She: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Women in Ministry

She: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Women in Ministry

by Karoline M. Lewis

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We are not all the same. The time has come for us to honestly name the ways we are different and similar so that we can serve together in unity, grace and trust.

Women in ministry experience unique challenges in their church settings which continue to hinder their vocational, professional, and personal success. Women in ministry need a trusted and comprehensive resource not only to be able to survive but to thrive in their places of call. She provides theoretical, theological, and practical frameworks and strategies for flourishing as a woman in ministry and engages critical reflection on the practice of ministry in light of current feminist theory, biblical interpretation, and experience.

Covering everything from biblical arguments for and against women in the church to what not to wear, this book offers background information and tools for negotiating the many and varied issues that woman in ministry face, including leadership, the authority and office of the clergy, and structures and power in the church. A trusted and comprehensive resource for women in ministry, equipping them to thrive in their places of call, and for the men who serve alongside them.

"For women in ministry, one 'a-ha' moment after another spills from the pages of this book.  Decades after ordination opened for women in mainline churches, the struggle for acceptance and equality goes on. This is an important book which narrates the deep costs of sexism and imagines a new form of women's leadership rooted and grounded in authentic love and genuine hospitality. In telling the truth about persistent sexism in the church, Karoline Lewis, paradoxically, blesses her readers with hope.  This hope emerges in naming the challenges for women leaders and then pointing the way forward." - Leanne Van Dyk, President and Professor of Theology, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501804953
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 05/03/2016
Series: She
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 854,696
File size: 673 KB

About the Author

Karoline M. Lewis, holds the Marbury Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.  She is a regularly featured presenter and preacher at the Festival of Homiletics and a frequent contributor for numerous Christian journals and online resources, including the popular website where she also co-hosts the site’s weekly podcast, "Sermon Brainwave," and authors the site’s weekly column, "Dear Working Preacher." Karoline holds a Ph.D. from Emory University. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Read an Excerpt


Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Women in Ministry

By Karoline M. Lewis

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2016 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5018-0495-3





Sometimes it's not so much that I am in the wilderness,
but that the wilderness is in me. Perhaps for you as well.
Storms stir and waters rise
and though the wilderness within is drenched, fires burn hot.
For me, this is hell —
caught somewhere between drowning and going up in flames.
But never forget that you yourself were created wild, which is why you should not fear.
Never forget that your cry need not be tame.
And if your voice shakes
I pray you feel no shame because now and then even the earth itself quakes.
But more than that,
Know that you are not and never will be alone. Know that when you pass through
the waters you will come out baptized.
And when you walk through fire
the phoenix within will be revealed.
Born a new creation
out of the ashes of resurrection. Still wild, still called by name.
— Annie Langseth (Women in Ministry student)


KEY NUMBER ONE for unlocking your power as a woman in ministry is to make clear decisions as to what you are going to do and say both about the Bible and about God when it comes to women in ministry.

Why start with the Bible in a book that hopes to give women in ministry power when the Bible is the number one reason for arguments against women in ministry? Because the Bible is indeed where it all starts. We would not be here right now, you would not be reading this book at this moment, if it were not for the witnesses to God's love for the world as recorded in scripture. A starting point matters. Furthermore, the Bible matters. As women in ministry, we can either resist its relevance, especially when it comes to affairs concerning women, women's rights, issues women face, societal norms, expectations, marital relationships, household codes, and feminism, or we can reimagine our approach. Of course, there are a number of places to land along that stated spectrum, which is why we have to spend some serious time with our own feelings when it comes to the relationship between the Bible and women in ministry — and even our personal relationship with the Bible.

The use and misuse of the Bible to justify and judge women in ministry will not go away if we ignore it. One pastor remembers, "I once had an older gentleman tell me after service [when I was a student] that I should really read 1 Timothy 2 sometime." Will you know to what he is referring? Those around you will not necessarily let it go — and so you cannot feign that it will go away. We cannot pretend that biblical arguments against women in ministry are simply out-of-date, and therefore ignorable, because these arguments based on biblical principles will only surface in other ways. While you might eschew any claims lodged in "biblical values" that question your call to ministry, the truth remains that how people engage biblical texts is an underlying issue significantly in play with most conversations around women in ministry; it is just not admitted or acknowledged. There are assumptions at work about the authority of scripture and the role of the Bible in matters of life and faith, and there are radically different views about God and operative canons within the Canon. Canon with a capital C is an interesting assumption itself because different denominations in Christianity propose different collections of writings. Protestant Bibles name sixty-six books as canonical whereas Catholic Bibles also include the deuterocanonical writings. Ironically, then, when people lodge such comments so as to question your ministry that begin with "The Bible says," you might respond, "To what Bible are you referring?" Failure to engage actively with the Bible when it comes to women in ministry disregards how you have come to be in ministry in the first place and may potentially cause you to overlook important biblical figures who might also accompany both you and your present-day supporters.

