BRITISH WOMEN SPEAK OUT ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH
by Sue Halliday, Margaret Craig, Angela
Lucas Denise Wherrett and
Lesley Watson - Barbara Collins, Editor
The following questions were asked of women who live in
Northeastern England. Participants were Sue Halliday, Margaret Craig, Angela
Lucas, Denise Wherrett and Lesley Watson. Lesley grew up in England; however,
she has spent the last seven years in the States.
1. How would you describe the general attitude of
British church leaders toward women?
2. Do you feel that women are encouraged to operate
in their giftings and fulfill their callings?
3. What do you believe are the things which limit
women in England from being/doing all that God intends them to be/do?
4. Are women allowed to function in leadership in
your church? In what capacity? If not, what reasons are given?
One additional question was asked of Lesley.
5. How would you compare the treatment/recognition
of Christian women in the Body of Christ and their particular giftings in
England with those in America in general, Corpus Christi, Texas in
Sue: In general, I feel that British church
leaders have a lack of understanding of God's purpose and His call on the lives
of women, particularly in this hour. My experience is that leaders are happy for
women to operate in giftings that they "recognize" or can put in a labeled
"box." Anything outside of their own experience would not be recognized or
understood; therefore, women are not being released fully into their callings.
For me, the "Shepherding Movement" has had a direct
influence upon my life and my own understanding of women's ministry. Many
leaders today have been raised up and taught in this movement. Even though there
has been a moving away from such strong doctrines, still many strongholds of
wrong thinking remain and infiltrate churches today.
For example, for many years I was taught to wear a head
covering when bringing prophecy, teaching or praying for someone. Although I
discarded the covering a long time ago, incorrect mindsets about submission and
my authority in God remained. These strongholds of my mind have limited my
freedom to operate in the giftings God has given me. These strongholds caused me
to purposely hold back in my calling for fear of going ahead of my husband and
of being seen as un-submissive and not recognizing him as the head. Thanks to
liberating teaching from Pastors Dave and Dee Alei* and revelation from the Holy
Spirit, the Lord has transformed my mind over the last two years and now I stand
with confidence in my giftings before God.
My experiences and understanding come from a charismatic
church background. Within this framework, women would be allowed to bring a
prophecy before the church, pray and teach in a church meeting. However they
would not be given the function of sole leadership in the church, i.e., a
directive position or authority role over men and women. They would only assume
this responsibility jointly with their husband if he was selected for this role. As stated earlier, the reasoning behind this thinking would stem from incorrect
teaching and understanding of God's words to women. Coupled with this
misinformation is the apathy of British Christians to study scripture for
themselves and receive revelation from God about His Word.
As I have stated, my experience is within the
charismatic movement. However, mainstream traditional churches, e.g., Church of
England (Anglican) and The Methodist Church, ordain women as ministers and have
women who serve on governing boards.
Margaret: For many years, Britain has shown a
resistance toward women ministers even though women are encouraged to head
prayer groups, go on missions, and lead house groups as well as Alpha groups.
However, women are now fully accepted for ordination in the Anglican and
Methodist Churches as Sue pointed out. Generally speaking, male leaders
dominate the Pentecostal church in Britain although gifted women
preachers/speakers are accepted.
In my view, women are limited by the fact that men make
the decisions. I wonder whether they are either indifferent or threatened by
women in ministry. I have heard it muttered that "women are trouble." Women
pose no problem when ministering to women, but women are not encouraged to teach
in the general assembly of the church.
I personally think women are humored and encouraged
behind the scenes as they are allowed to choose the color schemes and
furnishings and do the cleaning and organization of the kitchen. But they have
no voice in the decision-making in the church.
From a personal point of view, I have a good
relationship with my pastor; and he has encouraged me to organize women's
meetings and lead a house group. One of the most rewarding meetings in which I
participated was serving as a facilitator of workshops, which drew out the giftings of the women in the church rather than bringing in leadership from
outside. Also, I would add that if I plan a meeting at all, it is through the
leading of the Holy Spirit.
