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Is it Full Partnership or Partial? The Church of God Struggles with the Role of Women

Under the same heading of Women in Ministry, the General Council addressed the issue of women serving on the Church and Pastor’s Council. In the Church of God, a local congregation may opt to form a committee to serve in an advisory capacity to the pastor and congregation. This group is known as the Church and Pastor’s Council. Although a congregation may or may not opt for such a council, and may even choose other options for local church governmental leadership, a congregation which does choose to have a Church and Pastor’s Council is thereby required to follow the guidelines laid out in the General Assembly. One of the guidelines for serving on the Church and Pastor’s Council has been that a council member must be male. The definitive response from the Council was perhaps one of the smallest margins of decision ever noted in the Council’s history. The recommendation to delete the word “male” from the guidelines as written in the Church of God Book of Minutes passed by a 50.12% to 49.88% margin, a five vote differential (1,080 to 1,085). This measure went to the General Assembly for ratification by a similarly narrow margin (10 votes out of a body more than twice the size). Therefore, women, clergy or laity, will now be allowed to serve on local church councils if they are otherwise qualified.

The intensity and narrowness of these votes probably suggest serious division within the Church of God regarding this important issue. In fact, it appears there are almost equal but opposite camps. There are those who believe that godly women full of the Holy Spirit should be full partners with men in ministry, and others who believe that in spite of ability women should fill supportive and subservient or subordinate roles when it comes to any kind of leadership. Nevertheless, the favorable vote for women serving on local church councils may possibly be a cautious step toward potential incremental openness to eventual ordination of women as bishops. In all of this discussion and division, one thing seems sure: the matter of women in ministry and in leadership is not about to go away any time soon – at least not in the Church of God.


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Category: Ministry

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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