“Why do you push us around?” Rosa Parks asked the bus driver.
In an era of Jim Crow laws that discriminated between blacks and whites, many people recognized the conflicting messages of freedom “for all” with these unjust laws of the land and they rejected them. With the threat of violence and economic repercussions, change came slowly.
Rosa Parks had no other expectations that day, but to get home from work. “I had given up my seat before, but this day, I was especially tired. Tired from my work as a seamstress, and tired from the ache in my heart.” Emboldened with a divine courage, this working-woman knew “what must be done does away with fear” and she refused to give up her seat.
The power of one.
One ordinary person who was bursting with a dream of freedom, respect, and equality. One non-conformist who refused to fit into predetermined societal roles. One person’s courage to see and declare things the way they should be, and expose the glaring inconsistencies between rhetoric and conduct in a nation who prided itself as “under God, with liberty and justice for” some.
Her decision and subsequent question is referred to as “the spark that ignited the Civil Rights movement in the USA.” God used this ordinary woman in extraordinary ways.
Similarly, nearly fifty years earlier, Christianity experienced a “spark” at the Azusa Street Mission in California with a second Pentecost, which birthed the modern-day Pentecostalism. The Azusa Street Revival of 1906 spawned the Pentecostal movement in America “where the color lines were washed away,” and men and women were preaching and leading together.
From its inception the Assemblies of God (AG) adhered to a Pentecostal theology, undergirded by a core interpretation of Acts 2 to be both historical and the standard for church today.
Pentecostals and those in the Assemblies of God, fundamentally believe God poured out His Holy Spirit on men and women, gifting both genders for all levels of ministry without regard to gender, race, or economic status (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17, Galatians 3:28).
Currently, for too many, rhetoric and practice of this core AG belief are incongruent. According to the 2014 AG statistics, 22.9% of the credentialed ministers are women—up from 14% in 2008—and 77.1% are men. Five percent of AG lead pastors are women. Put another way, of the nearly 11,000 lead pastors, only 533 are women.
These low numbers cause one to ask, why? Is it because women are unavailable? Unqualified? Uninterested? Or something more serious: uninvited and unwanted?
One promising area of significant growth where females are flourishing as lead pastors are our ethnic sisters. The Texas Gulf Hispanic district has the highest percentage of women in ministry with 39% credentialed (well above the national average of 22.9%), and the Korean district a close second with 38% female credentialed ministers. These women of God refuse to give up God’s calling. Yet undeniably, their story is the exception rather than the rule.
A dear friend encouraged me recently with these words, “You literally have nothing left to lose.” With 15 years of ministry, as a former lead pastor, missionary, a current Doctor of Ministry candidate, an ordained AG minister for 13 years, I am pursuing to fulfill the call of God on my life to be a lead pastor.
But I happen to be a female.
Because of that, doors do not open for me like my male ministry colleagues. The enemy has tried to silence my voice and discourage me. After a year of hearing, “we can’t help you,” “the church most likely won’t hire you because you are a woman,” “this is the reality, deal with it,” unreturned phone calls and messages, and being ignored, I am tired— tired from the ache in my heart with a call to lead. Tired from being treated as a second-class citizen, dismissed with disparaging clichés (“femi-nazis” or “self-important mushrooms”), and ignored as if my calling is less-important. I am not alone in this predicament.
With a mounting pile of rejection letters from lead pastorate applications, I refuse to give up. I refuse to believe God will only use those at the top levels to affect systemic change.
I envision a day when men and women of the Assemblies of God stand and minister side-by-side, laboring together for God’s Kingdom without regard to gender.
Rosa Parks knew the power of one was, ultimately, insufficient. Lasting transformation would come when others joined together for change. She recalls, “At the time I was arrested I had no idea it would turn into this. It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in.”
