Mez McConnell is the Director of 20 Schemes, a church planting organisation seeking to “see Scotland’s housing schemes transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ through the planting of gospel-preaching churches”. His passion for and commitment to seeing lives transformed by Jesus is extremely inspiring. 20 Schemes is working with some of the most marginalised people in society. This is also a mission I am committed to. I come from a working class background, have been a teenage mother and single parent. I have lived in deprived areas almost my whole life and have worked with many women who have been deeply wounded by men and by poverty. My husband and I are now raising a little boy from a severely deprived background having spent a year trying to support his mum to be able to become a parent again. As such I hope that this blog is read in light of my great respect for 20 Schemes mission and passion.
Mez published a blog on the 20 Schemes website earlier today entitled “Why My First Church Hire Was A Woman, And Yours Should Be Too”. At first glance, this blog seems to be incredibly pro-women, challenging male-led churches to value the contribution women make to the life of the church. Not only that, he is insisting women should be paid for doing this, shifting away from the idea that women’s labour should be offered free.
Mez’s audience seems to be those who wouldn’t consider employing women in any role within the church and so it is a positive step that he is challenging such men (and women) to consider the role women can have in Christian communities. Some of what he says is very helpful, including that:
- Untrained “pastor’s wives” shouldn’t be offering pastoral support.
- Women need other women to walk the journey with them.
- 20 Schemes trust women and train them well
- Mez explains he finds it “offensive to suggest that by giving women responsibility at [a pastoral] level we are opening the church up to serious error. Far more men have led churches astray than women.”
- Mez states, “Women are encouraged that they have a serious part to play in the kingdom of God and that they are not just bystanders or there to cook the meals.”
I have become absolutely convicted that individual, organisational and church views on gender and sex are a primary Gospel issue. Too many women (and men) are alienated from the Gospel because of Christians who insist that men’s and women’s roles are fixed with men being responsible for women (within marriage, church life or wider society). Jesus says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” I understand this to include those who alienate believers by their views of men, women and sex. Many of the radical feminists I know started off life in faith communities and the rejected Jesus because of the horrific oppression the were subjected to or witnessed in the church. Complementarian Christians are quick to insist that their theology is Biblical and that egalitarian theology is not. I will meet them on their terms, complementarian theology is not Biblical. It is oppressive.
The question Mez’s blog raises for me is, “When a church exemplifies oppressive views towards women, should this disqualify them from having women attend their churches?” And I would suggest there are at least 10 reasons Mez’s blog evidences taking up such a policy.
- Women are prevented from being obedient to God
If women are called to worship lead, to be an executive pastor or to youth work, they cannot be obedient to God in following that call because Mez explains that: “[Churches] will talk about hiring a youth worker, or an executive pastor or a worship leader before they would even consider a woman”. The only role women seem to be able to do is to be women.
- Vulnerable women are at extremely at risk in patriarchal structures
Mez explains that single mothers and those with other vulnerabilities are a large proportion of scheme communities. Much evidence can be provided that patriarchal structures disempower and further oppress women and prevent them being released into the fullness of life Jesus offers them. Sadly, most efforts to address the oppression of working class people maintain the oppression of women. Seeking to support vulnerable women without having a good understanding of male violence is likely to perpetuate rather than liberate women who have been deeply hurt by male power.
- The male leaders don’t have time for the messiness of women’s lives
Mez tells us it is “not wise or prudent for a man to invest serious amounts of time into” women who have been subjected to abuse, violence or sexual violation by a partner because their “emotional needs are often so great”. This statement is staggering in how pastorally insensitive and revealing it is of how little women’s pain should be invested in by men.
- A third of the male leaders are a sexual risk to vulnerable women
Mez explains that a third of the leaders who preceded him were removed due to sexual immorality that happened when they were intensely counselling women (who he acknowledges had likely been sexually abused prior to the intense counselling).
- Extremely vulnerable women will be blamed if male leaders sexually abuse their authority
Mez blames women (with possible histories of having been sexually abused) for male leaders sexually abusing their authority. According to Mez “Any form of tenderness or a willingness to listen from a male is almost always misunderstood sexually [by vulnerable women]… A man who listens to them is a very powerful aphrodisiac. Temptation can be for some [vulnerable women] very hard to resist. They aren’t used to men listening to their problems. They are used to men being the problem.”
- The male leaders are powerless to stop themselves having sex with vulnerable women
In the above quote Mez is saying that the church leaders who sexually abuse their authority are not the problem; these leaders are the victims of women who find men listening to them so much of an aphrodisiac that they essentially place the male leader’s penis inside them and with the male leader helpless to stop it. The male leader just passively allows for sexual activity to take place, unable to act.
- Men cannot and should not have deep long lasting friendships with women they aren’t married to
Mez explains this in his fifth point about women’s role as pastors pastoral assistants. Jesus explained that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and as such should be seeking to build communities that are built on deep and long lasting friendships. It is by our love for one another (not solely love of those who have the same sex as us) that people will know Jesus. What state can a church be in if women and men can’t be good friends? If the only deep interactions men and women have to be sexual? Maybe that’s one of the reasons male leaders keep having sex with women who aren’t their wives? Just a thought…
- It is unbiblical
Mez states that “The church is to be led by men after all.” I shall put aside the fact his church is led by men who can’t stop themselves penetrating women unless they’re not allowed to be alone with them for too long.
The church is to be led by Jesus Christ, in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Women and men are to serve God and those He calls us to love, giving up our lives in service to Him. Jesus tells us that “the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life — a ransom for many.”
- The church is playing Pharisaical mental-gymnastics with women’s callings
Mez explains, “When we say that our women’s worker pastors our women we don’t mean that she is a pastor, rather, she assists the pastors by providing day-to-day pastoral care to our women”. The Pharisees played the same sort of mental gymnastics as this to keep their hierarchies in place, “Okay, so we don’t swear by the temple, we just swear by the gold of the temple.” “I know we don’t support our ageing parents, but that’s because we’re giving all our money to God.” “We’re being obedient by even tithing all our herbs, look at how awesome we are.”
- Women are used out of necessity
Mez explains that without women pastors pastoral assistants, “Even with a small church and multiple elders we would struggle under the weight of pastoral issues in our congregation”. Primarily women are asked to take a role in the church because a) men can’t help putting their penises in women and b) there’s too much work for only the men to be able to do it. This isn’t about women’s gifts or call. This is an argument of efficiency, practicality and utility. It is not about the unique ministry of women, the value of women or God-breathed life in women. It is not about the image of God that is found in women. According to the blog Mez has written, this is about men being sexually deviant in nature and therefore women having to lead, pastor and disciple work with women.
Mez finishes by saying something I am in total agreement with,
“The local church needs women’s workers. Most of the women living in our poorest communities are suffering without the hope of the gospel. They have not heard the good news that can set them truly free from their burdens. Women on schemes need more than women parachuting in to be another worker in their life, perpetuating dependency. They need women who will do life with them every single day of their lives. The harvest is great, the workers are few and women are being left on the shelf. They shouldn’t be. Employing more women for ministry should be our highest priority.”
It is heartbreaking to me that the rest of his blog undermines this hugely important message.
To find out more about the 20 Schemes perspective on women, have a read of THIS application process for church planters and their wives (only married men can be church planters). It has been suggested the process may be in breach of various equality and data protection laws.
 Even the great Paulo Freire described a poor man beating his wife as the abusive man’s response to oppression and not as a form of oppression in its own right. Women are always left behind in liberatory movements.