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Women speaking in a CU?

Last week I wrote about CU's and baptism in the Holy Spirit. Here's another unity question that often arises....

Question: Should Women Preach at CU meetings?

Let's set this in a situation. Decisions on questions like this are made locally not nationally. There is no fellowship-wide uniform yes or no.

A Christian Union is a partnerships between churches where unity is based upon a doctrinal basis of fellowship - led by students - for the sake of mission to campus to build the local churches. Some CU's in the region I work in currently don't have women speakers, others do. In some cases the policies are wise and loving, in other cases the approach needs some review.

Any attempt at Christian community is an exercise in the art of bearing with others, so no need to be overly neurotic about getting these calls right...

In this case study CU is mostly, though not exclusively, comprised of students from four local churches between whom relations are warm.
Church 1 would say women can lead and preach in church and also in other contexts.
Church 2 has recently changed its doctrinal position to support having female elders and preachers.
Church 3 would probably not have a female pastor but does occasionally have women speak on a Sunday.
Church 4 would probably say women shouldn't be elders or preach on a sunday but can speak or lead in any other contexts.

Some questions where diversity is free don't need a CU practice. It really makes very little difference in the CU whether you think infants should be baptised - we're in the business of seeing students become Christians. Other things do matter however when you're gathering for training, establishing community and involved in evangelistic preaching. You can't dodge this issue.

So: what policy should this CU have on the question of women speaking at CU meetings (or being CU president, leading a small group, giving evangelistic talks etc.)?

The question isn't - which is the right view Biblically... Each person needs to work out where they stand on the roles of men and women because this is important for how we do church and relate to one another but that question and this post is not the place for that. If you think it is you're missing the point I'm making. This is a post about doing unity so we can get on mission together.

The doctrinal basis of fellowship permits a range of conclusions on this question. There are extremes such as culturally-driven-feminism or tradition/culturally-driven-patriarchism that are excluded by the clause on the authority of the Bible, but if you're seeking to get your view from the Bible there's an accepted range of positions in the middle which people can hold and consider themselves genuinely belonging to the CU. You'll find CU's comprised, therefore, from churches with male only leadership, through views with some restrictions and permissions, through to churches where the lead pastor is female. And that's fine.

Instead take into account...
There isn't a neutral position on this issue - it's just not on to say "everyone thinks men can preach". And those who think women can teach feel wronged when it doesn't happen, just as those who think they shouldn't do when it does happen. Unity has a cost.
What's the place of love in this - prefering the needs of others above yourself (1 Cor 13). Doctrinal unity is relational unity that involves sacrifice in preference of others.
How does the desire to avoid exclusion and promote diversity factor into the decision.
People don't have the right to exclude themselves, but equally "we" don't have the right to exclude those who belong (1 Cor 12). This applies to wider questions of diverse-loving unity too, it's just that in a CU one of the most obvious diversities is doctrinal diffferences, translate thsi to church with examples of class, age, status, personality, giftedness etc.

So - what policy and why?

Comments are open. (And yes for those who can work it out, this is set in a real context. But - I'm using it illustratively rather than to address the particular CU).


  1. Hi Dave

    As you've pointed out, this is a question that arises from time to time in CUs and I was on a committee 8 years ago when the question arose for us. I would like to share what happened as it might help people answer the question for themselves. I will not tackle the doctrinal issue here, that is better left for more qualified men (and women?) Though on this issue even men like Stott and Grudem have differences... and Grudem's logical reasoning is hard to follow (

    So on to my experience:

    I was on a CU committee exec when the president asked us to consider banning women speakers. He explained his own conscience could not accept their teaching as it contradicted his understanding of the Bible. Furthermore he would consider whether he could even attend meetings where women spoke.

    The committee discussed the matter and were split, some sympathising with the president's view, others staying quiet. Some, including myself, were very unhappy with the proposal. The matter was not resolved in that first meeting and we went our separate ways to reflect some more.

    In between meetings I approached other Christian friends and asked their views, I also spoke with our local UCCF staff worker, who was broadly of a conservative view, but wisely told me to make up my own mind.

