Painted into a Corner… or Creating a Portrait of Opportunity?
Discussing the Term “Bishop” and Women Ministers in Leadership Have We Painted Ourselves Into A Corner? In a Global Ministry Forum just a few days ago, a participant asked me this question, “Have we painted ourselves into a corner on these matters? Can we please address these issues and move on with the Great Commission?” That got my attention. In the dictionary of idioms, to describe oneself as being “painted in a corner” simply means to create a predicament or problem for oneself, or to do something that leaves one with no good alternative or solution. Of course, this verbal expression also creates an immediate visual image. Just think of someone covering a concrete floor with paint. Their intentions are good and filled with a desire to accommodate and accomplish something. A cold and drab floor needs color and warmth. However, the effort to brighten a room is frustrated when the painter finds himself backed into an inescapable corner, rather than a doorway that accommodates and allows for further movement. I would guess that most of us have painted ourselves into a proverbial corner before. We do it by overcommitting our time, making promises that can’t be kept, purchasing something that is not within our budget, and in countless other ways. We paint ourselves in a corner sometimes by saying “yes” when we should have said “no.” On the other hand, some do the same when they say “no” but find out too late they should have said “yes.” Corner “dilemmas” are often created by a lack of patience, as well as a lack of thorough planning and preparation. Something rushed us or demands were made that at the time seemed to require urgent response and immediate action. Later we are left shaking our heads and asking, “How did I get here and what do I do now?” Corner “dilemmas” are often created by a lack of patience, as well as a lack of thorough planning and preparation. Allow me to be transparent and even a little vulnerable. I have often wondered if, as a church, we have painted ourselves into a corner with some of the structural and administrative decisions we have made over the years. Please understand that I am not speaking about doctrine or scriptural fundamentals of our Pentecostal beliefs. However, I am willing to acknowledge that in our quest to administrate decisions intended to help the church function better, we are human enough to occasionally complicate things, and sometimes we have probably missed the mark completely. The Term Bishop To identify our most senior level of credentialed ministers, using the term “Ordained Bishop” seemed to be the way to go when it was adopted at the General Assembly in 2000. It was presented as a term that could be embraced internationally and multi-culturally. Traditionally, and informally, at least among Church of God folks, the term “Bishop” was often used to refer to those who had various levels of broader oversight. It wasn’t unusual for a State Overseer or someone at the international leadership level to be referred to as “Bishop.” However, at the 2000 General Assembly, with First Timothy 3:1-13 as a stated scriptural foundation, the term Bishop was codified to include any male minister who had attained the senior level of Ordained Minister. I remember someone remarking to me at that General Assembly by saying, “I came here as a minister and now I’m leaving as a Bishop.” As a result of our decision, not only did general or state level overseers become Bishops, but also local pastors, evangelists, educators, praise and worship leaders, and anyone who held the Ordained Minister credentials coming into the 2000 General Assembly. We all walked away as Bishops. If not in function, at least in title. the 2000 General Assembly, with First Timothy 3:1-13 as a stated scriptural foundation, the term Bishop was codified to include any male minister who had attained the senior level of Ordained Minister. With the name change and adjustment of the senior rank in ministry, such also allowed for the bolstering of the nomenclature for mid-level credentialed ministers. They became “Ordained Ministers” instead of the previous title of Licensed Ministers. The various presentations made at the 2000 General Assembly attempted to point out that by advancing the mid-level credential rank to “Ordained Minister,” numerous limitations experienced by those holding this rank could be averted. Some who spoke to the matter cited difficulty in carrying out certain ministerial duties because the term “Ordained” was not printed on the ministerial certificates being used at that time. Possibly the most publicized significant factor regarding these changes was the fact that such allowed qualified women ministers to acquire ministerial ordination as recognized by the denomination. However, the General Assembly affirmed that while this level of credentials was still considered a mid-level rank for men in ministry, it would be the most senior level of credentials available to women. Of course, with the title Ordained Minister came the established rights and privileges already afforded to anyone with this mid-level rank of credentials, including the privilege of serving on boards and committees not specifically limited to Ordained Bishops. Understanding the Title By 2002, the church was already wrestling with the new term - Ordained Bishop - and by 2004, there were calls from the Assembly floor for studies to help us understand what we had done four years earlier. The General Assembly asked for at least