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What Pentecostal Women Want From Pentecostal Men

If we want to break down the stained-glass ceiling that prevents women from their full participation in the Christian life, we must address what women want from those with whom they will partner, to whom they will minister, and alongside those with whom they live life.

By Joy E. A. Qualls

Dear Pentecostal Men,

Please let me begin by acknowledging that often, when discussions of gender roles arise, it can seem as though it is open season and you are the target. Discussions like this often frustrate me because they are not representative of so many of the men in my life. Men like my husband, who did not always believe he could sit under the leadership of a woman, but who was open and agreed to pray and study Scripture until the Lord moved upon his heart. He is my biggest fan, supporter, and defender.

My grandfather who, until 70 years of age, only had an eighth grade education yet read my dissertation from cover to cover because he wanted to learn more about the history of the role of women in the Assemblies of God — the church in which he had been raised and, in turn, raised my brothers and me.

And men like my mentor at Vanguard University, who believed in and spoke openly and publicly of the anointing and call on my life.

I am living the life to which God called me: wife, mom, Ph.D. I get to do so, in part, because men like these believed the God who called me and, in response, provided their blessing and full support.

Too often, however, it is not the stories of affirmation that drive the discussion on gender roles. Rather, it is the stories of women being dismissed when they are called to roles traditionally carried out by men — along with glares and snide comments about whether she has the “right” to preach when there are men who are more than capable and available. It is the rebuke given a wife when she is a leader and her husband stays at home with the kids. Discussions on gender roles often grow tense when the focus is “women as leaders” rather than people called to lead.

Discussions hostile in nature to either women or men are in no way beneficial. As Pentecostal men and women who affirm the active and present work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and ministries, I want to have a discussion about how we live out the Scriptures of Acts 2 and Galatians 3:28 as if we really believe that the Holy Spirit is the great equalizer, as if we acknowledge that He does not play favorites but breaks down social barriers that inhibit us. If we, together as Spirit-empowered women and men, want to break down the stained-glass ceiling that prevents women from their full participation in the Christian life, we must address what women want from those with whom they will partner, to whom they will minister, and alongside those with whom they live life.

What I want is the beginning of a dialogue, one where women and men can speak openly about their understanding of gender — scripturally, culturally, and in relationship with one another. What Pentecostal women want from men in their homes, in the church, and in society is not exclusive to each sphere. What women desire and need is a renewed perspective of the relationship between the domestic roles of the home, ministry in the church, and engagement in society.1

A Complex Narrative

When it comes to discussion on gender and leadership in the Assemblies of God, there is no single narrative; rather, it is complex, and often confusing.2 The purpose of this letter is not to advocate specifically for the role of women in the Assemblies of God. Our position is clear, and our guiding documents provide space for women in ways that are fully affirming — a position many of our sisters in the faith do not have. What I did not fully appreciate until I began to research my dissertation was how the intricate relationship between genders in the home, society, and church plays out.

The Crosby, N.D., church in which I grew up had hanging on the wall a photograph of a young woman. The woman was Blanche Britton, a firebrand evangelist who planted this and 24 other churches. Yet since its foundation this church has never had a woman serve in a pastoral role. Blanche’s husband did not support her or acknowledge her call to pastor until he was on his deathbed, where he finally blessed her and her call to ministry. Her story, and the story of the churches she founded, is one often told in our Fellowship’s 100-year history.

So what is the official position of the Assemblies of God on the roles of women? The AG Constitution and By-laws Article VII, Section 2(l) has changed very little from 1914, when it was first adopted. It currently reads:

“The Scriptures plainly teach that divinely called and qualified women may also serve the church in the ministry of the Word (Joel 2:29; Acts 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5). Women who meet the qualifications for ministerial credentials are eligible for whatever grade of credentials their qualifications warrant and have the right to administer the ordinances of the church and are eligible to serve in all levels of church ministry and/or district and General Council leadership.”3

Several years ago in an interview with George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, I asked him why the Assemblies of God’s position on women is so broad and all-encompassing. His response? “It’s who we are!”4

Wood has also written that it is the Holy Spirit who empowers, in light of the prophetic promise of Joel 2:28–30 that God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh — both men and women — which was fulfilled in Acts 2:17,18.5 These Scriptures, the premise for our distinctive doctrine on the purpose of the baptism in the Holy Spirit as an empowerment for service, are the same passages that affirm the Assemblies of God’s egalitarian stance on gender roles. While this doctrinal focus has been on women serving in ministry roles, the logic also lends itself to women serving as leaders in their homes and in society.

The Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery acknowledge that tradition, culture, and other assumptions about the meaning and application of some Scriptures have generated confusion regarding God’s will for men and women.6 As a result, our practice is murky. The Assemblies of God has not always been active in speaking out against assumptions that contradict our doctrinal position on the democratizing nature of the Holy Spirit to break down social hierarchies and create space for women’s full participation. The history of women pastors, evangelists, and missionaries is often celebrated in the sermons of Assemblies of God leaders, while many still express great reservations in private discussion regarding the hiring and credentialing processes, as well as how these roles translate in the home.7

Given this complexity, what do Pentecostal women want? More specifically, what do Pentecostal women want from men in the church, in the home, and in society? I believe what women want is for men and women together to practice mutuality, affirm calling, think “both/and” instead of “either/or,” and rethink their understanding of authoritative roles.

Practice Mutuality

Women want mutuality. Pentecostal women are weary of gender-specific roles. We want men to view us as coservants — called of God to our marriages, vocations, and communities.

At home, women want men who are secure — regardless of circumstances. We want to see men who believe that being godly is more important than being “the man.” Our culture has sold men a bill of goods that emotion is feminine, so you emotionally check out of your homes and families. When you hide your emotions because you believe they are not masculine, they manifest in secret and have potential to ravage your life — by way of addiction, depression, work, pornography or other lustful thoughts, and even affairs.

Men, stop listening to the voices that tell you what it means to be masculine, and be who God created you to be. I believe that when you pursue godliness, a holy confidence will rise up in you. Then you will possess the courage to fulfill your roles. Whether God calls you to stay home and raise your children, work from a home office, engage in the marketplace, or pursue ministry, you can obey without fear of neglecting your manhood or being defined by what you do.

I have seen firsthand the destruction that denying emotion can do to a man and his family. I grew up in a home where anger, hurt, and rejection were not expressed in a healthy manner. Verbal and emotional abuse at the hand of my father was a regular part of my life from the time I was a small child. My father eventually left our family rather than face his own insecurities over failures in ministry, loss of a parent, and the effects of the Vietnam War. Rather than allowing God to bring healing and restoration, my father chose the cowardly path, leaving it up to others to define for his children what it means to be a man.

Mutuality also means rejecting what society dictates regarding what your struggles should be. While pornography and sexual exploitation are issues to which we as Pentecostals cannot turn a blind eye, I want to believe that most of you are men who live noble lives. It is demeaning to you as men for us to believe that you lack the strength or character because of your gender to do what is right.

Pentecostal men, rise up and be an example in your community of what it means to live a holy and set apart life. Acknowledge that God did not create the women in your lives merely for your pleasure, but for His kingdom purposes. Let the knowledge that God designed both men and women in His image and called them to His divine plan impact your relationships. Be the exception in your ministries, your families, and your communities. Model mutuality in every aspect of your lives.

Mutuality means men and women working together and not in competition or conflict. It means the practice of inclusivity, not exclusivity. God calls men and women to serve alongside one another rather than in isolation. While we are different in complementary ways, we need to hear women’s voices in leadership and see their participation in decision-making.

Affirm Calling

Women want an affirmation of their calling and gifts (inside and outside the church) and what they bring to the family and society. The distinction is less about male or female and more about what God has breathed into each of us. Women want to walk boldly in those inherently spiritual gifts.8 Women, like men, have a deep desire to be respected, encouraged, equipped, and empowered — regardless of their call. All of our attempts at trying to place men and women in gender-specific boxes leave a bitter taste in the mouths of those who do not fit neatly into those spaces.

I am weary of the perception that women are “suspect” and desire to tempt men or lead them astray. When men perceive women as suspicious and keep them at arm’s length, it objectifies both the woman and the man. The result is that we find ourselves unable to develop our potential. We feel our voices silenced. The mentality that the church is a “boy’s club” is reinforced, and a woman’s place is relegated to spaces specific to her gender.

If we truly believe the empowerment of the Holy Spirit removes gender hierarchies, you must be willing to treat women in the church with the same respect you give other men. There cannot be a double standard. Please, use wisdom and discretion when interacting with the women who serve alongside you. Stop treating women in the church as potential love affairs, and instead model what it means to be a man — perhaps a man who is not above changing diapers in the nursery, serving in the food line at the potluck, or leading the outreach to single parents.