    I read blogs, articles and the Bible (not necessarily in that order!), trying to reconcile my own experiences with the doctrines others were espousing.

    In the end, the CU president approached me directly over coffee and asked me to put aside my views and support him as the 'weaker brother' - limiting my freedoms to protect his conscience (Romans 14 style).

    Not wanting to cause offence or add to the conflict I agreed with him. In the following committee meeting I argued the case on his behalf, convincing all (reluctantly) to agree to the ban.

    Did I do the best thing in the circumstances? Well though I could be applauded for supporting unity and weaker Christians, my real motive was to avoid conflict. Sometimes it is better to stand on your principles and argue the case - not aggressively or arrogantly, but firmly and with reason.

    What followed our decision was a period of distinct unrest and unease. The CU was distracted from our mission of the gospel and some people left altogether (including some committee members). It was a very upsetting time, I had not avoided any conflict by my actions, instead I had deeply hurt some people - even losing friendships as a result.

    A new committee were appointed soon after, though unusually the president remained. However, the issue soon resurfaced. Unhappy with the way I'd acted the first time, I wrote a letter to the committee explaining what had happened in our discussions. The new committee voting to veto the ban - though I do not know on what arguments they reasoned the change.

  2. What do I think now?

    The mistake I think we made back then was to hold the CU too high as an authority over our lives. CU is not and will not be a local church. Every Christian should be under authority of a leader in a local church body and that body has the primary responsibility for our teaching and maturing as Christians.

    The CUs exist for the mission of God to see the Gospel of Grace extend to all nations and people groups. The primary role of speakers visiting CUs should be to prepare and excite people for that mission.

    So my advice is this:
    * Think carefully about what you ask visitors to speak about.

    Can a woman speak of her experiences of being saved and encourage you to be bold in your own evangelism? Surely we must answer yes!

    Can a married woman speak on relationships with her husband and prove good advice for a young Christian? Again, surely we cannot say no!

    Can a woman share how she intercedes for her friends in prayer, and the joys and sorrows she has seen during her student days? Why ever not?

    Can a woman talk about how she writes worship songs that honour the glory of God and the miracles he has worked in her heart? etc. etc.

    I see no good reason why an outright ban on women speakers should be affected in CUs, but don't just read my opinions on the matter, study, read, question and pray.

    I pray that God would give wisdom and humility to all in CU leadership and may they give Glory to God and advance the Gospel in this Nation and the Ends of the Earth. Amen!

  3. I think a bigger issue is what on earth are uccf doing producing cook books? Have they got a surplus of cash at the moment

  4. hi bish

    Fairly sensistised to this at the moment.

    3 brief reflections:

    1) "unity" in such matters is often reduced to lowest common denominator pragmatic compromise, rather than a generous evangelical unity.
    2) I think the key question is what authority is and how authority functions in a CU context. As to the former, I'm increasingly seeing that authority for Paul is bound up with apostleship & deception (note many parallels between 2 Cor 10-11 and 1 Tim 2...and indeed's everywhere, 2 cor 4, 1 thes 2). But as to the latter, I wonder if our commitment to eldership in the local church means that interactive sessions are more apt than preaching in CU contexts, where students are accountable to different sets of elders?
    3) I fear there is increasingly a culture of "we're training men, alleluia, we're training men, amen..." which may be breeding on the one hand an inherited, unreflective reticence to inviting women evangelists/apologists and on the other hand an unreflectively masculine environment (2 tim 2:23-24), which many girls find intimidating/alienating, to the detriment of the church (1 thes 2:5-7)?

  5. As a conservative who is loving Christ more and more each day (and this means often understanding people!) I think that to have women preachers in a Cu would be a step towards disunity. A great example was set at New Word Alive 2010, where Richard Cunningham interviewed Rebecca Manley-Pippert. In the event, she probably said as much as a sermon, but as it was conducted as an interview, this kept the conservatives happy, but also did not detract from us having a message that EVERYONE in the marquee needed to hear.

