It is critical for the commissioners to the 2021 General Assembly to understand the implication of the choice of words used in Mission to the World’s response which open the possibility for women to be in positions of line authority over teaching and ruling elders, by bifurcating the leadership role into “ecclesiastical” and “non-ecclesiastical.”
An example of this playing out could be an MTW female “church planting” team leader or an MTW regional director who would try (because she is a non-ordained female) to refer matters relating to church planting/church development/church oversight to ordained men, so that she would not be in a position of line authority over them. Logically, line authority would then fall elsewhere outside of that team and team leader. Confusing? Yes. The CMTW proposition would also move MTW away from being “an arm of the church” towards being ‘an organization’ where any ‘qualified person – whether ordained, non-ordained, male, or female’ could hold positions of leadership of line authority within MTW. When this movement first started with MTW, a number of MTW missionaries became part of a movement of “concerned missionaries” within MTW seeking to respond to what they believe are troubling trends. The entire position paper can be accessed here.
Introduction (of Position Paper)
The purpose of this Position Paper is to speak into the debate currently taking place within Mission to the World (MTW) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) regarding women and ordained elders in leadership  roles within MTW. This issue came to a head in early 2019 when our MTW Senior Leadership gave our MTW fields new written guidelines (see Appendix III: Statement on Valuing Women in MTW). These guidelines allowed and even encouraged MTW women to serve in line authority leadership positions over church planting and church development (CP/D)  ministry, with the stipulation that ecclesial issues under them be deferred to an elder (see Appendix III).
We believe that the motives of our Senior Leadership were positive. In response to some problems and feedback from women and men within MTW, they were seeking a way for us to better value all people in our organization, especially women, and also implement the PCA 2017 General Assembly’s Ad Interim Committee recommendations to expand the leadership roles of women. We missionaries also are deeply committed to valuing our MTW women. The group of Concerned Missionaries are men and women who are passionate that the unique gifts and abilities of women be used for Kingdom advancement around the world. In our Concerned Missionaries’ first letter, we wrote the following:
We wholly agree with affirming and utilizing the indispensable gifts of sisters in the church and do not endorse any non- or extra-biblical restrictions which would hinder them in their ministries across the globe. In fact, women in MTW minister to the poor, the marginalized, refugees, the sex-trafficked, students, they are engaged in medical work, counseling, teaching, administration, the arts, discipleship, hospitality, evangelism, business as mission, member care, women’s ministries, to say nothing of the sacrificial love of those called to be wives and mothers. Further, we believe there are valid forms of leadership in which women can and do serve in MTW which neither violate biblical standards nor our Presbyterian polity for which they should be recognized.
However, many of us within MTW strongly believed that the new written guidelines (January 2019) from the MTW Senior Leadership normalizing women and non-ordained men in leadership positions over church planting and church development were flawed. We came together from around the world and began having cordial but rigorous debate with our MTW Senior Leadership about the new guidelines.
Our group of about 20 Concerned MTW missionaries, men and women, ended up doing something that pained us greatly. We sent a letter (some of it quoted above) expressing our concerns to the Elders on the MTW Committee of Commissioners of the PCA’s 47th (2019) General Assembly. We said that we believed strongly that the new guidelines erred because they confused “giving value to women with giving them/us positions that entail functional ecclesiastical authority.” Our full letter is in Appendix IV, but we quote more of it here as this part serves as a good introduction to this Position Paper.
The new [January 2019] implementation guidelines minimize the ecclesiastical nature of most of our MTW ministries around the world. However, we affirm that MTW is an ecclesiastical organization and its leaders are called upon to perform ecclesiastical tasks. MTW is not merely a para-church organization. Rather, it is the denominational arm of the PCA abroad, commissioned by the General Assembly to plant and revitalize churches, and under the same confessional standards and church polity as its sending body.
Our group of Concerned MTW Missionaries strongly holds this basic position:
“MTW leaders in line authority over church planting and church development should be elders.”
We are grateful that much prayer, study, and discussion concerning these things took place during 2019 within MTW and the PCA. This led MTW Senior Leadership to release new proposed guidelines in December 2019. These new guidelines are similar to our basic proposal above. We are grateful to God for protecting our unity and moving those of us within MTW to closer positions on these issues.
In light of that recent development, some might question why we are still releasing this Position Paper. Here are several of the reasons: First, we believe that this Position Paper shows the stance in bold type above to be biblically and theologically sound. It is also practical on the mission field, wise for MTW, and in alignment with our PCA polity and history. Even with the MTW Senior Leadership’s newest guidelines, this important discussion is continuing within MTW, the Committee on Mission to the World (CMTW) and the PCA. We believe that this paper will be helpful in these discussions. Second, we view this Position Paper as helpful for CMTW. They will address the related Heritage Presbytery Overture and the newest Senior Leadership guidelines. A third reason for us to distribute this paper is that MTW Senior Leadership could change their position back to their previous stance in the future or, the next MTW Coordinator might push MTW toward a stance more in line with the previous January 2019 guidelines. Our paper lays a good foundation for discussion and proposals about whether or not there is a need for a General Assembly overture concerning these issues, and if there is, we offer our Position Paper to this purpose.
All of us who signed our names to the letters in Appendix IV and Appendix VI do not necessarily agree with every detail nor own every personal example that is written in this Position Paper. However, all of the members of the Concerned MTW Missionaries group agree with the basic position stated above in bold, and with the general thrust of this paper.
One disclaimer. We are not primarily writers or editors. We are all busy MTW missionary men and women engaged in MTW’s Vision and Mission around the world. Our paper is not perfect. But, we do believe that the content is good and helpful for MTW and for the PCA at this juncture.
So, we submit this paper praying that God will use it for His glory, for the Advancement of Jesus Christ’s Kingdom, for the Peace and Purity of the PCA, for MTW, and for our international partners worldwide who walk in ministry with us and are watching us.
1 “Senior Leadership” as used in this Paper refers to the Executive Leadership Team (Coordinator, Senior Director US Operations, Senior Director of Field Operations, CAO) and Field Leadership Team (Member Care Director, Resource Team Director, International Directors).
2 A more detailed chronology of these events within MTW can be found in Appendix I: Background to Position Paper
3 Appendix IV: Letter to the MTW Committee of Commissioners of the 47th General Assembly (2019) from the “Concerned Missionaries”
4 Appendix IV
5 Appendix IV