What follows are four areas of focus that are critical to discernment around the role of the Bible for women in ministry: the authority of scripture, the nature and function of biblical interpretation, theological imagination for God, and the importance of feminism in constructions of faith.


The problem with canonical texts is that believers tend to confuse the voice of the author with the voice of God.

— Searching the Scriptures

To claim your own power as a woman in ministry demands that you wrestle with the concept of the authority of scripture and how that authority functions in your life. Assumptions about the authority of scripture are operating in, and lie behind, any claims about the Bible; however, these assumptions about scripture's authority are rarely found on the surface level of the discussions. Furthermore, there is a tacit assertion that we all presume to have the same view of scripture — at the very least, the shared belief that scripture is normative. People tend to operate with the general principle that the Bible has sole authority when it comes to navigating a life of faith, yet the reality is that many other influences on faith are at work: tradition, reason, experience, and the multiplicity of contexts that exist for any believer. To assert that the Bible is the only authority for a life of faith is an untruth, in part because it assumes that the Bible is able to have meaning regardless of the contexts in which and for which it is engaged. In addition, it ignores the fact that the Bible was never a single entity in the first place but came to be representative of the ongoing conversation between God and God's people, of which we are the heirs. This conjecture has to be called out for the fiction that it is so that conversations around scripture and women in ministry can be unshackled from falsehoods. Dialogue about women in ministry that relies on so-called biblical truths will go nowhere unless these fictions are acknowledged and addressed.

There are two essential views about the authority of scripture with which most people operate, with people landing somewhere on the spectrum between these two views. The first view is an ontological view of scripture, which states that scripture has authority on its own terms because it is scripture. Period. The second view is a functional view of scripture, which holds that scripture has authority because of how it serves to provide meaning for theological imagination and discourse. The ontological view of scripture's authority is often tied to statements about the Bible's inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility, with little to no attention given to the question of how our view of scripture might arise and should arise from scripture itself. A related claim, therefore, is that scripture is our sole authority for our understanding of God. The Bible is God's Word, dictated by God, where human agency has no other role but scribe. Word is deliberately capitalized to indicate something about authority or inherent holiness. The primary point of reference for this claim about scripture is 2 Timothy 3:16-17 — "Every scripture is inspired by God [theopneustos, "God-breathed" ] and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good." Translation challenges abound with this phrase, when the clause can be rendered as the following:

• All scripture is inspired by God

• Every scripture is inspired by God

• All scripture inspired by God is

• Every scripture inspired by God is

Moreover, this claim about scripture as inspired ignores the fact that the author of 2 Timothy is not referring to that particular epistle, but to the Hebrew scriptures. The collection of writings we now know as the New Testament was not the New Testament, let alone scripture, when the author of 2 Timothy made this assertion. Of course, this view of authority also precludes any questions on our part. Authority is assumed as unquestionable, yet, to call a text authoritative does not have to mean that we read it uncritically.

The second view of biblical authority, a functional understanding, suggests that the Bible is authoritative because it lays claim on one's life in some way. That is, the Bible is one lens through which we view, understand, or make sense of the world. To claim the authority of the Bible is to say that it helps you put into perspective or make sense of your experience of God and who you imagine God to be. In this sense, God is still active in the world, God is still speaking, and the Bible becomes a reference point for making sense of that ongoing activity and speech. The issue is not whether the Bible is authoritative; the more interesting and pressing question is how it is authoritative. In this regard, we would want to consider the fact that the Bible is authoritative because it is about God. Yet the Bible itself gives witness to God being known outside of scripture, that is, in the relationship God has with God's people. This is where the New Testament itself speaks to where we locate and how we describe the authority of scripture. The New Testament is a series of conversations about this very tension: knowledge of God has come from what is, and was, known as scripture, but now knowledge of God comes by the experience of God's presence in the incarnation.

Equally essential for thinking about the authority of the Bible is to ask whether the Bible gains its authority from "what the Bible says (e.g., about God and world); or in what the Bible is (e.g., holy, sacred, a place to encounter God); or in what the Bible does (e.g., sanctify, shape character, form community)."

The question should be, what does the Bible actually say about itself? How does it describe what it is, what it does, what its purpose is? The answers to these questions are as individual as the writings themselves. While a basic fact, it is crucial to remember that the Bible is not a book but a library. No writing included in the Bible ever started as, imagined itself as, or aspired to be scripture. We have made them scripture by the process of canonization, and that process has made specific witnesses to God's work in the world, particular to certain times and places, normative insofar as they call for testimony of all who claim belief in God and who have their own witness of God's activity to share.

