This month, John takes the opportunity to update us on the national conversation we’re having regarding men and women in leadership in The Alliance and to foreshadow what will be coming to Alliance Council 2021.

John Stumbo Video Blog No. 93— Polity Update

April 2021 [12:56]

Alliance family, you’re aware that at Council 2019, I announced a two-year National Conversation that would include discussions regarding men and women in leadership within The Alliance. Today is my opportunity to report on that conversation and to foreshadow what is coming to Council 2021.

First, I want to give a shout-out to church planting. Many Alliance churches are in some stage of reproduction and others will be celebrating the upcoming Church Planting Sunday. Thank you. Even during a global pandemic, we’ve moved forward with our church-planting priority. Dozens of new expressions of the Church have been launched in the U.S. Alliance in the last year, and we rejoice that many more are in the pipeline. If you are somehow part of the church-planning advance in The Alliance, we celebrate you. And I call the rest of us to be in prayer for and support of these essential efforts. Never in our lifetimes has church planting been more needed. You may have seen the same headline I did recently . . . that church membership is at a new low, slipping to only 47 percent of Americans even when combined with mosque and synagogue membership. For the first time in a century, those who are members of a church are in the minority in America. The opportunity is great for new expressions of the Church to be launched.

Second, I’m pleased to announce that we have over 1,900 registered delegates for Council 2021. We’re working closely with the Opryland staff to provide a safe environment that meets all the local regulations. The large facility will allow us to socially distance as appropriate, while doing so in an environment that will provide great opportunity to reconnect with the family. If you’ve not yet registered, please be aware of this: You must do so by April 30. In the past, we’ve been able to be far more flexible on late or even walk-in registrations. I’m sure you can understand why that is not possible this year. We’re making the necessary preparations for all attendees to have a safe experience, but neither Opryland, local regulations, nor our own contingencies give us the flexibility to suddenly add dozens or hundreds of extra registrants. So again, we’ll make a place for all who register by April 30. But this year, we simply cannot accommodate registrations after that date. Thank you for understanding.

Now to the topic of the day: men and women in leadership within The Alliance. We’ve been in this conversation for nearly two years now, knowing that it wouldn’t be a simple one. Why, as a person that tries to avoid conflict, would I engage us in this topic? What would we want to accomplish? First, we’re seeking to honor the Lord—we’re under His Lordship. We care about His Church and want to lead it well. We’re seeking to honor the Scripture—we’re under authority. We’re a people committed to coming back again and again to study the Word of God, seeking to live out its truths in our lives, ministries, and the policies we establish. We do this while acknowledging that we have differing interpretations of many Bible passages.

We’re seeking to advance our mission—we’re on assignment. Our unity directly impacts our missional effectiveness. We’re seeking to address issues of known disagreement, thoughtfully and respectfully. We’re a family who doesn’t have a great history of discussing this topic in a commendable manner. We can do better and have been proving that in most of our recent interaction.

We’re seeking to improve our policies in such a way that clears up internal confusion and, again, better serves mission advance. If our policies unnecessarily limit people from Kingdom service, are we not obligated to address that weakness? And we’re seeking to honor what we’ve heard from the family. We didn’t start the National Conversation with a predetermined outcome. We want to take a listening posture.

You’re probably aware that Terry Smith, our vice president for Church Ministries, and I invested much of the last two years leading some four dozen events, in-person and online, that engaged nearly 3,000 Alliance leaders from every district. I think you’d be interested to see some of the results of what you told us. One thing we verified is that our Alliance family has a fairly high level of appreciation for our consecration/ordination process but dissatisfaction with our consecration/ordination outcome. For example, we polled: “I feel that granting differing titles for the consecration and ordination process is appropriate for The Alliance.” Only 26 percent said yes, while 61 percent no, 13 undecided. Upon completion of the same work and interviews, men and women, men received the title “Reverend” and women received the “CWM” (consecrated woman in ministry). A majority of us would like to see that changed.

There’s even greater disagreement with our current policy that all pastors are considered elders. We asked: “In our documents should we clarify that not all pastors in the Alliance are elders?” 72 percent yes, 16 no, 12 undecided. We brought to the surface the reality that we are quite divided on other issues. “I agree with The Alliance position that Scripture teaches a male-only model for church elders.” Only 58 percent said yes, while, 24 no, and 17 undecided.

One more. “According to my understanding of Scripture, Alliance national policy gives women ‘Appropriate leadership’— half of us, but half of us disagreed; 40 percent—’It doesn’t give women enough leadership,’ and 10 percent, ‘Too much leadership.’”