Think Both/and

Men, as I write to you I am keenly aware that we must guard against the tendency to assign mutual exclusivity to what we desire from one another. I am reminded again of the narrative in Judges 4 and 5 that tells of Deborah, “a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth … leading Israel” as a judge (Judges 4:4). Mary Ruth Stone writes that Deborah’s three roles of prophetess, wife, and judge were neither mutually exclusive nor destructive to one another. It was God’s favor, not the culture or Deborah’s desire to usurp authority, that gave her influence over Barak. It was God who accompanied Deborah to war even as she accompanied the male military leader.

A male and female team (with a strong supporting role from Jael) led the charge to victory that day. In Deborah’s fight song, both she and Barak sang blessings to the Lord. Deborah herself described the military victory (traditionally reserved for men) as a rising of a mother in Israel. The male role of warrior and the female role of mother, according to Stone, were not mutually exclusive. Neither were the roles destructive to one another.9

Rethink Authority

Often, talk on gender roles revolves around one specific issue: authority. Who holds the power to make decisions and be the leader? The question of authority underlies our assumptions about what each of our roles must be. The power of the Holy Spirit is empowerment for service. Mutuality, fueled by the Holy Spirit, changes the way we view authority. We, as women, do not desire to take away from you. We want to join you in ministry, to come alongside you in advocating for compassion and justice, and to have full partnership with you as our spouses or potential mates, each of us empowered by the Spirit. The warnings of the Apostle Paul regarding the usurping of authority serve as cautions to all of us to examine our motivations for desiring authority.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was, and remains today, a game changer, relativizing social stigma and strata. Social structures are secondary to the working of the Holy Spirit, and so the authority rests with Him. If the Holy Spirit is leading our lives, there is no question of authority. Rather, the Holy Spirit’s empowernent in a person’s life provides evidence of authority — and this takes precedence over all social standing.

I believe this is especially important in talking about what we, as women, want from men in our homes. It is dissonant when you say you believe women can lead in the church, business and industry, education or social service, but you deny that the same empowerment for service that breaks down gender barriers in society also breaks down barriers in our interpersonal relationships in the home.

How We Talk About Gender Matters

I believe our Pentecostal understanding of women’s roles is as unique as our belief in the initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. We must preach this distinctive. We must hand it down to young women and men. We must demonstrate it in our hiring practices and in every level of our leadership. We must practice it in our marriages and model it in our homes.

Men, you do not have to sit down in order for women to be raised up. Neither should we have to silence the giftings and call placed upon us for fear they are usurping the place of a man. The power of the Holy Spirit is given to each as empowerment for service to the kingdom of God, and that is something both Pentecostal women and men should want and be encouraged to seek. We owe it to future generations to raise up men and women who live out their giftings and call without inhibition.

Men, we as Pentecostal women believe in you. We want to see you embrace who you are in Christ. We need you. We need men and women working together in service to the Lord, empowered by His Spirit, blotting away the gender lines that distort and separate.

JOY E. A. QUALLS, Ph.D., assistant professor of Rhetoric and Communication, Evangel University, Springfield, Missouri.

Notes

1. Kimberly Ervin Alexander and James P. Bowers, What Women Want: Pentecostal Women Ministers Speak for Themselves, (Seymour Press, 2013), 46.

2. Edith L. Blumhofer, “Women in American Pentecostalism.” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society For Pentecostal Studies 17, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 19–20.

3. The General Council of the Assemblies of God, Constitution and Bylaws, 2007, 31, Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, Springfield, Mo.

4. George O. Wood (general superintendent, General Council of the Assemblies of God), in discussion with the author, November 2007.

5. George O. Wood, “Exploring Why We Think the Way We Do about Women in Ministry,”Enrichment Journal,

6. Commission on Doctrinal Purity, “Feminism and Appropriate Roles for Women,” The General Council of the Assemblies of God.

7. Barbara L. Cavaness, “A Biographical Study of the U.S. Assemblies of God Women in Missions,” (working paper, Historical Events, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif., 1999).

8. Ibid., p. 46.

9. Mary Ruth (Morris) Stone. “What They Believe About Family: A Response.” In What Women Want: Pentecostal Women Ministers Speak For Themselves, Kimberly Ervin Alexander and James P. Bowers (Seymour Press, 2013), 49–50.

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