I love to hear from you. Even when it’s hard for me to keep up with my email or comments (because hello: three tinies), even when my replies are longer arriving back to you and much shorter than I’d like, I love to read your words and put “stories” to the names of people who comment here.

I also get a lot of questions from folks, which is a tremendous honour. I am still a little surprised that people care about my opinion on things. I’m not an expert but I can share my own story. There isn’t always “one way” to do things or a necessarily right-wrong way to look at an issue.

So I thought that I might start a new thing here called Your Turn. I’ll take a question that has cropped up often in my email, generalize it to obscure details, and kick it out to you guys for an answer. This will be a bit of an experiment, I suppose, so let’s see how it goes.

your turnimage source

(For the sake of this question below, I’m using Carolyn Custis James’s definitions of the terms. Egalitarians “believe that leadership is not determined by gender but by the gifting and calling of the Holy Spirit, and that God calls all believers to submit to one another.” In contrast, complementarians “believe the Bible establishes male authority over women, making male leadership the biblical standard.” – from Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, p. 154.)

Here’s our question:

Our family is egalitarian but due to a lot of reasons, we attend a church that  is complementarian. They do NOT affirm women in ministry and there are no women in leadership at all. They also teach a more complementarian view of male-female relationships with a strong emphasis on the leadership or headship of men, particularly in the church and home. I can’t see this changing anytime soon. in fact, they seem even more dogmatic and committed to this stance these days. What should we do? Do you think that we can continue to stay here in this church while being in such disagreement on such a fundamental issue? Do we need to leave our church and find an egalitarian church? Or should we try to help expand or change the conversation from within? In a lot of ways, we love this church family, but this feels like a justice issue to us so we’re not sure what to do. Do we stay or do we go? Can you be a Jesus Feminist and still attend a church that is not egalitarian?

Your turn, dear readers. 

Are you able to stay in community with a church where you have major differences? Would you stay or would you go? Would you attend a complementarian church while you are an egalitarian?


I’ll share my answer later tonight in the comments.


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  • I stayed in a church like this for 2-3 years. For various reasons, we’d chosen to attend that church after leaving a different one. I was up front w/ the pastor on my position about the issue & although we disagreed, we still got along rather well. At the same time, I was also working in the campus ministry department of the local college, and I think that helped to save me, because I could exercise gifts there that I probably wouldn’t have been able to do in the church. However, they were making progress. When I first went there, I think only men did announcements/collected offering, and by the time I left, that had changed. I even facilitated a Sunday school class and organized a simulcast of a national conference and that wasn’t a problem at all.

    Edit: I should add though, that I am not sure I could “go back” to that type of a church. I’m in a more egalitarian one now (theoretically, but not necessarily in practice in all areas), and it has felt very freeing.

    • Denise

      My husband and I are on sabbatical from the institutional church for a few months, and your experience, Kelly, mirrors mine in many ways. I’ve been up front with the pastor, we disagree and still get along, and women have recently begun to do things like hand out bulletins and touch communion trays, although not without making some waves. I do not see myself going back there, though, since this has become really important to me, that women are allowed to serve as they are gifted and not limited because of anatomy. I’m uptight about the idea of searching for a new church community, but feel it has become necessary.

  • I find myself in the same position – that is to say I am an egalitarian who is a member of a complementarian church. It can certainly be a source of frustration at times and I do not anticipate staying in this situation long-term. But it is still working for now. I stay, for now, because of the relationships I have with people. It also helps that I know I’m not the only egalitarian at my church, though I think it’s safe to say I’m in the minority there…

  • Nikki Webber

    So happy to see this question! I am an egalitarian attending a complementarian church, though probably not for the same reason as the hypothetical questioner. My husband is a recovering complementarian (by that, I mean that he was raised in a VERY strict complementarian upbringing, as was I, and it was several years into our marriage that I became an egalitarian). Although no longer strict in his views, my husband is still ‘unsure’ about egalitarianism, and it has required some give-and-take in our marriage. Neither of us wanted to lord our church choice over the other. He was raised in a church five minutes from our home that requires the absolute submission of a wife, for women not to touch a communion plate, for women to read off an approved script if saying ANYTHING in the service, etc… In fact, they are planning on breaking away from their denominational ties as that denomination is seriously considering the ordination of women this year. As a comprimise, the hubs and I commute 45 minutes to the city to attend a complimentarian church with a more ‘generous orthodoxy’. We picked it specifically because, while women are not in leadership, they serve and lead communion, lead cell groups, speak during the service, etc… oh, and I am not referred to as a heretic or a false teacher, which helps immensely. For us, it has come down to finding something that works for the entire family. He leads, I lead, and sometimes, that means both of us taking a back seat for the other.

    • Courtney Jones

      My fiancee and I have that same kind of relationship…egalitarian/recovering complementarian raised in complementarian homes. We’re starting our marriage in 2 months so if you have any advice that you wished you had known as you began this process of overcoming your complementarian upbringing together…I would love to hear it!

      • Nikki Webber

        Hey Courtenay:

        My husband and I have an understanding that while he does not necessarily agree with all
        of my beliefs (pretty sure this is true of all marriages), he agrees with who I
        am as a person and my right to vocalize it. For example, my father-in-law
        actually helps lead the very traditional church I mentioned, and we do tend to
        butt heads (ever so politely) from time to time. My husband supports me
        publically, affirms me to his family and community, and defends my right to be
        an egalitarian. It helps a great deal that we keep any disagreements in this
        area behind our door, and even then, we do so in love.

        The other really important point I wanted to make is so crucial: when I am advocating for
        egalitarianism either in my online or real-life, I am always very careful to
        make a distinction. I differentiate between sincere complementarians who see
        their beliefs as a logical conclusion of their reading of scripture, and those
        who use it as a matter of pride and to advance their agenda. I’ve never wanted
        my husband to see our differing views as an us-versus-them or ‘bad guy’
        mentality, so I always strive to make this distinction, as my husband is one of
        the most sincere and Christ-like people I know.

        Finally, pray. Come before Jesus for your spouse and ask for oneness on this issue, and
        if not oneness, than that both of you can pursue the third way that Sarah always
        talks about: total unity without compromise. I’ve been praying for my spouse
        for years and it has done a lot to strengthen our marriage.

        Blessings on your upcoming marriage!

        • Courtney Jones

          Thank you, that is a good point about differentiating between the 2 groups of complementarians. Because my fiancee sounds like he’s a lot like yours-he’s always been complementarian because he was taught that was the only way God wanted us to live and he wants to be holy. Praying is always good! Thank you again!

      • Wende Larsen

        Courtney, blessings on your wedding. I’ve been married for 24 years in June. We were both raised in complementarian homes and churches. I remember being in tears weeks before our wedding, telling my fiancé that I just couldn’t be that girl. That I didn’t want my parent’s marriage! And he looked at me and said, “Our marriage will be OUR marriage: and I’m marrying you to be a partner. You had better have an opinion!” Even then, he knew how to be present to my fears.

        But to answer your question, if I can be so bold: the advice I would give anyone getting married, is to understand when a need outweighs a desire. It’s not about things being “equal” — but about putting each other first. Sometimes, no matter how much you might want something, he will NEED something more. And vice versa. If you’re asking that question, often, it stops being about compromise or who is right but about supporting each other in love. And then… babies come (if they do!) and that question just gets more nuanced.

        I hope that helps. Blessings! I hope the day is a beautiful start to a long and healthy marriage!

        • PhoenixMind

          That’s some good advice right there. I was raised complementarian, pretty strictly and those (as well as a few other) teaching drove me away from the church as a young adult. My husband was raised as a jack eastern orthodox and had no issue with egalitarianism. I sure shocked my family when my vows didn’t include “obey” though, lol.

          • Wende Larsen

            Pheonix: that’s so funny! We didn’t include that statement in our vows either. And I had the minister omit the “if anyone can see any reasons these two should not be wed” yada yada yada. I figured, we were engaged for 16 months, they had their months to speak up. 😀

          • Neil Fix

            In the U.K. that bit is a legal requirement.

          • Neil Fix

            I remember a couple of friends who had a problem with their vows-she wanted to say ‘obey’, and he didn’t want that mentioned. I can’t say as I think it’s made much difference-they’ve always done everything together as equal partners, and still do.

    • Thanks for this. My husband and I were raised in a denomination that does ordain women, but also mostly takes on a complementarian philosophy. For example, I remember some spiritual “aunts” telling me that I was created to be my husband’s helpmeet. I have found that just because a denomination ordains women, it does not mean that men and women are truly viewed equally and truly have equal opportunities in ministry. A few years into our marriage, we found ourselves drawn to liturgy and ended up in the Eastern Orthodox church. We’ve been there for the past nine years. Orthodoxy is very complementarian. They don’t ordain women and they see men and women as “equal but with different roles.” However, there is a rich tradition of and reverence for female saints in the church. So, as you can see, neither church I’ve been a part of is perfect. The approach toward women in the OC is bothering me more now that I have become egalitarian. My husband loves the OC and doesn’t want to leave it (and I agree that there is a rich spirituality there) and the women issue does not bother him as much as it bothers me. If I had to place him I’d say he leans more toward the complementarian side of things but he’s supportive of me and he is listening to my ideas and views. I think that in our daily lives, things feel more egalitarian. We don’t agree on everything but this is not a big enough issue to “break” our marriage. For now I continue to attend my complementarian church even as I struggle with it. There are still aspects of the OC that I love and resonate as truth. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I’m not ready to abandon it yet just over that one issue.

    • Anna

      “for women not to touch a communion plate”

      I bet they are allowed to touch it when they wash the dishes after services are over.

  • Hmmm… chewy, fibrous questions. 🙂

    Being a single female in her 30s, I wasn’t being affirmed in ministry or calling in the church I was attending. However I had a terrific rapport within the youth ministry as a supporter/sponsor, and there were other good things growing from that particular congregation. Doctrinally I began to rub against more conservative stances, but I don’t know if that’s specifically related to comp/egal arguments. My struggles were all over the place, and since I didn’t have a husband to submit to, understanding one another’s language began to become an issue.

    God was/is calling me to something different. So I left and am now attending an egal-affirming church. I’m involved in a small group for the first time in 14 years. It’s not perfect… it’s terrifically messy… but it’s where I was called to go. “Should” I have left? I believe God could have created growth and beauty if I had chosen to stay. It would have been extremely hard, but there are hard things where I’m going now too.

    Perhaps when division becomes so raw and so bloody that you can’t function together as a family anymore, time apart is wise… godly. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or. Times of learning to live together in disagreement can be holy & uplifting too.

    Clear as a polar vortex?

    • Shannon G

      I think you were quite clear. And wise. It’s a different discussion for single women without a husband to submit to. It just is. And frankly some complementarian churches are afraid of single women because they don’t know who to tell them to submit to. I’m glad you’re finding your way.

      • Thanks.

        As for being a single woman in a comp. church — RIGHT?!!?

        I’ve been privileged to work with some terrific pastors who I’ve had no problem submitting to; but they’ve honoured my input and time quite well. Whether I could actually be in leadership, I don’t know.

        But I’ve also encountered those who believed that because I’m single, I need to submit to the lead pastor and my father.

        As my father would say: “Screw that! She’s got her own mind! YOU go tell her what to do!” 😉

    • This is very similar to my own experience as a single woman. I felt like a black sheep for various reasons at my old church but mostly because of my egalitarian beliefs (though I couldn’t have verbalized those beliefs at the time). I didn’t want to leave because I had a wonderful community there but Big Picture wise, we didn’t speak the same language. When I moved out of state, it still took me some time to realize I needed to find a place that not only affirmed me as a woman but as a single woman.

      • JennaDeWitt

        This is SO hard to find in any church… comp, egal or mixed.

  • Kate Wallace-The Junia Project

    That is such a hard question. I know some families who attend complementarian churches because of the children’s ministry and youth programs, and I totally get that. I don’t have children, so that isn’t at the top of my list in things I need in a church.
    Because I don’t fit into the stereotypical complementarian idea of a “biblical woman” I couldn’t stay in a complementarian church. I feel called to serve, teach, preach, lead. Here is what it comes down to for me: I want my home and my church to be safe places, free of this debate. If I am being treated as a whole an equal person by my “home base” as Shauna Niequist would say, I have strength enough to face discrimination other places. 🙂

    • Jacob Lupfer

      I want to push back against the notion that it’s a good idea to keep yourself or your family in sexist churches just because they have children’s and youth ministry programs. It’s all fun and games, I guess, until it isn’t. What are children really being taught? I would argue that it is doing more harm than good, and will confuse them needlessly when the parents finally change churches when the sexism or fundamentalism becomes unbearable. There are plenty of theologically moderate and progressive churches that have graded programming for kids of all ages. Ultimately, Christian education is a function of the home. I wouldn’t trust my children’s spiritual formation to a church just because it has lavishly-funded age-level ministry programs.

      I’ve enjoyed your writing and thinking. Not trying to discount what you’re saying. Just pointing out that you don’t have to suffer at a spiritually oppressive, sexist church just so your children can have a fun or engaging experience.

      • carter

        This. I would never raise my son in a church that never modeled women in leadership or ministry. I think very few people realize how much young men and boys benefit from the ministry of women. It not only makes respect for women natural to them; they benefit from seeing leadership as something separate from masculinity or “dominance.”

        • Jacob Lupfer

          When I was in elementary school, our relatively conservative United Methodist church had a female pastor. I thought *nothing* of it at the time. But she was an exceptionally capable leader and only now am I able to see how profound and positive the experience was for me (and undoubtedly for many others). Thus it never occurred to me until college that most Protestants forbade women from following calls to pastoral ministry. And it never occurred to me until recently that, as conservative as my upbringing was, I actually went to the most liberal majority-white church in my community… by a long shot.

      • Megan Westra

        As a Children’s Pastor at an egal. church and a parent I totally agree with you Jacob!
        I’ve looked at and taught through at least a dozen different Sunday School curriculums and it’s so evident what messages about gender roles are being passed on to kids!
        Deborah’s story is often omitted; Esther is turned into the Church-equivalent of a Disney Princess; Ruth is either omitted or is likewise princess-fied – a damsel in distress to Boaz’s knight in shining armor. I do a lot of writing or re-writing to make sure our sister’s stories are preserved and passed on.
        And outside the classroom, if little girls never see women in leadership they WILL hear loud and clear that girls are not allowed to serve God in these ways, even if the rule is unspoken in the Children’s Ministry.

        • Jacob Lupfer

          So wonderful to hear this perspective. Thank you for your leadership and ministry.

        • pastordt

          Amen to every bit of this. EVERY BIT. I was in my 30s before I ever heard of Deborah – the women in the OT are so often excised out or drastically altered to make them more palatable to a prevailing worldview. I am saddened anytime an egal family chooses to put themselves under the teaching, and more importantly, the modeling of a comp church because that church has a great ‘youth program.’ Our kids need to see women and men sharing in leadership; they need to be shown, in word and in deed, that God doesn’t play favorites in any way.

    • PLTK

      My husband and I once ascribed to this way of thinking…. Until my then 8 year old daughter came to me and asked “why does God love boys more than girls?” When probing to find out where this idea came from she said “well in church it’s always boys who are in charge of everything. So they must be better than girls.” That started a process that eventually led to a change in churches.

      Our then church was moderately complementarian. Women could participate in most functions outside of preaching and the elder board. We thought we could balance out its teachings at home, but found that the church practices were far more powerful than words, particularly to our young kids.

      • daisy

        wow this really gives me food for thought. I continue at a comp church because of family/friends even tho my views have changed, and I have a 3 year old daughter. I also thought I could balance it out at home. Reading this, I wonder if I should take that chance. The church also runs a private school, which I was planning to put her in. Hmm.

    • missistine

      I agree with Kate….I too, am called to pastor, lead, teach etc….I was in a complementarian setting but realized that my hope to “change things from the inside” was killing my soul. It just became too painful for me- and like others have mentioned- ultimately an issue of justice. I can no longer participate in any church system which advocates spiritual inequality. I just can’t be around it. I find it too toxic and it just ends up making me really angry. I chose to leave a community that I had been a part of for 20 years. It was VERY hard……I still love many of the people there and plan to remain in relationship with those I was closest to but I am seeking affirmation of my pastoral gifting in another denomination……One where my gender does not even have a place in the discussion because that issue has been settled long ago. It feels like a giant weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.

  • Iryssa

    Unfortunately I can’t see just one right answer here (as is so often the case). For me it would depend on how much I find this affects my relationship with the church. Personally I don’t feel much of a calling to leadership outside my home, so I doubt it would affect me much, unless I was getting picked on personally for that. Particularly if we’d put down roots there and I found the members were still willing to engage in respectful discourse with me about it, I would definitely try to engage the topic a bit before jumping right to leaving. The reality of it is that none of us is likely to find a church whose theology is 100% in line with our own.

    • carter

      There’s a big difference between “a church whose theology is 100% in line with our own” and “a church that denies that women are called by God to lead and serve.” If you’re in a church that’s denying the Spirit’s work in an entire gender, that’s more than theology; it affects every area of Christian life.

      • Iryssa

        But you can say that about a lot of theological talking-points, I think it just depends on how strongly you (and the church in question) feel about any one of them. As I said, I don’t find that this is an issue that affects me a great deal (at least not in ways that I can’t let go of)…that’s not to say I don’t believe the Spirit leads some women to leadership any differently than it leads some men to leadership, it just means that I don’t particularly feel led to leadership, so in my day-to-day dealings with any given church, it wouldn’t cause me hardship. I’m sure someone who did feel led to leadership would feel differently and *wouldn’t* be able to live at peace with people who believed differently.

        You don’t *have* to agree on many points in order to have fellowship with one another. We don’t *have* to spend all our time dwelling on the things we disagree on in a church setting.

        Again, I have to reiterate that *I am not talking about a situation where they’re ~picking on~ particular members about something like this* I would say that any church that bullies like that is not a healthy place to be in any situation. You may not believe me, but I *have* been in as many Egalitarian churches as Complementarian that are bully-churches, and none of them has bullied over the same issue twice.

  • Jessica

    I grew up in complementarian fellowships, though several years ago, I began to hold egalitarian views regarding marriage. It was only a couple years ago, though, that my views on women in church leadership changed. I continued in the complementarian fellowship until about six months ago, when I began to feel too oppressed by the sermons (one in particular, on Deborah, wondered “what was wrong with all the men that God HAD to use a woman to lead” and claimed she wasn’t actually a judge) and people in the congregation. The message of marriage and submission to men became too aggressive and prevalent for this independent and single woman to handle.

  • Becca

    I am an egalitarian attending a complimentarian church. However, I’m a teacher at an international school in a fairly atheistic country in Europe, and I don’t speak the language well, so my choices were rather limited. I chose a church that had a style of worship I was most comfortable with, as well as a place where I feel like it could be my community. I don’t have a calling to preach or lead in church, so their whole no women pastors or elders thing doesn’t bother me to much. (I have been known to skip the Sundays that they’re preaching on it though.)

    • Karin

      I understand the situation of not really having a choice. I spent some month in a big Muslim city. They had only one Protestant English speaking church. It included members from many denominations. I think they tried to compromise by never bringing up complementarian/egalitarian themes in sermons, but the fact that the only thing women did was cook, tend to the children, pray and contribute to music spoke volumes. I felt very uneasy about this. I found a cell group that I was more comfortable with (whoever was in charge formally, we had lively discussions between all men and women present).
      I think in a situation with limited choices it is important to ask yourself: can you survive as a Christian in that church better than by not attending any church and can you avoid becoming complicit to wrong teachings.

  • L.N.

    Ah! This is the question of my life right now! I love my church but it’s complementarian (along with holding other views I don’t agree with). I constantly go back and forth on whether or not to stay. The real sticking point for me is that not only are they complementarian, but they hold the spiritual authenticity of those with egal. views in question. So, I feel like I have to keep my real opinions under wraps lest I be judged a false christian, which makes me feel isolated and dishonest. Despite all this, I hesitate to leave because there are so many good things about my church. They don’t tell me how to vote, the environment is warm and caring, etc. The thought of leaving makes me so sad and I would miss the people terribly, but I also worry that my spiritual and personal growth is being stunted because I am essentially hiding my real self. Plus, gender equality is a justice issue, like you said, so I feel complicit in the oppression while I’m attending. It’s a really tough spot to be in.

    • LorenHaas

      “I feel complicit in the oppression”
      This was a big reason my wife and I left a complementarian church. Our voice was not respected and could not be heard. Leading a divorce recovery group at this church was like walking through a minefield. We felt like we had to change the teaching based on who is in the room. Moving on to an American Baptist Church that had women at all levels of leadership and encouraged, but did not demand egalitarian marriages was so encouraging to our faith.

  • twitter: LisasLeben

    For me it would depend on if I had children. The questioner says, “family,” but doesn’t mention children. If it were just my husband and I, I might be inclined to stay, but if I had children who would be taught the faith within that community – I could NEVER stay. I would leave for the sake of my sons or daughters, so that they could be brought up in a community where they would learn they could aspire to any role in the kingdom, and my husband and I together would lovingly explain to the leadership why we were leaving.

    • Caren Swanson

      This is EXACTLY my perspective. I have good friends who attend complimentarian churches as egalitarians, but now that I have a daughter, I could never attend a church that doesn’t support her full inclusion into the life of ministry. And I would feel just as strongly if I had a son. This issue is a dealbreaker for me.

    • Liz

      Yes! I have very young children and I just can’t stomach the idea of them being immersed in a theology that I perceive to be oppressive. Youth leaders can have a huge impact on kids and I want to be able to trust that the messages my kids hear from church leaders about their identity are healthy and freeing.

    • disqus_Jx4vklnzgv

      Yes, this is what I am wondering, now that my children are raised, if dh and I can hack it in an otherwise good complementarian church, since it’s just us.

  • JennaDeWitt

    It depends on to what degree. I do, but I was gone during a marriage sermon series and all disagreement has been with personal opinions of the leadership expressed in private conversations as friends, not from the pulpit. They know my views and those of other egals in the church, so I trust that they – as a loving and grace-filled community – won’t say anything rude because they are our friends. I think it is like any family you choose yourself. If it’s just an agree-to-disagree whatever works for you thing, it’s easy to be in a mixed church. My comp church has a woman children’s minister and women who lead missions, prayer and youth because we’re small and that’s who started them.

    • JennaDeWitt

      It’s not letting me edit this, but I should have said, it’s NOT easy always but it’s not worth giving up an otherwise awesome church full of genuine community and selfless friends who are like family.

  • Sherry

    It’s not an easy choice. Some people feel called to stay while others leave bruised from hitting the “you can’t because you’re a woman” wall too many times. My church does allow women to run satellite ministries, (I’m one of those women leaders), but doesn’t ordain women as pastors to teach or preach. So far I’ve stayed to try and bring change, but I’m weary of the “bruises”.

  • Jada

    As a female pastor, whose husband is a pastor, we wouldn’t be able to attend a Complimentarian church. Even if we weren’t in ministry vocationally, I just don’t see it working for us. Plus, as parents we desire to provide our kids, especially our daughter, opportunities to see women fulfilling their calling and both women and men mutually supporting and encouraging each other. Having grown up a pastor’s kid in a Complementarian denomination, I realize my upbringing was unique in that my pastor-dad supported my calling to pastoral ministry. His view and stance isn’t the norm in that denomination. Like the person who asked the question, I believe it’s a justice issue. Yet, having been on the inside of a Complementarian denomination, I’m not sure expressing ones views would bring about the desired influence or impact.

