I have heard a lot of people saying that the Adventist church does not support women pastors because of the recent vote not to allow women to be ordained. Many are questioning their membership in the SDA church because of it. So I want to set something straight. The support I have received as a woman pastor has been incredible. Here’s the gist:
1. At Union College my professors were nothing but supportive. They recognized God’s calling in my life and encouraged me to be a pastor.
2. At Andrews Theological Seminary we were constantly supported, defended, mentored, and put forward for employment.
3. In Carolina Conference I was given the privilege of pastoring and support and encouragement from the entire executive team.
4. My male colleagues in ministry have supported, encouraged, and sympathized when things were difficult, and before they were colleagues I was encouraged and given ministry opportunities in my local church by several different pastors. I was even asked to be and elder at 22.
5. The leadership at the North American Division has been actively encouraging women in ministry and has put in place a plan that will double the number of female pastors over the next 5 year.
6. Several Unions have absolutely put their necks on the line for us. They didn’t have to do that. It is unselfish and self-sacrificial.
7. Since the vote this week, I and other female pastors have received an overwhelming flood of love and support by fb, messages, texts, calls, tweets… It’s turned a difficult week into a joy.
Every level of the church has supported my ministry. My experience is common, not unique. I don’t want to make it sound as if it’s easy to be a female pastor. It is incredibly difficult. There are independent organizations and individuals that used to be dedicated to evangelism who have made it their mission to discredit the ministry of female pastors. It saddens me deeply. Jobs are still very difficult to come by. Poor assumptions are still made. It is undeniably difficult. Yet in that difficulty, there is overwhelming grace and love.
So why the vote? We are one of the most diverse organizations in the world. Those who live in patriarchal and misogynist cultures outnumber those in cultures who understand the full capability and value of women. Though God knows we in the West have many of our own problems, and their lives are a constant rebuke to us in so many ways. Yet in this they have made what many are convinced is a mistake, believing their patriarchy and misogyny are biblical and not trusting various divisions to make this determination on their own, but imposing these values on the world church. This decision is not the decision of your local church (though there are some sad exceptions to this) and certainly not of the North American Division. Before you leave, think about the fact that women in this church are encouraged in their calling. Even in areas that are patriarchal, women are given opportunities for education and advancement they would never receive if they were not Adventist. Even in China there are more female pastors than anywhere else in the Adventist world. There is opposition, but there is also progress.
Yes, you can choose to stop engaging with a church that has challenges because of its global reach, but then aren’t you just running away into your own Western bubble? That is neither noble nor helpful.
What would be helpful? Contact a female pastor you know. Thank her for her service. Tell her you are with her. Give women opportunities to speak and minister in your sphere of influence. Talk to your church and see if they would be willing to entertain the idea of a female pastor. If they are, ask them to let the conference know that you would love to have a female pastor at your church. Jobs are the most difficult challenge right now. If you are a male pastor, prayerfully consider requesting the same credentials your female colleagues receive. Encourage women to be elders in your church when you recognize that they are gifted to do so. Explain to your friends just how supported female pastors are in this church. Study the Bible and learn about the theology of ordination and leadership. Start with our churches most recent study here or something a little more digestible in this blog.
More importantly, we need your prayers. Pray for the leading of the Spirit. Pray for Adventists around the world to get on their knees then open their Bibles with the spirit of a seeker. Pray for those impacted by this vote. Pray for those making decisions about how to respond to this vote. Pray for your church. Pray that we can love each other well. Pray for wisdom about how you can make a difference. And don’t leave. Help us see this thing through.
Alicia Johnston is an obsessive reader, a poor guitar player, and a lover of sunshine. She recently served the Carolina Conference of Seventh-day Adventists as a church planting pastor and has relocated back home to Arizona. In a previous career she was a counselor and holds an MA in Clinical Psychology in addition to an MDiv. She got very tired of school before she was done.
This article first appeared on RoundTableTheology.com. Reprinted with permission,