So at Council in Nashville, Terry and I will be laying out a possible way forward on this mission-critical, yet admittedly controversial subject. We’ll make that presentation available by video after Council for those who are not able to be delegates. The proposals that we’ll present fall into three categories and address the following: 1) Retaining male eldership—while limiting who would qualify as an elder. 2) Titling—giving less influence to the national level and more to the districts and local churches. And 3) Ordination/Consecration—retaining the significance of the process while removing the discrepancies of outcomes for men and women.

We’ll bring these proposals to Council as points of information but not for decision or action. We believe that the path of wisdom is to continue this conversation. We’re asking each district to set aside a few hours in upcoming conference for Terry or me, assuming that I have the opportunity to serve another term, alongside a female facilitator, to continue this listening journey. This information will again be collated and presented to the Board of Directors for further prayerful deliberation. We’re not moving fast, but I do believe we can move together with our policy manual in hand and our Bible on top of it, so to speak. We didn’t, nor will we, attempt the national exegetical debate on Pauline and other relevant passages. Some have thought that if we just open our Bibles together, we’ll all come up with the same conclusion. I don’t believe that to be accurate, because I’ve witnessed how deeply some of us have wrestled with the Scriptures, coming to different conclusions and holding those conclusions dearly. For those interested, especially who’ve not grappled with the topic, after Council we’ll make available a brief paper written from differing views by a few of our own Alliance leaders. To those who believe with deep conviction that the Bible equates elder and pastor, we’re attempting to lead this process in such a way that does not press you into any compromise for how you function in your local church. We respect your view and are not proposing anything that would require you to change. You’re holding your convictions, please continue to do so, and as you do, we have one request: Please accept the fact that other Jesus-loving, Bible-honoring leaders and congregations have come to different conclusions, and they have a place at the Alliance table as well.

To those who long for The Alliance to grant greater freedom for women to serve . . . the proposals may not take our policies as far as you would hope, but if adopted more ministry access would be made available to many among us. To those who are happy with the way things are now, the proposals should have enough freedom that you can continue on as you are.

And let me hasten to say that while we are pleased by the progress made and convinced that the proposals would bring positive change among us, they’re not set in concrete. We’re continuing the conversation because we want to continue to listen to the Spirit together in community as to where He’s leading this moment. I know that our decision to continue the conversation disappoints some who are eager to see changes. However, I believe that any changes that are eventually adopted will have far greater receptivity and ownership if we are not pressed for a decision now. While we had strong agreement in the last two years, not everyone was able to participate and most of those who did had only one opportunity to do so and, for many, that was a weakened opportunity because of the complications that arose due to COVID. Our proposals are highly nuanced, taking many factors into consideration. We believe that more time for more interaction and for better understanding of the proposals, and perhaps further refinement, will serve the family well.

While some are disappointed that we’re not pressing for immediate changes, I am also aware that some among us wished that the topic would have never been brought up in the first place and that we would leave our policies alone. Some see it as a distraction from our mission. I disagree. It’s become clear to me that some of our policies unnecessarily restrict otherwise called and qualified ministers. This grieves me. I’ve told it repeatedly that I am among those who interpret the Scriptures through the lens of male-only eldership, yet I believe that we’ve been inconsistent in our documents and inappropriate in some of our policies. Any place we find that our policies limit people from ministry beyond any limit given by the Scriptures, are we not in error? Doesn’t that place us in the position with other religious leaders throughout the ages who were more restrictive than God intended? Wasn’t Jesus clear in His displeasure with such behavior? Perhaps as we continue this dialogue, you’ll agree with me, and perhaps you won’t. But regardless, we’re going to keep working our way together through these issues, and I trust we’ll do so in a manner that blesses one another and builds, not tears down, the Bride of Christ. I’ll close with this. We have a divine assignment, friends. We are one of God’s end-times families that He’s raised up to complete the Great Commission, and we’re doing so with passion, energy, and synergy. But our effectiveness in mission is directly tied to how effectively we are working together as churches and districts, as men and women, as licensing committees and leadership development programs, in congregations and chaplaincies. Simply said, I believe we’ll get more done for Jesus if we remove unnecessary barriers and find better places of mutual respect among us. So why would a guy like me who avoids conflict whenever possible dive head-first into this difficult subject? Because I love this family, want her as healthy as possible. So we will have even more effectiveness in seeing the Church of Jesus established and flourishing throughout our nation and to the least-reached places of this planet.