  • Carmen

    This is the question of my life at the moment. I recently moved back to my hometown and am in search of a church. My problem is that I am a single egalitarian woman, but I prefer the church environments of the more complementarian churches here. The egalitarian churches I’ve tried out have been mainline churches with traditional programs and worship services and (lots and lots of) families. The larger (but complementarian) churches have small group options, many more single people, community outreach opportunities, and are fairly nonpolitical. I am trying to determine where on the complementarian-egalitarian spectrum I’m okay with landing, and if I have a conversation with and am honest with the church leadership about my disagreements, if that makes a difference. Thanks, everyone, for sharing your perspectives!

  • Karen Gonzalez

    This is an excellent question that a friend and I have been pondering for a while. I attend an egalitarian church in the LA area where I’m able to preach, lead, and have a voice in our Christian community. However, lots of our church members do not support women in church leadership even though our denomination does fully. I find it to be a lonely place as I’m a single woman who feels called to leadership. I’ve tried to raise the discussion in our church just as an issue of justice, feeling validated by the fact that our denomination is egalitarian, but nobody really cares except for young college grads that don’t plan to stay in the community anyway. Once I was told by a woman that she didn’t care to talk about it because she didn’t feel called to lead anyway so it didn’t affect her (interesting, if our church said that we didn’t allow ethnic minorities to lead, would she say it didn’t matter because she’s not an ethnic minority? Or would she find that reprehensible?). When we searched for a new pastor a couple of years ago, the search committee was told by many church members not to hire a woman. In short, I often feel like I’m being humored–it’s a place of disrespect even though in theory it’s open to women.

    In contrast, my egalitarian friend attends a complementarian church in the DC area. Though the church does not ordain women, women are able to teach, preach (as guests), emcee the service, etc. Her pastor is a wonderful person who has engaged the discussion with her honestly, humbly, and kindly, listening and affirming her view as valid though he has come to a different conclusion in his study of the Scriptures. My friend leads a small group in her church and has led different initiatives. She has a great relationship with the pastoral staff despite their differences. Admittedly, she does cringe when female submission and male headship are preached from the pulpit, but overall, she has found a community of love, support, opportunity, and, most importantly, kindness and respect.

    Hearing about those two communities, Sarah, which would you attend? As much as I feel that it’s an attack on my identity as a woman and a leader to attend a complementarian church, in practice, my friend’s church seems a lot more welcoming and respectful of women. Much more Christ-like in their approach. But I don’t have an answer to your question. I suppose that it depends.

    • Karen Gonzalez

      I would like to add that if I had children, I would not attend a complementarian church. I’m not sure if that is the case of the person that wrote to you. This IS a justice issue and children should not be raised to believe that the subjugation of women is biblical.

  • Amy S

    I became an egalitarian while in a complementarian church. One reason we needed to leave was because we began to see that this was a body of Christ issue and that it is pretty significant. Another reason was that I didn’t want my boys and girl growing up in this environment. I realized that my sons and daughter only saw women giving announcements, singing and working with children. I didn’t want them to get two different messages. I didn’t want their dad and me to tell them that women can serve God in any capacity that God gifts them, but then only for them to see it differently at church. I wanted them to see women being prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc.

  • What a doozy {of a question} right out the gate. I believe we must be lead by the Spirit while also being careful in those places where we are lead. I’m reminded Jesus’ words “Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16 There are dangers of coming under condemnation or bondage or frustration, if we think we are going there to convert them to our way of thinking. For my family, personally, this does not work because eventually there is too pressure to conform. And my husband and I feel we must be allowed freedom to worship and operate in our marriage the way Jesus has shown us.

  • Paige

    I think I’ve always been a Jesus Feminist, meaning something about the heirarchy of men over women has always bothered me but I just accepted it. But I’ve never felt called or gifted to teach or preach, and I’ve never been married, so the gender issue has been more external. Then I read “The 10 Lies the Church Tells Women” which started a snowball of study and inquiry. Let’s just say my eyes have been opened and in a lovely twist, I’ve never felt closer to the Lord.
    I have never attended an egalitarian church; I’m not sure how many exist in the Bible-belt 🙂 I’m not sure how to find one, but the Lord will lead!

    If we are Jesus Feminists, are we to effect change by not attending churches that are not egalitarian? I haven’t been back to my home church since this message was given – Why Roles Matter.”

    . I don’t see it changing; pastor said “this is a hill we’re going to die on.”

    • Courtney Jones

      Oh my gosh! You used to??? go to Frontline?! A few of my friends go there now so I’ve started to consider it looking for a more progressive church than what I attend now. This is totally creepy but if you don’t have a group of Jesus Feminists, I know some amazing women in the area who would love to meet with you for coffee or something! (Since we’re surrounded here in the Bible Belt, I love finding other Jesus Feminists here, it’s like finding gold!) And if you find an egalitarian church in the OKC area, share the good news please! I’ve been dying to find one!

      • Paige

        Hey Courtney! You live okc area? Where do go to church now?

        When you have the time, watch the video and decide for yourself. It’s a great group of people, hard working, serving Christ, and genuine. But it is quite anti – egalitarian and, if it matters to you, Calvinist. Staunch on both issues.

        Both viewpoints are quite legalistic so it takes you by surprise because it’s the cool, downtown, hipster church.

        I actually learned that First Baptist Church downtown, of all places, is at least partially egalitarian. If you read their beliefs on the website, you’ll see that women seem to be embraced in leadership. I don’t know what they teach about hierarchy in marriage though.

        Friend on fb if you want.

        • Jacob Lupfer

          I happen to know on good authority that the First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City is wonderfully egalitarian. They were ordaining women deacons back in the 1980s. The sexist leadership that took over the SBC absolutely loathes FBC OKC. I’m not sure if the church still sends money to the Southern Baptist missions, but I do know it works through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate Baptist group. The congregation went through a change when the church decided to not to blindly follow the new fundamentalist SBC. A lot of sexist members left. But it is a great church. My very best wishes to you!

      • Whitney Jones

        Yes. This. I’ve been attending Frontlibe in the OKC area and have been back and forth. I like so much of what they do, but then stuff like this comes up and it is all I can do not to walk out. I don’t know what the right answer is – staying and praying for some change and maybe affecting some change or just peacing out. Glad to hear from Jesus Feminists from OKC! 🙂

        • Andrea Osterberg

          hey 🙂 I’ve just visited frontline a couple weeks now and was wondering where they stood on these issues. and now have my answer. so frustrating. see, I’m so a Jesus Feminist, but also a Pentecostal…its a hard combination.

          • Andrea Osterberg

            Whitney Jones… do you go to the south campus or main??

        • Carrie Blumert

          I attend Frontline Church in OKC as well and have begun to question their stance on gender roles in the church recently. I am very much in the egalitarian camp and a Jesus Feminist. I also don’t know if I should leave the church for a more egalitarian congregation or stay at Frontline. It is upsetting to me that I have attended this church for 3 years and I never saw this as an issue that would make me want to leave until recently. More and more of the lessons preached involve their gender views which ultimately make me feel ‘less’, ‘not good enough’, and ‘let the men lead’. I am in the same boat as many of the commenters here–confused and frustrated.

          • eryn colasanto

            Carrie, just come to the dark side already 😉

      • Jacob Lupfer

        Go to any United Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Disciples of Christ, or Presbyterian (U.S.A.) church. If you’re Baptist, google “Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma” which will list Baptist churches that are not sexist. North Haven Church in Norman is moderate. And if you’re open to a liberal church, Mayflower Congregational Church on NW 63rd near Portland is an amazing church. Their pastor, the Reverend Dr. Robin Meyers, is literally the best preacher I have ever heard in my life. I would be an atheist today if not for Mayflower, which I attended while a student at Oklahoma Baptist University. My best wishes to you!

        • pastordt

          There is a huge ECC church with multiple campuses in OK called Life Church. Our denomination is egalitarian and has ordained women since 1976.

        • Joy T

          The Wesleyan Church is also egalitarian. In fact, our general superintendent is a fantastic woman, Dr. Joanne Lyon.

      • Ursula

        Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City is part of the Assemblies of God of Anderson Indiana, a denomination that ordains and affirms women in ministry. While the main pastor is a man, there are several female pastors on staff, and they sometimes preach from the pulpit.

      • eryn colasanto

        Courtney, I went to frontline for almost 3 years, I love them and love what they are doing to reach the city for Jesus, but ultimately felt like The Lord was calling me to move on in the fall. I now attend a church in the Crestwood neighborhood, Crestwood Vineyard, that is egalitarian. You should definitely check out our website (www.crestwoodvineyard.org) and maybe come on a Sunday. 🙂

    • Angela Burns Doell

      Wow. Not sure what made me click and watch this but it made me cry – ugh. So thankful for a church that values women and men in leadership.

      • Paige

        Did you watch the whole thing? 🙂 did it disturb you as much as it did me? Just not want to over-react.

        • Angela Burns Doell

          Watched it all, yes. Still processing… The last bit on how we need strong men so women don’t ‘have to’ step up was difficult to hear.

          This is far from what I’ve heard or experienced and so it is a wake up call for me personally. Praying for the Church tonight – all of us.

    • Brenda P

      I just feel like I got stomped on after listening to that. It breaks my heart when people want so badly to follow the Bible but they say and do things that hurt other people deeply.

    • Melinda Draffin

      “Typical mundane life of a homemaker”? Are you serious? I’m not sure that I’ll be able to finish this video…

    • LorenHaas

      I lasted to 7:40.
      Accommodating scripture to culture?

      Sorry, if anything that is the complementarian view point. The world’s culture puts
      women in a subservient place, not the example of Jesus. Jesus stood the world’s
      logic on its head, now this speaker is trying to turn it back.

      Give me Jesus.
      Give me Jesus.
      You can have this world.
      Give me Jesus.

    • Julia Hartsell

      This is scary.

      Not only for women, but for the limited picture of what a “man should be.” He leaves not much room for any male personality that isn’t the fierce, masculine, hero model (see John Piper, or Wild at Heart). This makes me sad for men who aren’t of this nature but love Jesus truly.

      There is an eerie formulaic pattern to his sermon (which I understand my limitation as a viewer because I’ve seen only this)
      -Bold Topic of spiritual gifts.
      -Funny, self-depracating (and questionably falsely humble?) Jokes about the intensity of his wife
      -Insert support of women figures in Bible
      -Backdoor cut to Jesus’s staunch belief (or rather his take on Jesus) that men are to have all authority
      -teary recount of woman at well (“see ladies? I care” vibe)
      -random “shocking” statistics
      -tangible numbered “take away” points

      By far the scariest part:
      Around 37:00 talks of his desire that women fulfill all they are created to be…….however, it seems this is only true within the boundaries of a submissive woman’s role in church and home.

      Praise be to the Savior who pulls us from BONDAGE

    • Laura Watts

      I think this pastor is right on in many ways. But there are also some things that did not sit well with me.

      Pros: I love that he differentiates his church’s stance from that of being a hierarchy. Women can be treasured and can thrive in a complementary home and church as well as those who are in an egalitarian home and church. I also love that he emphasizes the way Jesus treated women in the Jewish culture. I love that he points out the distinction of roles and equality in the Trinity and compares it to marriage (though this looks different in every marriage).

      Cons: I definitely did not agree with him when he was talking about how the woman in his church had something to share and then after her words were cleared and affirmed by the elders and himself to be doctrinally sound that they allowed her to speak to the congregation. Gender does not determine one’s ability to discern the Word of God or the voice of the Holy Spirit.

      I definitely don’t think he is the heretic many people are making him out to be, though. He strikes me as very loving and I bet he treats his wife very well. It drives me nuts when people get all worked up over every little thing that offends them. I also think that many Feminists go so far in their attempt to be equal with men that they actually push men out of their way on their way to the top. This is not equality.

    • Paige

      I want to re-emphasize something. This church and it’s leaders love Jesus and are working hard to keep up with rapid growth. It’s authentic and most of the teaching is excellent. If you’re a complimentarian and a Calvinist, it’s a great place to be (and I’m not being facetious). I sincerely posted here to possibly gain some insight from dialouge on a subject that the Holy Spirit is flooding my soul with. It is not my desire to bash the church or the pastor, who is a very good man. We just disagree.

    • Elizabeth

      The Church of the Nazarene has always been egalitarian. They are Wesleyan based, not Calvinist. There are several in the OKC area. 🙂

    • Amanda

      Hello Sarah! I came across your blog today when a friend shared another of your posts on FB. I confess I am not much of a blog follower and haven’t read your works, but I did enjoy this post and thought maybe I could add something constructive to the conversation. On most theological issues, we each choose sides. When scripture actually says both things. Both sides have verses to point to or else there wouldn’t be two camps. A friend once explained this as the “tyranny of the or”. We spend time and thought and prayer determining which side of an issue we fall on, when it fact the Word says BOTH. And if God’s Word can’t contradict itself, then both are right. When I saw this post’s title, my first reaction was “What do those words means again?” And after I read the description, my next thought was, “Oh ya, I’m both.” I have read Created to be His Helpmeet and Why Not Women?, two books that take opposite positions on this issue. Both challenged me and I have since happily reconciled both of these positions in my faith–not compromised, but accepted both as truth. I could write paragraphs on how and why, but this isn’t my blog. 🙂 My point was to share the encouragement I’ve received in trying to find harmony in God’s word. Such is the great mystery of following Christ!

  • I try to stay away from labels as much as possible…

    But for all intensive purposes…yes, my husband and I have somehow found ourselves in the egalitarian camp. Which, when you are in full-time ministry with a conservative Christian organization, puts you in a very minuscule and “oppositional” minority.

    I recently outed our convictions publicly, our conclusion being that the narrow, traditional idea of biblical femininity and gender roles is bullshit (post can be found here: http://www.whatsonmymindgrapes.com/2014/01/27/on-motherhood-uncut/). And in the process, we’ve found ourselves asking, “Do we stay or do we go?”

    On one hand, it would be easier to just go. To find somewhere where a woman’s contribution to ministry is valued just as highly as a man’s. To have the freedom to serve in whatever capacity that you are called to by God.

    On the other hand, if everyone who had a problem with the way things are in the present just left, things would just stay the same and there would be no growth, leaving those with these convictions stifled and discontent to the point of eventually leaving or extinguishing their passion to serve. This just perpetuates the problem.

    I think it’s important to ask a few questions in deciding whether to stay. One is, is there even room to have this discussion where I am at? Because if there isn’t, then yeah, perhaps it’s best to leave. But if there IS room to have this discussion, then what do I value more? What am I more called to? To have the freedom to serve from my convictions and giftings? Or to stick out the mess, put up a fight, and pave the way to empower other women who aren’t quite as outspoken, but who hold the same convictions? (Wait, would that make me the Mockingjay then???) Neither one choice is better or more valiant than the other…it just goes back to calling.

    In the wake of my post, many women from my organization have “outed” themselves with similar convictions…convictions that for the past 9 years in ministry I thought I was alone, and even crazy at times, in having. So if so many of us feel the same way, and so many of us resent the devaluing of a woman’s contribution to ministry…then why isn’t anyone saying anything? Or have they just not had the courage or platform to say anything in the past?

    Things are changing for the better, slowly but surely. Because they are open to having these discussions with me, and because there are so many who have come out sharing their discontentment but who have lacked the voice to say so, I personally feel called to stay and (loudly) advocate for my many gifted and talented sisters in Christ, because there is so much potential for God to change things for the better from within our organization. I’ll probably be called names, like “crazy feminist” or “career-driven” or “power-hungry.” There will probably be many who will rebuke me and try to show me “God’s true way.” But that’s the price you pay for being the squeaky wheel. And as long as I know who I am before God, and I convinced of my convictions, what can they really do to me?

    To sum it all up: we are living in a complementarian world. And I am an egalitarian girl.


  • Brenda P

    Just a week and a half ago my good (female) friend got to preach at the weekend services at our large church. It was so exciting to cheer her on and see women supported in their giftings in such a prominent way. Thinking on it now, I can’t recall ever having a woman give the sermon when I was growing up unless it was a female missionary sharing about her work.

    I personally don’t think I could go back to attending a church that doesn’t hold women in the same esteem as men. Even the subtle comments just make me feel like 1) there is something wrong with me (less valuable), and 2) I am nothing without a husband (which makes me feel super great as a single woman). Every person is different in what their comfort level is, and I think people can choose to stay at churches for lots of reasons, even if they don’t agree on everything. I think things to consider are if you personally feel like your gifts are being stifled and if your kids are learning a message that you don’t agree with. Neither of those things were issues for me growing up, but I still (in retrospect) can see that I feel more at ease in a church that affirms everyone’s gifts regardless of gender. And no church is perfect, so that’s something to consider, as well.

    • disqus_Jx4vklnzgv

      I had to chuckle at the “female missionary”, since I grew up in a very complementarian church, but it was amazing what women missionaries could do, as long as it was overseas. 🙂

  • Julie Furtado

    I imagine if one is listening to the Holy Spirit, there may be times and circumstances when either staying or leaving is the right course of action. For me, as a Pastor, the granddaughter of two (late) ordained-minister grandmothers, and a mother to young children, I am at this point very unable to sit and receive from an environment that invalidates and vilifies not only my conviction and calling, but believes and teaches that the nature and character of God is oppressive. That is not to say that many complementarian churches I’m acquainted with do not have my genuine and utmost respect for other aspects of their teaching, discipleship, and practices. It is to say that if we are all members of one body, and unless the Holy Spirit directs me otherwise, I will allow them to be and function as the specific body part they are, and allow myself to do the same. Interaction and connection with that body part? Yes! Respect and gratitude for that body part? Of course! But assimilation or adoption of the land and culture and ethos of a body part that is completely other than the land and culture and body part that I was created to be? Not unless there was a distinct sense of God’s purposeful leading in that direction.

  • Paige

    I think I also struggle with this thought – is staying in a non-egalitarian church an endorsement of their beliefs. And also, if you truly believe the complimentarian view point is not the heart of God, is staying a form of empowerment for the message of complimentariansim to be spread?

  • Caitlyn Carlson

    Ohhh…this is a hard one. I grew up in a (very) complementarian church in which women were told not to confront their husbands even regarding sin issues, and a woman teaching a class of women would refuse to keep teaching if a man stepped foot in the doorway. I saw so much pain and damage there (especially in marriages in the church)–and experienced it myself–that finally entering a church in which the pastor affirmed mutual submission was life-giving to my submission-abused little soul (and marrying a man who is an unabashed feminist certainly didn’t hurt). However…I wouldn’t say a blatant no to ever attending another complementarian church. I would simply want to see an openness and grace toward egalitarian perspectives–a respect and understanding that Scripture can be interpreted in different ways, and no one perspective is necessarily sin (I have seen some complementarian marriages handled in a godly way–I truly do believe God allows for both). I don’t personally have a leadership/teaching gift, so I wouldn’t feel stunted or starved in a complementarian church context unless someone told me I was a bad wife for believing in mutual submission. For women who are gifted in leadership, however, such a context would likely not be beneficial. So while this may seem like a non-answer, I believe it does ultimately depend on the individual and how God has gifted them.

  • Jessicalek

    I am egalitarian and was previously in a complementarian church. One of the reasons I found it unacceptable for me was that I felt that, despite all their claims to the contrary, complementarianism ultimately denied my full humanity and spirituality. Another reason I left was that I was constantly defensive in the church- afraid of what message was going to be preached against my personhood during the sermon. This defensiveness is undoubtedly a personal flaw, but being in an egalitarian church now has helped me learn how to worship and receive the message again.

  • Elizabeth Sullivan

    I was planning on staying at my family’s church after college since I haven’t moved out yet but then the pastor turned an entire Sermon on the Mount Series into a a discussion of gender roles. I don’t even know how. So I skedaddled over to an egal church, no bridges burned.

  • LauraWL

    I think it depends. I know for my husband and I it became harder and harder to stay at the church we met in when they publicly came out as supporting women in leadership but not as pastors/elders. I think we were on our own journey from complementarism to egalitarianism at the time and it became more uncomfortable for us when women were not being fully affirmed. We chose the church we attend now in part because they do have a woman pastor and women elders and do fully affirm women in teaching roles (although one of our male pastors publicly teased the female pastor for referring to Pinterest in one of her sermons, which I thought was sort of rude, but in line with this pastor’s teasing nature). That being said, if I lived in a smaller community and my only choices were a complementarian church and a church that had other core teachings (for instance on matters of salvation) that I disagreed with, I would probably choose the church whose core of orthodoxy I most agreed with. And when your church feels like home (which the church we left was feeling less and less like) then I can see how it would be easy to de-emphasize the differences and stay for the community/relationships you have with other congregants.

  • Callie Glorioso-Mays

    This is an excellent question. I am an egalitarian who attends a complementarian church (it is generally affirming of women serving many roles, but not as elders/pastors). We are a military family so I know that we’ll only be here for a couple of years, which makes the decision to stay for now easier. It took us awhile for find this church and we like so much about it. But I have told my husband that I think in the future it will be important for me to attend an egalitarian church. I want our children raised with a model of egalitarianism in the church.

  • Kristine

    Can there be an across-the-board “should” on a nonessential matter of the faith? (Nonessential because it is truly not a doctrine vital to salvation.) If we frame it as a “should” or “should not,” mightn’t we miss the individual guidance of the Spirit? The question of should probably can’t be answered in a conversation with people, only with God…

    I am an egalitarian woman (with the gift of teaching, no less) attending a strictly complementarian church, a church proud of its male leadership and totally silent women. Would I have chosen to attend this church? No. I even once told someone God would have to send lightening bolts over my dead body before I would go there. But of course He didn’t have to go to that extreme to convince me of His will. 🙂

    The essence of submission is laying down your life, denying your desires in order to meet the needs of another. Women in these churches are sometimes quite oppressed. They need freedom, reassurance, and love just like women in other situations that we consider much worse. That’s what God reminded me of when He asked me to attend there; He told me He had children who needed encouragement…. So can I submit my desire to be affirmed in order to speak His love to women who won’t hear much affirmation otherwise? I would that and much more in a foreign country as a missionary if it would win audience for the gospel – so can I not do it at home, too? And can I trust God to affirm and sustain me when men don’t?

    I won’t deny it has been bitterly hard at times. Accepting this path has been a slow and sometimes angry process. But there have been good things in it for me, too. I am learning a bit about loving people you don’t agree with, for one thing! Was it really love, when I only showed it to people who thought like me and liked me? Or was that just another form of self-love…? It is a maturing experience. (I *totally* don’t mind if God wants to switch me to a different church tomorrow! But I think I am finally at peace with this path.)

    We do have children, but I am not fearful for them. They are watching their mother and father exist in harmony and happiness, and surely our purposeful influence and teaching will be more potent than the occasional few hours per week of opposite teaching! It’s not that healthy of a church – I would be more concerned it would turn them off Christ than that it would turn them onto complementarianism. And for all that it has been a heartache to me, if the “worst” thing they ever did was become a complementarian, I would be a thankful mother. 🙂 And I think they will see what is and what is not for themselves – kids have a good radar about that kind of thing.

    • Laura Watts

      I am glad that you were able to put the leading of the Holy Spirit above your own preferences. It can be hard to do that a lot of the time.

    • Eric Boersma

      Can there be an across-the-board “should” on a nonessential matter of the faith?

      What I’m going to say here may seem like it’s trying to diminish what you’ve done and described here for us, and I want to be clear that I’m not trying to do that, because it’s clear that you’ve made a great sacrifice for the good of many people, and I think that’s God’s work.

