The U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches has scheduled a national study conference to discuss what Scripture says about women in ministry and to gain understanding of different views.
The denomination allows women to serve in all ministry roles except lead pastor.
Changing the policy is not on the agenda, though some would like to see the restriction end, said Tim Sullivan of Wichita, Kan., chair of the national Board of Faith and Life, or BFL.
“We’ve had a lack of consensus over the years on the policy,” he said. “We’re committed to ongoing conversations but haven’t come back to the Bible and looked together at what the Word says.”
The study conference, to be held Jan. 14-16 in Tempe, Ariz., will give pastors and lay leaders a chance to do just that. It will bring together a broader group than those who attended a January 2018 summit on women in ministry, with representatives from the five district boards of faith and life.
Participants at that meeting concluded the policy that prevents women from serving as lead pastors will continue for the foreseeable future.
Topics of discussion at the January 2019 conference will include how the New Testament church handled controversial issues; a historical overview of how Mennonite Brethren have dealt with the issue; theological arguments for the different positions; as well as prayer, table conversations and listening to the Holy Spirit.
Speakers will include Larry Martens, former president of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and pastor; Craig Keener, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary; James R. Beck, editor of Two Views of Women in Ministry; Michelle Lee-Barnewall, author of Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Gender Debate; Doug Heidebrecht, director of Global Training at MB Biblical Seminary in Canada; and Valerie Rempel, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary dean; and others.
“If nothing else, we will gain a better understanding of different perspectives,” Sullivan said. “I hope we all can walk away from this and say, ‘You are a faithful reader of Scripture, with respect for biblical authority and accuracy.’ ”
Sullivan hopes for greater appreciation for the range of beliefs on women in ministry.
“Both the complementarian and egalitarian views are a spectrum, not polar opposites,” he said.
Complementarians define different callings for men and women. Egalitarians make no gender distinctions in ministry.
The event is open to all Mennonite Brethren.
“This is an open invitation to anyone and everyone in our USMB family who would like to learn more about what the Bible says regarding this issue,” Sullivan said in a statement.
“It is also an encouragement to come and participate in the way in which our faith family works at theological issues by going directly to the Bible to seek answers and understanding and listening together to the Holy Spirit.”