two more studies in the years to come, and now, by mandate of the 2018 General Assembly, we find ourselves traveling the world conducting forums to hopefully land on some long-awaited answers and direction. If you mix the complexity that comes with the “Ordained Bishop” nomenclature with what some would say is a growing desire to advance women in ministry, then add in varying views of how some interpret Scripture regarding the office of Bishop, what do you get? Just like that very humble, yet honest, Open Forum participant referred to earlier, some would wonder if we have painted ourselves into a corner. In my travels to the forums, I’ve heard a plethora of like-minded comments. Others have posed similar difficult questions and concerns to me. One participant asked, “How can we rescind the Bishop title and go back or replace it with anything else? Seems to me that once you give somebody something, it’s nearly impossible to take it away.” Another said, “I’m not opposed to advancing women in ministry, leadership and higher ranks of credentialing. I just want to know Scripture is honored when we do it.” And on and on the questions and concerns go. But what will we do and how can we move out from what some believe to be the confining corner we now find ourselves in as a church? First, we must change our perspective. Rather than negatively accept that we have painted ourselves into a corner, let’s see this as an opportunity to paint portraits of possibilities on a canvas of Great Commission fulfillment. Through our efforts, I hope that decisions are made that honor God, gives reverence to His Holy Word, and ultimately enlarges God’s Kingdom by acknowledging and embracing the ministry gifts and callings of all God-called men and women. Rather than negatively accept that we have painted ourselves into a corner, let’s see this as an opportunity to paint portraits of possibilities on a canvas of Great Commission fulfillment. Second, we must study and prepare to be involved in the process. We all should become familiar with the topics before our church, and more importantly, how the Scriptures relate to those topics. We must do our best to be well-versed about the term Bishop, the advancing of women in ministry, and the other topics the Assembly has asked that we study. It is also important to look into the context, original language, as well as the meaning of words inspired by the Holy Spirit and found in the Scriptures. Third, we must engage in respectful conversation with one another. So far, the forums have been a shining example of how to discuss critical issues with the highest regard for differing opinions. We are not always seeing eye to eye, but we are walking hand in hand. At the end of the day, love and mutual respect are winning. Speeches and comments in any venue, especially a General Assembly, should never be demeaning, embarrassing, bitter or cruel. An argument for or against an issue can be made with passion and emotion, yet without needless and intimidating verbiage that may incite anger and often inflicts pain. Indeed, the “right to speak” is a valued and protected privilege, but the responsibility of “speaking right” should be cherished as well. Indeed, the “right to speak” is a valued and protected privilege, but the responsibility of “speaking right” should be cherished as well. Finally, we must come to reasonable and Christ honoring outcomes. Honestly, our work with the Great Commission suffers if we endlessly circle mountains of indecision and delay. We need to get to the point. Yes or no!! If we want to keep the “Bishop” title, that’s fine. Let’s keep it. If we don’t, that’s fine as well. We can change it to something else, but we need to move ahead. Conclusion While we have not yet studied the survey results, the open forum dialogue seems to indicate that there is a growing desire to see the advancement of opportunities for women in the Church of God. Our collective efforts of prayer, study and deliberation will help us determine how that may be done and what it may look like. However, speaking only for myself, I hope to see the right things accomplished and for such to hopefully be done at the 2020 General Assembly. In the forums, several speakers have highlighted the fact that Church of God women help comprise and play a very important role in the highest governing body of the church - the General Assembly. Many are now asking is it time for women ministers in the Church of God to have the credential authorization that would allow for a voice and a vote at other levels as well? If so, what does that look like? What should the qualifications be that qualifies and accommodates that credential level, whatever it is? These questions can and most likely will be answered sooner than later, but we must be willing to get out of our corners and into open passageways of trust, dialogue and understanding. As General Overseer, I am seeking and praying for answers. I believe that the Lord will give us direction based firmly in scripture as we move toward the upcoming 2020 General Assembly. That direction may or may not entirely deliver everything any particular person or group may ultimately want. However, it will be people of prayer, humility and righteousness that will ultimately help bring about God’s plan for our church, and yes, may I say HIS church, the church we know as the Church of God. Without a doubt, I believe you are a part of that group God will use to bring about meaningful results within our Movement. Let’s talk about it! Tim Hill General Overseer