      I think there can be an across-the-board should on non-salvific matters of the faith. That’s not to say that I think that there is necessarily a personally-applicable “should” in this case; as you’ve made clear here, there are personal circumstances or callings that might negate any “should” that I could provide to someone who is an egalitarian called to serve in a complementarian society.

      But I think we can have lots of “shoulds” in non-salvific matters. We should be constantly seeking the oppressed, the hurt, the broken, the hungry and the poor and doing everything we can to ease their pain and wounds and lift their oppression. I’m not trying to imply that you’re saying we shouldn’t do those things, not at all. But so often, I see a distinction drawn between salvation and non-salvation matters as if the entire purpose of the Bible and Jesus and His message was fire insurance, keeping us from going to hell. I shudder at that message (and it’s all too common), and while I don’t think you were expressing that opinion here (quite the opposite), I wanted to speak up and elaborate on your thought there, a little.

      • Kristine

        I would agree that there are any number of things we should be doing, like the actions you pointed out of justice and mercy. Though since none of us can do all that we ought to do (feed the poor, minister to the sick, visit the imprisoned, preach the gospel, teach truth, be missionaries, stay home, encourage the discouraged…), we can really only do the one part God has called us individually to do. So even on that point, I don’t think we are able to say to each other, “you should be doing such and such.” Because no doubt they could justly reply that we also should be doing this, that, or the other! None of us can do all we should, so the things we should do are the things the Father directs us to focus on.

        However, I was aiming a different direction in my original comment: the question of when we all, universally, should or should not break fellowship with other Christians… Scripturally, it seems that we should break fellowship over unrepentant sin with the aim of restoration, and we should break fellowship over certain vital doctrines like the deity of Christ.

        Much as I would love to see the church release all its women, different interpretations of the role
        of women is not something I can find Scriptural support for the universal breaking of fellowship over, especially when pretty much everyone I know on the other side of the fence is there in an honest attempt to obey Scripture. God is thankfully much slower to break fellowship with His children over our misunderstandings (we’ve all got some things wrong, I’m sure!) than we are with each other.

        So I was trying to communicate that there is not an always Should or always Should Not on this point, only the individual leading of the Spirit. My apologies for being obtuse in the original comment. 🙂

        • Ashley Proctor

          you weren’t being obtuse. eric was trying to shift the discussion away from your uncomfortable point, that is, what does it truly mean to live a christian life – cruciformity.

  • We’re looking for churches, and though I wouldn’t close the door all the way, I doubt I’d feel excited about a complementarian church (there’s one close to us where we have dear friends…but I just can’t).
    That said, I think it comes down to two variables.
    Are there other options? Is there a church where you are affirmed that’s a possibility? Can you compromise on other essentials–like children’s ministry–in order to make sure the messages your family are hearing affirm everyone?
    Can you be open about who you are there? If you can speak truth in love into the situation, perhaps it can be healing for all.

    Are you feeling oppressed? For me, this is the deal-breaker–when I was at a heavily complementarian church it really corroded my faith.

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  • Brian White

    For me it’s pretty straightforward: I have a little girl, and I don’t think my wife and I would ever join a church where my daughter is told her ability to lead, have authority, or participate in the Kingdom is limited by her gender.

  • Marissa

    We are in a comp church (which I am in love with) but my husband and I happen to be (mostly) egal, and I have teaching gifts that I feel want to explode from me due to lack of use. I feel God has asked me to stay, love, submit and perhaps be a part of a change process. Well, the change process feels like trying to turn the Titanic.

    My husband has been asked onto the teaching team, which I am genuinely happy about since he is also a gifted preacher, but when I think of what it would be like to be in a church that welcomes me to use my gifts I practically salivate.

    My pastor, who is a man I care for and respect in Christ, is speaking on Genesis this weekend and “God’s original design for men and women”. I’m honestly thinking of staying home…

  • Nancy Le

    One must remember our primary calling by the Lord is to go and make disciples. That is supposed to be the calling of the church. Theology is an important part of discipleship, but I don’t think that is the main thing; I think growing in theology is a process. Introducing people to Jesus is primary. If you have the freedom to pursue that in the midst of where you have been planted, if you are using your gifts and callings you may be a positive force for change. On the other hand, if you cannot, and your gifts are being squandered, why would you want to stay? If you are a parent however, you are just as responsible, or even more so, to make disciples of your children, so if you have a different viewpoint than the church, and the children are not old enough to differentiate alternate viewpoints while still living in unity (if they are in their formative years, in which children think very concretely), it may be best to take them somewhere where you can support the teaching, but more importantly, that the teaching supports what you are teaching at home. I think one can also pray for opportunities to expand the conversation. If the Lord provides those opportunities, you may be there for a reason or for a season. If you are blocked at every turn, that may also be an indicator that change will not be coming to that community.

  • I will probably be in a minority of one here, but I am a complementarian who used to attend an egalitarian church.

    The first question to ask is what argument is egalitarianism based on. The then vicar did once argue that we can ignore certain passages in the New Testament as we are now “in the Age of the Spirit”. My concern is that Pentecost was at the beginning of the book of Acts and the New Testament was written in the Age of the Spirit – there is a huge difference between wrestling with certain verses in Paul’s Epistles (as evangelical feminists do) and treating the parts of the New Testament one doesn’t like as being on par with Leviticus.

    I would say it depends on the person and the church. In the Anglican church, communion is only done by priests, and I would simply stay in my pew when a woman was presiding. Not make a fuss, not stop anyone, just stay there. Some knew why, some didn’t.

    • Laura Watts

      Being on neither side of this issue completely, I love what you said, “there is a huge difference between wrestling with certain verses in Paul’s Epistles (as evangelical feminists do) and treating the parts of the New Testament one doesn’t like as being on par with Leviticus.”
      Yes, yes, yes. How glorious and mysterious is the Word of the Lord.

  • Some great comments, here! I wish I could read them all. I think people are listing some very good things to factor into this decision, and I want to add three factors of my own.

    But first, a little background: I’m a parent of two young adults (one of them a girl), and two teenage girls. I’m also married to a long-time egalitarian. My own perspective has evolved over the years, and is still being refined. I am definitely an egalitarian, but there was a time when I just didn’t know how I felt about the issue.

    Factor 1: How are the women in your family (spouses, daughters) being affected by the complementarian environment? I’m sure the situation is not always toxic, but if it is, then it is time to go. And don’t look back.

    Factor 2: Are any of the women in your family inclined toward leadership? If so, there are some practical issues to consider – are their skills being utilized in your current environment? Are there opportunities in other nearby spiritual communities for those skills to be put to use? Here, I am mostly talking about the pragmatics of being able to do ministry.

    Factor 3: How will your exit affect the complementarian church? Leaving may be positive – an egalitarian in a complementarian environment can create a lot of awkwardness that may not be constructive. On the other hand, your church may be moving toward change in its thinking. I had the privilege of being a part of a church that went through this type of change, and of being an advocate for egalitarianism. By staying, you may be able to help your faith community progress toward a more open view. You may also be able to minister to and encourage other like-minded people who are trying to make sense of the issue.

  • Nancy Le

    I’d like to pose a question as well. What in the world does it mean that women can be in leadership, but not be pastors or elders? What kind of leadership? You can “facilitate a small group” but can’t “teach the Word.” You can teach children, but not adult men? This makes no sense to the non-Christian world I tell you.

    • Jacob Lupfer

      That is a load of crap promoted by churches that think they can tone down their sexism and make it somehow more palatable.

      • Nancy Le

        I’ve read some of your posts. I’m thinking about things you have said. Thank you.

  • Kay Higuera Smith

    It seems pretty straightforward to me. If you were black, would you attend a church that taught that black people were created by God to submit to whites? If you were a Jewish believer would you attend a church that taught that Jews were ordained by God to be oppressed and that it was the church’s calling to oppress them (Augustine’s teaching).

  • Darcy

    I think I could tolerate it for a while, if I was the only person I had to consider in this decision. But, you see, I have two daughters. Wonderful, spirited, strong little girls, whom I am raising to be strong women. And no matter how I try to justify attending a church that does not allow women to use the gifts God has given them, I cannot justify raising my daughters in such an environment. I want them to be part of a faith community that celebrates who they are, not one that relegates their gifts and callings and personality based on their gender. I cannot raise my daughters in a faith community that tells them what they can and cannot do for God based on their biology. To do so would make me a hypocrite. But girls are not the only ones who suffer when raised in such an oppressive environment. Boys do too. I also have two sons. Complementarians place men in tiny boxes, just as they do women, and it is just as harmful. I am raising strong, genuine, respectful young men who see women as equals and are not threatened by this, but support and affirm the women in their lives. How then can I subject them constantly to an environment that teaches otherwise, that teaches they are to be “in authority” over women, that women are spiritually less than they? And not only that, but men are damaged when they are judged as “not man enough” and don’t fit into the mold of what “godly men and leaders” are supposed to be and do. I want my boys AND my girls to be completely and utterly free to be themselves, to be who God made them, to not be conformed to the world’s way of thinking about gender inequality, but be transformed by living a radically different way, in equality with their fellow humans. Perhaps, if on my own, I would try to stay in a complementarian church, to be a missionary of sorts, to help promote a better way. But I cannot in good conscience do that with the hearts and souls of 4 children on the line. I know what damage was done to me and to my husband due to growing up in such environments. I refuse to inflict that on my children.

  • E

    We certainly are egalitarian, and progressive and liberal, and we go to a CRC… A little backwards, I know! But there’s more to life than agreeing with everyone. We end up thinking critically about our views way more often than not. Actually, once you talk to people individually surprisingly many of them are way more open than you would suspect. The reason we chose this church, and this community, is because of the unbelievable warmth and friendliness we experienced. Relationships pave the way to understanding and love… No matter if there is theological agreement or not.

    • E

      That almost sounds flippant, so I should add that I’m not too wrapped up in church – it was my life for a long time, but after a dark period of disillusionment with church which still lingers, it has lost most of its ability to affect me too deeply. Instead I’m interested in people rather than the organization… I don’t know if that makes any sense. 🙂

      • E

        Ha you all are privy to my stream of consciousness thinking!
        So I’m going to qualify these thoughts again – I’m not a leader at all in any sense except as dictator-for-life at home, lol. The CRC is the more liberal of the reformed tradition and women are making amazing headway in this branch of the church. It is a surprising denomination in many respects – the denominational magazine “the banner” is actually a great read. Anyway all this is to say – I don’t think we could go to a more conservative church and we don’t fit in wonderfully with every church-cultural expectation which does cause some friction. I’ve been told I’m going to hell and taking my children with me by my own father, so the church can’t do anything to me that hasn’t already toughened over.

        • Maria

          I attend a CRC too! It’s interesting, the differences within our own denomination – especially on this issue. I live in a town with two CRCs. I attend one, which is very small, but we have women as deacons and elders, and have had ordained female pastors preach from our pulpit. The other, larger CRC, does not allow women in these roles, although I believe they are moving towards having women as deacons (they had a new pastor come in two or three years ago, and things are sloooooowly changing). Although the larger church offers more in terms of programs and children’s groups, we will not attend that church because of the lack of leadership roles that women are allowed to hold.

          Interestingly, I remember this change happening in the CRC I grew up in a couple towns over – I remember “women in office” being a big issue in the late 80s and early 90s. I also remember that my mom was the first woman in our church to be approached for nomination as a deacon. 🙂

        • River Birch

          I like reading The Banner too!

  • Suzanne Burden

    Oh, man. This is the million dollar question. I’m wrestling with it right now.

    Here are some things I do believe:
    1) There is no one right answer. Some can stay, some must go, and always, one must be sure that they are able to find a space in which they are able to be spiritually healthy. No good staying in a church where your faith dies, whether that happens fast or slow.
    2) It is a justice issue. But so is race reconciliation, and socio-economic reconciliation, and several other issues. Our church happens to shine on race reconciliation and diversity and addressing immigration reform and more. So they may not be all the way where we’d like them to be on gender reconciliation, but we’re hoping we are seeing movement in the right direction.
    3) Are there men in leadership who are willing to fight for their sisters to rise up next to them? Because we just can’t do it in these situations. If they are willing, I have been encouraged to wait and to pray for and to support them in this important and necessary task.

    Still processing all this, honestly. Thankful I’m obviously not on the journey alone!

  • Kerri

    I watched this video – a short one, by clicking on the link you had for your last post Sarah, it’s an interview with Brennan Manning – it’s called All is Grace: http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/all-is-grace. I was struck by his words – struck with longing to be more like that – to be around people like him. The question isn’t about whether you should or shouldn’t attend this kind or that kind of church. The question is where are you at with your Jesus? Are you so full of him that you can just extend grace to those around you without being harmed by the messages they speak into your heart? The question is what IS church? and what is this complementarian church saying about who Jesus is?
    Maybe I shouldn’t be commenting on here. Right now my husband and I don’t attend “church”. I was pulled by Jesus out of a very self-abusive relationship with religion. It was painful, and I’m still broken. I can’t attend “church” right now, because it hurts too much for someone to tell me over and over again how abusive my best friend is – how scary and how angry and how disappointed in me he is – how little he thinks I am as a woman (such is the message I got from the church I grew up in). Its a personal thing – not something others necessarily face. I prayed and prayed and struggled to continue attending the organized institution you call church. I stayed for my parents, for my friends… until I couldn’t anymore. For right now, I’m on a church sabbatical. I don’t know when, if ever I will be able to go back. I know I still enjoy relationship with other Christians – I know I still find worship and fellowship – I know I am part of church – part of the body of Christ. All of my family are complementarians – I love them all and share my life with them, I can still be part of them whether they think like me or not – but its different sitting down and being told to think a certain way.

  • Sarah Grochowski

    I would say it depends on a number of questions:

    1. Your family situation: What does your husband/loved ones believe about roles? What type of church are they seeking to attend (complementarian/egalitarian)? Why? This is because it is so upbuilding to honour the ones God has placed in our lives – to collectively involve your close family, and discuss much in love. This will leave no one out of the mix and leave no one feeling hurt about their own personal beliefs (or what they have been taught). Changes of this type often come slowly through experience and God’s own heart shared.

    2. Your own personal conviction: As God and the Holy Spirit has led you, along with Biblical evidence, how you are wanting to built up and able to serve? Especially if you are a women is being called to teaching, leading, or other ministries, you have to consider how vital it is that your church supports you in this. You do not want to be swimming upstream for your entire life. If so, I am positive you may be very unsatisfied with your choice as a result. Also, consider that we become like the people we surround ourselves with.

    3. Are you willing to promote your own church when you know that it may be promoting an injustice towards women and even bring up children, youth, and those who serve in the church in this same tradition? Think about it. It may further the things you are in major opposition to, things you know hurt the women and men you love. God has imparted wisdom into your own beautiful heart – listen to it.

    4. Your history with the church you attend: If you have been at a certain complementarian church for generations or many years it may be a good place for you to speak with others comfortably and openly about your beliefs, requiring boldness, and this may be a great place God wants you to minister – even to the church leaders and such. But if it is truly hurtful or blatantly against your heart’s belief of roles you have to consider that maybe it would be best to go. God uses even leaving to send a message to the leaders, they will be asking questions about it most likely.

    Lastly, after a collective decision among loved ones, search for a peace of mind that will God give you about your decision. This comes most-likely after you pray and discern His will. Ask those you admire about it. God’s grace is enough for the messiest of our situations so in all of this you can be confident that in whatever you choose, even if it hurts us or offends others, God is not disappointed or let down. He is on your side.

    I thank God for all you strong women! So blessed to be like-minded to you all 🙂

    • Angie Burke

      I’ve loved the whole conversation here, and have to say – #3 on your list is the one that troubles us most in our own church (on this issue – but others as well). For now, it’s a spirit led decision to stay . . . but this is the point that grieves me most.

      • Sarah Grochowski

        Yes, I can only imagine. My heart goes out to you!

  • Vicki Judd

    We are attending a complementarian church right now. We moved here a year and a half ago and truly feel that this is the church God wants us. We love the people, the pastor and (for the most part) the teaching. Sure, it’s uncomfortable at times. However, I’ve had some good conversation with the Pastor and although he hasn’t changed his position, he has been very kind to me. He knows that I am an ordained minister with another denomination (both Pentecostal.) Last week he told me he sees me as a leader and values my insight. I’m not sure what that means, since I haven’t offered much to him personally – just comments in Bible studies. He invited me to give input whenever I felt it was appropriate. I’m pretty reluctant to do that at this point.

    The rest of the story is that I spent 22 years on staff at a church that ordains women as an associate/teaching pastor. The (male) leadership talked a good game, but in terms of every day actions they were more complementarian than egalitarian. I don’t know where I’d have to go to find a truly egalitarian church. Even though I find the patriarchal teaching difficult in my church, most of the denominations I know that are truly egalitarian also hold other theological positions that I find even more troubling.

  • Adrienne Havercroft

    I am an egalitarian who goes to a complementarian church. I have days where I am definitely ambivalent about that. But we are still there, and here is some reasons why.
    Sometimes I have wondered why the Bible is so ambiguous about certain things, like gender, homosexuality and even slavery. The conclusion that I have come to (it is by no means an air-tight theology) is that it forces us into empathetic relationships with each other. For example, I recently read a really interesting piece about apartheid in South Africa, and the way that regime was legitimated by the Dutch Reform church. And if you take a literal approach to the new testament, it is kind of understandable. I literal view of the Bible does not seem to denounce the principle of slavery at all. And as a person in a position of privilege, I think it would be impossible for you to think otherwise without empathy. Empathy is the piece that says “my theology becomes untenable when held up against your experience.” I think there is something so holy and redemptive and transformative in that kind of empathetic impulse.
    Most of the people who attend my church (not all) disagree with me when it comes to gender. But most of them are amazing Christians, whose experiences have led them to land on this issue differently than me. They are truly great people and faithful Christ-followers. My hope is that my presence in this community is a quiet and (hopefully) gracious reminder that my personhood and my experiences stand in opposition to their theology. I pray that my presence will, at times, unsettle conclusions, and plant seeds of doubt where otherwise there might be certainty.
    For those of us who have strong convictions when it comes to egalitarianism, I’m sure most of us would agree that these are important issues for the entire church to wrestle with. How will that happen if some of us aren’t willing to lovingly engage with those who disagree with us? And I don’t just mean engage on twitter or on line, but in person in our real, flesh and blood lives. I mean engage by sharing life with people who are passionate about Jesus, but whose experiences have led them to different conclusions on these issues. How will those occupying positions of leadership and privilege within the church, who have never felt marginalized by certain types of sectarian theologies, experience transformative empathy if none of us are willing to venture out of our echo-chambers and share our lives with them?
    There’s so much more I could say, but that’s kind of the crux of it for me. It is definitely hard some days, but I do believe that the spirit is behind me, and this movement in all of this, which helps me to press on. Great question, Sarah!

    • Liz Wolf

      Can I just say that I LOVE the part of your comment that says, “My hope is that my presence in this community is a quiet and
      (hopefully) gracious reminder that my personhood and my experiences
      stand in opposition to their theology. I pray that my presence will,
      at times, unsettle conclusions, and plant seeds of doubt where otherwise
      there might be certainty.”

  • Liz Wolf

    I seriously can’t believe this question came up today. A week and a half ago, after a sermon that made it very clear how much the pastor “values” women, I told my husband that I simply could NOT attend that church anymore. We are new to a small town and had been attending this church for a few months and I had been telling myself that although it was very “conservative” I could handle it because of how friendly everyone was. I was wrong. My husband doesn’t quite “get it”, but does say that the pastor is way out of balance in his view of women. That church only allows women to teach Sunday School and work in the nursery and office. The wives of elders go up front with their husbands to pray for people at the end of each service and there are no other women in any leadership roles at all.

    Our choices of churches in this small town are few. The more egalitarian church has a wonderful pastor and very unfriendly people. The other very friendly church is still complementarian, although they do allow women in leadership roles (not as pastor or deacons, but in other roles, some elected). I think we will end up at the friendly complementarian church, but I can already tell that it’s going to be a struggle for me.

    I am actually new to the dance here. I first heard the terms “egalitarian” and “complementarian” several months ago from my college age daughter. I wasn’t raised in church, so it wasn’t something that I paid any attention to in my younger years. I realize that most of the churches I have attended allow women a great deal of freedom in ministry, so it’s not something I really paid much attention to. My husband, on the other hand, has had very complementarian views on church and marriage, which has created quite a few, ummm “trials”, in our 26 years of marriage. He is getting better and is actually open to women serving in the church in any role other than senior pastor. This is a huge leap forward for him! I have recently been studying and researching the case for women to be “allowed” equal roles in church and trying to decipher Greek words and Biblical translation errors in my (sometimes exhausting and frustrating) search for truth.

    • Lynda

      Oh my. So many similarities here, right down to the number of years we’ve been married. It really boils down to what is available in a community, doesn’t it? We have moved MANY times in our marriage, and each time, we have found that we end up choosing a church at least as much for the people there as for anything specific that the church stands for. However, now that I have broadened my doctrine in some areas and find myself strongly egalitarian, I am finding it even harder to find an appropriate church home. Yes, I could attend a church that tended more toward complementarianism than I do, but I don’t think I could choose one – longterm – that didn’t affirm women as equal partners and valuable in ministry.

      It looks like we will be moving again, so I may have another chance to look for that “just right” church.

      And I, too, have learned so much from my college age daughter over the past few years. The student becomes the teacher… Liz, I am absolutely certain we would have a blast conversing over coffee!

      • Liz Wolf

        Yes, Becky, I’m sure we would have a great time together! I hope you do find that “just right” church. And… isn’t it amazing how much our kids can teach us? My daughter bought me “Jesus Feminist” for Christmas, as a follow-up to the many conversations we’ve had over the past few years and as a spring-board for new growth.

  • I am an outspoken feminist and supporter of gay marriage who goes to a complementarian red-state mountain church. I stay because this is where I live, and if my voice isn’t there, then my voice isn’t there. I want the church to reflect the true makeup of the community. I am a flesh and blood feminist (and I’m even pro-choice!) to folks who have thought of feminists as something other than vulnerable humans. I’m proud that I show up and stand up and tell the truth. But I also am more tired (and spiritually drained) after a church service than I was before it. I am tempted to skip Sundays when I’m a little tired. I feel constantly under scrutiny. And I lean more heavily on my online community than I would if my physical church were more of a safe space. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend my path to anybody, but I believe that I am called here, called with a capital “C” — Called! — by the Holy Spirit to be in community with those who are different from me.

    • Adrienne Havercroft

      Totally agree. And also… complementarians are vulnerable humans too! I think it’s transformative for everyone to relate to each other as humans instead of the caricatures we so easily create of each other.

  • Anna

    I think there’s a huge difference between ‘staying’ in a church and becoming part of one. By which I mean that my egalitarian beliefs have only strengthened over the past few years and the church community I was already a part of was complementarian. The friends I have there are my brothers and sisters, both in Christ and in the sense that we have shared so much of our lives together that it would break my heart to leave them over our differing theology. But in six months time, I’m moving to a new city out for my job. Given the choice of settling in any church in that city where I’m being called, I can’t see myself ending up in a complementarian church. Choosing from scratch a church who contradicts my beliefs and doesn’t recognise 100% my value as a woman is so very different from loving the people you’re already doing life with.

  • This is such a tricky thing to navigate, and I have a tough time believing that it is a black and white issue.

    At the church I attend, women speak, teach at all levels, lead groups of any kind, and there are women that are deacons and pastors, but there are no female elders. Men and women alike are encouraged to pursue their purpose, vocation, and passions for the kingdom. For me, this works just fine. The fact that there are not women elders does not embitter me towards the church… however, if women were not permitted to speak, teach, lead, etc. as they are, I might get pretty frustrated.

