08 Jun Rose Swetman – My Leadership Journey
When I was in my early twenties, I belonged to a church that had a married couple as the co-senior pastors. The woman was ordained and functioned with every bit of pastoral authority as her husband. This was my first experience in a church outside of the Roman Catholic Church in which I was raised.
I have loved God my entire life. My earliest memories of desiring to serve God were to become a nun so I could be married to Jesus. In the years I attended the church co-led by a man and woman, I saw a picture of biblical equality modeled so that both men and women could respond to the invitation of God to serve his Church in all levels of leadership.
My next church experience was in the mid-1980s. I attended a Vineyard Church that had a male senior pastor and a male associate pastor. Both of these men held a theological framework of biblical equality and encouraged me to pursue my desire to serve God according to my gifts and talents.
Several years later as a single woman, I was part of a church planting team with two married couples. In 1995, I was ordained as the associate pastor of the church I helped plant. In 1996 I married my husband Rich. For fifteen years we were the co-senior pastors of Vineyard Community Church in Shoreline, WA. Three years ago, Rich transitioned out of the role of co-pastor and up until one year ago I was the lead pastor. After a serious medical scare, I resigned from leading the church and now serve as a Teaching Pastor at my home church.
In addition, I am a Regional Leader that brings pastoral care to thirty-seven churches in the Northwest Region of Vineyard USA. I also serve on the Vineyard USA Women in Leadership Network, a network commissioned to see women throughout our denomination equipped and empowered to every level of leadership.
Within the church and regional churches I serve, I am completely free to be whom God has made and called me to be. However, sometimes outside of those contexts, I often find myself among pastors and leaders who resonate theologically as complementarians. During those encounters, I often find myself feeling defensive for whom God created me to be, knowing there are those that believe I am somehow out of God’s order for women. I cannot tell you the gambit of emotion I have felt while in those situations. One short story that took me by surprise. I was invited to speak at a conference with a group in which I was a board member. On the day before the conference began, the host church elders found out I was giving a main stage talk. Through one of their elders, they relayed to us that a woman had never and was not allowed to preach from their pulpit. My response was, “Take me off the docket, no worries, I don’t want to cause any drama right as this conference is starting.” The elder said to me, “Here is what we can do. We can introduce you as a missionary from Seattle and you can give your talk as if you are doing a mission’s report. Just do not open the Bible and read it because you are not allowed to teach men.” I obliged, gave my talk and then later that afternoon several of the elders attended my workshop because they resonated with my talk. I don’t know that anyone’s mind was changed about women in ministry but my heart was challenged to not react, not fight the context and do my best with the gifts God has given me.
Over the years I have read as much scholarly work addressing all sides of this conflict as I could. I want to be faithful to God and his Word. I am convinced that biblical equality is found throughout the biblical text when read through the lens of the Kingdom of God. From the beginning of our story to the end, we see God’s intention that men and women are to be image bearers, working together to serve God as equal partners in his creation.
Conflict in the church is not new. From the New Testament letters and all through church history we have seen good people disagree over serious issues. Issues such as the nature of Christ in the first century to slavery in our not too distant past have caused great conflict between God-loving Christians. Such is the continuing case with the debate about women in ministry. There are good people on both sides struggling for truth.
As my husband says, “I wasn’t a bad person when I held a complementarian view, I was just wrong.” I have come to believe that any denomination, movement or local church that excludes women from full equality with men, perpetuates a wrong the gospel of Jesus has made right. I do not see this issue as a matter that falls into “disputable matters” (adiaphora), but rather see it as the justice issue it is. We can rightly compare this issue at this time in history with abolitionist and social movements of the past with examples from slavery, the Women’s Right to Vote Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. Many women have been fiercely blazing a trail for women to take up arms and fight with the weapons of praying, studying, acting and speaking until thousands and upon thousands of women are freed to take their place at the table that Jesus has set.
My hope is that every person seeking to be faithful to the biblical text will take up these arms through the courageous work of naming “Injustice” and find their way to action.
I have often heard men and women say, “The Kingdom has no place for people to demand rights. If you are a woman just be obedient with the gifts God has given and do not demand your place at the table.” I have experienced these words from people that I do not think understand their privilege. They are in churches and communities that accept women in leadership and have had doors opened to them. For those women who have been brought up and serve in churches that do not accept women in leadership, we must find a way forward that names this injustice and gives them hope. This is now part of my life’s work. To advocate, mentor, coach and train women in the gifting, talents, and invitation of the Spirit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rose Swetman is a Vineyard pastor who is the founding co-pastor (currently a Teaching Pastor), along with her husband, Rich of The Practicing Church in Shoreline, Washington. She is the founder of Turning Point, a missional group that partners with local agencies to serve low-income families in the greater Seattle area. She is the Regional Leader in the Northwest Region of Vineyard USA. Rose obtained her Doctor of Ministry from Bakke Graduate University in Seattle, Washington focused on Transformational Leadership for the Global City. She currently is an adjunct professor at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Rose and Rich have a blended family of 8 children, spouses and over 20 grandchildren