I have no doubt that our church would be healthier if it
had a more balanced representation of women in church leadership where women
would be encouraged to use their gifts. The importance of the gifts being
released is so God's power can be manifested as the church is set on fire to
reach out and witness to the lost.
Angela: In my personal experience, I would say
that the attitude of British church leaders toward women is good but to a
point! So far, and no more. They are very happy for women to teach other
women, even bring a word to the church but without any leadership
responsibility. Some would welcome women in leadership so long as they have a
husband to "cover" them. Others would not entertain the thought of leadership
except perhaps in a House group capacity. Overall, I have not come across any
actual opposition or holding back, but I have detected reluctance in the British
Church to relinquish control to anybody, not just women. (A very insecure bunch
exists in the British Church.)
In responding to the question whether or not women are
encouraged to operate in their giftings and callings, Angela said in a word,
"NO." Most of the churches that I have known have given little, if any,
attention to this issue. In all honesty, this attitude has been generally
overall, not just feminine.
The limitations that keep women from being or doing all
that God wants are, first of all, their own self-image whereby they see
themselves in their own eyes or the world's, instead of God's. Secondly, their
lack of self-worth, lack of confidence in themselves, or failure to recognize
the power of God at work within them is coupled with a lack of encouragement
from leaders, who also suffer from the same thing! In a nutshell, SELF eclipses
the truth God wants to convey.
Finally, in reply to women functioning in leadership
within their present church, Angela says that the leadership in her home church
at Lifeline Ministries is joint, and Pastors Dave and Dee Alei* operate as a
team (neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, hallelujah!)
Lesley would remind us of Acts 2:17-18: "And it
shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out of My Spirit on
ALL flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see
visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. And on My servants and on My
handmaidens I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy."
Not only are we lacking women's gifts, but also we are
lacking the SPIRIT. Churches tend to be organized clubs with programs here,
there and everywhere. I want to see the whole body of Christ, men and women,
fitly joined together, JOINT heirs with Christ in the church, moving by the
Spirit, ministering by the Spirit and blowing the doors and walls off the church
I personally have met some men threatened by women in
leadership. Instead of partnering with them, and so increasing their own
anointing, they have put them down--effectively quenching the Holy Spirit. They
are threatened simply because of fear and their own inadequacies. I am not DOWN
on men, nor am I UP on women. I just want the body of Christ to be the body of
Christ and be led by the Holy Spirit.
For years I thought GO into all the world was for men in
leadership, but I came to understand that Jesus is talking to me, a woman. He
qualifies me. He sends me. He equips me. Whether man or woman, all He wants is
someone to say, "Here am I! Send me." God does not discriminate between men and
women. Man does that on his own.
I can find no difference in the treatment/recognition of
Christian women between the UK and USA in churches where the Spirit is absent.
However, I have been blessed to have attended Spirit-filled meetings in both
countries. Find a Spirit-filled church where the leadership understands their
heavenly identity and stands confident in whom they are in Christ and are not in
"control." Then, whether they are British or American, the ministry is
different, the treatment/recognition is different, and the whole atmosphere is
The best services I have attended are the ones where
there is no black or white, young or old, MALE OR FEMALE--only JESUS is lifted
high, and EYES are only for Jesus. Women have the responsibility to stir up
their gifts and get ready because the Lord will open doors that man cannot shut.
Denise adds that she visits a number of different
churches in her role as voluntary representative of United Christian
Broadcasting (radio). How would I describe the general attitude of British
church leaders toward women? Although there is an outward appearance in many
churches of acceptance of women, in practice, it overtly limits them. Women are
acceptable in certain roles. It is quite all right for them to make tea and
cakes or even have a role in children's ministry or music; however, other areas
of ministry are discouraged.