In the first Pentecost and at Azusa Street, God empowered ordinary men and women to change the world and reach people for Christ. Just as Rosa Parks understood her times and courageously acted the way things should be, matching rhetoric and action, now is the time for the Assemblies of God to work together in order to see the world reached for Christ. Here are three practical ways those in the AG and others can unite and encourage the fulfillment of everyone’s gifting and calling:
- Return to the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. The Holy Spirit is the Giver of gifts and is no respecter of persons. We must be led by the Holy Spirit and implement Acts 2 as a foundation for all levels of ministry. We need to return to the Pentecostal theology that enforces the Holy Spirit’s empowerment is for all men and women for the gospel’s sake.
- Be transparent and authentic. Kingdom living requires that we live transparently and honestly.Do you have reservations about hiring a qualified applicant simply because of her gender? Do you unknowingly discriminate with people based on their gender? Be transparent about the biases and move forward. Evaluate someone based on their calling, life and ministry experiences, and their education and training. More than likely women in ministry will lack “lead pastor” experience as they have yet to be given a chance. Think outside the box and weigh all leadership experiences with the candidate.
- Be intentional. Be intentional about placing qualified women into positions of leadership. The US did this with racial reconciliation. I urge those in national and district leadership to take action on the basis of sound theology and place qualified women in key positions. We must intentionally work side-by-side, men and women transformed by the Spirit for a single cause: the cause of Christ. Men, stand beside women and not “over” them. More than ever before God is moving and asking men and women to stand shoulder to shoulder to work for His Kingdom.
Today, the Holy Spirit is calling ordinary women and men much like Rosa Parks to refuse to sit in the back of the bus. God desires us to exercise the same faith and trust in the Lord. For those women who are in ministry and for those who are struggling to find their place, be tenacious.
Refuse to be anything but who God wants you to be. If it takes you a little longer to get there, then keep going. Rosa Parks knew her worth, and the worth of every individual in God’s sight. Mainly, she knew the power of the One. Because of that, the masses followed her lead and change overtook a nation for all.
*See sources below pic.
Debbie Fulthorp has been an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God for over 13 years. She has traveled to over 27 countries sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. She has also pastored in various contexts both as a lead and an associate. She has a heart to pastor and reach the nations and by training others for ministry. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate in the DMin program at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. She is wife to Brian, mom to Mercy, age 8, and Samuel, age 6.
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- Rosa Parks and Jim Haskins, Rosa Parks: My Story, Reprint ed. (New York: Puffin Books, 1999), 117.
- Ajay Moholtra, “Rosa Parks Quotes,” www.rosaparksfacts.com, June 1, 2008, accessed October 5, 2015, http://rosaparksfacts.com/rosa-parks-quotes/.
- “Rosa Parks: The Quiet Revolutionary (The Documentary 23/2/12),” YouTube: Race and Ethnicity Archive, September 4, 2014, accessed October 3, 2015, https://youtu.be/HBzYV_eATGY.
- Amanda Morad, “Regent University: Top Stories,” February 17, 2012, accessed October 3, 2015, http://www.regent.edu/news_events/?article_id=1225&view=full_article.
- “The Role of Women in Ministry as Described in Holy Scripture” (Position Paper adopted by the General Presbytery in Session, Springfield, MO, August 9-11, 2010), 1-7, accessed October 5, 2015, http://ag.org/top/Beliefs/Position_Papers/pp_downloads/PP_The_Role_of_Women_in_Ministry.pdf.
- “The Role of Women in Ministry as Described in Holy Scripture” (AG U.S. FEMALE MINISTERS, 1977-2014, Springfield, MO, March 25, 2015), 1-2, accessed October 5, 2015, http://agchurches.org/Sitefiles/Default/RSS/AG.org%20TOP/AG%20Statistical%20Reports/2015%20%28year%202014%20reports%29/MinFemAn%202014.pdf?hc_location=ufi.
- “AG U.S. Ministers Report 2014” (Credentials, Marital, and Ministry Status
By Gender, Springfield, MO, March 23, 2015), 1-2, accessed October 5, 2015, http://agchurches.org/
- “Ministers Marital Status/Gender Summary, 2014” (By Percentage, Springfield, MO, March 16, 2015), 1-2, accessed October 5, 2015, http://agchurches.org/Sitefiles/Default/RSS/AG.org%20TOP/AG%