When Lois and Jim Watkins signed on as co-pastors of LaOtto Wesleyan Churchin rural Indiana, they agreed to share the workload, 50-50. But sixyears into the job, "we were driving each other `co-razy,'" recalls Jim. Heexcelled as a worship and youth-group leader and preacher, but struggledwith the administrative duties that Lois, the organizer, tackled withrelish. On the advice of a counselor, they took a hard look at each person's strengths and weaknesses and developed a plan to shift their focus fromthe roles society had assigned them to the gifts God had given them.
Then, after Jim took a yearlong sabbatical to get parishioners used to theidea of bringing the bulk of their questions and concerns to Lois, theyasked the congregation for permission to shuffle their responsibilities andtweak their titles. The vote for approval was unanimous: Lois emerged assenior pastor and Jim as associate minister.
"She's an incredible pastoral caregiver," Jim boasts about Lois, his wife of25 years. "My counseling technique tended to be along the lines of `Getover it!' I also spelled `board' meeting as `bored' meeting." Now Loisconducts all the business sessions. For Jim, that spells relief and freeshim to focus on what he's good at--which includes speaking at seminars andwriting. (They still share preaching, each taking two Sundays a month.)
"When we were co-pastors, I think the majority of the people viewed Jim asthe pastor and I was kind of an overactive pastor's wife," says Lois. Whenthe couple suggested the changes in duties and titles, "I had hoped thatafter six years of ministry not an eyelash would be batted," Lois recalls.In actuality, "there was more batting than I anticipated," mainlytraditional questions about women in ministry. For example, memberswondered if people might choose not to attend a church led by a femalepastor. In the end, though, the final vote was gratifying.
The Watkinses know their division of duties is at odds with some people'sbelief in a biblical chain of command. Proponents of the chain point toEphesians 5:23, which says a wife should submit to her husband's authority.Opponents counter with the assurance in Galatians 3:28 that everyone isequal in Christ. Jim and Lois prefer not to pit passages against eachother. "We've tried to look at the Bible as a whole and not build atheology of marriage on one or two verses," says Jim. "Here's my theory:God is such a complex being that it takes two genders to adequately expresshis image. Each part of that image is of equal value, and God intended forboth males and females to rule over his creation." The grim alternative, hesays, "is to keep half of God's army inactive by saying that women can't fillleadership roles."
When Does Equal Mean Unequal?
The issue of submission--the dreaded "s" word--is an old one, and many peopledismiss it as woefully out of date. "Honestly, it's so politicallyincorrect that I don't think I've ever heard it mentioned in my 25years of counseling couples," says Howard J. Rankin, Ph.D., a clinicalpsychologist and author of "10 Steps to a Great Relationship" (StepWisePress, 1998). "But there's a vast difference in what people say and whatthey actually do, and a sizable number of men feel they should control many,or even most, aspects of their marriage."
Politically incorrect or not, submission got a big boost two years ago whenthe Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution affirming that wivesshould "submit graciously to the servant leadership" of their husbands.Since then, other prestigious groups have said "amen" to spin-off versionsof the Baptists' statement, endorsing the idea that hubbies should fulfilltheir "God-given responsibility" to serve their families by leading,protecting, and providing for them--and implying that women should not try toassume those roles. Each new endorsement has provided a kick in momentumand a spurt of publicity. Campus Crusade for Christ joined the list lastsummer, a move that some say could cause female students to turn their backson a ministry--and a faith--they might otherwise embrace.
"That could be the outcome," says Mimi Haddad, executive director ofChristians for Biblical Equality (CBE), an interdenominational organizationfounded 12 years ago by a group of faculty members from evangelicalseminaries and colleges. "In a way, it's like going on secular campuses andtelling Gen X women, `You may use your intellect and your gifts and yourcalling, but when you get to church or to marriage, you need to fall intothese specific roles.' It doesn't make sense. How can women be equal inChrist and unequal in relationships in the church and in marriage? It's notgoing to work because it's not true, it's not biblical, and secular culturehas made it clear to women that they have gifts that are valuable in theworld."