 resolution remain in effect.” A 1990 Board recommendation to approve the ordination or licensing of women specifically for chaplaincy ministries was not presented to the convention for decision.

As the Conference considered these actions and resolutions over the years a parallel process of study and discernment went forward. Studies by Mennonite Brethren leaders such as Ed Boschman, David Ewert, Tim Geddert, Allan Guenther, George Konrad, Howard Loewen, Herb Swartz, and John E. Toews were either presented at study conferences or published. In the spring of 1992, the book approved in 1987 was published under the title Your Daughters Shall Prophesy. For a year, congregations have been encouraged to study the question, and all the pastors of the General Conference have been polled for their response to the book and their views on the subject of women in ministry and leadership. At this stage in the study process, the General Conference Board of Faith and Life presents the following recommendation:

Recommendation 4:

The Mennonite Brethren Church has formally discussed the role of women in ministry since 1974. All study conferences and resolutions have affirmed the giftedness of women for ministry. All churches are blessing women for ministry within the congregation.

During the past triennium, Mennonite Brethren have again in good faith examined the biblical material and arrived at different and sometimes opposing views on the question of women in leadership. Despite our efforts, we are unable to come to consensus on the issue at this time. For these reasons, let us agree that neither this matter, nor the various convictions regarding it, shall be used to question or doubt one another’s Christian integrity and faithfulness. We covenant that this issue shall not be a test of our faithfulness to Christ. We also resolve not to break the bond of fellowship with one another on this issue but to allow for diversity of conviction and practice in the appointment of women to pastoral leadership in ways that are consistent with the governance patterns of the local congregation.

Added amendment
We resolve to continue in prayerful study of Scriptures and affirm that the Bible remain authoritative and normative for the local congregation also in this area. We will continue to seek consensus in our Biblical interpretation.

BFL statement (after the vote):
Yesterday’s vote on the recommendation regarding women in senior pastoral leadership left several questions. Some have expressed hope that the matter has been settled for the present. People have asked us to allow the matter to rest for a while and we consider that to be wise counsel. Still, some questions need to be answered:

  1. How does our decision affect the 1981 resolution?
  2. How does our decision affect mission and evangelism to women and men in our culture?
  3. Where does this leave women who have been gifted, called, and affirmed by the church to exercise leadership as non-senior pastors?

We agree that we continue in prayerful study of the Scriptures and affirm that the Bible remain authoritative and normative for us. We will continue to seek consensus in our biblical interpretation.

We also continue to affirm the 1981 resolution. We understand this to mean that women are encouraged to minister in the church in every function other than the senior pastorate. It also means that women are invited to exercise leadership on conference boards, in pastoral staff positions, and in our congregations, institutions and agencies. We ask them to minister as gifted, called and affirmed.

We encourage the church to be increasingly alert to the gifts of women and to become more active in calling them to minister. We, furthermore, call people in the Spirit of Christ to relate to one another in mutual respect as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Mennonite Brethren General Conference Resolution
Women in Leadership
General Conference, 1999
That women be encouraged to minister in the church in every function other than the lead pastorate. The church is to invite women to exercise leadership on Conference boards, in pastoral staff positions and in our congregations, institutions, and agencies. We ask women to minister as gifted, called and affirmed. We call the church to be increasingly alert to the gifts of women and to become more active in calling them to minister. We further call people in the Spirit of Christ to related to one another in mutual respect as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Implications:

  1. The 1981 resolution regarding ordination of women remains in effect.
  2. Conference leadership roles should be open to men and women equally. If necessary, changes should be made in the structures by which boards are selected to facilitate service by gifted women.
  3. Local congregations are called to free women to give leadership and service in all positions other than the lead pastorate.
  4. Members of the Mennonite Brethren church are to pray for growing unity in biblical understanding and in the practice of affirming leaders.
  5. Leaders are called to open the informal networks so that all members of leadership groups serve as full partners without any form of prejudicial exclusion from their inner workings, whether intentional or not, because of race, gender, age, or ethnicity.

MB Church of Manitoba Resolution
Leadership and Gender in the MB Church of Manitoba
MB Church of Manitoba Yearbook, 2003

Resolution
“We call our people in the Spirit of Christ to relate to one another in mutual respect as sisters and brothers in Christ.”

Furthermore, “We invite men and women to exercise leadership on Conference boards, in pastoral staff positions and in our congregations, institutions and agencies. We ask them to minister as gifted, called and affirmed.”

And finally, “We call the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba to be increasingly alert to the gifts of women and men, and to become more active in calling and blessing them to minister in all areas of church life.”

Please note:

  • This ballot will not change our practice in the immediate future. The results will be passed on to BFL for their consideration in the hope that the Canadian Conference will deal with this matter accordingly.
  • The MBCM Executive Committee’s preferred position is to adopt the above resolution which is consistent with the 1993 General Conference resolution. (In 1993, a watershed year on this issue, a motion to “allow for diversity of conviction and practice in the appointment of women to pastoral leadership in ways that are consistent with the governance patterns of the local congregation,” was defeated by almost a 2-to-1 ratio.)