Of course, a conversation about the authority of scripture will necessarily lead to how we define God's word. The Bible is often considered to be the word (or Word) of God or God's incarnated presence in the world through Jesus Christ, but these are very different assertions. One assumes a word that comes from God; the other points to God's embodied word in the Word made flesh. The language we use in reference to the Bible is loaded with assumptions. What does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God? Some claims about the Bible are often not ones that the Bible makes about itself. To make the statement that the Bible is the Word of God necessitates answering what one means by "word" and whether capitalization makes a difference in that understanding, as well as what is meant by "of God." The capitalization of word usually designates the same kind of claims about the authority of scripture that assume its inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility.

Is it a word from God? What word? How does the Bible give witness to the function of God's word? How do you define "word" ? "Word of God" is a far more complicated description of the Bible than people make it out to be, especially because we must be mindful that when we make assertions about scripture's authority, we are simultaneously making assertions about God. For example, if the Bible is one's assumed absolute authority when it comes to faith, is God then still able to be active in one's life? If the Bible is without error, does that mean that God never made a mistake or changed God's mind (Genesis 18)? Is that also true for God now? These kinds of honest discussions around the nature of God, in connection with what we think the Bible is and does, will have a far greater impact on subsequent discussions about women in ministry than if we pretend God is not involved in what we have to say about whom God calls into ministry or that ancient writings have the last say when it comes to God's vision for the church.

Any steps toward interpreting the Bible have to start with owning one's opinion on the authority of scripture. This is an essential aspect of your power as a woman in ministry. You have to be able to articulate your own view of the authority of scripture, not only so that you can share it with others, but also so that you are better able to listen to another's view. If someone holds to an ontological view of the authority of scripture, it is unlikely you will change that person's mind when it comes to interpreting the various passages used to justify arguments against women in ministry, particularly women as pastors. To know your stance on the authority of scripture will help you listen carefully to what people say about the Bible, how they describe it, and what words are used, so as to ask questions about these claims toward true dialogue and not defense. Recognizing your opinion on the authority of scripture will then help you realize when another's view is not yours and will bend the conversation toward empathy rather than estrangement.


When we get our spiritual houses in order, we'll be dead. This goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don't expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty.

— Flannery O'Connor

In many respects, unlocking your power as a woman in ministry means realizing your power as an interpreter of the Bible. "Wait a minute," you say, "I'm no biblical scholar." While that may be true (at least according to those persons whose vocation is to study the Bible and generate scholarship about the Bible), you are indeed an interpreter of the Bible. People assume that you have a knowledge of the Bible that they themselves do not have. You went to seminary or divinity school. You took Bible classes. You have skills in the area of biblical interpretation. You are, by the very nature of your role, an authority when it comes to the Bible. People will look to you for a range of reasons when it comes to their own relationship with the Bible. They will want the answers toward which you can point, although it will be up to you to note that the desire for answers from the Bible is itself a statement about the Bible. They will want to know where it says what. At the same time, even though they will not be able to articulate this truth, they want help in making sense of it. Biblical interpretation should be for them as much as it is for you. To interpret the Bible is to engage in activity that tries to make meaning, which is really how we go about life in general. We are text interpreters every day, constantly trying to make sense of what we read and what we hear. We do this interpretation from our multiple contexts that are as varied as our own persons.

A significant aspect of what it means to have power in ministry is to realize the power entrusted to you with this book we call the Holy Bible. How you engage the Bible, talk about the Bible, teach the Bible, and preach the Bible will communicate to those around you not only what the Bible means to you, but also what they think it should then mean for them. None of your statements about or references to the Bible are throwaway lines. Your relationship with the Bible is critical to your effectiveness in ministry.

We relinquish a considerable amount of our power in ministry when we forget this truth, when we then allow other sources to shape the biblical imagination of those we accompany in ministry. There is certainly no dearth of opinions about the Bible, nor is there a lack of very vocal Bible interpreters who know how to get heard. If you do not talk about the Bible and what you think about it, and if you do not help those to whom you minister to read it, then they will listen to others who do. They will go elsewhere for resources to assist them in understanding the Bible, and you might not like where they end up. Where you could have been offering ways of interpreting the Bible that are generative, you instead end up having to offer correctives and band-aid solutions that never stick as well.


Excerpted from She by Karoline M. Lewis. Copyright © 2016 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


"CHAPTER ONE" Key Number One: The Truth About Women, the Bible, Feminism, and Theology,
"CHAPTER TWO" Key Number Two: The Truth About Vulnerability, Bodies, and Sexuality,
"CHAPTER THREE" Key Number Three: The Truth About Gender, Identity, and Authenticity,
"CHAPTER FOUR" Key Number Four: The Truth About Sexism,
"CHAPTER FIVE" Key Number Five: The Truth About Leadership,

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