    Another idea I have seen work well in youthwork and the sixth form CU I lead, was having a duality. IE, for issues such as relationships, women in the church, family etc, have a man and a women leading the session/teaching together. This livens things up, keeps the two extremes within CU pretty happy, and gives an interesting talking point.

    Just my two cents...

  6. Mr Thorne, thanks for sharing your advice.

    Paul - not sure it cost us anything, and in a Jesus is Lord over all of life helping students eat is helpful as a delivery mode for CU vision stuff.

    Chris - lovely lyricism.

    Anyone got any thoughts in the situation outlined?
    Admiral - I take your point, but I'm not sure how it is a step towards disunity. The question is what are the terms of our unity?

  7. I was involved in this discussion whilst on exec a few years back, and whilst we talked it through I had two important and distinctive positions from which to view the issue.

    Firstly myself as an individual, a member of a Church which believes in male eldership and male preaching in the context of Church.

    From that vista I could only come to one conclusion, that women should be allowed to speak at CU. This was a no brainer for me because frankly I don't think it matters, and even if I did think it mattered I wouldn't ever count it as a central issue which means I am more than willing to lay it aside for the sake of other people, especially in a CU context where sacrifice is key to promoting unity.

    From a personal point of view I will always be willing to lay aside my own opinions for the sake of unity, so long as we are dealing with secondary issues, which is where the wonderful DB comes into play.

    The second viewpoint was as a member of the exec, seeking to make decisions which would be most helpful for the CU to spread the gospel. This was more difficult, because we as a committee had to pray and carefully think through what the best decision was.

    In the end our guiding principal was that the majority should sacrifice to the minority for the sake of unity.

    Which is to say that if it was a small minority in the CU who thought women should be allowed to speak, and consequently might easily feel isolated from the core of the CU, then the core group should sacrifice their own point of view for the sake of demonstrating gospel unity and inviting the minority in.

    Essentially in a big, bold, open and public act saying "most of us hold this point of view, but we don't mind laying it aside because we love you and want you to get stuck in!".

    This was the prinicipal we tried to apply to all secondary issues which arose, and it did seem to have the effect of including the fringe more easily. So long as your core group understand the reason why, and if they don't they probably need to hear the gospel some more!

  8. As a woman with gifting in the area of teaching, I ask all to remember this - that when people say that that they want to be in a place where women are allowed to speak it is often because of a deeply felt call, not a demand for 'rights'. A woman in your group will need help to feel that she is fully valued if you have made the decision to not have women speakers, as she may feel confused and conflicted about how God is calling her to minister -especially if she has always been in one type of christian community and your CU represents another type.
    I know you have to negotiate between churches but issues such as calling are deep and heart felt for people.don't be too blaze.
    Be aware of this too - usually people will come down on the 'for the sake of peace lets not let women speak', rather than 'for the sake of peace lets let women speak'. It is not easier for the woman who feels called to speak to remain silent than it is for a person who thinks she shouldn't speak to sit and listen.
    It speaks to the woman about her value - you who lead CU's will have to help her with that so that she doesn't live in hurt but in grace.
    I know you didn't want tp tackle the 'doctrinal issue' here, but I must ask - The NT teaching is for within churches, do you consider a CU a church?
    If so - then you must make a decision on what you believe the bible says for those context and live by it, regardless of how difficult that may be.
    If not- then the teaching doesn't apply. you can let people lead as the Spirit dictates.

    I have been in places where God has asked me to lay down my gift for his greater purpose - its an important lesson to learn. but you can't force it on people, you must help them choose it.

    I guess my main point is this - it is never just a doctrinal or political issue- it is intensely personal and speaks to someone about 'who they are in Christ', something I know that you hold as important in your mission.
    Please don't forget it.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Of course Uccf didn't pay, the suckers who support it did.
    I' going to write today to uccf to ask them to give me money so I can write a leaflet on gardening and getting the vision out!

  11. Charlotte "I guess my main point is this - it is never just a doctrinal or political issue- it is intensely personal". Agreed. All doctrinal questions should be considered personally.

