David Wiebe, Executive Director
At Gathering 2006 in Calgary, delegates discussed and voted on the resolution concerning women in ministry leadership. I believe that God was very present in the discussion. One breakout during Gathering invited people to consider how we discuss and decide controversial issues. This was important as we tried to teach and practice the principle of “speaking truth in a loving manner.” Another breakout encouraged people to raise their concerns for their churches and our conference about the issue. Participants recognized that the biblical and theological components had been actively discussed over many years, especially in the last two years connected to Bible study symposia across Canada.
I also believe God led us in the voting procedure on the last day of Gathering. An hour was devoted to receiving input from the plenary body. Many spoke up. Some apologized for speaking somewhat harshly or stridently the day before. Others continued to express doubts and fears. Others endorsed the resolution. A very good spirit prevailed. 77% of the delegation affirmed the resolution. Many expressed prayers * of gratefulness, of concern for those who had fears, and for wisdom in proceeding.
All delegates received a sheet outlining the implications of this resolution. These are listed below.
The Board of Faith and Life (BFL) continues to seek appropriate ways for guiding the theology and doctrine of the Mennonite Brethren conference. A prayer request follows as well.
Once the biblical basis of an issue is determined, the churches are then challenged to apply the implications within their own settings in light of their mission and purposes. Many churches may elect to continue the practice of limiting or restricting the role of senior/lead pastor to men only as a function of their mission. Others may choose to open that position theoretically but it may take some time before the right candidate becomes available for their situation. Others may choose to implement openness immediately. A new church plant may decide to implement the polity immediately and begin with a female church planter. The BFL and Conference will not force any church to act beyond its understanding of how to fulfill its mission regarding this specific resolution. However, we do believe that the process leading up to this resolution and vote may be a model for churches to follow in matters of theological diversity and controversy.
The Conference will make a variety of helps available over the next year for churches needing to work out their policy and protocols in light of the new resolution.
- Reality, not moral failure nor biblical infidelity, nor spiritual immaturity dictates there will be many ways, not just one way of looking at the issue of the role of women in ministry leadership. “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister . . . Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Rom. 14:13, 19).
- In the spirit of unity (John 17:20, 21), the Board of Faith and Life requests that we all proceed with a raised awareness of the significance our decision has upon our collective witness to our communities and country. It is a unified church that advances the gospel (1 Cor. 8:12, 13; 10:23, 24).
- The role of women in ministry leadership has been previously discerned and treated as a non-confessional issue by previous convention and study conference delegations. It is the counsel of the present Board of Faith and Life that this issue remain at the level of polity.
- The purpose of this resolution is to empower congregations to exercise freedom of conscience before Christ in determining what leadership polity will reflect their faithfulness to the Word of God. The Board of Faith and Life encourages congregations to articulate the means and method of reaching that consensus for its members and adherents.
- As a matter of polity, the Board of Faith and Life requests all constituent members, leaders and congregations to exercise a spirit of unity, charity and respect for every church’s discerned ministry context, including its resolve regarding women in ministry leadership roles.
Please pray for our conference unity following the acceptance of the Board of Faith and Life resolution on women in ministry leadership in Calgary. In addition, pray that as churches engage in their unique responses to this challenge, they will clarify their mission to their communities, their awareness of community needs, and that as church bodies they will “mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).