The Bible reserves ordained church leadership for men, and yet many women in the church are gifted leaders. As a denomination, the PCA must wrestle with and harmonize these two realities.
In such wrestling, City Reformed Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh has developed a thriving women’s ministry, where participants exercise their gifts and are encouraged by their spiritual growth and ministry.
City Reformed, situated in a university community, attracts men and women in their 20s and 30s. It make sense, then, that the family serves as a helpful, biblical model. “We’ve observed that the younger generation craves family relationships,” says ruling elder David Snoke. “Seeing mothers and fathers in families that work is very attractive to them, as is seeing a church where men and women leaders work alongside each other — like fathers and mothers.”
While the Session has final authority in decision-making, it works in partnership with the Women in the Church (WIC) Council, frequently seeking the Council’s advice. “A man who never talks to his wife is not going to have a healthy marriage,” Snoke says. In much the same way, “We value the input we get from the WIC Council.”
Council members assist in counseling situations involving women; likewise, the Council draws on pastors in their discipling ministries. And while deacons oversee the church’s mercy ministry, WIC Council members serve with them.
Men, particularly those who’ve been identified as “elders in training,” lead Community Groups at City Reformed. But serving alongside them are Community Group “liaisons” — women appointed by the WIC Council in consultation with them. These liaisons are not only a bridge between the women of the Community Group and the Council; they also receive leadership training, much as prospective elders do.
The liaisons assist the Community Group leader — again, there is a father and a mother. “We do occasionally have to say there are huge differences between an actual family and a church,” says City Reformed pastor Matt Koerber. “We don’t want people to get the idea that it’s some sort of weird authoritarian kind of thing.
“But that language helps people understand that what we’re doing is relational, in the category of ‘family’ rather than ‘business.’ I think most people intuitively get the right idea.”
City Reformed’s leaders understand that while numerous ministries are open to every church member, teaching and authority are reserved for ordained men (I Timothy 2:12), and discipling and mentoring younger women are reserved for mature women (Titus 2:3-5). Their seriousness about the ministry of mature women is evidenced in the training and examination process used to select WIC Council members. The women of the church have a designated time frame to nominate women for the Council positions. These women undergo training, they are examined by the Session, and those eligible are presented to the women of the church for election.
“Those who are elected go into ministry feeling that the church has endorsed them,” says Snoke. And the session has the confidence to delegate responsibility. Sandy Snoke, WIC Council member and Women’s Discipleship coordinator says, “The time that the Session invests taking us through that training and knowing their confidence in us to lead the women’s ministry motivates and encourages us.”
Koerber says that City Reformed’s approach to women’s ministry celebrates the goodness of God’s order in creating humans male and female. “We’re saying it’s a good thing … that men and women are different.”
Sandy Snoke cites a speaker she once heard. “He said that it’s not about building women’s ministry, but about building healthy churches through women’s ministry. That caused me to think more broadly about how our women are being encouraged … to use their gifts in building the Body.”