Reviewing the spiritual gifts which qualify a person to be an elder, we readily discover that many women are well-suited to fulfill this position.
Tina rested her elbows on the kitchen table, a cup of hot ocolate warming her lands, but not her heart. For months, she and her husband had been arguing and fussing with one another, making the daily routine of life more stressful than usual. She had considered discussing the situation with a church elder. But when she realized most of the elders were his friends, she decided not to. And she was not aware of any women in the church qualified to lend a supporting shoulder. For nearly two years, her sister's church had been expanding their roster of elders to include women, thus heeding the guidance in Evangelism, page 460, and Welfare Ministry, page 145, respectively: "When a woman is in trouble, let her take her troubles to women." "The Lord has a work for women as well as for men .... They can do in families a work that men cannot do, a work that reaches the inner life. They can come close to the hearts of those whom men cannot reach."
Joan Patrick and Judy Fehlenberg verify this counsel. As a local elder in New South Wales, Australia, Patrick writes, "I am often able to encourage the mothers, wives, singles, and young people of the congregation in ways a male elder or minister could not." From Marietta, Georgia, USA, Fehlenberg, states, "Our church has a significant number of working mothers, and my circumstance allows me to better relate to them."
Reviewing the spiritual gifts which qualify a person to be an elder, we readily discover that many women are well suited to fulfill this position. Some of the Spirit's gifts needed to perform the duties of an elder involve nurture, and most women seem to be naturals at nurturing. Such gifts include: exhortation─ the ability to encourage and console others, especially the bereaved, lonely, and discouraged; pastor/shepherd─ the ability to carry a personal responsibility for the spiritual well-being of a group of believers and to act as their shepherd, overseer, protector, and guide; and hospitality─the skill of extending an open home and warm, genuine feelings to others. Furthermore, many women are proficient in administration and leadership, illustrating their gift for the former in their ability to direct and steer household schedules, finances, et cetera, and the latter in their ability to assist in establishing family goals in accordance with Christian principles, then communicating these goals in such a way that family members work harmoniously to achieve them.
Avril Lockton's work as elder in the Avondale College Church, Australia, puts to use many of the above mentioned gifts. She visits women, especially those experiencing the trauma of divorce; helps manage church staffing issues; and assists in organizing worship services by encouraging more women to participate in this aspect of church life. Jennifer Baldwin's church in Australia particularly enjoys the creative touches she as an elder incorporates into their worship services. She reports that many members, especially women, appreciate and notice these diversions from the usual formula.
Women elders also can alleviate strains placed upon the pastor's family. One woman elder from the state of Nebraska, USA, recalls that in the past, the pastor's wife did much of the mentoring of female members. Now, because of finances and other priorities, many a pastor's wife finds herself needing to work outside the home and thus unable to perform such a ministry by herself. Therefore, it is important to have women elders assist with such work.
If your church is debating whether to appoint women elders, consider what is occurring at the Pioneer Memorial Church of Andrews University. Here, Katherine Smith and her husband minister to their Christian sisters and brothers as co-head elders. Smith reports that the entire church soon will be divided into parishes with elder teams overseeing each parish. She elaborates, "Because this church feels that an elder's spouse is her/his best helpmeet, more wife/husband teams are being elected."
Elder Dwight Nelson, pastor of the Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University testified, "Since 1987 our Pioneer Memorial Church has been blessed with the ministry of women elders. And as a result, for the past nine years we have experienced a deepening in the spiritual ministry of this vital church office. Our women elders have brought a sense of intentionality to the service of an elder. Their congregational prayers, their reading of the Scriptures, and their worship participation in the Lord's Supper on Sabbath mornings have demonstrated a careful preparation and planning behind those public expressions. Their example of professionalism in public ministry is one our men elders emulate! Our women elders have also led the way in ministering in the homes of our members through visitation. In fact, since Katherine Smith became one of our two head elders, we have experienced a whole new dimension in every-member visitation by the elders. Having women elders on our pastoral team now allows us to send a woman into the home of another women who has been wounded through divorce or family dysfunction, or to the hospital to visit a woman who needs the sympathetic ministry of one who has journeyed the way before her. I thank God for the women elders of Pioneer who live the life of Christ, not only in their ministries as elders, but as women of faith in every walk of life."
The following by E. G. White summarizes how the end-time church can be blessed by women elders: "Women who are willing to consecrate some of their time to the service of the Lord should be appointed to visit the sick, look after the young, and minister to the necessities of the poor. They should be set apart to this work by prayer and laying on of hands. . . . This is another means of strengthening and building up the church. We need to branch out more in our methods of labor. Not a hand should be bound, __— not a soul \ discouraged, • not a voice should be hushed; let every individual labor, privately or publicly to help forward this grand work. Place the burdens upon men and women of the church, that they may grow by reason of the exercise, and thus become effective agents in the hand of the Lord for the enlightenment of those who sit in darkness" (Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, "The Duty of the Minister and the People," July 9, 1895).
Rose Otis is a General Field Secretary of the General Conference and director of the Women's Ministry Department. She writes from Silver Spring, Maryland.