A.J. Thomas is the Founder of Joyful Giving Group, whose mission is to cultivate a culture of generosity.
A.J. is a practiced believer in the power of generosity to transform individual lives, congregations, and entire communities.
A.J. is an ordained United Methodist pastor with over a decade of leadership experience in the local church. He is appointed to Joyful Giving Group as an extension ministry of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Faith Mothers and Lady Preachers (2 Timothy 1:1-5, Acts 2:16-17)
From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus
by God’s will, to promote the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.
2 To Timothy, my dear child.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the
Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with
a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers
day and night. 4 When I remember your tears, I long to see you
so that I can be filled with happiness. 5 I’m reminded of your
authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother
Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you.
This is what was spoken through the
17 In the
last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all
people. Your sons and
daughters will prophesy. Your young
will see visions. Your elders
will dream dreams.
Mother's Day is a tricky day for the church to navigate.
While it’s a day of celebrating for many, it is not a picture-perfect Hallmark
for many others.For a wide variety of
reasons, Mother’s Day can be a painful and difficult day. Every year, I make an intentional decision
that we will not recognize today in a way that adds insult to injury to
those for whom today is hard.
In worship, we celebrate who God is, what God is up to in
the world, and the various ways God invites us to participate in that good
work.And so today, we glorify God by
lifting up the leadership women have given our Faith since the time of Jesus.I’m grateful for Faith Mothers and Lady
Preachers, for God’s Spirit poured upon both our sons andour daughters, and to be part of a faith tradition that celebrates
this reality.May we pray.
Anybody have an idea how many women
are mentioned in the Bible?188 women
are mentioned by name through the Old and New Testaments, and the stories of
countless other women whose names we don’t know are also told.
first woman mentioned, of course, is Eve, in the creation story that includes
Adam and Eve.God creates humankind in
God’s own image – male and female, God created us, and we see that God’s intent
for the relationship between men and women was one of partnership and equality.How do we know?The story tells us that God created the woman
from the man’s rib.That’s
important.If God had intended the man
to rule over the woman, then he would have created the woman out of the man’s
feet, so he would trample over her.If
God had intended the woman to rule over the man, he would have created the
woman out of the man’s head.But God
created the woman from the man’s rib, right at his side, and made us as equal
co-stewards over the earth – it wasn’t until after the fall that Eve’s equal
role was diminished.
Bible shows us women operating in somewhat expected roles: nurturing roles,
hospitality roles, mothering roles.But,
the Bible also gives us stories of women leading armies into battle, and women
serving as judges over the people.I
love the story of Jael – who led the Israelites to victory over the Canaanites after
killing their captain in his tent.While
he was sleeping, she drove a tent peg through the side of his head.I love the Bible!You can’t make this stuff up!
the centuries, women were subjugated more and more, and by the time of Jesus,
were treated as little more than property.And so Jesus did something quite radical for his day, he
treated women like people rather than property.In a time when they were intentionally uneducated,
Jesus taught women about the kingdom of God.When only men studied with a rabbi, Jesus invited women to be his
disciples, and Jesus commissioned a woman to preach the most important sermon
of all time: on Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdelene proclaimed, “He is
risen,” and her message continues to be central to our faith.
were leaders in the early church.St.
Paul, the prolific writer of much of the New Testament, included greetings to
women as leaders in his letters to the churches.He supports women praying and prophesying in
the public service of the church (Acts 21:9, 1 Corinthians 11:5).Phoebe is greeted as a pastor, Junia’s name
is listed as an apostle, and Paul continually gives thanks for women he
considers “co-laborers in the Gospel.”Co-laborers, not subordinates. Equal.
It happens, sometimes, that someone
from another faith tradition wants to take issue with me on that.They advance a theological view called
“complementarianism,” basically meaning men and women have different roles that
complement one another, which is just an institutional and theological way to
enshrine a male-dominated patriarchy.This
person will typically quote 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 at me, which says:
34 The women should be quiet during the
meeting. They are not allowed to talk. Instead, they need to get under control,
just as the Law says. 35 If they want to learn something, they
should ask their husbands at home. It is disgraceful for a woman to talk during
Then, they quickly turn to 1 Timothy 2:11-12: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. I do not permit a
woman to teach, nor to have authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
Scriptures are pulled out as “clobber passages,” because they function as a
sort of blunt tool to beat down an opposing view.The person usually becomes very confused when
I start to explain that the way they are reading the Bible is called proof
texting. A proof text is when you
isolate a verse or two from its context, and lift it out to prove a point.When people do this, usually the only thing
they’ve proved to me is their own ignorance, and I don’t usually argue with
them, because while you can always tell a fundamentalist, you can’t tell them
know, even in churches that teach “women ought to be silent in the church”
don’t actually practice it.You mean to
tell me women don’t teach Sunday School or Bible study or sing in the choir or
talk in the foyer?At my last church,
Clara Hedberg talked through the sermon every week; I would have LOVED
for that woman to keep silent in the church!I didn’t have a problem with women, generally, speaking in church, I had
a problem with one particular woman whose mouth ran constantly, yet to whom no
had ever turned around and said, “Shhhhh.”