    I don’t want to put myself in a position of being bitter at the church, and that’s one of the ways I can draw the line. I certainly don’t want to make consumeristic church decisions that are all about me and my feelings–I just don’t know if it’s wise to habitually subject myself to something that might end up making me angry at the church I love so much. For all of the flaws she has, she is beautiful.

  • This is a difficult question. I’m not sure what I would do in this case. My church is currently lead (from the pulpit) by two women and one man. (Btw…2/3 of the team is a married couple, so we see egalitarianism in practice on a regular basis.) However, in a similar scenario, our church is not officially open and affirming, but I/we very much believe in the full inclusion on LGBT members in the life of the church. There is part of me that would like to find a church that is in the same place theologically, but the other part of me appreciates the fact that different views help our church grow. So, I reconcile this by trying to encourage dialogue and education opportunities, etc. Which, thankfully, my church encourages. However, if it were a “we believe this and it is not up for discussion” then I’m not sure I could stay. That is the beauty of my home church, though. Wrestling (with your faith/scripture/theology) is allowed and often encouraged.

  • Shannon G

    I stayed in one church like this for years, I was even in leadership (in positions they allowed women to be in). I attempted to help the Pastors see the light, especially because they said they were considering the issue. When it came down to it, they had no intention of changing.
    I left and attended another complementarian church, however they wouldn’t talk about leadership or headship AT ALL and I was burnt out so I sat in the pew and ignored the issue. I eventually left there as well.
    In this stage of my life, especially as a single mother I can no longer attend a church that embraces this theology. It hurts my heart and soul.

  • Melissa Joy Powell

    This is such a difficult issue. For me, being a part of church community is ultimately about belonging; our willingness to be a part of one another. The two central questions for me have been:
    Am I willing to belong to these people?
    Are these people willing to belong to me?
    Regardless of our particular beliefs about any given issue,are we able to belong to one another? We can disagree and still remain in one another, or we can disagree and find ourselves cut off. I have experienced relationship with people within the body where we have strongly disagreed and yet still felt profoundly loved and accepted. I have also experienced relationship with people with whom I have strongly agreed, and yet felt rejected and devalued. However we frame our theology with words and labels, it’s our lived theology, the way we are the body of Christ with and for one another and for the world, that is most important. For me that shows itself most clearly through the way we are Christ to one another.

  • Lynnea

    For me the answer is Yes. My husband and I both began our marriage journey from the Complementarian viewpoint. Over time, my heart has changed to a more Egalitarian mindset. My husband has not, and passionately believes in the beauty of complementarian marriage. I am so grateful for someone like him, because he would never use it to demean me in any way, but uses it as the theological basis for the male to serve and cherish their wives to the best of his ability. My husband has always been very affirming of women in all contexts, but does not believe that a female should be a lead pastor or elder. At times, this has caused conflict between us, but then we realized that is not God’s intention for our relationship with one another either.

    We left a church that was very dogmatic about the structure of the church, and I would often get very hurt/offended. But we did not leave on that basis alone. The dogma in general made me uneasy and tense and I did not feel like I could find my place/home there. After leaving (which was a process in and of itself), we found a beautiful church. They are complementarian in theology, they do not have women in leadership. The important part for me, though, is their gentleness, their humility. I can fully submit to the church, because I love and trust the leaders. They are honest and genuine. My husband feels comfortable there, and truthfully, I am the one who can handle disagreeing about big issues more. I see where they are coming from and I respect their opinion. Also, it is not required that you agree with these tenants for membership, therefore there are many in my “camp”. As far as justice is concerned, they are advocates for justice around the world, including justice for women and feel that any woman who is being condemned/torn down/harmed in her marriage is not in a safe, healthy, or God desired place.

    For me it boils down to: whether I believe in mutual submission as God’s primary ideal for marriage, or as a complementarian view as God’s ideal for marriage, I am still called to submit. I am still called to honor and cherish my husband. I am called to sacrifice for him, and he for me. When we are doing this, semantics don’t matter as much, and I am able to graciously participate in this body of believers. The Church is far from perfect, and I value those who genuinely, humbly seek God and follow Him. There is nothing to say that I can’t pray or speak for God to change their hearts/perspectives, but for now, I am at peace to be in this place that we have been directed and called. The end answer isn’t always what fits me perfectly, but instead, where we can find the most stability, peace, and unity for our marriage.

  • You cannot stay there as you have daughters, especially. Sorry. My sister was in the same sitch and her daughter began to ask some very scary questions.

  • Heh, we just left a heavily-emphasized complementarian church a few months ago, partly because we found a lack of grace for anyone who wasn’t operating in the preferred manner of male hierarchy.

    When we first started attending, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. Complementarian comments seemed few and far between. But as time went on, it seemed that more and more comments were being made to try and affirm a supposed hierarchy. And there seemed to be a lot less grace for us, specifically.

    Looking back, I wonder if our being egalitarian – even though we never really pushed the issue very much – was viewed as a threat, hence the increase in voicing of complementarian positions?

    So, my short answer would be: the only reason I would ever stay at a complementarian church is if it was low-key, with grace and acceptance for anyone who was living out so,etching different in their family life. If the church values the people in the church more than hierarchy, I would stay.

  • Becky

    We are in the process of leaving a complementarian church for this reason and others. We would have loved to bring about some changes, but after years of gently trying in different avenues, we had no results. Now we just want to find a church that is fully egalitarian, and continue to use social media and real life relationships to push for change from a distance. Change is incredibly slow, and any notions of “as soon as they see the good exegesis, they will change their minds” are mostly wishful thinking. Many people are unwilling to really dig in, and then there are so many that have dug in and have still come to a complementarian point of view.

  • Mandi

    This question is very timely since I just left a church for this very reason. There were some things I loved about it, which is why I stayed for almost three years, but it got to the point where it felt like spiritual abuse.

  • Robin

    From a pastor’s point of view…don’t stay! It’s better for you AND the church that you go where you can grow and not have issues with the direction of the church. You aren’t going to change anything there.

    • Kristine

      If you are only attending with the goal of changing the church’s views… well, isn’t that like getting married with the expectation that you will be able to change your spouse? And we know how that tends to turn out.

      Only do it if you are willing to love people where they are, whether they change or not. Because they probably won’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t impact their life for good, but you can’t form real relationships under the condition that someone morphs to your view within the next 1-2 years. And most people have excellent radar for someone who’s trying to “love” them into a new view versus genuine, unconditional love….

    • Chantal

      I would love to hear more of your opinion on this from the perspective of one in leadership.

  • Amanda M.

    This was so interesting to me to read everyone’s thoughts. Last year we left our egalitarian church of almost a decade (not because of that reason – b/c of other issues) and switched to a complementarian church. It was a hard decision in some ways, but the community there is inviting and the preaching is good (even the one sermon on submission when we went through 1 Peter – I disagreed w/ the pastor on some points, but his attitude was very positive and loving and gave me some things to think about). It is hard b/c while women can do some things – like head up committees (and we even have men working with the nursery/small kids), I can’t lead a co-ed Sunday school class or a small group. I didn’t think this would bother me as much as it has recently – it is really the inconsistencies I see – what can I lead? Where is the line? I can be a leader in my community/if I had an outside job, but not ministry related, etc. My husband and I have an egalitarian marriage (even though it might not look exactly like one since I stay at home), and we have two little boys that we will teach our values on things. It really is a hard spot to be in because we agree with a lot of other things at our new church – and uprooting our children/church-hopping is not an option. I’m just trusting God will use me however He wants, wherever He wants. I have learned a lot from my comp. friends though – and though there haven’t been any real “marriage” sermons, our marriage this year has been better than it’s ever been – so maybe the better thing is to find a church that will encourage you/your spouse/your family, challenge you, and teach you – rather than being consumed with a singular issue. I don’t know – it’s a tough one. When we finally move from this town (hoping in a year or two), we will find a new church and it will probably be more egalitarian again.

  • Jacob Lupfer

    I am not certain that I’m right. We are part of a tradition that dates back across twenty centuries, and I’m a little hesitant to break fellowship with people just because I’m 50 years ahead of them.

    But to answer your question: NO. Egalitarians should not attend complementarian churches. You are not wanted there. The leaders consider you annoyances at best but most likely heretics and apostates. Don’t waste your time and your considerable gifts in a patriarchal community that devalues you and denies what God can do in and through you.

    My dream of late is that progressive evangelicals can be a major part of the revival of Mainline Protestant churches. And frankly, the literal-Bible patriarchs who have already cast you aside will bid you good riddance.

    Don’t waste another moment. Don’t give another dollar. Draw nearer to Christ at whose Table all divisions melt away. A church that tells you who you are and what you can or cannot do because you are a woman is not a spiritually or emotionally healthy place for you to be.

    All across North America, there are communities that would welcome your intellects, your doubts, your ideas, your values, your stories. Imagine how the dynamics of faith in culture would shift if egalitarians voted with their feet (and wallets) and left their sexist churches behind! Imagine how much healthier it will be for your daughters and your sons.

  • These were exactly my questions a couple of months ago (I wrote about it here, in fact: http://theelbowsofbelle.blogspot.com.au/2013/09/a-letter-to-my-church.html)! Being an egalitarian in a complementarian church can be incredibly exciting – my pastor had never (!) thought through the egalitarian argument before we met to discuss a paper he’d written on women’s roles in the church – it was very cool to be able to gently challenge his assumptions and see him come to respect that my egalitarianism was as much rooted in a love for the Bible as his views were. And at exactly the same time, being an egalitarian in a complementarian church can be incredibly frustrating and painful – (trying to think of just one example).

    There’s no one right answer to these questions to fit each egalitarian and each complementarian church, although *I* would say a big YES to whether or not it’s possible to be a Jesus Feminist and attend a complementarian church – sticking around at a church that holds different views on women doesn’t make you a substandard egalitarian. 🙂

    It can be a really tough decision – I hope the discussion here helps! x

  • What people should do, I cannot say. Except that they should ask the leading of God’s Spirit: What does God want for them?

    As for me, I was in a church where the pastor was strongly a marriage complementarian. One day, during a sermon on wifely submission, I stood up, crossed my arms, and stood frowning. When he said something especially oppressive, I shook my head.

    The point was, someone in the church probably needed to see that a committed Christian could disagree – there are other ways to understand this, and it is up to the church to care about oppression.

    After that, he basically overlooked and overruled me, even for small tasks in children’s ministry for which I am really well suited. (This was not because of my gender: Everyone involved with the children’s ministry in that church, except him, was female.)

    In the end, I left the church for a variety of reasons, of which the pastor’s complementarianism was only a tiny part.

    (He was controlling, did not listen to input from others, and preached about himself sometimes – in short, his complementarianism fitted in with a general view of some over others – men over women, the pastor over all.)

  • Jane Halton

    If all egalitarians leave complementarian churches then who will speak for us there? Although my beliefs line up with my church’s on this topic, I have other passionate beliefs that do not line up with my church. I am convinced I must stay to speak up for what I care most about. I know this is easier said than done, especially on the matter of all things women. Such an important question Sarah!

  • Tim P

    I write as someone who was a comp pastor for 17 years and who has been an egalitarian for the last six years. I can honestly say that I viewed the egalitarian women in my congregation during that time with a certain amount of distrust, at least at first. However, over time I came to admire their courage for continuing to minister, serve, and worship in a congregation that theologically limited their ability to lead. As I saw their character, it was hard not to appreciate their tenacity, strength and willingness to put themselves in a vulnerable situation for the sake of their convictions. In retrospect, I can see how these women gave up opportunities to serve in order to stay in the church. Some were there because that’s where family was connected. Others out of a sense of calling. I can also honestly say that their example played a role in me rethinking my position on gender roles. There is no easy answer to this question. For me, I could never attend a comp church again (or be ordained in a comp denomination), not because of how it would limit me but out of principle. However, if a person feels called to a comp church, it’s hard to argue with that.

  • My answer is yes, you can be a Jesus Feminist and attend a complementarian church… BUT. I say this because I have been a member without a problem at several churches where the head pastors are full-on card-carrying Gospel Coalition male headship advocates (and I am not). But, I have also left behind a different church in a different denomination and my Jesus Feminism was one of the main reasons I felt I didn’t have any place there anymore.

    The difference between the two churches, for me, was how I could answer this question: do they take the Scriptures more seriously than their cultural frameworks and beliefs on hot-button issues like this one? In one church the answer was yes, in their teaching they always sought to allow the scriptures to critique their cultural ideas about what male headship and leadership meant. It meant servant leadership like Christ’s, not domineering. And I could live with that. They also held a “softer” complementarian view that allowed women to teach and preach under the authority of a male head pastor.

    The church I left behind was not willing to acknowledge that there was any difference between their theology/cultural interpretation and what the Bible said (a pretty normal attitude within fundamentalism). Their mishmash of “traditional” theology and 1950s cultural values was thus beyond critique, even by the scriptures themselves. They only kept saying “but that’s what the Bible clearly says.” And when I piped up… well, I wasn’t really allowed to pipe up since I’m a woman and not allowed to interpret the scriptures… but when I recognized that they weren’t abiding by their own rules for faithful scriptural interpretation, that there were many holes in their “clearly” argument, well then I had to leave. They had made an idol out of their reading of scripture, rather than, as they claimed, keeping scripture first and allowing it to continually critique and inform their lives.

    That is my line in the sand, anyway, after years of painful reflection. I’m grateful to read what others have to say too, because it’s a tough issue.

  • Cbq

    Having recently moved cities, my husband and I are in the middle of this decision too. I feel strongly about this issue because it often colours so much of the church programming and messaging. But one factor is affecting our decision – lack of choices in a smaller community. HUGE factor. It’s lonely out here people :-). The need for fellowship trumps our need to hear our egalitarian beliefs from the pulpit. At this point, I’ll “settle” for something offering friendship, love, and grace most of the time. The rest of the time I pray I can be strong, gracious, and take a loving stand. It’s a risk I’ll have to take…again.

    • Liz Wolf

      My comment is way down there now, but we are in a similar situation. We moved to a small town from a large suburban area and our choices for churches are limited. It is VERY lonely in a small community when you don’t know anyone. We chose a church based on the friendliness of the people. They are warm, caring and have a heart to spread the love of Christ. But the loud and clear message from the pulpit that men must lead and women are secondary in everything ended up trumping what we thought was most important – our need for fellowship. We will probably switch (after only a few months) to another church that is still complementarian, but much softer and open to women serving. I hope you find a place that meets your needs.

    • Nikki Webber

      I hear you there! We are in rural BC and our only option besides being the ‘false teacher’ is commuting 45 minutes into the city. Unfortunately the logistics make forming meaningful relationships outside of Sunday morning, including cell groups, friendships, and serving really challenging. The importance of meaningful community can’t be overstated, and it can hurt to be in the position of making a choice between one or the other. Praying for you to form meaningful relationships and holding firmly to what you know to be true.

  • a Frog At Large

    Oh, now you got me thinking! I’ve grown up in a complementarian setting and I’ve always attended complementarian-ish setting. My previous church was egalitarian and had a woman elder but the final word in a disagreement between them was still the lead male leader by choice.

    My current church that I married into is soft complementarian; we have female worship leaders (I’m one of them) and in other leadership roles, including a female prophet but women don’t teach the men and there are no women elders. We have discussed it amongst the women and part of the problem is that although the leadership has actually had women teach once or twice, there is nowhere for them to go get trained up within our denomination. But eldership is a big no-no.

    i’m still going to stay. I may disagree strongly but I also know that there is nowhere else to go in my locality, and this church is actually really good in so many other areas like caring for the community especially the poor (unlike my previous egalitarian church) and the message of grace. It will do for now.

  • Amanda B.

    I think it depends entirely on both what your family is like and what the church is like. I echo the concerns of other comments about how children will navigate it, but that so much depends on both the kids in question and the messages they’re being given.

    I attended a church for a while that was so patriarchal it would have made John Piper cringe. As in, one sermon explicitly taught that the entire family should rotate around the schedule and desires of the father. “Jezebel” was a frequently-used pejorative. Needless to say, we left.

    I attended another church that didn’t believe women should be senior leaders, but otherwise didn’t make a big deal about it. While I disagreed, I could deal with that.

    If the church is dedicated enough to the topic that it makes you uncomfortable, it may well be time to move on. This isn’t even about them being bad or mean or unsafe. It’s about recognizing that you are not on the same page in terms of vision and values. There doesn’t even need to be finger-pointing. It’s just finding a place where you fit better. Hopefully–and if the congregation is healthy–it will be possible to plug in somewhere else without forfeiting the important relationships you have at your current church.

    So it really comes down to what you WANT to do–of course, always deferring to what you feel like God is asking you to do, if that’s clear to you (which only you can discern).

  • Garet Key

    The hardest thing about being egalitarian in a complementarian church is that your voice just won’t be heard, whatever you are saying. Theology is definitely the ‘mens domain’. The attraction of the church may well be its adherence to Scripture (albeit an undeveloped interpretation) and it may have great community/ youth work, but I think its also important to consider what this stance is saying to young christian women. I grew up in a very strict, complementarian church, and it was only my rebeliousness, sheer determination, and quest for answers that kept me in the faith. Recently I’ve been exploring this journey in a blog at garetkeyongod.wordpress.com.

  • Naomi Rose Steinberg

    I guess I feel like “attending church” is just a fraction of *being* church….so I guess the question might become: “Can I hang out with/ be in community with/ break bread with people who have oppising views to mine?” Which reminds me of my fave part of Pastrix, the Nadia Bolz-Weber book, where at one point nobody is really there for her except one seeminly obnoxious Christian guy who pretty much disagrees with her about everything. One thing I’ve discovered over the past year is that both encouragement and discouragement can come from extremely unexpected places.

  • Tom Corcoran

    My wife and I are egalitarians in a complementarian church for the past three years and, while it is uncomfortable, or even annoying, at times we have stayed, primarily because we have friends here. While we differ,they have not been hostile to us. In part we stay as sort of an “evangelistic” effort. A lot of people have not thought through their position on this issue or, more importantly, the potential implications of applying complementarian beliefs, most particularly abuse. While we stay I would caution that if you have young children or even teens it might be a decision that might be a lot harder to make.

  • Holly Solomon Barrett

    I attended a complementarian church for years and years and years. i stayed because it was my tribe, my family, my tradition. I thought things might change. I hoped I could help it change. Instead my gifts were not celebrated, my calling was not honored. I’m not angry. I’m sad. Sad for the women whose voices are silenced. Sad for the people who could be so encouraged by hearing their voices.

    Even so, leaving was difficult and painful. But it was also freeing. It’s amazing to be in a place where gifts and calling (not body parts) are the first criteria for service. It’s easier for women to celebrate the accomplishments of other women in this atmosphere. When there are so many open opportunities to serve, we can applaud one another’s successes rather than vie for the one or two places where our leadership gifts can be utilized.

  • I grew up Catholic til I was about 12, then rejected religion. I gave my life to Jesus at 22. After that most of the churches I attended on a regular basis were egalitarian in theory, but none had female lead pastors. We church hopped for a while and the idea of committing to a complementarian church always bothered me. It wasn’t until I realized that if I want to go to seminary and pursue a masters of divinity (which has been in the back of my mind for years), I would only want to attend a church where I know they would support me in my calling. I don’t necessarily want to be a pastor right now, but if I did, why worship somewhere where the people wouldn’t support me. It doesn’t make sense. I have no problem visiting complementarian churches. I still believe in the Church as ONE body, even with our disagreements, so I think different types of churches should connect, build relationships and do ministry together. It saddens me when we can’t see past our differences and work together for the greater good of the Kingdom of God here on earth… But personally, I could never bring myself to be a member of a complementarian church because I know God is calling me (in some way) to reach out to men and women alike about who they are in Jesus. Why would God silence half the church? That limits sharing the Gospel. Just doesn’t make sense to me.

  • jswwrites

    I think you go to the church where God sends you. Church isn’t necessarily supposed to be comfortable or perfect (what’s the old joke? If you find the perfect church, leave because you’ll mess it up.). We were once called to stay at a church that was clearly going to split and we were not on the side of leadership. It wasn’t comfortable but God clearly called us to stay. Conversely, it’s very easy to overstay at a “good” church because we’re nice and comfy there.

    If we take “it’s about me” out of the equation and let God put us where He wants us, we will find that maybe we have a purpose in that uncomfortable place. Maybe we don’t change things, but maybe we influence or touch one person or one family. Now days, it seems people pick a church for themselves: for the Sunday school or youth program or their friends or the softball league or women’s group. As Christians, we belong to THE church, not A church, and God will put you where HE needs you. When we follow the Spirit’s leading, we are much less critical, judgmental, and dividing, and much more apt to look for the opportunities He is sure to bring.

  • Melinda Cadwallader

    For me, community means relationship and I can’t imagine being in relationship with another party but doesn’t see me as an important and crucial role in Leadership. My divine gifts as a life-giving woman, my nature as a women who loves, are absolutely essential to the church body and for the presence of vital matriarchal roles. for this same reason I would not stay in a relationship with a man who did not see my very unique voice as great worth and value. My standards for deep friendships and healthy relationships are very high because I value my self-worth and I value my voice. Remaining in close relationships that do not honor female leadership do not propel me forward into gods calling in my life. For me, those kind of relationships stir up doubt and create a culture that questions the value of one’s voice.

  • Paige G.

    Wow, great topic since I think there are a lot of us out there. We’ve been struggling with this one for some time now because my husband is a minister in the church of Christ which is very comp. I’ve always been bothered by the issue, but it hasn’t been til the last few years that I’ve just had it with others unwillingness to even study the subject. He recently lost his job and it’s our opportunity to “jump ship” and find another group, but that’s a lot easier said than done when it’s your livlihood. I have two daughters (13 & 15) and a son (11). I’ve been teaching them what I think is right at home, but all these years not seeing women do things has taken its toll, I believe. And the people we have attended church with are people we love. They’re not just a bunch of faceless, nameless people who are easy to leave. I think there are positives to staying and positives to going. Still struggling and glad to read about others struggle with this question.

  • Aimee

    We are complementarians who go to an egalitarian church. Rarely do you see that happen 🙂 We have decided that for us, this is not a ditch to die in. The Spirit is moving here and having these disagreements keeps us humble and teachable and listening. I feel a greater sense of unity than I ever have had in church because of the diversity instead of my past way of believing that unity comes through like-mindedness.

  • Emmer Sto

    Oooo a many layered question to begin the morning 🙂

    Church is never going to be perfect, but if you are a comp. attendings an ega. church I would ask how big of a problem is it. Does it affect your kids? Is there room for you to help make a change? Do they place those views in a higher standard than grace?
    For awhile I thought the church that I was somewhat attending believed in submission, and it bothered me, so much so that I began to see some members in a different light. Granted I found out later on that it was pretty much just two maybe a handful of people that believed that, but during that time it affected how I saw the church.
    All that to say how does it affect you and your family, how you view the church, and is there room for change?- those would be my first questions 😀

  • KT Pridgen

    I am an egalitarian attending a complementarian church right now. The people are welcoming and seem to be okay with the fact that I have different beliefs in that regard. I’m drawn to this church because they are active in the community and make a real effort to help others materially, both local people that need help and through organizations that help others overseas. That, to me, is a must-have in any church I attend.

