The Missing Generation: The Power of Our Words
By Rev. Crystal Schmalz
If you study early Pentecostal history in the 1900’s you will find many female leaders who were evangelists, pastors, church planters, writers, missionaries, teachers, and revivalists. A great book which highlights these women is entitled The Women of Azusa Street by Estrelda Alexander. Today, there are many women who also fulfill these gifts within the church, although the statistics may not reflect this statement within the United Pentecostal Church. A few years ago there were about three hundred licensed women ministers of the nearly 9,000 licensed ministers in the UPCI. Paperwork doesn’t always reflect a movement, but it does raise one question for me: Where is the missing generation?
About three years ago I was doing some research with women involved in ministry, and I came across stories of women who had been persecuted for their leadership calling. Why is it some women between the 1950’s and the 1990’s disappeared from church leadership within Pentecostalism? Why did women stop pastoring, preaching out, and fulfilling their call to leadership? Maybe these women never stopped fulfilling the call to leadership, but rather they changed the names and language of what they were doing to reflect their culture and some of the evangelical forces which were coming against women in leadership.
One theory I have suggests that women stopped calling themselves pastors, and instead named themselves “pastors wives” while still fulfilling the role and office of a pastor. Women still counseled, led in administrative responsibilities, taught publicly, and had a voice in the church. Women stopped calling themselves preachers and thought of themselves more as “teachers or speakers,” because this was acceptable in evangelical realms. Women didn’t stop preaching the gospel, but they became creative in the way they did it. Women became music ministers and worship leaders, and used music to transmit the gospel message. Instead of women calling themselves preachers, and using a “preacher voice” during a sermon, they called themselves musicians and they sang with passion using a “singing voice” and “testimony” approach. Women have always been ministers, but the language changed somewhere along the course of history. We need to change the language back, because we need a resurgence of the Biblical gifts and callings which affirm both women and men in leadership roles. Our generation is calling for leaders to arise, because revival is here and we need the workers!
Language and culture are powerful forces. The change of language often sets in motion greater changes in culture. Language is important. Our language needs to reflect our theology and doctrine. In the church, we need to reflect what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches both women and men are called into leadership, so our language needs to reflect this Biblical teaching. If a female leader has her license, she should be identified as a reverend just like any male who has his license. It isn’t necessarily about equality; it is about consistency and being Biblically informed. If we ask ministers to come to the platform, we need to affirm both women and men who are fulfilling these leadership roles. Both should be invited to sit on the platform or none at all. We need to use appropriate pronouns when we prepare written and oral presentations addressed to leaders, which include female and male pronouns. We need to adjust our language to reflect our beliefs. If we do not adjust our language, we will teach a new generation a false doctrine. Belief begins with language, and often verbal admittance. If we do not verbally recognize women in leadership, our generation will not believe in women in leadership.
My hope is for consistency. We already have several women in leadership doing ministry, but now we need for these women to accept the titles for what they are already doing. We need the women from the missing generations to step up and affirm the younger women in ministry. I often wonder if some older women are bitter because their calling was not affirmed when they were younger, and so they continue to make it hard for younger women in ministry. They pass along the silent message “it isn’t okay” by being silent. Please, we need you. We need you to affirm, teach, and tell us what the Bible says. We need you to highlight the women leaders in the Bible. We need both women and men to teach the right doctrine.
I’m afraid for our movement if these changes do not take place. I’m afraid our movement could cease to exist in the way it does today, and afraid that many women will not fulfill their purpose and calling in life. We need to stand up for the Bible and what it truly teaches about women in leadership, and we need all hands on deck. We need men to support women in ministry. For years women have supported men in their callings, and now we need you to return the favor and support our calling. Let’s work together, create unity, build the kingdom, fulfill the callings of God, and participate in revival!
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