  12. Paul, I've no idea why you're commenting here about about the cookbook, but the recipes were a gift to UCCF from Mrs Beynon, and the book was actually half advice for freshers, and half 'cookbook'. The cookbook was the vehicle for the connecting-freshers-to-church&cu, etc., advice. Secondarily, in my view, it served them with a few healthy recipes. As I manned a stall at Soul Survivor last summer, soon-to-be-freshers LOVED it, as did youth leaders - and will have been connected with churches and CUs at uni as a result. If you lead a revival in interest in gardening at uni, perhaps that could be adopted for UCCF's 2011 fresher-connecting resource ;)

  13. Paul... seriously?? they're from Elisa Beynon and for a first year at uni make a good "go to uni" practical and CU vision resource...

    Way off topic so let's leave it there eh.

  14. Hi Bish. Thanks for the reflections on 1 cor 12-13. My 1st observation/reflection above is reflected in a technical approach to unity, assessing people in terms of how explicitly & confessionally mature they are. In contexts where that has dominated, people have been concerned to unite around the primary issues forgetting that what definitely is primary is love & humility. In that vein, i particularly like Peter's rule of thumb:

    In the end our guiding principal was that the majority should sacrifice to the minority for the sake of unity

    I think I'll suggest this to my CUs. for 2 reasons:

    1) I think a hermeneutics of suspicion should fall on me/us/our majority before it does on you/them/the minority (planks & specks)

    2) It forces people to be counter-intuitive & counter tribal, putting gospel truth in service of others rather than putting others in the service of gospel truth. Subtle, and neither compromise the gospel content, but I think it's a helpful discipline.

  15. Yeah - I think entirely 1 Cor 12/13 sends us to the majority making the sacrifice - the alternative is some kind of power-play unity which doesn't look anything like Christianity, and just imposes exclusion on those who don't fit.

    Imagine the impact of even the offer of sacrifice - "most of us think it's ok to do X, but we're prepared to lay that down rather than have you feel uncomfortable". The offer itself would make a massive impact, and I can imagine it might often be declined with massive thanks for even thinking of offering.

  16. As I've said before, discussion on this issue needs to reckon with the difference between affirmative and negative duties.

    Basically, if someone think the bible forbids something, they can't compromise on that without sinning (in their view, that is). Whereas, if someone thinks the bible commands something this doesn't always mean they can't be flexible on it since most positive commands don't come with the condition 'do this all the time.'

    By way of illustration - we're to 'not steal' (negative duty) every minute of every day. But we're not to 'feed the poor' (affirmative duty) every minute of every day.

    So while you can ask pork-eating Christians to go and eat beef with non-pork-eating Christians, you can't ask non-pork-eating Christians to go and eat pork with the pork-eating Christians. To the 'non-porkers' they can't eat pork without sin, whereas none of the 'porkers' think they always have to be eating pork.

  17. I'm really not sure that works well in practice - I see it used but it seems to end up sweeping differences under the carpet rather than engaging the issues or the people.

    And if you've got a real fellowship then people probably need to learn to have some give and take in these things... and I guess that's where it comes back to loving one another, respecting one another, recognising we're all trying to get where we stand from the Bible and so on.

    My conscience is convinced on things but I'm still prepared to accept that brothers and sisters differ with me... I guess it depends where you bind your conscience deep enough... and maybe I've spent so much time with CUs that I struggle to take ultimate offence at difference on secondaries... I dunno.

  18. Thanks Dave,

    I'm not really talking about taking offence per se. I'm talking about asking people to engage themselves in activities they are sure the bible prohibits them from doing. If we love our brothers and sisters we won't push them to that point.

    So, yes, I think the aim is always to seek to come to one mind on these things, or at the least to perhaps persuade those with tender consciences that for e.g. they aren't sinning by simply listening to a woman speaker at a CU event (though, of course, that is easier to persuade someone of than say, persuading an exec member that they aren't sinning by inviting a woman to speak when they hold to a men-only preaching position).

    I say this as someone who wouldn't have a problem with going to listen to a woman preach at a CU event [I think there are long-term reasons why CUs doing this is damaging, but that's not the issue], and as someone who did, regularly, attend chapel when women were preaching there while I was at Oak Hill.


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