    But… I’m not married, nor do I have a family currently. I’m an adult who knows what I believe and why. I can listen to a pastor saying something about male leadership or whatever and disagree with it in a healthy, understanding way. Things will change when/if I have a family. In the case of my potential future children, it is REALLY important to me that they (both boys and girls) see real examples of men and women leading where they are gifted and called and not being pigeon-holed into roles that are not right for them. I want them to grow up with a different message than the one I grew up with, so when I have a family, I’m going to want to attend an egalitarian church.

  • I’d never say never. However, I’ve found that egalitarians and complementarians tend to approach the Bible differently on a whole. Complementarians have more of a “blue print” approach. I know this because I was a very eager one for years and I’ve caught a lot of flack for “not caring about the Bible” or “letting culture determine how I interpret the Bible.” So if the women in ministry issue doesn’t come up for an egalitarian, there’s a good chance another conflict rooted in biblical interpretation will come up that centers on how literal one follows the Bible.

    Based on that, I would be hesitant to attend a complementarian church now. Even if it was the only church close to my theology, I’d rather not deal with the condemnation and restrictions that may very well come my way.

  • Lori Cianci Lambelet

    Oh, this is loaded! As one who has endured many years of this dilemma, due to the fact I was married to a complementarian pastor I was stuck. Needless, to say I prayed…. ALOT! Five years ago, my husband saw by the grace of God, the call God had on women. The fact that it is indeed the Holy Spirit who decides such gifting and not gender was an epiphany. He in turn, began conversations with the elders of our church. The elders asked him to leave after serving there for 22 years! It was one of the most painful experiences we went through as a couple. We have started a new work as a result. Advice to this woman? Pray! Pray for God’s leading. Most likely the people there will not change. She can pray for God using her in the community, but the community may reject as well. I am so saddened by this issue and have personally experienced deep pain. God may call her to stay for a season, but also I feel that those who do stay communicate acceptance. Very hard.

  • I don’t presume the right to answer this question for anyone else, but as for me (an ex-complementarian turned egalitarian), I could not attend a complementation church. (It’s hard enough for me to spell complementarianism, much less worship at a church that espouses it.)

    I worry about what kind of message it would send to my daughter, to take her every week to a church that teaches she is subject to a man, that God made it this way, and that some opportunities for ministry are forever denied her because she possesses the “wrong” set of reproductive organs.

    Right now, my daughter loves going to church. We got to a small Episcopalian church where women are welcome to serve at every level. I know that’s not the reason my daughter loves it, that it has more to do with all the toys they have in the nursery. But I want her to be able to hang onto that love for church as long as possible. And I think that’ll be easier if we go to a church that teaches that she is a fully welcome, full participating member of the kingdom of God.

  • anonymous

    We stayed in a complementarian church for many years, simply because we did not know anything different existed. We just quietly agreed-to-disagree with the teachings on marriage and child-rearing, but it was hard to find real support in our circle of friends there. Since we’ve been attending a more progressive, egalitarian church, we have really found our “tribe” and find a lot of marriages just like ours that we can learn and draw strength from. I think an egalitarian “can” attend a complimentarian church, as long as they are not getting their understanding of scripture or marriage advice purely from that pulpit. I do think that the longer and deeper one studies scripture, regardless of theological leanings, the more progressive one is bound to become, and eventually that complimentarian church will really begin to limit the growth of a true progressive,

  • leslie

    I don’t necessarily consider myself an Egalitarian, but I come closer to being one than to being a Complementarian, at this point in my life. I know a lot of Comps I really respect and in most cases I really don’t think it’s fair to frame the lack of female leadership as a “justice issue” because I think a lot of them have really searched the Bible and have genuine conviction about how leadership in the church should work, and I think it’s important to respect that. However. I don’t think I could raise my kids in a church that had no visible women in any sort of leading role. I grew up like that, and I just don’t think it’s healthy. I think a comp church that really values the contributions of women and makes sure they are serving visibly (reading scripture, or praying, or even just passing the offering plate) can still be a good environment for an egal family, and hopefully some productive conversations can take place. And I know that comp churches like this really do exist. So, in conclusion- big question, it just depends on the situation.

  • We spent several years at a highly complementarian church which ironically enough was part of a denomination that had signed the CBE agreement. I think it is important to realize that no matter what a denomination believes, and sometimes even no matter what the pastor believes, it is ultimately the people of the church that will determine your experience there.

    Of course, everything was okay as long as we didn’t have kids. My wife’s employment seemed fine since she wasn’t a Mom. But when we had our little guy, things changed rapidly. Random strangers would come up to me and just randomly start talking about a job opportunity they knew about if I happened to know anybody that didn’t want to continue to “force” his wife to work (hmmm…. where did people I didn’t even know find out about our family structure?). The funny thing was, in both instances these “great jobs” paid way less than I was currently making. People in small groups would start making subtle comments about freeing your wife to be a real Mom. My wife would try to get hang out time with other women, but was always told that it couldn’t be on nights or weekends because “that was reserved for husband and kids.” Even though I was meeting with the husband at the same time, and I knew that this meeting was happening because the grandparents were watching the kids.

    Oh, and you don’t even want to hear how much worse it got once we decided to start “destroying” our little guy by giving him vaccines.

    We moved last year and are still looking for a church. We found one that looked good, but in the sermon the pastor quoted Mark Driscoll and then started making fun of people for the reasons they left churches. I know there are many good complementarians out there, but there are also large and vocal mean streaks in that group that have major influence on churches around the nation. So I would say that you should in no way go to a church that promotes the bully-like atmosphere that certain leaders cultivate. Remember that complementarianism affects more than just the views on women – men will also be rejected and judged for not following strict rules on what a “real man” is supposed to look like. Your kids could also face rejection and problems if they say or do the wrong thing in church.

    Certainly, not all complementarian churches are this bad, but many are. And even some that fall under the CBE banner do not follow denominational policy. Be careful of large, powerful families that form cliques within church relational circles. I have seen men that in no way shape or form qualify to be elders getting away with crazy things at church while women who are much more qualified to be elders sit in silence. Something just isn’t right there.

    The good news is that we did find a really good church with a female head pastor very near us. I wrote about that experience on my blog, and I while I try to avoid pimping my blog everywhere, I think the experience there would speak to many people about this issue: http://ecclesiaextraneus.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/the-beauty-of-equality/

  • Drew Strait

    I think egalitarian families at complementarian churches need to consider
    how an androcentric culture shapes their children’s thoughts about the
    social hierarchy of the world around them. For example, I would have
    serious reservations about raising my two yr old daughter in a church
    culture where only men teach, pass out offering plates, pray in the back
    and make decisions together behind closed doors. I want her to
    witness–weekly!–the full gifting, inclusion and empowerment of women
    made visible to the watching world. I want her to feel comfortable
    preaching, praying and leading in whatever way God calls her. I think
    this starts by observation and imitation at a young age among the people
    of God.

  • Julia

    What a difficult question, and fitting as I’m journeying through these questions with friends right now. Ultimately, I think it boils down to this: as an egalitarian, I believe wholeheartedly that the truth of Scripture is the truth of equality. I believe that teaching women cannot serve as leaders, must be in submission to men, and cannot be in positions of authority over men is contrary to God’s plan for the world, and is fundamentally harmful to women and girls of all ages. I believe that women are equal citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven, which should be breaking through to earth in our churches. While I don’t doubt that our complementarian brothers & sisters have important roles in the body, have unique perspectives to offer and are proclaiming the Gospel, I do believe that as a woman, and a woman with a calling for ministry, sitting in a complementarian congregation limits my God-given potential, dreams & calling. I believe that as I begin the journey into marriage, and one day, having a family, my children & husband will be suppressed and not given opportunity to shine, live & lead as God enables them. I believe it is a misrepresentation of the POWER of God found in the Gospel to the world around us.
    My question is this: would you feel comfortable bringing a non-believing female friend into this church? How would they respond? How would they feel? How would they be received? Would it draw them nearer to Christ or further away as they experience the Church as it is in your current setting? How will you respond if a daughter wants to lead? How will your church?

    Ultimately, I do believe church is not about us. It’s about building up one another, finding a place where our families & non-believing friends can come and be drawn closer to Christ. I don’t think that, for me, attending a complementarian church would be able to do that. I don’t think it fairly represents the Jesus I know & love and desire my future children & unbelievers in my life to know, and for that reason, I would have to find somewhere that does so more accurately. No church will be perfect, as someone else mentioned, because they are filled with imperfect people. However, my Jesus is perfect & I want to find a body that represents Him in the best way possible – for me to know, my family to know & those I reach out to discover.

  • Stephen M.

    I think thats a personal decision and I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer personally. For us a big part of why we ended up where we are now (Boyd’s church, Woodland Hills) was because we decided we could no longer attend a church that didn’t affirm women in all positions of ministry. I don’t look down on those who choose to deal with it though, however my concern would be what are you showing your kids by going there? What kind of impact will it have on your little girls and boys who are told that women are inferior and are to serve men whom are the only ones God thinks are good enough to lead? Because sadly, thats a message they will get.

  • I personally could not but I am definitely not calling for schism either. I used to co-run a campus group. I wasn’t as stubborn of an egalitarian then but I was one. The other Coordinator was fairly moderate at the beginning and we even talked about our equality but who would primarily be in charge of which things to maximize our strengths. Over a few months working together, though, she got more and more conservative on a number of questions including gender roles. Another on our Executive was also a complementarian and I knew that when she was chosen to take on the position. Ultimately, it got pretty ugly as they became upset that I wasn’t a strong enough leader as a man (ie I wasn’t vetoing them) and I lost two of my closest friends in the process.

    Could it have been avoided if I had realized what both expected from the beginning? In other words, I’ve wondered if it was more a clash of our understandings of roles or a lack of communication about those understandings as they changed. It definitely could have been minimized, at least, so I don’t want to say egalitarians and complementarians can’t work together. But for me, far from the stereotypical take-charge manly man, I wouldn’t have been able to fill the roles they wanted anyway. I’m guessing it would have still ended with a practical parting of ways even if not the ugly personal harm done to both sides.

    I definitely don’t want anything even close to a schism. Those women were (and still are as far as I know) very devoted Christians doing the best they can to follow Jesus. I definitely don’t want to discourage that. I’m even occasionally still in touch with one. But it did make me realize that I – not necessarily all egalitarians, but I – cannot operate in a complementarian environment.

  • Krissy N

    I think this is a decision that has to be made with a lot of prayer. Our family attended a complementarian church for 7 years, and I felt for most of that time that God was telling me to stay. When there was a call for more men to be “ushers” to serve communion, I asked if a woman could do the job, and my pastor was unable to find a Biblical reason why not, so I started serving communion with the men. It was awkward at first–one of the ushers couldn’t look me in the eye for about a year, but slowly he came around and accepted the situation and was very friendly to me after that. Progress, I thought. Many woman expressed gratitude and happiness that I had stepped into that roll, but NO OTHER WOMAN followed suit. I stayed in discussion (very respectfully) with the pastor on the issue of egalitarianism vs. complementarianism and felt that he would eventually come around–and he may still. But, after 7 years, I felt strongly that it was time to move on and I am now in a place where I will not attend a church that isn’t egalitarian. I have 3 daughters–ages 19, 15 and 7. I’m DONE with constantly having to counter the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) messages they receive in church that tell them that they are lesser than the boys. The hardest part about this stance is that we have now been without a church home for over a year and a half. I live in the South. There is–almost literally–a church on EVERY street corner here, but almost NONE that are egalitarian. But, the search goes on.

  • Ashley

    There are many factors to consider in this situation.

    First, is there another church nearby that has a more egalitarian perspective? In some parts of the world, these can be hard to find. Considering leaving without a place to go to will only make you feel worse and less likely to attend church in general.

    Have you (you being the question writer) built a strong community with the other members? If you were to leave, would friendships be broken or damaged? This would be especially hard for children.

    Speaking of children, do you have any? Is complementarianism something you don’t want to teach your children? If so, if this church’s complementarian perspective too strong to prevent you from teaching them about egalitarianism?

    Are there other aspects of this church that are unsatisfying? I’m thinking beyond bad casseroles, more like the order of worship, other guiding principles or perspectives that you don’t interpret as correct.

    Above all, do you think that you will be able to convince the pastor/elders/community of your position? Would they be receptive to you (or your husband if need be) starting dialogue, holding a sermon, or a study into these gender dynamics?

    The decision should be made easier after you ask these questions. I’m not really one for giving up on a community that I am invested in, but it is better to walk away than to live in misery.

    Best of luck.

  • cog2803

    For most of us in the United States – even in the Bible Belt – there are usually several options of where to attend church and/or serve. The crux seems to be if you are attending a church where you’ve changed your position on this issue, should you stay versus seeking a new church due to relocation, etc.

    If you’ve changed positions you have a dilemma in staying and attempting to influence that church. I’ve seen that done but only with leadership that was willing to sacrifice attendance (i.e. money) over principle. That’s pretty rare and it takes a long time to get to that point and the emotional, mental and spiritual toll is pretty intense.

    My strong suggestion is to find a church where you feel you can serve and worship even if it’s not as convenient or if you’ve got a history there. If you are complementarian, find a complementarian church. If you are egalitarian, find an egalitarian church. Life is too short, time is too precious and there are enough distractions in our lives to trying to “be” in a place you are not comfortable.

    No, church attendance is not about being comfortable or finding a place that exactly mirrors everything you believe. It is far more about worship and service than getting all the boxes checked. I’m a recovering complementarian and now a full on, full steam, full throttle egalitarian. My wife and I are also in the middle of the largest church “drought” we’ve ever experienced as a couple – due to a relocation and we are still looking for the right place to “be”.

    We’ve been (in some cases far too) involved in churches in the past on both sides of the coin so I do speak with some experience in both camps.

  • Catherine T.

    I am an egalitarian and attend an egalitarian church; however, if I felt the holy spirit was leading my family to attend a complementarian church with a gentle, devout and nuanced-thinking leadership, I would attend that church. I think complementarianism is expressed in many different ways, and the question is ultimately: what is this church doing to usher in God’s kingdom and is God calling me to aid them specifically in their mission? I have two daughters, and while we will not teach them complementarianism, I think they could handle grappling with different interpretations of the Bible. The church you attend does not solely determine your theology; it’s part of a larger package that includes family, parachurch mission, friends, mentors, bloggers (!), books, and prayer. So yes, you can attend a complementarian church and still be a Jesus Feminist!

  • My situation has a unique twist. I’m a worship pastor at a complimentarian church. I didn’t know this when I took the job. It wouldn’t be as big of a deal if the pastor didn’t bring the issue up very much, but he’s mentioned it several times. When it happens, my wife and I typically groan to ourselves and give each other a look that says “I know what you’re thinking, and I’m thinking it too!” It’s sad because we like the church otherwise, but I don’t think we can take it much longer.

    • Sonali Kumar

      Have you tried talking to the pastor about it?

      • We’ve had conversations about it, but I don’t see him changing his position. Not long ago, we were talking about a friend of mine (a woman) who planted a new church. He was staring at me the whole time I was talking like I had three eyes. :

  • eroxors

    The answer is that, yes, you can stay in the church. It’s also that you should stay in the church. A single theological disagreement is not enough cause for you to silently turn your back on your community. However, this issue, in particular, has ramifications that cannot be denied. The church leadership needs to know that there are egalitarians in their midst. Frankly, they probably have no idea. They might not even know the foundations of their complimentarianism well, much less another perspective. You can provide that perspective by notes, letters, and even cordial conversations with leadership. They may be receptive to being more “egalitarian-friendly” even though it’s unlikely they will change their theological stance. If this becomes more of an issue… i.e. you feel attacked/insulted, or are unable to use your gifts because of limitations placed on genders, then you should start seeking other options.

    My wife and I are in a similar situation where we are “between churches” after a brutal experience with our minister being fired while on maternity leave and we’re evaluating the sparse options available when it comes to egalitarian-friendly churches in the bible belt buckle. We may have to end up settling for what is available.

    Good luck. God bless.

    • eroxors

      I misread the post and thought you were a member of the church. If you’re simply attending and don’t really have any bonds within that community, why not look elsewhere?

  • colinkerr

    My egalitarian wife attended a complementarian church while we were dating (while I worked at an egalitarian church she wasn’t a fan of). She made peace with it because she left worship feeling spiritually encouraged and edified and because she had no interest in ever pursuing leadership there. It probably would have been a different story had she felt a call to serve in a leadership capacity.

  • Rev. Kim

    I tried to post this before, but it didn’t work, so I will try to re-type it. My husband and I stayed in a Complementarian Congregation all through Divinity School, even though we were growing increasingly uncomfortable with the doctrine. I was especially uncomfortable as my desire to preach grew, and I knew I would never be invited into the pulpit, though my husband was on several occasions, however, we stayed because we felt that the work we were doing there was more important than the doctrine we disagreed with. The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian Church that “All things are Lawful, but not all things are Profitable.” He goes on to say that if what a church or an individual in the church is doing something that is offensive and causes division within the body, leading to the church having a poor reputation in the community, or if the congregation is doing something offensive to those they are trying to reach on a non-essential doctrine (in the case of the Corinthian Church it was eating food sacrificed to idols, but I believe any non-essential doctrine could be substituted) then that practice should be stopped because it hinders the Kingdom. This may or may not answer the question for everyone, because every situation is different, but in our situation, the church was doing Kingdom Work, allowing my husband and I do join them in that work, despite our differing views, and had a good reputation within the community that allowed the Gospel to be spread and not hindered. God was in it, so we stayed until God moved us somewhere that we were a better fit theologically. I think that is ultimately the question to ask, isn’t it? Is God in this, and am I allowed to serve Him through being here? If the answer is yes, then stay, if not, then find a place the answer is yes.

  • Liz

    I feel stuck because I want to attend a church that is egalitarian AND truly committed to racial reconciliation- in a way that is reflected in the church’s leadership and membership. Really hard to find in my city. I just can’t stomach the idea of my kids growing up thinking that women can’t be leaders. I also can’t stomach the idea of them growing up thinking that blacks and whites can’t worship together. Our city is very diverse, but very few churches are. And those few are complementation. I feel discouraged. So for now, we usually skip it altogether and play outdoors with the kids on sundays. But my heart wishes we could belong somewhere.

  • LetsGoBravesfan

    I would encourage them to leave the Church if there is another Church in their area with Egalitarian values. I think Christians with differing views can work together in ecumenical settings but with something so fundamental it is probably best to retain ties and friendships while worshipping elsewhere. Even if a woman can tolerate being treated as a second-class Christian by her community, such an environment is toxic to children who will grow up with subtle and overt lessons about how boys are better. While this theology is understandable among the laity (especially new Christians, who only have translations and Bible study material provided by Church leadership) people with seminary degrees should know better. Most of the time complementarian dogma has more to do with a political agenda than scripture. (I base that on my experiences growing up in the SBC, but I’m sure other people have equally valid experiences that lead them to disagree).

    I think this is comparable to race issues. Would we expect an African American to attend a Church with a Jim Crow theology? Scripture was misused to preach the inferiority of African Americans just as it is misused to teach top-down gender roles (in some cases such as Ephesians 5 the same passages are used). Many complementarians are amazing Christians and we should absolutely be in fellowship with them, but that doesn’t mean we have to subject ourselves to their interpretations of scripture.

  • M Fox

    Having been raised in a complementarian family and church environment, I know first-hand the damage such viewpoints can do, especially to impressionable children. I am the mother of two little girls, and my number one church requirement is to attend a church with a woman in senior leadership. I want my girls to see and feel, every week, the full and valued range of gifts that God has given to women. So we attend an ELCA church even though we aren’t Lutheran.

  • I could probably go to a comp church if they affirmed my right to believe differently. But when it’s a ‘this is the only way to be a christian woman’, then, nope.

  • John

    I do find it sad that the 2 sides are so polarised in arguments on this.

    I lead what would be described as a complementary church (as we only have male elders) but we have females released into every other layer of church leadership and without the invaluable gifting that they bring it would be frankly a pretty pathetic attempt at being church.
    In my own marriage my wife is a strong leader who actually flourishes in the protection that she finds in male headship, I have never and would never tell her how she must behave, what she must do, abuse her or do anything other than try to love her as Christ loves the church and she flourishes as her woman (her words not mine).
    We have a number of ladies in the church who would hold an egal position but have are happy to be with us, as they have never been in a church where both men and women are encouraged to pursue Jesus for themselves and be who they are created to be.
    Just a slightly different thought from the a loving, non sexist complementarian who would love to see the Church be all that Jesus intends it to be.
    Peace and love to all.

    • Laura Watts

      Yay. Another opinion. I was getting bored with everyone saying the same things. I love your view of a complementary marriage. Though I am a very driven woman who is intellectual and independent in my own right, I want my husband to be a strong leader. You seem to have a very loving view of women. Kudos.

      • john

        Laura, many thanks for your comment.

    • Sonali Kumar

      So the issue that I see is: doesn’t your wife love you as Christ loved the church? I think love, by definition, is self sacrifice. If she doesn’t love you, why would she be married to you?

      Second: yes, your church does allow women to have many leadership roles besides pastoral ones, but there are women I know who are great pastors. Excluding them from these roles would deprive God of some great gifts and talents.

      • john

        I don’t think I said women can’t be “pastors”, there is quite a large difference between an Elder and a Pastor. Maybe not in other churches but from the bible I would suggest.

        in terms of loving my wife as Christ loved the church I think you may need to read the passage in question and have a think about what this passage is calling a husband to, it really is quite clear.

        I would humbly suggest that we don’t exclude anybody with gifting from roles.

  • Stephanie Wheatley

    I had a discussion somewhat similar to this with a pastor friend of mine. I told him that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to attend a church that didn’t at least affirm the place of women in ministry. Because I’m not in the ministry myself, he was a bit confused by that statement. I explained that, in my eyes, this was a glimpse into a church’s position on women in general, and that if a church couldn’t deal with women in leadership positions, there was no place for an outspoken, single, female religious studies professor there.

  • LorenHaas

    My wife and I attended a strictly complementarian church for about five years before we moved on. We were
    starting over in second marriages and were eager for instruction on how to have
    a “Godly” marriage. We also facilitated a divorce recovery ministry.
    Over time we were occasionally involved in joining the pastors in counseling
    other couples. Through this we realized that our beliefs about marriage and the
    role of women were not compatible and their counseling of our divorce recovery participants
    was potentially dangerous. This plus their strict young earth creationism,
    anti-gay teaching and political involvement led us to make a break.

    Best thing we ever did.

    We started attending the “black sheep” church down the road and found a new way to understand
    who Jesus is and how to understand scripture. We received biblical support for
    our positions from our new pastor, who brought a more enlightened and educated
    approach. He and his wife demonstrated an egalitarian marriage for the congregation
    to see and model, if that was right for them. There was another female pastor,
    women preached and there were women on the board.

    We could breathe again at church
    because we did not have to look over our shoulder to see who might be listening
    in and reporting back to the “leadership”. Some disagree, but I
    cannot see staying at a church you have vital theological disagreements with in
    order to be an agent for change. It just ruins your worship experience and
    embitters you towards leadership, something neither party deserves.

  • Stephanie

    GAH! What a great question! I’ve wrestled with this for the past seven years as I belong (yes, I finally became a member) to a church that’s more complementarian than not. It doesn’t sound as intense as this church, but it definitely holds that women cannot preach from the pulpit or teach a class of males or even a mixed class (unless it’s under a male). I’ve even been on the receiving end of being asked to be the speaker at our young adult retreat only then to be un-asked because the leadership was uncomfortable having a woman speaker. Ouch. But at least I could “share.” This is jarring b/c I work for a college campus ministry organization that affirms women in every level of leadership.

