Mission Lab 2018

Bio Sketches: Complementarian Women Serving in Ministry

June 7th, 2016 / By: Melissa Deming / comments

Bio Sketches: Complementarian Women Serving in Ministry

Nancy TurnerNANCY TURNER has served as a pastor’s wife almost as long as she’s been married. Married for 32 years, Turner and her husband, Terry, have served for the past 25 years at Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church (MFBC), a congregation that welcomes a robust female presence in service, while reserving the role of pastor to men. 

“God created man and woman as equals but with different roles.” Turner said, referring to God’s design for the home and family. “Male leadership carries over into the church. Women are not allowed to teach men.”

Turner said her heart is to help women and children to draw nearer to God, a passion manifested in her role as the teacher of an adult women’s Sunday school class and a middle school Wednesday night Bible study. 

“Our church has women who serve as deaconesses,” Turner said. “It is not a position of leadership but one of service. Several of the ladies are married to deacons; however, that is not one of the qualifications for being asked to serve as a deaconess.”

Turner said the role of deaconess at MFBC is simple. “We prepare the communion table, assist the female baptismal candidates, and make sure an adequate supply of baptismal and communion supplies are always on hand.”

“On a personal note, I do not believe the role of a deaconess is the same as a deacon,” Turner said, referring to the biblical character of Phoebe in Romans 16:1. “Although the word servant is used in 1 Timothy 3:8, 10, 12, 13 to explain the qualifications of a deacon, I do not believe that Paul is recommending Phoebe in the exact manner. Whether you are a deacon or a deaconess, your primary attitude should be that of a servant.”

ANITA WOOD has served as director of education and evangelism at Memorial Baptist Church in Spring since 2011 and has worked with SBTC’s women’s ministries since 2004. 

“My church is a very conservative SBC congregation, and I am honored to serve them as staff,” Wood said, noting Memorial has two additional female staff members serving children. “There is a distinction among our staff titles, indicating their understanding of gender roles. Our church addresses male staff members as pastors and female staff members as directors. 

“Certainly all people are created by God equally; however, God established a chain of command and authority whereby families and churches remain healthy. Men are to lead their homes and serve as pastors of congregations,” Wood said, adding that if a man held her position, he would probably undertake additional roles excluded from her job description such as administering the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well as teaching men.

“In my particular ministry as director of education and evangelism, I am consciously aware of my role and responsibilities,” Wood said. “I serve at the pleasure of my church and my pastor, seeking to honor him as the ultimate God-ordained authority for this local body of Christ. I feel free to discuss matters with him, and he listens to my ideas and opinions. Should we ever disagree, I willingly submit to his authority and position.”

“For example, in staff meetings I have opportunity to share from a female perspective. This offers insight into families and church members that broadens our collective understandings. When I am with our congregation, I intentionally address our pastors by their titles—Pastor Cliff or Pastor Scott—so as not to dishonor them before our people. I want my speech to be honoring of their role and the godly men they are.”

Ann HettingerANN HETTINGER was called to ministry in a time when few women committed to full-time Christian service. In college and as a young married woman, she served a variety of churches in administrative roles. When her husband’s profession relocated them to the northern U.S., Hettinger served as a church secretary to a medium-sized church, where she was the only full-time staff member.

“The daily run of activities initiated at my desk, and God was my very present help in every moment of that journey,” Hettinger recounted. When her husband’s job relocated them to the Northwest, she served a small church as education assistant for seven years teaching children. And when they later moved to Texas, God provided service opportunities in a large church. 

Believing Scripture is definitive concerning the male-only pastoral role, Hettinger said there are so many tasks women may fill that she cannot imagine “a woman not being able to match up her gift with some need.”

“For over 30 years, God trained, moved, provided over and over again in my life to take all of these experiences and use them for the last 22 years serving families in public policy influence,” said Hettinger, who currently serves as the state director for Concerned Women for America. 

Hettinger believes the scriptural instructions related to pastoral roles in church do not apply to women serving in government roles. 

“Indeed, the Scripture is replete with examples of women who bear strong governmental responsibilities,” she said, pointing to Deborah in the Old Testament. “In my view, women bring to the public policy arena experience as unique and necessary as men bring. There is no governmental task that does not involve both genders’ consideration in the same way that we need multi-generational and multi-ethnic considerations.” 