Women are hindered from operating in their giftings and
callings under the guise of such things as intimating that women are less
rational or prone to mood changes due to hormones and so are not as suited as
men. The Biblical references about women being "covered" automatically exclude
single, widowed or divorced women. Also, a married woman must submit to her
husband, which means in some cases she can only operate if her husband is
present. Of course, the objections don't apply to Sunday school and
children's ministry, or cleaning duties, to name a few.
The attitude persists that women should be seen and not
heard in the services. Even in churches where it is often preached or prophesied
that God is releasing women into ministry, the outworking still falls into the
same old traps. I have heard a number of charismatic pastors speak of their own
wife's anointing and giftings, but little is ever heard from the wife. When she
does speak, the husband always "rounds off" the message.
A lot of the attitudes are also imposed on leaders by
their deacons and elders. A big stumbling block seems to be that no matter how
much healing and maturing takes place, the woman is still viewed as she was
years ago. In effect, once a "label" has been applied, it remains. Therefore,
if a mistake was made in her youth, or she was once divorced, she is permanently
looked on as unsuitable for certain ministry or leadership.
As a business woman and financial adviser, I have seen
the lack of support for business women in general from church leadership. It is
surprising that I have many times seen businessmen called to the altar and
prayed over with reference to prospering their businesses. Yet, business women
are not called to the altar. Men have also benefited from church members being
directed to their businesses, and they have received other help. A woman seems
to confront the attitude that what she is doing is just for pin money and is not
Strong, successful women cause a problem because most
church leadership does not quite know how to handle women who are successful in
business. Even in charismatic churches where itinerant single women speakers are
welcomed in the congregation, women are suppressed. It seems that single young
men can be encouraged and nurtured for leadership, but single young women are
neglected unless their parents are leaders.
In most cases, I would doubt whether anyone has taken
much time to discover enough about individuals, male or female, to encourage
them in their giftings and to fulfill their callings. Some good leaders
genuinely try to encourage but usually end up being very busy people. Others
think they are encouraging but can put more restrictions on or try to make
decisions for the person.
Viewing the family unit as a mission field, young
mothers need the strong support and encouragement of older, Spirit-led women.
These more mature women might help them balance and judge between many
"projects" within the church, some of which God has called no one to do.
Often leaders do not really listen when someone is
trying to highlight a problem. Sometimes a woman may try to bring something, and
it appears her words are being ignored. However, when a man later brings the
same word, it is suddenly jumped on as being important.
Older women are often neglected, apart from the tea and
cakes brigade, have never been encouraged to fulfill their callings and realize
their full potential. What treasures lay waiting to be uncovered? How much
frustration do they feel has clouded their walk?
Until I came into Pastor Dave and Dee Alei's* ministry,
I had not been taught how to really study the Bible. Only twice had I ever seen
a married couple come anywhere close to honoring each other and encouraging the
other in their own giftings and anointings. Frequently, however, I had come
across the attitude of the wife being "under" her husband and his covering. This
attitude expresses that a woman's role is primarily to serve her husband.
Single women get the impression that their "calling"
should be to get married and help the man. Older single women are automatically
labeled for children's work, but some really do not want to be involved.
Assumptions are made which often override the giftings of the individual.
Single women come under overt pressure to get married, often by implication that
God created woman for the man, and a single woman is vulnerable without a
covering. Unfortunately, a number of leaders' wives are convinced that all
woman must naturally want to be married and cannot be fulfilled without a
Sadly, I don't believe it is taught that the calling may
change at different stages in a one's life. Many get exhausted by being told
that everyone should be an evangelist one week. Then, the following week they
are told that everyone is called to pray, the implication being that they should
attend all the prayer meetings. Out of a desire to serve and to be obedient,
people tend to try to take on everything. Do people really know the difference
between giftings and callings, or have they been wrongly taught?
Basically, attitudes, assumptions and false teaching
have limited English women from being and doing all that God desires. However,
many women seem content with where they are. Definitely, it is more challenging
to seek the Lord and move into the things that He has than to simply surrender
the responsibility to one's spouse or to leadership.