    I’ve had one thousand conversations about this with trusted men and women in my life. Is this a deal breaker? Most of the counsel I’ve received has been to stay – that this is generally understand as not a fundamental issue, but rather a secondary or tertiary issue. I agree with the church on all their majors. But I still feel like – man! This is a MAJOR to me! But is it, really? Where would I even go if I left? There aren’t many churches in my city that are egalitarian.

    Thus I’ve decided to stay and infiltrate from the inside, if you will. This has been incredibly hard, but I’ve been surprised by the ways the Lord has given me favor. I have at least two males who have advocated for me hard core – giving up teaching spots or choosing me to teach a class or seminar with them. This has been huge. The church also knows that teaching and leadership are some of my spiritual gifts. I took their spiritual survey when I became a member.

    It’s definitely not a perfect place and I struggle a lot with feeling like I have so much to offer that I don’t get to. Perhaps in a few years Jesus will call me to change churches, but for now I remain here.

  • disqus_Jx4vklnzgv

    Very interested in this issue, as we have moved and are looking for a new church home. So many issues to weigh, and I think we’re not going to find a church that totally “fits us”, so I am wondering if this is an issue we can live with or not. Will it work? (and I’m not trying to post anonymously; I don’t understand this disqus thing… )My name is Linda.

  • Mark Wood

    What a great question! As an Egalitarian, here is how I would approach the situation. First off, is the practice of this church dictated by a denominational structure, or is it merely a local congregation doing its own thing? Is this merely practice or policy AND practice? And do you feel a distinct calling from the Holy Spirit to be in this particular church for this particular season in your life? Or do you attend simply because you “have a lot of friends there,” or “you like the way the children’s minister interacts with your kids,” etc., etc? Absent a clear and distinct calling to be in that place for a specific purpose, I would not attend that church. When these matters are dictated from above (church or denominational polity), I see little hope for one person or one family to reform the church from within, especially on something as divisive as gender roles. My experience is unique. I am a United Methodist, a denomination that affirms women in leadership — including as pastors, district superintendents, bishops and seminary professors. However, the PARTICULAR United Methodist Church I attend is a great deal more conservative than the denomination at large (I live in the Southeastern U.S. ‘Nuff said.) While women serve in various leadership roles (lay delegate to annual conference, lay leader, and on various boards and committees), most marriage classes use complementarian materials, and little effort is made to highlight our strong egalitarian heritage. I encounter all manner of offensive political talk, assumptions about what a Christian should and shouldn’t be and/or believe, and so on. And yet I, my wife and our son stay. We are committed United Methodists. And the church doesn’t have a policy problem, but it sometimes has a “practice” problem.

    Thank you so much, Sarah Bessey, for your wonderful blog, your amazing book — “Jesus Feminist,” which I loved — and your beautiful heart for Jesus Christ and his people. I am proud to say at that I am a husband, father, writer, editor and Christian, and I am a “Jesus Feminist”!


  • I read through some of the comments, and didn’t see one with my perspective, so here it goes: as a Catholic, I don’t get to ponder this question. While I’m egalitarian, as are many Catholics, the Roman Law is not. I MUST work from the inside. Furthermore, while I am currently blessed to be surrounded by vibrant parishes, this may not always be the case. Some places I’ve looked at for work and living have one tiny Catholic church and the next closest is 20 miles away. We don’t get to up and leave because of disagreements. We are stuck together, like family.
    I also always attend the closest church to my home, regardless of what I think of it. We were challenged in college to think of our local community above our personal church wish list. That’s always stuck with me.

  • The more I think about this the more I wonder: if a church excluded people from leadership based on other characteristics would this be a complicated issue for us? What if it was race? Or socioeconomic status? Marital status is probably one we already tolerate people being discriminated against because of. And sexual orientation. So I guess I’m trying to think about how damaging it is to the church in general and to the larger society when we participate in groups (churches) that endorse this type of discrimination. Is it similar to the role the church played in keeping racial segregation and discrimination in place? Is that a fair comparison or is there some crucial difference?

  • Cassia Carter

    I love this question, and it is so, so relevant. Our family just chose to leave our church of 5 years over this issue. We felt for the first 3 years that our time there was a time of great growth and learning, and growing deeper in community with people we really cared about and “agreed to disagree” on this issue. We learned so much about Jesus and the Bible and why we believed what we believed. There were awesome conversations and discussion from people on both sides of the issue, though only in a small-group context. However, the last couple years just found us getting rubbed the wrong way over and over again, without seeing any sort of give and take from the leadership of the church. I can completely respect that if that’s the way they read the Bible and feel on this issue, then that is okay and good for them, I’ll just disagree on it. But the black-and-white nature of the Bible on this (and other issues) is what finally led us to leave the church. We felt that we were often hearing “no, you’re wrong, the Bible is clear on this” instead of “hey, let’s discuss it and hear each-other’s stories.” I just don’t believe the Bible is as clear on this issue or others as they taught it was. And God finally made it very clear that he has a new plan for us somewhere else. I cannot begin to tell you the weight that was lifted off my shoulders (that I didn’t even know was there!) on the Sunday afternoon after we made the final decision to leave. It’s only been three weeks, and I already feel like my relationship with Jesus has deepened because of the freedom I feel to find and worship him however the Holy Spirit leads me, not constrained to a certain set of rules. I think that’s it’s possible (and good!) to be in a community full of people you disagree with, even on seemingly-fundamental issues. But there is a line that gets crossed from learning and growing and feeding into each-other’s lives, to complaining and fighting and being the token belief-holder sometimes. And that’s where it broke down for us.

    • john

      Its funny Cassia, you say that the bible is not as clear on this or others as they taught it, however many on the egal issue teach with equal certainty…hers in lies the issue. We can hold opposite views without arguing all the time, we can teach things what we believe but allow room for others to believe differently but often those who hold egal views refuse to accept that not all complimentarians are sexist they just read scripture differently.

      I wish the church was more like Jesus, this issue would really not divide in the way it does if we were..I wish both sides would show more humility and realise we are just trying to work out our faith as best we can but sadly that is not a word that is often seen in this debate.

      Bless you Cassia, you sound like you have a good heart for Jesus.

      • Cassia Carter

        Thanks John. You’re completely right, both sides often “know” that they are right on every issue. I wish that weren’t the case as well. But thanks for your kind words!

  • Lauren Rutland

    This is a question that I am personally torn on.

    Let me give a little background story. I am a female Children’s Minister with Egalitarian beliefs and I work in a church that is Complementarian. I am their first Children’s Minister AND their first femaleminister. I’m also 24 years old and not married. Some days I feel like I have every single strike against me. Some days I tell myself that I don’t see myself at this church long term because of the complementarian beliefs that this church has. Some days it makes my job difficult, and some days it even makes my confidence in the job that I am doing here plummet. I tell myself how much easier it would be to work for a church that has similar beliefs as I do.

    But then, I have days where a parent says, “Lauren I’m so glad you’re here. You’re doing such a great job.” Or, “you’re exactly what we need.” Or, a moment when a teenaged girl in the youth group comes to me and tells me that she wants to be a Minister when she grows up and that she never thought that was something that she would ever be able to do until she saw me do it. When things like this happen, I feel empowered again. Even though some of the male leaders in the church may believe that my job is “just with the kids,” I still believe that my presence as a female Minister at a mostly Complementairan church is making an impact on the way people view female leadership. I have done my best to not try and push any agendas, but I have been realistic with some of the elders at my church by saying, “if I am going to continue my ministry here, female roles in the church is an issue that we cannot ignore much longer.”

    All this said, working in a church vs. simply attending a church may be different, but I feel like it really would have to depend on the situation. Now, if I never saw change and growth in this area, I feel like I would have to consider leaving the church (as a member or a minister). However, for my church, I know that it was a huge deal for them to hire a female in the first place, so with that reminder, I do my best to be patient with people. So,
    in conclusion with my response, I think egalitarians attending or working in complementarian churches have a struggle, but I believe through prayer, patience, nonjudgmental conversations and Christ-like examples, Egalitarians can bring a different and wonderful understanding of biblical female leadership to Complementarian churches.

  • janetb1

    Good question. We attend a complementarian church. All I can say is that when I am focused on Jesus it really does not matter to me. However when I am self-focused that is when I question it.

    • Laura Watts

      Such a simple response yet so abundant in truth. All things and arguments and opinions are nothing compared to Jesus. Keep on keeping it real, Janet.

    • patriciamc

      Great attitude. I wish I could have this perspective!

    • pastordt

      This is an interesting response. Because as I grew in my relationship with Jesus, as I pored over the word, as I asked the Spirit for insight and direction, that’s exactly when it began to matter a very great deal to me. I saw that Jesus himself cared about women, and elevated them to the status of ‘witness’ in a society where women’s voices had exactly NO value legally. I saw that the early church believed that the prophet Joel was filled with truth and power when he wrote that the Spirit would be poured out on ‘sons and daughters,’ not just men, the very prophecy the early church grabbed as Pentecost happened to them. I believe that comments like this one can very easily shut down the good restlessness of the Spirit within us. Labeling an honest questioner as “self-focused” calls into question that person’s spiritual integrity, whether you ‘mean’ it to or not. This is how important conversations in the church have been shut down for centuries, by judging those who are questioning as ‘less than’ — less spiritual, less focused on Jesus. Please be careful with this kind of language. It tends to slam doors in people’s face very fast.

  • Linda File

    In the first model – egalitarian – WHOSE view of the ‘gifting and calling of the Holy Spirit’? Really? How does that play itself out except by comparing and contrasting spirituality? The conflicts inherent in this system are abundant. Sounds good in theory – impossible in practice. In the second – complementarian – you are subscribing to the system of the ancient world where women are kept in their place, marginalized, bullied, and subject to sitting under the teaching of sometimes ignorant males who are in charge simply because of their anatomy. When are we going to see that rational thinking cannot survive in either system? Stay in neither. Run, run, run. Your life satisfaction (and your children’s) really does depend on it.

  • Laura Watts

    Personally, I would not consider myself to be completely egalitarian nor would I consider myself to be completely complementary. I have found that it is better to stay away from absolutes in most areas doctrinally that are not clear in the Bible. The Bible tells us to submit to and respect our husbands and for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church (both commandments address the needs of both the wife and the husband). It also calls for mutual submission in the church. I tend to view certain doctrines/theological stances as both/and instead of either/or. When a Christian is pre-occupied with a certain doctrine or teaching, it can become one’s passion rather than Jesus. While I believe that the whole debate about egalitarian vs. complementary is not superfluous, I think it can become a distraction from what is over and above any such debate and that is the submission to the Holy Spirit.

    Our church tends to be a little on the complementary side, but by no means do they discriminate against women. There are women in ministry, but not on the pastoral staff. Does it bother me that there are no women on the pastoral staff? No. Would it make me upset if there were women on the pastoral staff if they were equipped for the position? No. Are there more than enough places for women to serve in my church besides the pastoral staff? Yes. We have women in small group leadership, Sunday school, outreach/evangelical ministry as well as many other places. Sometimes even women give the announcements. Do I think women who chose to submit to their husbands and believe that they should have the final say in the decision making are being misled biblically? No. Do I think that women who work full-time while their husbands stay at home with the kids are living unbiblically? No way.

    The one whom we need to submit to is the Holy Spirit. Only those who are in right relationship with the Lord will be able to do this. If we submit to the Holy Spirit and put the Lord and others before ourselves we will be able to discern what we should do in each situation. Maybe in one instance it is better for me to stay silent while in another situation the Holy Spirit prompts me to speak. When our motivations becomes that of propelling ourselves into leadership for the sake of saying that men and women finally have equal rights in the church, then we put ourselves before Christ and before others. (I am not saying that women and men should not be equal in the church, just that it should not be the finish line the we are running towards.) We know that we are equal in the eyes of the Lord and when we are with him in eternity, this will not even be an issue.

    So going back to Sarah’s original question:
    I would say that if you are egalitarian and you are currently in a church that is complementary then I would propose a series of questions for you to ask yourself.
    1. Does your church’s stance on this issue differ from yours so completely that it hinders you from connecting and fellowshipping with the other members?
    2. Is there somewhere in or outside of your church where you are currently able to exercise your spiritual gifts? Remember that there are plenty of places that the Lord can use a woman that is outside the four walls of the church.
    3. Are the people in your church so complementarily minded to the point where they view the husband’s authority as absolute?
    4. Is your motivation to advance your gender or is it to advance the cause of Christ?

  • Dan Wilkinson

    You could stay if there are enough other fundamental beliefs that you agree with. You are probably able to overlook this one and realize that you are embracing this biblical truth more than the leadership of your church. Maybe your influence will bring others to a fuller perspective of scripture. However, for the sake of your children , you may need to seek a new church fellowship. If your children are constantly exposed the to complementarian concept in action, it will have an impact on them. Actions speak louder than words. The stuff that was put in my head at church when I was young is very hard to shake. Get your kids where they can see truth in action.

  • kenny_writes

    I just wrote about this a couple weeks ago as our family searches for a new church. I sympathize with the idea of trying to bring change from within, but we couldn’t stay at a Body that was antagonistic to both my mother’s calling (she’s a Bible teacher at a college near Vancouver, BC) and to our family (my wife and I both work and share equally in both the childcare and housework, etc).

  • Morgan

    Good question. I had exchanged e-mails with Pam Hogeweide
    (author of Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church)
    about this issue this time 2 years ago as I had just relocated to a new city
    and was engaged to be married. Egalitarian was a big must-have for a church
    because I knew that we would be needing to find a pre-marital counseling
    program and I didn’t want to do counseling in a complimentarian church. The
    only openly egalitarian church in our area that we knew about that appealed to
    us in additional ways was 45 minutes from where we each lived. We ended up
    doing a premarital counseling program through that church, which we really
    enjoyed, but never considered it to be our home church solely because of the
    location. We ended up in a church that appeared to maybe complimentarian
    because it referred to many women on their staff as “pastors” and we attended a
    service where a woman preached the Sunday morning sermon. We have been going there
    for over a year now and it wasn’t until this past month that I’m realizing how
    complimentarian it really is. We started a relationship series a couple of
    weeks ago and one of the major themes is focusing on men because of their
    divine calling as head of the home and the community. Our pastor has even said
    that “this church was built on the purpose to equip MEN, because if MEN are
    equipped then the women and children in our communities will follow suit.” I
    have been very bothered by that statement since it was said about 3 weeks ago
    and don’t know if I should speak up and start a conversation about it or quietly
    slip out the back door and start looking for a new church (or perhaps trekking 45
    minutes to the lone egalitarian church in the area). I love my church and my church
    community—it helps that I can walk to church and that the people in my church
    whom I am closest to live within a 5 minute drive. Community is essential to us
    and this was the only church in our church search that we really connected to In
    this way.

    I enjoyed reading everyone’s perspective who have children
    and the importance of attending an egalitarian church while raising children. I
    personally don’t have children (and don’t plan to for at least another 5 years
    or so) so I am leaning toward sucking it up and riding out this relationship
    series. I read another comment on here that mentioned the feelings of tension
    and anxiety and discomfort every time they sat in a service at their church
    because she knew there would probably be something that was preached about that
    didn’t really jive with her beliefs. I definitely feel like that now—I have
    been sitting in the service holding my breath and sweating bullets because of
    the tension. It would be nice to be able to relax and know that I’m not going
    to be slapped in the face as a woman when I walk into church on Sunday morning.
    But then I ask myself: Is a 45 minute drive EACH WAY worth it?

    And for the record, I live in FORT WORTH (more like Keller,
    but basically Fort Worth), so if there are any readers with egal church
    recommendations I would love to hear them! The church I had referred to that is
    a 45 min drive from me is Irving Bible Church.

    • LorenHaas

      When looking for a new church I highly recommend setting down with the pastor and having a frank conversation about issues that are important to you. You do not have to agree on everything, but see if there is room for your viewpoint at this church. Ask if someone holding your views could hold leadership positions in this church, i.e. small group leader, Sunday school teacher, etc. Ask if you could lead a bible study that could explore these subjects. If the pastor is welcoming to this, even if they do not agree, you could fit in. If there is a lot of squirming and eqivocating then you have an aswer.

    • River Birch

      My experience says leave now. If you’re feeling tense now, it’s only going to get worse. I know. I did it for 12 years.

  • Neely Baugh

    As a recent “convert” to egalitarianism (about 2 years), this question hits close to home for me. I was raised in a complementarian church and still have great relationships with many of my mentors and friends there. While I believe that women need to be in church leadership roles for the sake of the gospel, I understand that some women and men are more comfortable practicing complementarianism and believe they should not be forced into egalitarianism if they do not accept it. I now attend a church that is caught somewhere in the middle of egal and comp views (women serve communion, sing on the praise team in front of the congregation, deliver communion comments, participate in sermons interview-style) and for right now this is a good place for me. I know I probably won’t find a church that as a whole agrees with every single nuanced belief that I hold–I don’t even really think that’s possible or beneficial. The church is a mosaic of different beliefs, and it is important that we find unity and respect for each other amidst our diversity. I really think it’s a personal choice for each Christian according to what she or he finds helpful for spiritual growth. However, if/when I have a family, I will take my children to an egalitarian church, because I want them to grow up recognizing the inherent value and talents of all people in the Kingdom, regardless of gender.

  • Kim

    Honestly, no. A church’s stance on this type of thing works it’s way into most aspects of church life there. Unless you’re okay with being frustrated, it’s best to find a church family that actually views such a big topic in a similar light.

  • We left our church of ten years for this exact reason. We were egalitarian, but our church was more and more complimentarian, despite our sticking around and trying to share our hearts regarding women in the church. One day we realized that this church was not going to shift at all when it came to women in ministry and we didn’t want our boys picking up on this stance on women. It felt really wrong. So even though we loved the people in that church, we could no longer attend as these people would be teaching our kids. We didn’t want our sons growing up thinking they had a “right” or a “responsibility” to “lead women”, the complimentarian viewpoint is a gateway to a lot of other misogynistic views about women.

  • Texas Minister

    I am a young minister at a complementarian church in the Buckle of the Bible Belt. My wife and I both hold views of gender equality. However, like many below have mentioned, the relationships we have built in the short time we have served at this faith community are not something we feel like we can just pack up and leave. Both of us see glimmers of advancement in theology concerning gender roles in our church, and want to see that come to fruition. Our church recently opened up the discussion of the role of women, and honestly it hasn’t gone as smoothly as we had hoped…but when does it ever? The fact of the matter is, not matter the beliefs that are held I love these people dearly and I want them to experience Jesus. I am prayerful that one day my wife will be able to serve alongside of me in more public ways at our current church. I would be lying if I didn’t mention that we have had the discussion of whether or not we would stay if the leadership decides to continue to support a complementarian view of Scripture. At this time we are prayerful that, regardless of the decision, we will be people who love deeply in the name of Jesus. Thanks for opening this question. I have so enjoyed reading through the “flesh-and-blood” comments of people who are right there in the mix of things just as I am.

  • jontrott

    I admit at the outset that my own psychology is not always transparent to myself. That said, I will buck the overall trend here and say *NO WAY* would I be part of a so-called “complementarian” (I call it hierarchalist) fellowship or church. I might attend one if away from my own fellowship and asked to come by a friend…. but I’d walk out if they started preaching anti-womanist stuff from the pulpit. I have no bend in me for this any more than if someone began to make a “biblical” case for re-enslaving African-Americans.

    Now my own rather intense position on this is not one I universalize by saying “everyone else needs to feel or do the same thing.” I understand some people might be called to bear witness within a non-egalitarian church. But for me, it is poisonous… my soul is twisted up inside when I hear someone preaching against half the Body of Christ. So… count me intolerant? I’m also unrepentant.

    • john

      oh dear. What a sad post, I pray for you to know the grace of God and for your own tortured soul to know some peace.

    • River Birch

      I didn’t think your post was sad or tortured, jontrott! I appreciated it very much! I too think it’s a poisonous thing to preach that half the body of Christ is unfit to serve due to gender. We’re amputating part of ourselves if we say that.

  • Janet Thiessen

    I have been on staff at a complementarian church for almost 12 years. I am part of the staff lead team, but not allowed to join the elder board. I am asked to preach very occasionally. I have a great relationship with the other male pastors and feel like I can contribute a lot, but I do hold an egalitarian view on women in leadership. This leads to good dialogue and debate, and I take every opportunity to share articles and books with the men in leadership. At others times, because of my leadership gifts, it can be extremely difficult to be side-lined because of my gender. Why do I stay? My husband and I have 3 strong, gifted daughters in their 20’s, and I am passionate about mentoring young women in our congregation. I stay for the younger generation of young women who need an advocate and a voice calling them into leadership, particularly church ministry. I stay because I believe my voice is needed and is (slowly) bringing change. At the same time, I take very seriously my call to submit to the leadership in my church, be it male or female, and pray for them. Though our kids (I also have a teenage son) have grown up in a complementarian church, I believe they have been more influenced by a mom who leads and serves no matter the setting.

  • sandyhay

    I have been involved with both types of churches over the past 35 years. Both have their strengths and both have their weaknesses. I see an upward tread in my current complementarian church. I don’t expect to hear a woman preach on Sunday any time soon. I really don’t know if the denomination (CMA) ordains women. The senior pastor is such an amazing teacher. there comes a time (I’m 65+;) when I have to weight one thing over another. As much as I would love to hear women preach, I can also get that from the internet or conferences or the small groups I go to. I don’t see my church as anti women in leadership. The women’s ministry leader on staff and I have chatted about this. She’s VERY forward thinking. Yet she must be slow but steady in her advances. I think as younger men (yes it is all men) become elders, with wives who are corporate or in leadership outside the church , a change will come. No church does it all well. There are other things besides ordained woman that can be off balance even in a egalitarian church. No matter where we attend we much have our “decerners” on. Lots of other poor theology can do more damage to ourselves and our children. We may expect the church to be perfect as opposed to the world but church leaders are people too and can be as susceptible to false teaching and sin as any other human being…other than Jesus, of course 🙂

  • David Hull

    I suppose the question needs to be responded to with several questions-
    1) Do you feel that God has called you to that particular community of believers?
    2) To what extent should doctrinal differences cause us to change churches vs. view them as opportunities to grow in Christ like character?
    3) Is egalitarianism/complementarianism a fundamental issue or a peripheral one? (IMO traditional orthodoxy would label this peripheral, viewing Christological error as central)
    4)What is the purpose of church?

    • jontrott

      I cannot see how egalitarianism/complementarianism is a peripheral issue. It affects our view of the Church itself… profoundly. It affects our understanding of how Agape flows throughout the church, and each of our callings to a mutuality in submission one to another. This is the lifeblood of praxis.

      You and I are male, and so to a large degree it is all too easy to look abstractly at an issue which is anything but abstract for a woman who is told she is unfit for ministry because she has a vagina instead of a penis, or needs to submit to her husband unilaterally because he has more testosterone than she does. The only way we can call this issue “peripheral” is if we fail to make the empathy connection to our sisters in Christ.

      • David Hull

        Jon… the issue is a peripheral issue in terms of doctrine, i.e. the position that one holds on the issue is a non-salvific stance. There are complementarians (both men and women) who earnestly love Jesus Christ and are seeking to be led by the Holy Spirit into a faithful life as a disciple of Jesus. This can also be stated about egalitarians.

        While I appreciate the talk about mutuality in submission to one another, and recognize the Scripture birthplace of it in Eph. 5:21, Jesus also called for us to deny self, take up our crosses, and to follow him… and those of us who desired greatness in the kingdom of God, he challenged to be servants of all. When we spend our time (both men and women) arguing about what we are entitled to… we have fundamentally misunderstood the witness of the Incarnation (Phil. 2:5-11) which is the model that we are called to follow in this life.

