By Nabil Safi
“What would people think?” is a common response I often got in the past, and still get today, when I have conversations about senior leadership with women from the Middle East. The fear of being judged has crippled women in general to be thriving in the community at-large and, in particular, inside the local church. The fact that a woman lives in a lopsided society that promotes males over females makes it very difficult for her to navigate the conflicting values of equality and personal achievement versus honor-shame and community’s best interest. Consequently, when faced with an invitation to lead, her immediate response is, What would people think?
As I explored the topic of women in ministry on a global scale, I learned that it is a global struggle manifested in different degrees of severity depending on the culture’s openness to embrace the theology of equality. For this article, I want to shed light on the Middle East and focus on the story of the Church of God (CHOG) in that region and, in particular, the country of Lebanon.
Why Lebanon? Simply because I was born and grew up in that country and I want to share my personal experience and observations. Another reason is that the work of the Church of God in Lebanon was started by women missionaries in the early 1900s. In addition to that, in the early 1920s, the first three women to be ordained in the Middle East were from the Church of God in Lebanon. One might think that this was a big win for the church in Lebanon at that time. This is true, except that the church did not follow through to transform this win into a paradigm shift and establish the new normal for the generations to follow. Since then, we do not know of any ordained women in the country, and in this same country now I hear the words, “What would people think if I became a pastor/senior leader?” Those words break my heart because the church is missing a lot of opportunities.
As I reflect on this story, I am not discouraged; instead, I still see great potential in the CHOG Lebanon because it is fertile soil to become a pioneer once again. I say that because, this coming October, the first woman will be ordained in the Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, and will be serving in a city where Islam is the dominant influence. I had the chance to contact her, and I sensed a lot of hope in her vision for the city. The CHOG is a movement and we will continue to explore new ways to build the kingdom. Almost a hundred years ago the CHOG in Lebanon was a trailblazer to prepare the path for another denomination to have their first female ordained pastor. I wonder what God has in store for the CHOG in Lebanon.
Finally, I believe that God has positioned the global CHOG in a place to begin living the prophecy in Joel 2:29. We neither need to debate nor prove whether “women in ministry” is a biblically sound teaching or not; rather we ought to start boldly practicing and celebrating what God has ordained. My response to the women leaders I am having conversations with about their role in ministry is this: Let us not focus on what people think. Let us obey God.
Nabil Safi is the pastor of missions at Church at the Crossing in Indianapolis, Indiana. Article originally published by Indiana Ministries. Republished by permission. Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.