Prophetic Women and the People of God -- By: Elaine A. Heath
PP 20:1 (Winter 2006) p. 25
Prophetic Women and the People of God
ELAINE A. HEATH is McCreless Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. She is an Elder in the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. Having served in pastoral ministry for several years, Dr. Heath works with local pastors, districts, and conferences to assist in developing spiritually healthy congregations so that the church can more effectively carry out God’s mission in the world. Among her research interests are the emergent church, gender and evangelism, and spirituality and evangelism. Dr. Heath holds a B.A. from Oakland University, M.Div. from Ashland Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Duquesne University.
Much has been written about prophetic leadership, especially in the charismatic side of the evangelical church. For mainline Christians, prophetic leadership tends to be understood as a particular stance toward justice and peace, a hermeneutic of suspicion toward world systems of domination. Walter Wink’s concept of “engaging the powers” is an example of this approach to the prophetic task. Evangelical charismatics, on the other hand, have tended to think of prophetic ministry as the expression of an individual’s spiritual gift that calls the church to repentance, that unmasks sin and falsity in the church, and that holds forth supernatural words of knowledge for individuals and corporate bodies. Prophetic ministry for charismatics includes foretelling and forthtelling, an intercessory sensitivity to the voice of God. Rick Joyner is one example of several well-known prophetic leaders in the charismatic tradition.
But what does it mean to be a prophetic woman in leadership in the church? In many ways, simply to be a Christian woman in leadership is to be a prophet, for, regardless of the advances of women’s rights, the world remains overwhelmingly patriarchal. For every woman who is a senator, attorney, seminary professor, or pastor in North America, thousands of other women are denied opportunities to use their God-given gifts.
At a recent theological conference I attended, the presenter raised the question, “Why do so few evangelical women make it to top levels of leadership in evangelical institutions?” A lively discussion followed, surfacing the consensus that the evangelical church makes it nearly impossible for strong, gifted, competent evangelical women to be faithful to their call and stay in evangelical institutions. Any evangelical institution that does welcome such women into top levels of leadership becomes a prophetic presence. That is especially true if women are afforded the same dignity, opportunities, and pay scale as their male colleagues.
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