        Your statements about the complementation position are both crass and caricatures. What is behind the two different positions are variant interpretations of certain texts in Scripture, and while there are ignorant expositors of both positions, people who ascribe to the two positions are generally seeking to be faithful to their understanding of Scripture.

        While I agree with you that I am a male like you, I would prefer if you didn’t speak on behalf of how I am looking at this issue. My wife is in ministry, and after 6 years in seminary I have had numerous conversations with very close friends for whom this discussion is viscerally personal.

        You are simply wrong when you state that lack of empathy “is the only way that we can call this issue peripheral”. Actually, a reflection on traditional orthodoxy, both East and West serves as a pretty decent primer on what historically the church has held to be central doctrines and what might be considered peripheral. Core doctrines are the ones over which councils convened and heresy was challenged- and they were uniformly dealing with Christological and Trinitarian issues.

    • john

      Amen on point 3. We make things though important central when they shouldn’t be. I wish we unite around the Christ, embrace our differences and not look to be so divided.

    • Marie Smith

      I agree with this analysis on the whole. However, an issue can be peripheral doctrinally, but become central to a particular church’s culture. In such an instance, it might not be advisable to be in a church with an extreme cultural mis-fit.

      For example, I am a Jewish Christian raised to believe that questioning and critical reasoning is a part of deep worship and study. Because I question things all the time, I struggle to co-exist in a church with a very rigid authority structure that sees questions as threats. The view of authority in my church is not doctrinally central, BUT it does make it far more difficult for me to be involved in this church. I stay for other reasons (this church has a strong missions focus that I can get on board with, and is in a very poor area that I want to be involved in reaching).

      That said, we need to be careful of treating the problems of the “other” (women if we are men, minorities if we are white, gay people if we are straight, etc.) as less fundamental. Having our central doctrines right IS important, but we are also supposed to be known by our love for one another. If our brother/sister is being hurt by a practice of our church (and a contingent one at that), calling the thing that is hurting them peripheral can be seen as “oh, well, it’s not hurting ME, so I don’t see why I should be bothered by it.”

      • David Hull

        Marie, thank you for your thoughts!

        I fully agree with you that we are called to be known by our love for one another, and like you, I perceive questioning and critical reasoning to be vital components to our faith. I also agree with you that there are times when, given one’s predilections, that it may not be advisable to attend a particular church community.

        I would like to make a clarifying remark about your statement, “we need to be careful of treating the problems of the “other” as less fundamental, which I predominantly agree with.

        Particularly concerning the topic of egalitarianism/complementarianism, there simply is not a clear line dividing “us” and “them”, or of women being “other” than men. There are multitudes of women who are content within the complementation framework and who actually advocate for it. This is true not only in Western nations, but it is also prevalent in the majority world as well. Thus, it is not a strictly male-female divide, but one with both male and female adherents on both sides of the line.

        You noted that, “calling the thing that is hurting them peripheral can be seen as “oh, well, it’s not hurting ME, so I don’t see why I should be bothered by it.”, and I recognize how this could be construed as hurtful or as trivializing the position of those hurt. That is not the intent of my comments.

        As a counterbalance however, I also want to point out that, given that there are both men and women on both sides of this issue, at times those who are hurting hold the rest of the church hostage by saying, “Because this is hurting ME, it is equally hurting everyone else in the church.” This is clearly not true, and is a superimposition of one’s own pain and perceived injustice on all others, essentially vitiating the freedom of anyone else from holding a contrary opinion.

        Since there are both males and females who are complementarian, in your opinion, would it be equally as valid for them to express their hurt at the scorn, ridicule, and accusations or archaism and patriarchalism that they receive from those in the egalitarian camp?

        I legitimately would like to know your thoughts! I have friends who fall in both camps in this discussion, and it is a tenuous line to talk to both, because this is one of the issues in Christian culture where we have created a culture of offense.

        Thanks for your insights in advance!

        • Marie Smith

          Hm. Your questions require some thought, but some preliminary comments:

          I am for open communication, and that includes all who have been hurt being able to express that. Precisely how that hurt is expressed and received will have a bearing on whether the conversation is constructive or destructive. Name-calling, for instance, is not helpful on either side, and neither is defensiveness that blocks out criticism without engaging with it. Likewise, I would hope that both sides could agree to love and respect other Christians, even (especially?) when disagreeing with them.

          It is certainly my hope that egalitarians would be particularly sensitive to not repeating the hurts they are criticising, but I do see that this is not always the case.

          • David Hull

            Marie, thanks again for your thoughts! I am in total agreement with your statements 🙂

  • Alex O’Leary

    I think one of the aspects of the Church at larger (high or low) that saddens me most is there exists this idea that everyone in a particular “church” needs to agree on every issue. I long to see a church that has staff who disagree with other staff and members who are willing to say, “Hey, we disagree on point X, but we all still love and serve the same Triune God.” There are very few issues that I think are to be very tightly–deity of Jesus, his resurrection, the fall, etc. Issues like Egalitarianism vs Complimentairianism or Pre-mil vs a-mil, vs post-mil and the like have torn apart so many churches! We have had entire new denominations formed over the most trivial issues. Why can’t we allow for disagreement within our church bodies? If you only attend church with those who are like-minded with you it makes it so much more difficult to have actual conversations with people on the issues. The result? The other side of the issue gets straw-manned and twisted so heavily that one more than likely doesn’t understand the position that they are so opposed to.

    • Nikki Webber

      Hi Alex, this is so true that we need to work in harmony with those we disagreement. Totally agree! That being said, egal vs. comp effects my entire person, and the future of my family (we’ve got a strong-spirited daughter). When I reach the leadership in loving disagreement and I literally get them rolling their eyes, saying ‘that’s nice dear, but the Bible clearly says you’re wrong,” followed by more eye rolling, it causes me to re-think trying to fit into that mold. When I’m silenced like that, the only voice I have is the sound of my feet walking out the door.

  • carr528

    This is us right now. Our church has no women as elders or pastors. While there are women leaders in worship and children’s and youth ministry, there’s a definite undercurrent of complementarianism. The women’s ministry is definitely geared toward homeschooling SAHM’s. While I agree that those women need support and nurturing, so do women like me, who are raising a family and working full time. It’s difficult to be a woman who believes that God is leading her somewhere other than the traditional “Leave It to Beaver” scenario. And I know they would NEVER do a Bible/book study on “Jesus Feminist”. Maybe I should suggest it, just to see what happens. 😉

  • I hope and pray that in this particular situation change is possible from within as I naïvely once thought, but my passionate, still-hurt-but-healing, wiser, less-hoodwinked by set smiling faces, more experienced side says GET OUT and get out now before the tears come. I realize not every church is like the one I left (for what boiled down to this very reason), but I think human nature is the same everywhere and unfortunately, when some get a taste of power, it goes to their head, yes, even in the church. I also see quite clearly that God is moving and change is afoot, so I am excited and optimistic. Change from within may be possible for you, but do so carefully and prayerfully and not by yourself. And the minute you start banging your head against that white-washed wall, (sorry-my story) then ask God to open your heart and eyes to something new from without. Walk away with your head held high and most of all, remember that you are not wrong. You are God’s beloved and precious warrior-child. He made you with incredible gifts and talents and He longs for you to be free to use them.

    • And can I just add, the reason I stayed as long as I did was for the relationships, as many of you have said. I had gone from being fiercely independent to living in community. How could I then leave that same community that had taught me so much and given me so much? My heart ached at the thought of it so I get that, I really do. But God knew that and had it in hand. He showed me in a wonderful almost miraculous way that I can find community everywhere. It doesn’t rely on my participation in one particular congregation. I grieved still, but not so much and those relationships that truly mattered, well I guess we were like-minded and they left too. Those who can’t look me in the eye, I sadly realize our connection must not have been real in the first place. I have learned a lot about authenticity and authentic relationships and am grateful now for those lessons. Grateful most of all that God was with me every heart-wrenching step of the way as He will be with you, whatever steps you take.

  • Alison

    I think it’s possible to stay. There are no perfect churches and I disagree with some of my fellow leaders/congregants on a number of issues. But at the end of the day, we are a community and I have a long history with these folks. I’m staying to expand the conversation and to set an example that differences and diversity are okay but division is not. However, that said, my church DOES affirm women in leadership and so my gifts and callings are not stifled in that way. I’m friends with a family who left their church due to job relocation, but felt that perhaps God called them away because she was not publicly or privately affirmed or respected as she should have been as a licensed minister actively ministering and on the payroll. I think it is an individual issue. If I felt I could not use my gifts and callings in my church, I think I would have to consider moving on at some point.

  • Valeri

    We stayed at a complementarian church for 25 years, even though this did not reflect our views. We had faith that, along with our three daughters, we could help move this church to a more liberal view. We also saw the value of worshiping with others whose views were different from ours, to learn to understand and deeply love others who weren’t exactly like us. The reality is that all three of our confident, intelligent and articulate daughters left the church as soon as they could. We followed behind pretty quickly as we realized change was never going to come, and we were the only ones who hoped for change. It was devastating emotionally, but necessary to save our faith. I am now able to share all my gifts and feel completely authentic at church. This issue runs very deep in my soul and life experience.

    • Your realization, “we were the only ones who hoped for change” is the key. If the leaders do not want change then it really is banging your head against a white-washed wall. So thankful that despite the heartache of leaving, you are now in a place of freedom and authenticity in church. I already have hope but you have added to it, Andrea. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • kaybruner.com

    You know what, I think one of the big underlying issues in the feminist/egalitarian world is boundaries: who gets to decide for me? Me, or my husband, or my church, or? Our family is egalitarian/feminist. (Even though my husband still doesn’t like that word, feminist. He is one, bless his sweet heart.) In our family, we believe strongly that we each have the ultimate stewardship of our own lives. I have mine. My husband has his. The older our kids get, the more they have the stewardship of their own lives. Our church is egalitarian, and I would have a very hard time attending a complementarian church now, IF there was a lot of drum-beating about that. There is not any drum-beating about it at our church; it’s just a place that allows people to do stuff, without worrying about gender. I love living free and being myself and being honored as an adult regardless of my body parts. What a gift and a pleasure. Anyway, as to what you should do? Honor your own boundaries, in the best feminist and egalitarian sense. Know what’s right for you at this particular time and make the according choice. You can make a sacrifice to stay in a system that isn’t really your best fit. Or you can be free to go find something else that’s more compatible.

  • Sonali Kumar

    I’ve tried evangelical and Catholic Churches and there are certain things that I liked about each church I went to, so it has always been hard to pick a church. I thought that I could just ignore the things that I disagreed with, and not let those things interfere with my relationship with the church. But after a while, it started to really bother me that some Christians believed that a man has to be the head of a marriage, and that women couldn’t be priests. Even though I’m not sure if I’ll ever get married, and I’ve never felt called to priesthood, I think these anti feminist beliefs reveal a lot about the way these churches view women. And just thinking about that became very emotionally draining, and it interfered with my self esteem and my relationship with God. If these churches believed these things, does God view me the same way as well?

    But I’ve read hundreds of interpretations of all of those controversial verses, and I think the fact that these churches choose the antifeminist interpretations each time says that they really are just interested in maintaining power dynamics. Plus, how can I, as a woman, speak up for my egalitarian beliefs if the don’t believe I should be speaking at all?

    So at least at this moment in my life, I don’t think I can handle a complementarian church.

  • Megan Grondin

    I grew up in churches in America where it wasn’t really an issue for women to preach or teach or lead. I’ve had a calling to ministry since I was very young, and I never doubted the gifts of teaching and leading inside of me. I came to Belgium four and a half years ago to attend a Bible school (www.ctsem.edu). I started out going to an English-speaking church, but then ended up moving to my boyfriend’s French-speaking church to help my language skills. But when I got to this church, it was a total shock to my system; I felt like I was put in a box. Most Pentecostal French-speaking churches in Belgium, as well as in France, are complementarian, and the church where I landed was definitely in that compartment. It pained me to sit on the sidelines while they asked my boyfriend (now husband) to speak and not me, even though we were at the same Bible school in the same year. Even more, it hurt to watch the women, who were so faithful and so dedicated, sit on the sidelines while the men did all the work of teaching and leading. The women could help with Sunday School for the kids, making crafts to sell to raise money for missions, and could even sing on the platform, but still, there was a sense of confinement. Those who were capable of leading and teaching were put aside.

    But yet I stayed in that church for three years. God taught me things that I would maybe have never learned in an egalitarian context where I could use my gifts freely – things like patience, submission, faithfulness in difficulty, and love. God spoke to me and told me that I wasn’t in this church so I could minister to the people, but He had placed me in that church to shape me for His service. In the end, I loved the people in that church so dearly, even the pastor who never allowed me to speak to the church, because God had birthed His love inside of my heart for them. I learned that being in a church is not necessarily about what “suits” you, but it is about what shapes you. It’s about being obedient in the place that God called you, even if it’s not using your “gifts.”

    We left the church last fall, for reasons other than this issue, and now I am back at the English-speaking church. I just started teaching a Sunday School class for the adults. Being able to use my gifts has liberated me and filled me with so much joy. But I wouldn’t trade the experience at the French-speaking church for anything.

  • This is totally silly, but her question, “Should we stay or should we go?” immediately made me think of the song that continues, “If I go there will be trouble. If I stay there will be double!” #lol

    That’s a hard question. I ask it of myself more and more these days.

  • Jacob Lupfer

    I already replied below, but too timidly. I have been thinking about this all day. And I want to say with more certainty and moral clarity: You should leave.

    While your minister and church leaders may be nice to you to your face, I cannot emphasize how much they despise you if you are an egalitarian. They would actually prefer that you leave, to be honest, unless you give a lot of cash. And even then, they might still consider you a threat to their God-ordained supremacy.

    Especially if you are in a Southern Baptist or fundamentalist church, you should leave. I don’t think a lot of lay people understand just how deeply the leadership of such traditions loathes egalitarians. Read their blogs and websites. They practically hate you. The de facto pope of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Mohler, has said that sending your children to public schools is “increasingly not an option.” The (all-male) leadership is now coalescing around the idea that if you are on The Pill, you are a murderer. If you even think about being pro-choice or voting for a Democrat, then they consider you a fetus-crushing accomplice to genocide. It’s gotten really extreme. They have set the boundaries and left no room for nuance, debate, or discussion. Just send your check and go home and cook your husband a nice meal. Then do the laundry and carpool all week. Oh wait, that’s no longer good enough. You must home-educate your children. These guys have really doubled down on submissive-wife extremism. I feel sorry for their wives. I mean, men practically can’t get a job in complementarian churches, universities, or agencies unless their wives stay at home to watch the 4+ kids.

    If you are a literal-Bible fundamentalist, then by all means, stay. But I cannot imagine that complementarian churches are spiritually healthy places for you to be if you believe women in vocations other than homemaking can actually honor God. I tried to be more conciliatory in my previous response. But this has been nagging at me all day. They are counting on you staying and paying your pledge. But if you are an egalitarian, they detest you and everything you stand for.

    That’s my view. Hope it’s not too harsh. I would *never* want my bride exposed to a faith that so brazenly and obnoxiously emphasizes submission. And, as the father of a 21-month-old little girl, I can say this: I wouldn’t let a sexist pastor mansplain “biblical womanhood” to her then guilt and shame her into aspiring to be some man’s household help. It’s borderline spiritual abuse.

    And the fact that these men claim faithfulness to the Bible and a commitment to the kingdom God sent Jesus to proclaim — it makes me so sad and angry.

    • john

      oh dear…you are sadly wrong on how this men see people.

      • patriciamc

        Sadly, he’s not that far off the mark. I’ve read their blogs also, and I’ve seen some of this extremism.

      • Mark

        Dr. Mohler is a hard line rightist. He also ran off quite a few faculty from the seminary.

        Now the American baptists are pretty moderate. They have women deacons and women in the pulpit.

    • Laura Watts

      Wow! It just pains me to read the hatred in this post. When did it become acceptable to make blanket-statements about certain denominations or to accuse every single complementarian pastor of hating their fellow egalitarian church members? This enraged, hot-headed one-sided thinking is what causes strife and enmity in the church. I happen to be a member of a Southern Baptist church and though I may not agree with everything the church teaches about women or other issues, I do not doubt that my pastor is a God-fearing man who is empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead the congregation. I am also married, and on track to get my Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy from an accredited graduate school. I may not even have kids and if I do, I will not look to my church to tell me how to educate my children, nor do I plan to quit my job when I have kids. I in no way feel that my church or pastor wishes me to be a stay-at-home mom. There are people who homeschool in my church as well as families who send their kids to public school. There are families in which the mother is the bread-winner as well as those in which the husband is.
      The point I am trying to make is that everyone is coming at this from a different background, a different perspective. I do not think it is fair to disrespect other’s beliefs on this matter just because yours happens to be different. The main thing is that we all seek Christ and how we can best please him.

  • Lisa M

    Interesting timing here as senior leaders from our church in Indiana (about 7000 in weekly attendance) just announced this past weekend that they propose all limitations be removed for women in leadership. Many, of course, are thrilled, but it’s been a difficult week for those leaders as others have communicated their disappointment and outrage. Much to pray about. I would love to know names of other churches out there that have changed their position, moving from complementarian/patriarchal to egalitarian. How did the transition go, and what can we learn from your experiences?

  • Olivia Renee Brown

    I grew up in an egalitarian denomination, so I’ll be writing from a completely theoretical position. But I believe the answer is “yes, you can.” For the most part, this is an in-house issue, and while I may not be completely comfortable with attending a church in which the structure seems so radically different from my own values, yet both complementarian and egalitarian sides affirm the authority of Scripture and are doing the best they can to interpret it. I think it shows it a beautiful portrait of God’s people when we can learn from each other and allow ourselves to give grace to one another. We all need to give and be given grace regarding these issues; to have the ability to humbly admit that, though we disagree with an issue, we ourselves do not know everything, and we are in fact wrong on many things. (Remember, of course, that I am referring to in-house debates that we may disagree on, there is still agreement on the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.) In many ways, attending different churches with some different interpretations will help keep us accountable, humble, and graceful. Furthermore, I believe if you enter church each week expecting to learn more from others, then you may also find that others may become open to learning more from you.

  • JJT

    It’s up to the individual and their level of passion on the issue of gender roles and church leadership. Personally, I view gender the same as race. I would not be able to go to a church which refused to place a non-caucasian in a leadership position merely because of their race. Likewise, I would not be able to be in a church that would similarly discriminate due to gender.

  • Nina Angelini Young

    My husband and I ultimately left the PCA church we went to for years because of this. The senior pastor has always been gracious to “agree to disagree” even went as far as advocating for women “deaconesses” (which can be argued to be an erroneous, un-biblical term) when a new assistant pastor was hired, he began changing things around, many of which I disagreed with from the get-go. He’d take time before giving the benediction to pray that ‘wives will submit because this is not a ‘bad word’ but God’s word’ after raising my concerns repeatedly, and asking to speak to him, I was kinda ignored. One Sunday morning before church he shared a link to a sermon from another PCA pastor in which he advocated a woman staying in an abusive relationship because it is our duty. My husband and I wept together and prayed we sent him an email where we explained why we are egalitarians, and beseeched that our relationship be respected, as we truly believe this is God’s calling for our relationship, we explained that as we are respectful of complementarians we’d appreciate the same respect, that this is an issue that truly hurts and insults both my husband and I . Once again we asked to meet with him to talk about this, we were met with more flippancy. He began sharing more and more posts like this on the church email list. When I posted a link to a blog post (maybe yours actually) in which the author made a case for being a feminist Because of her Christianity all hell broke loose. I received so much hate mail from ‘brothers and sisters’ I had to leave. The problem I see with comps is this: they cannot fathom that God has a different calling for different people with different gifts, pasts, stories, etc. He created us so very different from one another that it is stupid to assume that He’d just give us one perfectly square box in which all marriages fit, anything outside of this box is un-biblical, heresy or worse, SIN. I reject this idea, and I personally think that if you are an egalitarian in a complementarian church, it won’t be long until you are labeled a back-slider or an unrepentant sinner. I have since left the church, not only because of this but because I’ve been met with true unkindness or coldness at my hour of need–my sweet nephew passed in the summer. I can’t say for certain, but I have a feeling that if my husband and I kept ourselves quiet, wasn’t so “bitter” or “abrasive” about this subject that our brothers and sisters would have been more, well, like brothers and sisters. I truly tried to stay, to invite conversations, went out of my way to try and fellowship, talk it out, but I have been treated like a leper. Its been an ordeal that has left my husband and I exhausted and dissolutioned with churchianity. A dear friend past about an month ago, I went back to the church for her funeral, we were close, and after just loosing my nephew I’ve come undone in alot of ways (thankfully Jesus heals and teaches in the midst of grief and sorrow) I was met with shifty eyes, little whispers, and one bold woman coldly telling me that my problem is that I don’t attend church anymore. I don’t think I feel safe there, not anymore. And I want to say that the fact that my husband and I “came out” as egalitarians was the catalyst.

    • Laura Watts

      I am sorry that you had such a bad experience. I find it very sad that the pastor treated you in a flippant way and did not even want to discuss your differences. Though I think it is very possible to be egal. in a com. church it does not seem like you and your husband had any other choice but to leave in this particular situation. I hope you find the right church that is comprised of encouraging members and humble leadership.

      • Nina Angelini Young

        Thank you Laura, we pray the same! 🙂

  • thisblogisepic.wordpress.com

    Gosh this is a tricky question. I find more and more lately that I’m in a similar situation. As I become more of a Jesus Feminist, so to speak, and as I realize more and more that I think women have a bigger place in the church than I used to believe we did…. I’m torn between leaving a legalistic, complementarian church for one that’s less of both… but my community’s there. I’m looking forward to reading through everyone’s comments 🙂

  • matt.gebhart

    I’m about to graduate seminary in a few months and will be looking for a church to begin my pastoral calling. A few other students and I were recently discussing the larger topic of taking positions at churches with beliefs we disagree with (church jobs are quite hard to find where I live). The author’s question is an easy one for me – NO. I believe this is within the (small) category of beliefs that are grounds for leaving a church (or never starting to attend in the first place). If a church does not affirm something so basic as women’s ability to lead the church, and administer the sacraments, you should not attend it. Actually, I believe no one should attend these churches that teach the lie from the enemy that women are not 100% capable of being called by God to lead God’s Church. No. One. This is dangerous antiquated thought that is so embedded in the Church from centuries (millennia?) of patriarchy which is straight up sin. I can agree to disagree on many doctrinal points because I believe a variety of thought is healthy for the body of Christ but this is not one of them. The Church is made up of human beings, who despite our many wonderful qualities have a propensity to make a mess of things. We are called to redeem the church from the sins of our past including the sin of patriarchy and no Christian in good conscience should align themselves with such a degrading, dehumanizing lie. Despite the common refrain, complementarianism does not understand men and women as equals. Equals participate fully in the image of God, not some bifurcated version that upholds the status quo (men in power). Why do these churches cling so strongly to a sin that is literally as old as sin itself. The very first thing that happened after the Fall was man giving a name to the woman. “The man named his wife Eve…” Gen 3:20 (who had previously just been called woman). The first man named the woman just as he had named all the creatures of earth that were under his dominion. This naming is an act of authority and power-over. Patriarchy is the first sin after the Fall and has been deeply embedded in the world ever since. So my answer is no. If you claim to love the Church, and the Holy Scriptures, you can not participate in the perversion of the imago Dei that is “complementarianism”. (rant over…)

    • Jacob Lupfer

      “Perversion of the imago Dei that is ‘complementarianism’…” Best phrase I’ve seen on this entire thread.