what Paul was getting at.In one church,
a particular group of women were wailing and carrying on to the point of
distracting the rest of the worshipers, others who were interrupting the
teaching of the apostles with Q and A while they were trying to teach, and to
these specific women, Paul said, “Be quiet in the church.”
the letters that comprise the majority of the New Testament are like reading
someone else’s mail.These are very
specific instructions to a specific group of women in a specific church.“The problem with taking these texts as
commands for all churches for all time is that they don’t harmonize with the
hundreds of other biblical examples of women prophesying and leading the
church. In the majority of cases, women had positions of prominence. Lydia was
a church leader in Philipi, Priscilla led three churches in Rome, Corinth and
Ephesus as well as discipling Apollos.” (James Watkins)
we can’t build an entire ethic around a few proof texts.Dr. David Thompson of Asbury Seminary asks,
“Do we read the entire Bible in light of these two problematic texts, or do we
read these two texts in light of the rest of the Bible?”
continued to hold leadership positions in the early church for several
centuries.It wasn’t until the year 494
A.D. that Pope Gelasius declared that
women could no longer serve as priests in the church.That means they had been serving as priests
up until then.For nearly the first 500
years of Christianity, women had been in leadership in the church.That church leadership became a boys’ club
and stayed that way for over a thousand years had more to with Roman cultural
norms than with anything in the teachings of Jesus or the experience of the
Holy Spirit in the early church.
the 1700s, John Wesley relied on the gifts of women in the early days of the
Methodist movement, in large part, because of the strong, faithful women in his
own life, including his own mother,
Susannah, and his older sisters.We got
away from that for awhile, but thank God, there was an
important anniversary celebrated this week among the people called Methodists.This past Wednesday, May 4, we celebrated the
60th anniversary of granting full clergy rights to women in the
Methodist Church.I am grateful to be
part of a faith tradition that celebrates and affirms God’s call upon the lives
of both men and women into the ordained ministry.
Scriptures witness, and our experience confirms the reality that God’s Spirit is poured upon all people
– old and young, men and women.God’s
Spirit is poured out, and God’s people prophesy – they lead, they teach, they
preach, they use their Spirit-given gifts for God’s glory in the world.
Bible only lists one sin as unforgiveable, and that’s blaspheming or grieving
the Holy Spirit.If God’s Spirit has
been poured out on someone, be they a son or a daughter, and we reject that
person using what God has given them, that’s called denying, blaspheming,
grieving the Holy Spirit.
I continue to grieve with and for friends who are not
welcomed into their ministry settings simply because they are women.Three years ago, our friend, Dana, was
appointed to Bethel United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge, and on her first
Sunday, was invited to sit in with one of the adult Sunday School classes, who demanded
to know why she, as a woman, was qualified to be a pastor.She stayed one year.
Last year, another friend, Katie, was appointed to a
church where she was told, “You’re the second Lady Preacher we’ve had in a row;
you just don’t understand how difficult that is for us to have two
back-to-back.”Never mind that under the
leadership of the previous pastor, this church had 31 professions-of-faith out
in the middle of nowhere.31 people who
did not previously know Jesus came to know him, the church grew, they paid off
debt, heaven forbid they have to go through something like that again!Katie stayed one
It's one of the concerns we had before Ashley arrived at Stokesdale - every move brings a series of unknowns, and one of the things we wondered about was whether or not people would give her problems simply because she was a woman. As you can see from the previous examples, it still happens today. Thankfully, they had no issue. They didn't balk at her being a woman, or part of a clergy couple, or young. They called her "Pastor" from the moment she arrived, and there are now 50 or so men the age of our fathers or grandfathers who love her dearly and will follow her leadership anywhere. With those guys around, God help anyone who ever tries to give her trouble!
Our bishop tells us every year that he receives letters
and phone calls from local churches who say, “We’re just not ready for a woman
pastor, yet.”To those who would say
that to me, I’d say, “You’ve had 60 years to get ready.It’s time.”Or, in my more diplomatic moments, I’d invite them to enroll in my
bridge-building course, in which I teach participants how to build a bridge so
they can get the hell over it.
Or, sometimes, I’ll simply ask, “Then why do you continue
to attend a United Methodist Church?We
recognize, as the prophet Joel foresaw, that the Holy Spirit would be poured
out on all people – young and old, men and women, and as such, they would
prophesy, teach and lead.We’re into
that here, and if you’re not, this may not be the church for you."
problem is not strong and gifted and Spirit-filled women in the church.Rather, the problem is weak men who are
threatened by strong women, and have tried various means, even dubious biblical
interpretation, to keep them from exercising their gifts. (Ben Witherington)
I'm proud to part of a church that celebrates and lifts up the leadership of both men and women. Especially for your daughters or granddaughters, it's important to me that they grow up in a church where they can do and be anything God calls them to.
may we never deny or reject what God is doing, simply because of who God is
doing it through.May we not grieve the
Holy Spirit by denying the gifts of those upon whom the Spirit is poured, be they
sons, or be they daughters.
I’m grateful for Faith Mothers and Lady Preachers.