The U.S. Mennonite Brethren Board of Faith and Life has reaffirmed a policy that bars women from serving as lead pastors.
The BFL adopted a statement calling on congregations to encourage women to minister in every role other than the lead pastorate — a policy delegates approved in 1999.
The decision comes a year after a January 2019 national study conference on women in pastoral ministry.
In a Jan. 16 email to congregations, the BFL acknowledged any decision would be painful to some.
The U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches has wrestled for 50 years with the question of how God calls women to pastoral ministry.
In 1999, when delegates affirmed women for all ministries except senior pastor, some viewed the language as too restrictive and others as not restrictive enough. It became apparent during the 2019 study conference that not much had changed.
In deliberations over the past year, the BFL concluded that “most of our USMB churches support the current policy on women in pastoral ministry.” The board called the policy “our best attempt to Christ-honoring unity around an issue where we have not reached consensus.”
The 1999 resolution also invites women to serve on conference boards and in congregations, institutions and agencies.
The BFL letter, signed by chair Tim Sullivan, commends churches and districts that have “communicated to us that they have not always lived up to the standard set by the 1999 resolution and want to make efforts to increase their affirmation of women in ministry roles within the church.”
The letter encourages churches to “do the work necessary to increase opportunities for women to serve and partner with men to the glory of God and the service of Christ and his kingdom.”
The letter says the BFL does not consider its decision to be “the final chapter in this conversation,” as it wants to be open to the Holy Spirit’s work, since the denomination has not reached consensus.
When asked whether delegates to the 2020 national convention would take action on the statement, Sullivan said no action was needed because no change was recommended.
The Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches opened the lead pastorate to women in 2006.