  • Lanelle King

    Thank you, Sarah, for this prompt.
    Our family moved to a small town .. and when we did, we entered the land of the complementarian.The only church which was seemingly healthy and active is one in which pursues the teachings of Wayne Grudem and desires to disciple young men into MEN and women into, LADIES… well, its complicated. It isn’t quite as strict as it could be, but it is certainly discouraging. The kicker for me is that they allow women to hold certain roles of leadership, with the title of deacon… Helping hands… Connections… Childrens Ministries… even Outreach. And I’m the deacon of Outreach. The ministry is officially, “what I make of it” – in other words, I do what I want but none of the elders are on my team. I have been so discouraged and yet led to press on… to pursue the things of Christ rather than the things of our elders, our church, or that matter, of the world. Anyway, our family is here, and will stay unless we move away, simply due to the fact that there is nothing else. Our children (three young women, poor things!) are all looking to move far away and find the beliefs old fashioned… I wish for an alternative, I wish for a team, a true team – and all I can do is hope and trust in the plan…

    As for whether or not a family should stay…

    I would say only, only, only if you feel absolutely convinced that you are to stay, to be a change agent and the light you were gifted to be … if you are content and know your identity in Christ and truly know you are free.

    Because in Christ we are all free indeed, and noone can take that away, no matter what they believe about roles.

  • Dave Horrocks

    Hi Sarah,

    Is it okay to use your first name like we are already the friends that I imagine we would be if we met? I am going to assume your answer is yes and continue. I am an egalitarian Senior Pastor of a largely complementarian church within a decidedly complementarian denomination. When it comes to the decision to stay or leave regarding this matter I turn to the commentary contained in “The Voice Bible translation 1John 5 where it says…

    Just as we do not get to choose our biological brothers and sisters, we do not get to choose our spiritual brothers and sisters either. But what comes along with loving the Father is loving all His other children—even the really annoying ones! While it might seem to be easier to go off and live in isolation rather than put up with those we are not naturally attracted to, there are responsibilities that come with living in a spiritual family. We reflect our worship of God by living in respect with our Christian brothers and sisters. How we treat the people around us on a daily basis is the real test of our love for God.

    I love the people in our little church with a big heart and I fervently pray that God will guide us all as I strive to honor the incredible women in our midst by encouraging them to fully use their many talents and gifts in service to God. I pray that the people who disagree with me on this would find a way to turn their hearts over to God just as I do when I see them struggling to accept this position.

    And my friend Sarah (okay now I really am in trouble with you), I am a Jesus Feminist!

  • Kate Morgan

    I couldn’t. Your family’s choices are your family’s choices, but in the end, I found complementarianism damaging to my inmost being.

  • Jeff Snively

    This topic is one that is close to my heart. I have a sister who is a pastor of a church in Chicago. I do see where people will not attend because she is a woman and that is not fair.

    That being said, I respect their decision and belief.

    The one thing about me is that I have very strong convictions about Jesus, church and how it should fit in my life. I believe the Bible shows us how to live and can be applied to every area of life. One thing that I feel is that everyone must work out their own salvation which also means how they live their lives or how they think. If I told you that you had to accept the rules at your workplace or find another job, there would be no debate. Why then is there debate when it applies to church?

    The church that is more strict is that way because the leaders are that way. If you can live with it, then do so and don’t complain. If you can not, then go elsewhere. Not all churches will be a good fit for you.

    However it is important to remember that the most strict of churches and most loose of churches both should have the same goal which is to love God and grow closer to Him.

  • Susan Smith

    Dearest Sarah

    Thank you first of all for your courageous encouraging posts, I always enjoy reading them!

    Ok, firstly, your line “There isn’t always “one way” to do things or a necessarily right-wrong way to look at an issue” is what struck me (and perhaps it’s true about lots of issues, not just this one?). So if I have come to one way of living, then I hope I can, no I *must*, still love those who have arrived at another. Oh dear, that’s not gonna be easy… 😉

    Whilst no church is perfect, I think I’m hugely blessed to be in one where it isn’t even an issue that women can and do lead / preach / teach / etc. (Our worship director (female) recently stepped down from the role she’d had for years, cos she wanted to spend more time preaching, so she’s still on staff, now as one of our teaching staff – and I *love* to hear her preach!) I hadn’t even realised there could be churches where women weren’t serving and leading alongside men until I started reading your blogs. (I don’t know if that’s a cultural thing – I’m in Scotland.) So I probably ought to keep my head down and mouth shut about churches where this isn’t the case.

    And up to here was where I was up to until last night, then a (male) friend, now living in New Zealand posted a link on FB about a (male) theologian arguing from the bible that the Early Church was a place where men and women served and lead equally alongside one another. If it interests you, here’s the link: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/01/30/that-women-question-rjs/ (Just don’t read too far into the comments below, well, some of them made me want to say not very nice things…)

    Every blessing

  • Shauw Chin Capps

    This is a tough one. I believe that church is about community and relationships. And because of that I would struggle deeply. The issue of equality is also a non-negotiable for me because it is a justice issue and it has everything to do with my faith and about the Jesus I know and love. I think there is value in staying, creating conversations and opening space for change to happen. At the same time, there is also a time to stand up for injustice, speak the truth with boldness, and act with courage. I think Jesus modeled both. It all really depends on the identity that your church has chosen because then that tells me that the body/congregation has spoken. If a church’s statement of identity clearly states that they hold to a complimentarian view, then who am I to impose my view? It would also be very difficult for me to stay because I have two girls and what they are taught now about God matters a great deal. The constant conflict that I would subject them to would be unfair and it would cause a great deal of confusion in their faith development. It is critical for me and my husband that our girls are able to witness and experience women being leaders and preachers in church. I also believe that there is a way to preserve and continue relationships without official membership. So as difficult as it would be, I would probably lean towards leaving.

  • CLS

    No. This is a deal-breaker for me. I don’t have kids, but I would not attend a church whose teachings I think may consciously or subconsciously harm my marriage by establishing hierarchy that’s grounded in sex rather than God’s individual character gifts.

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  • Eric Boersma

    Samantha Field at Defeating the Dragons has written some great stuff on topics very similar to this. This is a good jumping off point (but read *all* of her stuff, seriously).


  • What a question. I am in a decidely complementarian church, even though I find myself more and more egalitarian in my views. But I am still there because I grew up there and feel like I might be able to hopefully make a difference someday.

    It is my dream to affirm women in their callings and build bridges instead of making canyons. I want us to be able to say: Sister we are together in this and God loves us each and every one and we can do the things he has called us to.

    My dream is for unity with space for differences of opinion.

    I don’t know if it’s possible in my church, but I am here right now. And that is how it is.

    My husband might call our marriage complementarian because of past negative experiences with egalitarians, but I need to call it egalitarians so that the complementarian silent wife I was raised to be will take the backseat to my calling as an equal contributer to our marriage and this life.

    Thank you for this discussion, Sarah. Your words encourage me to be brave and speak.

    • Kerri

      Love this – what a wonderful way you expressed yourself! I can hear Jesus behind your words

  • Westcoastlife

    We left our church in Langley, because of their stance on women, while the denomination as a whole moved forward, our church added to their membership classes a clause that we had to support the leadership in men-only elder board/pastors. Seriously?

    But, a bigger issue has shown up that lies behind that sort of signing on the dotted line. I have yet to find a complementarian church (unless it is a denominational thing) that isn’t also tied up in protecting it’s own doctrine. Often over accepting people who love Christ as equals.

    Most people sign a statement of faith without knowing all that much about it. If you question them, they may not even agree with all of it.

    For me, I am happy with the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed I prefer the evangelical church to other, more traditional churches (in encountering Christ on a weekly basis). For example, I don’t even care if there is an eternal Hell, or just annihilation or perhaps Universalism (although there are some good verses against that one view). So, I can’t honestly sign that I agree with an eternal Hell (I mean, if it is an eternal conscious punishment, why did Jesus get out so early? I thought he took our penalty for us?). Again, I don’t say “there is no Hell”, there certainly could be, and there are certain verses that seem to support that well, but I am tired of Protestantism being more about the after-life than the here an now life, yet I never see a membership statement that says we will “remember the poor” or “we will not worry about money” and all the other stuff the Bible says and everyone ignores that is about what we should be doing here on earth. Does it matter if I worship next to a person who believes in Eternal Hell or Universalism? Does it matter if that person teaches Sunday School? Two decades ago, the same issue would be: does it matter if I sit beside someone who believes in Post-Tribulation?, now, most people wouldn’t know what that even means.

    Anyways, I would love for more people to leave their doctrinally focused churches and gather under churches that are more inclusive but full of love for Christ, if everyone stays in churches they don’t agree with, and can’t change, then it kills the part of the Body of Christ that wants to be free from those doctrinal distractions and get on with living for Christ in the here and now and being a full member in a church without having to compromise, lie, play ignorant or sit out of membership because some after-life doctrinal issue usually coupled with a “who is in charge” issue is dividing up Christians again. But then, I am a true congregationalist, I don’t see leadership in the church (these days, please don’t quote the Book of Acts to me) as anything more than a job description – I have yet to meet a famous Christian leader who is consistently more spiritually in-tune than various members of their own congregations. We are a body all together, obsessing about who can lead assumes God only works through one person well, and everyone else has to follow that person, I have yet to meet a real-life Moses, and I won’t, because that is the way the body was set up – we are ALL a priesthood of believers, now that is a doctrinal statement I could get behind.

    Ah well. What can I say?

    • Erik Merksamer

      You’ve inspired me to draft a “Membership Covenant” that quotes Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount” rather than John Piper or Wayne Grudem. I love your thoughts here! Thank you!

      • Westcoastlife

        That would be an brilliant church membership statement.

  • Well, I’m so happy to see that this question has sparked such interesting discussion! I held off on offering my take because I was so enjoying listening to everyone here. So for whatever it’s worth, here’s my take. Personally, I couldn’t join or become a member of a complementarian church. I’m not a big fan of schisms or disunity, but it would be hard for me to participate in a community where my “image of God” self is denied. Of course every situation is unique, every person, every church. But for me and for my family, that’s our answer: we wouldn’t attend a church that didn’t affirm equality. I understand why people make different decisions, absolutely, and affirm them in their decisions. Praise God for people who stay within slow-to-change institutions to pray and remain and lead. I am just not one of them.

    • Jacob Lupfer

      I enjoyed this question and all the responses so much. Learned a lot. Blessings to you.

    • Jana Niehaus

      Sarah, thanks so much for creating the space in which this helpful conversation could happen! I too learned a lot!

  • patriciamc

    Some egalitarians might be able to attend a complementarian church, but I just can’t. To me, complementarian beliefs are based on proof texting, which is just a bad way to study the Bible. I also think complementarianism demonstrates a disconnect from the wisdom and working of the Holy Spirit. So, no, I would not go to a complementarian church (I left a PCA church in college) just like I would never date or marry a man who didn’t believe in women in all levels of church leadership because that would tell me what he thought of women overall.

  • I know this isn’t a direct answer to the question, but I’m finding that as a single Jesus-Feminist and an egalitarian, it’s become important for me to be at a church which affirms these values so that relationships that I form, with both men and women, get off on the right foot.
    In dating (and friendships), people make assumptions about one another based on where they worship, and this has been quite painful at times, when our expectations didn’t match up.
    So while I understand that we might not always like our brothers and sisters in Christ and might not agree on everything, this is certainly something to consider.

  • Erik Merksamer

    What a great conversation here! It hits on the popular idea that this is a “secondary issue”, which my wife and I have wrestled with over the years. For us, a local church culture that is “complementarian” has a much bigger impact than is explained on paper. It’s never just about the “office of elder/pastor”. There are so many unspoken expectations, for both men and women. Here’s one specific example, I wasn’t allowed to serve in the church nursery, but my wife was. Only women serve in the nursery. I am a professional educator of young children, and it left me feeling like I was a creepy man for simply wanting to serve alongside my wife. So, while I’m certain there are so many wonderful aspects of “complementarian” churches, the hidden pressures seem to be hurtful. We just don’t experience the fullness of the freedom that Holy Spirit leads us to. We felt censored, or pressured to self-censor. It led to doubt about many other things. I began to wonder if God really does show favoritism, and that if “biblical manhood” is God’s ideal, then I was failing miserably.

    • john

      I would humbly suggest that has nothing to do with their views on theology but more to do with them being idiots.

  • Sarah, thank you for this and for inviting us to take part in the conversation. (And by the way, congrats on the publication of Jesus Feminist!) I am an egalitarian who attends a complementarian church, and I’m okay with that for now. I find enough truth in my church to stay, even though I struggle with the lack of women in ministry. I actually blogged about this very topic recently: http://karissaknoxsorrell.com/2013/12/01/for-the-table-not-the-schism/

  • Anne Ward Sokol

    if it’s a generally a good church, not evil-minded, abusive leadership then sure you can stay. But be humble that the Holy Spirit can be convincing them to be complementarian the way He convinces you to be egal. And support the leadership generally, don’t be divisive or teaching behind their backs.
    if it’ bothers you too much, it’s all you can focus on, then move on to where you can grow and serve.

  • Alice Meade

    Our church might not be aggressively complementarian, but still holds up traditional gender roles as admirable and part of a “biblical” marriage and ordained women are very scarce in our conference. It feels lonely sometimes, but there are lots of reasons we stay. I hope that by staying and by gently and tactfully sharing my opinions I’m creating space for other women to think that maybe not everyone has to be the cookie cutter submissive Christian wife.

  • jane

    I don’t know if it is a fundamental issue? Can we not love and serve each other in either church, depending on which roles are allowed?Its not all about us being fulfilled or using our gifts, its about us serving where we can for the sake of the gospel.. Its only our modern western culture that allows us to pick and chose churches

  • It depends on God’s calling. One of my professors in seminary believed that God called her to stay in a fundamental/hierarchal community (incidentally, she taught a feminisms course). Her level of education, and gifting, was on par with the men who led that community. After decades, the Spirit broke through that system, and key leaders actually changed their minds. But it took A LONG time, much suffering, winsome presentation of egalitarian biblical research, and serious prayer. That has not been my calling, or experience. I studied in two seminaries, and one of them supported women better than the other. When I transferred to the more egalitarian seminary (to live closer to an ill parent), it surprised me to have much more energy for studies, and ministry, because I no longer spent so much time explaining why Scripture supports women in ministry leadership. I realized, at that point, how much bitter baggage I had been carrying (my “normal” during that season). I would not be able to fulfill my calling in a non-egalitarian church. While I have friends who think differently about gender, we don’t do ministry together.

  • Aluna

    This is a well timed question. My husband and I were “church shopping” yesterday. I was raised in LCMS Lutheranism (VERY complementary) and my husband was what he called an EC Christian (Easter & Christmas – about the only time he went to church). He confirmed to Lutheranism before we were married, and we went through our marriage counseling in that church. During our lessons, the pastor at my home church mentioned that the church was slow to change and recognize the “true” meaning of scripture in relation to the world around us. In my grandmother’s life time, the church was so complementation that it went as far as to seat men and women on opposite sides of the church, and requiring women to wear hats to church so that their beauty did not distract the men during worship. To put that in perspective, I visited a Muslim mosque as part of a school project and found it to be a lot like a Lutheran church, just with more bowing, prostrating and arabic. I remember feeling disappointed as a child that I could not be a pastor (if I wanted to) in the church that I grew up in and loved solely because I was a woman.

    Now there is a different sect of Lutheranism that my husband suggested we visit because they ordain women. But I find myself struggling to go over to that because while I agree with them on women being leaders of the church, I don’t agree with them on a lot of things theologically. So in our church shopping, we are looking for a compromise. We both like the traditional service (mind you, not the “high church” traditional) with its hymns and liturgy – we connect more spiritually with that type of service. But we are also looking for churches that allow women to serve communion, read the scripture readings, and give guest sermons. We have found two churches in our denomination in our area that do this so far (out of about 15 churches in our city).

    And we are good with this for now. Together, my husband and I have always believed that our faith was not dependent on a physical church. But we are looking for community, and my family has strong ties to Lutheranism. These two churches have caused quite a stir of controversy within the denominations’ local churches, and I think that’s a good thing. Maybe if things get shaken up enough, that “slow change” will finally come. But as I told my husband yesterday, if we have a daughter, and she wants to be a pastor, I will be more than willing to set aside more than 5 generations of complementation Lutheranism to attend a church that will allow her to serve her God.

  • Katherine

    I am an egalitarian, and I attend an egalitarian church that fully supports women in ministry. We have two co-pastors; a black woman and a white man who lead our congregation. This example is a powerful one for me, and unfortunately it is rare in the church today.

    It is an affirmation to know that my church asks me to lead in areas where I am gifted. Recently I was asked to join the church council. I feel empowered and loved when the church affirms the gifts God has given me. My voice and wisdom is valued just as much as a man’s.

    It would be difficult for me to attend a church where I would be told no, I can’t serve in that way because of my gender.

  • C

    I consider myself a minister, by calling and by education. However, I have no desire to be in the spotlight. My passion is pastoral care and behind-the-scenes support. I do not feel this way because of a complimentarian upbringing; it wasn’t until I entered full-time ministry that I realized that my egalitarian childhood church was not normative. I feel this way because pastoral care and other quiet roles match my personality and my preferences best. I can preach and teach. I have done it; but I don’t enjoy it. There are different styles of leadership for different styles of people.

    That said, what is important to me is whether the “non-spotlight” leaders are given a voice at the table. I find it difficult to remain in community with a local church which doesn’t value or care to know my perspective on pending decisions, etc. The Church needs leaders who have a pulse on the heartbeat of the congregation, even from within the congregation. The Church needs leaders of all sorts, regardless of gender, race, marital status, sexual orientation, monetary wealth, etc. If someone does feel called to preaching and teaching, and they aren’t allowed to grow towards these roles in a particular local church, then perhaps they are needed elsewhere. It’s difficult, though, because Christians in countries of affluence have a tendency to run rather than stay and be rooted. We don’t know how to engage conflict well. On the other hand, at what point does staying equal self-oppression? The body of Christ is a large and complex balancing act of fallible humans; try to stay so that everyone can grow, but don’t stay too long or you’ll be ransacked?

    In my most recent church, a young complimentarian couple made their home. They were the minority, but they chose to invest themselves in our egalitarian community, come what may. I had difficulty relating to her, she being a married mother ten years younger than my single self. But we enjoyed one another’s company at times over tea and prayer. I had difficulty relating to him, he being a church-volunteer ten years younger than my church-staff self. I asked him questions about his areas of genuine expertise. Until they moved to another city for work, they remained integral to our church community. Would they have stayed so long if our church had devalued their voice? Theirs was a well-thought out perspective. They were young, but they were not simply flying by the seat of their theological pants (and skirt, respectively.) I am not saying this was easy or enjoyable, or that I agreed with their conclusions, but at the time I thought that there was room for all of our voices at the table. At least I hoped so.

    I am no longer a part of that local church, for confusing and sad reasons. No church is perfect. But after a long season away, I have now settled upon a place where I am going to go and to be. It is not an easy decision; I would much rather continue sleeping in on Sundays. I had great pillow-talk with God; the Spirit willingly dwelled with me there for many months. But now I am at a point when being back in the messiness of community is needed for future growth. If my new pursuit is such that my voice is cut short, then I can not and will not remain. I am too tender; the needed months of healing were too long. But if it allows me to share, and listens sincerely (even if its conclusions are different), then I guess I’m personally ok with that.

  • River Birch

    No. No. No. We tried this and it ended up being toxic for our daughters.

  • daisy

    I am in a nondenominational complementarian church and would be interested in switching to an egalitarian one. My problem is I don’t know what denominations are egalitarian…does anyone have a list? 🙂

    • patriciamc

      Hey Daisy. I’ve seen a list somewhere on the Internet. Google “egalitarian denominations” and see what you can find. I know that the Methodist church is egalitarian. Also, try the Christians for Biblical Equality website. They probably have info.

      • daisy

        thanks! I will

  • Melissa

    I know this is going to frustrate people, but I have to simply say no, egalitarians should not. Resoundingly, no.

    Your presence and contribution of resources (even if you only give your time) builds up the confidence of those in leadership that they are in the right, and that God is in their favor. Church attendance is one of the biggest metrics pastors use to measure success and God’s blessing or approval of their messages and leadership.

    Also, if you are a woman, it will be assumed that you agree with the church’s stance, and if you are vocal, you will not be heard as an equal. I say all of this from painful experience. If you have children, they will not see women valued as leaders, nor will they see female role models, and this does make an impression no matter what you say at home.

    So I have to say no. I had to move on, for myself, my daughter, and any future sons I might have.

    And the churches trying to support equality, e.g. UMC churches, need our support. They do exist, they are just harder to find sometimes or more culturally foreign.

  • Michal Ann Morrison

    I’m glad I’m not the only one asking this question! For where I am in life right now, I’ve decided to stay at the church I currently attend, even though it is very strictly complementarian. What keeps me there is the quality of teaching that I hear every Sunday. My priority is to hear expository teaching every week, and that is what my church gives me. While it is frustrating to not be affirmed in my leadership capabilities as a woman, I am able to lead a coed Bible study for them, and that is enough for me right now. I have decided to not become a member, however, because I cannot in good conscience sign on the dotted line that says I agree with them on their theology about women. Most likely one day I will leave because I want to be a card-carrying member somewhere, and to be able to stand behind everything my church believes. But for the transient, 20-something life I currently lead, I’ve decided to be faithful with what I am allowed to be, hear good teaching, and find affirmation for my gifts elsewhere.

  • I know I am a little late to the conversation but I am struggling with this one. I feel like neither my church or my marriage fit into the category of egalitarian or complementarian. My first response would be that both are complimentarian but based on some of the comments I have read…we are far from. In my marriage my husband has the final say when we come to a place where one of us has to make a final decision. I have no problem saying that I submit to his authority. Yet we both equally serve, respect, and love one another. But as it pertains to leadership of the church, I have been in many different leadership positions in the church (and have attended churches that welcome female leadership) all the while my husband has fully supported my leadership positions. I suppose I struggle with it being one or the other. I can be a strong woman of leadership but still submit to my husband. I know we have hashed out this topic before in previous posts. But I guess I feel sad that we tend to swing to one extreme or the other. If I really think back I would say that before I was married I was more egalitarian and my husband was more complimentarian. Since marriage, we have been able to find a happy place in the middle. There is a time and place for each of us to step up and lead. And I look to my husband as I make some of those leadership positions. And he does the same with me. But he gets the final say. Though we usually don’t get to the final say because we work things out, listen, and can be in agreement on most things. I am not sure what that makes us! 😉

    I suppose my final thought is that my husband is the leadership of our home leading our family in a way that supports me to be able to go out and lead those the Lord brings before me. But to answer the question–as long as other needs of community, worship, and teaching are met, I think it is important that the church is made of a body with different opinions. Bring a different perspective to the table…not to win anyone over…but to share how God has convicted your heart. I think there is room for all of us to learn from one another.

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  • Cassandra B.

    This is an old post, but I wanted to ask a question! How about if your church is both and neither? They don’t think it is an important issue, we have ordained women Pastors, women who serve as deacons, and teaching/leadership, plus lead Worship, etc. HOWEVER, the office of Elder (senior and the body of Elders) is reserved for males only because they believe that is what the Bible says. I cannot even fathom the consistency of this stance. Thoughts??

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