What I love about Circle of Hope: Rachel Sensenig

I have many reasons that I love Circle of Hope and what we are doing, not least of which is our newest pastor, Rachel Sensenig. She is leading our congregation on South Broad right now, succeeding Rod White, our founding pastor. In my opinion, she’s doing a great job. It’s not so easy to take over the old position the founder had, but she was brave enough to do it.

Rod’s still around but he is no longer leading South Broad (he’s still very much involved in the Development of our staff, pastors, and leaders, for what it is worth). But Rachel! She’s doing great, after two months of going at it. I have the pleasure of meeting with her weekly and talking to her daily and it is encouraging.

She’s great for many reasons—but I just want to note that in this day-in-age, it can be hard to be a woman leader in a man-dominated world. The church for centuries has oppressed woman in particular. Paul is often misquoted and his words are used to subjugate woman.

During the 500s the church in Europe went into a new phase of reinterpreting the Bible and women got a raw deal. This can especially be seen in the two most famous Marys in the New Testament (which was a very popular name in the Lord’s time, a number of the women mentioned in the gospels have the same name!). Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary from Magdala, sometimes just called Magdalene end up on the opposite ends of the stereotypes of women. Mary as an untouchable, perpetually virgin saint and Mary Magdalene as the perpetually repentant sinner. Instead of the saved people Jesus and Paul so obviously saw women to be, they end up stereotyped and back in oppression. I find that painful.

Despite those stereotypes, Rachel is leading and leading well. I hang out with a lot of pastors, online and otherwise, and women, in my view, are severely underrepresented. Many woman pastors I know are part of a main line denominational system and get installed into dying churches. Rachel isn’t keeping a dying church on life support, she is planting one. And I just want to note that women in church planting aren’t very common at all! She’s doing that. And you’re doing that too. You made it happen! Your supporting her, your loving her, and your part of the church that’s doing this awesome thing.

We say comparisons are odious in Circle of Hope—but I just want to note, as you already know, many church plants in this very town, wouldn’t even dare to hire a woman to be a pastor. For me? It’s one of the best things about us.

For me, this discussion isn’t about individual rights, personal liberties, and so on. It isn’t just because Rachel is radical, and daring, and courageous—though she is those things. There is a lot of political and sociological and individualizing reasoning for so-called “gender equality.” I generally don’t want to operate as if the state is the one that assigns me my rights, nor do I think that it is just me who assigns myself rights. I don’t want to invent my own notion of humanity nor do I want to feel OK just because the powers and authorities tell me to. I want to submit to a greater “law,” if you will, one found in Christ. Jesus is the one who assigns me my rights.

So for me, it isn’t about individual pluralism and liberty and the American notion of equality.

It’s about the mutual responsibility. Everyone is participating in leading the church and being the Body of Christ. We need partners for our mission and it seems completely imprudent, not just ridiculous, to divide the population based on gender and decide who can do one thing or another. Jesus wants everyone to participate in the family business.

In Circle of Hope, we have a proverb all about this: We expect people to express their gifts, talents, art and worship. And underneath that heading is this conviction. Women and men are co-bearers of the image of God and therefore fully gifted and responsible to lead, teach and serve. You can see our five pastors there, bearing the image of God together.

I love this tone, there’s expectation; God had gifted you and I want you to express it among us. Not just because it benefits us, but I believe it benefits you. It’s about being fully who you are in Christ. This isn’t just about entitlements, it’s about responsibility.

The proverb above uses this old Bible term “image of God.” It’s a unique word that comes from the Old Testament, specifically Genesis 1:27. This very idea helps us to answer the psalmist’s question in the eighth Psalm:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

The writers of the Bible note that humans were created in the image of God, which is a distinction from other peoples, who themselves have been the creators of their gods (therefore those gods were created in their human creators’ images). They literally made them out of wood and stone, is what the writer of Deuteronomy says.

In being created like God, the human being in the Bible and in our faith stands in contrast to other Near Eastern faiths that existed when the Old Testament was being written. This is important to note, in my opinion, that our faith was a unique expression and a radical departure from the ways of the world even thousands of years ago, and it still is to.

When Adam is created in the Bible, his solitude, or loneliness, is remedied by the creation of his companion. When Eve is created, men and women are equally exalted, the subsequent sexism that colors the interpretation in my view out of place, an anachronism. Sometimes people say that because Eve was created “second,” she is less valuable. I disagree, the order in which things are created is not value-based. In naming her, Adam is not claiming authority over her either. This is crucial in today’s world where the Bible is so often used in sexist ways, or simply because people do not come to faith because they perceive sexism in the text. We are doing something different, something ancient, it’s not a departure from the Bible, I think it’s a rather “conservative” interpretation.

What the Old Testament describes as “keeping” creation, Circle of Hope is also keeping not just the physical creation, but God’s created purpose for us. We are keeping the movement going that Jesus and Paul started. Because we bear his image together, we are responsible for doing something about it. We have gifts that we can employ in leadership. Everyone is included in the family business.

The result of that equality is not the end. We are clothed with Christ for a purpose, for a mission, we are doing something bigger together and we all play a part. The question of whether Jesus needs us or not is an interesting kind of postmodern question. For a long time, people might have said that you need Jesus, but I think Jesus needs the church to do his work on earth. We have a responsibility, and I believe, we will have to answer for it.

You are fully gifted, and the other end of that is responsibility. You are responsible to lead, teach, and serve.

I hope you feel encouraged because you are part of a body or can be part of a body that takes you that seriously. Lately, we’ve been talking about how we need everyone to do their part, to chip in what they can; Circle of Hope isn’t run on just the big contributions of a few, it takes a whole village to make this work. You might need to be as brave and as courageous as Rachel, you may to submit to the Body and obey.

But I hope more than just being encouraged, you know that you have a role to play, on that isn’t insignificant or replaceable, in our body. It could be anything: leading a cell, serving on a team, hosting these meetings, caring for kids, or even just bringing someone on your elbow to the next meeting you’re part of. You have something to do and bring, and you are gifted and responsible for it. Thanks for doing this with us.

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