Deborah PearleDEBORAH PEARLE had the privilege of leading her future husband, Bob, to Christ in high school. “Needless to say, it changed not only his life but mine as well,” Pearle said, recounting her journey as a pastor’s wife.

Looking back over their 44 years of marriage, Pearle says her call to serve alongside her husband was a defining mark in her life. “There’s no joy like serving the people of a local church.”

While Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth reserves the teaching of mixed audience roles to men, Pearle said her position as pastor’s wife has afforded her with countless service opportunities, including serving as women’s ministry director, playing the piano, leading children’s and youth choirs, teaching Sunday school and Bible studies, leading VBS, taking mission trips, mentoring young women, and singing in the choir. Pearle considered each of these service roles as acts of love for Christ and her church family as well as a complementing function to her husband’s leadership role as pastor. 

“We miss the biblical meaning that Christ has for our homes when we take the position of equal authority,” she said. “Christ himself, who is the equal part of the God-head, took a position of submission to the Father. His example sums it up for me. My flesh wants the recognition, but by taking the view Scripture explains, I have found tremendous joy, peace and satisfaction I never experienced when I believed the lie that I didn’t have to submit.”

Melanie LenowMELANIE LENOW has fulfilled many roles in her lifetime—biblical counselor, student, pastor’s wife, and chiefly, mother to four children.

“I have been incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work alongside many women in my church and community for the cause of Christ,” said Lenow, who has a master’s in biblical counseling. “Each of my experiences has one common thread, though. Another very talented woman could step into my place at any given time and do an equally effective job.” 

In Their Own Words

Finding Places to Serve in the Church

“If our churches would help women look at how they’re gifted—their personalities, their experiences—[and say], ‘Okay, based on this let’s see where you can best minister and fit into the kingdom,’ so that whether you’re paid or not, you get a sense that I am actually a valuable part of this whole church, and I fit my little puzzle piece. Churches [need to] affirm women for who God’s created them to be. We may have a fantastic Bible teacher. Let’s put her in the right place to be able to take women to the deep things of God.”

Terri Stovall, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

However, Lenow believes differently of the role of motherhood. “Each child has [his or her] own personality, gifts, talents and struggles. God places specific children with specific parents purposefully. This means there is no other woman on earth who can mother my children the way God has created me to mother them. I am not saying I am perfect at the job, but in God’s wisdom he has placed me in that role,” she said. “He wants the mother and father to be the primary influence on a child’s life until adulthood. Therefore, if I am absent from my children, even doing other good things, I am missing out on the one job that God has given to me and no one else.”

For this reason, Lenow believes motherhood to be the highest calling, whether a woman is mothering a biological or adopted child. 

Motherhood also requires making hard decisions about setting aside certain ministries for seasons. “I thoroughly enjoyed acting as women’s ministry leader at my church, but with the ages of my children, I have had to lay it down for the season,” she said, appreciating the fact that God has used her circumstances to introduce her to new ministry opportunities such as working with the teachers and other parents at her children’s school, serving as costume organizer/backstage manager for her church’s musical productions, and helping lead Locals for Life, a pro-life organization based in Fort Worth. 

Susie EdworthySUSIE EDWORTHY, current IMB missionary, felt called to ministry in the 7th grade—a role she thought would be fulfilled as a pastor’s wife. But while working on her master’s in religious education alongside her husband, Mark, God confirmed their call to the mission field. 

“God used many experiences from my upbringing as well as current challenges to show me his calling to serve overseas,” she said. “I was excited that I could be a woman and have a great role in reaching the world. I heard a missionary woman share her experiences as wife and mom and how that impacted the kingdom. Throughout this time, though, I never felt that my calling was secondary nor limited.”

While noting that Scripture teaches different roles for the genders in both the church and home, Edworthy said, “That’s never really been a struggle for me as I’ve seen how God wanted me to use my gifts that he gave, and he’s provided ways for me to do that.”

Even as an international missionary, Edworthy said her role as a full-time mother has opened doors unique to her. “During the years, I’ve been able to be active in the schools where my kids attended as well as some other schools. 

“I’ve also seen great potential to have impact on the lives of women. I haven’t seen my role limited because I wasn’t a male but always felt it was different. Having a chance to disciple women through the years has been great,” she said, referring to one of the roles she enjoys most—influencing younger missionaries.

“I’ve never seen different as lesser but have tried to enjoy where God has planted me and to take advantage of the opportunities he gives. I’ve seen that there have been times that I’ve had ministry because I was a woman.”