It is probably more difficult for married women to step
out of the "wife" mold, which has been promoted and taught since they were a
child than to hunger after intimacy with Jesus. I also believe that a
spiritual control, found particularly in the North of England, not only devalues
women but also is coupled with an attitude that women are but chattels of men. Different attitudes emerge as one moves south where women are more respected in
The point of view prevails that a man's wife and
daughters should be there for the man's support, comfort and even abuse, which
often is mental rather than physical. In the Northeast, married men possess an
unnatural dependence upon their mothers. This dependence varies in degree. Although he may have been married many years, the man often consults and agrees
with his mother before his wife.
Apathy can take over as women are bombarded both in the
world and in their church with the inference that they are second-class to men. This perspective can then give rise to feminist thinking. Certainly, a "them"
and "us" attitude can take over and show us how much we need to respect the
differences. More "talent spotters" are needed who will see the giftings in
someone's life and nurture it.
In reflecting on women in church leadership, I cannot
remember any woman within the churches of which I have been a part who has been
encouraged or promoted in leadership in her own right. The exception is perhaps
the daughter of a pastor or leader, or someone with undeniable musical talent,
excluding involvement in children's ministry, who has been advanced in
leadership. Women are grudgingly allowed to function in leadership if no
alternatives are available. If a woman has been to Bible School, it helps a
little; but the woman will always face more limitations than a man.
In one instance, a young woman had been leading a house
group. As soon as she married, the leadership was transferred to both of them
with emphasis on the man, even though he had not been born again for very long. Women seem to be allowed to function to a degree; but in husband and wife teams,
the husband is generally looked upon as the leader.
When a woman is leading an intercessory group and is
acknowledged in that capacity, she is often not even at the forefront in a
church--wide prayer meeting. If a woman is musically talented, she may be
encouraged in her gifting but rarely leads. The reasons given are not clear; but
the inference is that since women should not "rule" over men, no position is
available. Husband and wife teams are preferable because a woman alone is
vulnerable to temptation. The temptation problem seems to be attached to women,
but not men, and takes no regard of maturity and sadly often occurs with married
In conclusion, Sue's experience with the shepherding
movement created strongholds of wrong thinking that remained with her long after
the movement had died. Many long-time opponents of women in ministry, such as
Baptists and other denominational churches, were joined by leaders in the
charismatic realm who had been affected by "shepherding."
Margaret echoes Sue and joins Denise by stating
that basically all the British churches, with a few exceptions, have squelched
women in leadership positions that carry ongoing responsibility, such as
pastors, elders, deacons and/or service on boards or councils. Angela adds that
a real drawback to women moving into their giftings and callings is their own
self-image which is fashioned from their low self-esteem and lack of confidence.
Lesley writes about a general lack of the Spirit
of God along with a lack of women's giftings being released. All through
history when a true spirit of revival has broken out, women have been released,
starting with Acts 2. Denise underscores what the others have said. Although
the British church leaders pay lip service to women in ministry, they seriously
limit what a woman can do in a church setting. Denise supports Sue's assertion
that most British Christians--women as well as men--are apathetic and unwilling to
search the scriptures for themselves. Lesley's observation of British and
American churches is that little, if any, difference exists in attitudes toward
women in churches that lack the Holy Spirit.
Jessie Penn Lewis in her book, The Magna Charta of
Woman, originally published in 1919 wrote: "God's time has come for the
emancipation of women, but it will be woe to the world and terrible loss to the
church if they are not won for Christ and for His service. For it is certain
that if Christ does not get hold of the women today, the devil will. And on the
other hand, in light of the Genesis 3:15 prophecy and evangel, it will be woe to
the 'serpent' and to his kingdom if those whom he has so oppressed and
persecuted lay hold of the fact of his utter defeat at Calvary and in the power
of their triumphant Head turn upon their foe in assurance of victory."
*Pastors Dave and Dee Alei are from the United States
and are graduates of Fountain Gate College where Dr. Fuchsia Pickett was the
president as well as pastor of Fountain Gate Church.