Sarah’s Grandma had a knack of predicting accurately the winner of the X Factor and of Britain’s Got Talent each year. It made me think that a fantastic spin off show would involve getting 4 grandmas to sit as the judging panel for the next talent contest -hence the show title “panel of nans.”
I can’t help thinking as well that such a panel would have a helpful role to play in church government also. Actually, most sensible pastors that plan to survive for the long run kind of do work with such a panel. It won’t be a formal group that meets but rather he will have a number of older, wiser woman, probably into their 80s who whilst visiting pastorally he will be listening to carefully as well. They will be prayerful people. They will love the church, the pastor and the elders. They’ll have the elders’ back when it comes to difficult church meetings. However, they will be unafraid to tell it straight when needed. They will be warm people who younger people in the church are naturally drawn to.
Similarly, these women are likely to be the ones who during COVID-19 were busy making phone calls during lockdown to check that others were okay. When the lockdown began to lift, they were the first ones arranging to meet younger women in the park for a walk and a chat. They were responsible and stuck with the advice about shielding and when to meet. However, they were not paralysed with fear by the virus expressing a quiet confidence in the Lord.
It seems that the Apostle Paul expected each church to have their “panel of nans.” In 1 Timothy 5, the talks about the register of widows. This was first and foremost about social provision, ensuring that those without families had people to care for them. However, it was about more than just a handout. Notice that the widows were to be “honoured” (5:3), there is a recognition here of their godliness and service. Notice too that there is criteria, in fact just as there is criteria for being an elder, a deacon or a female deacon. These widows are to be characterised by self-control, prayerfulness, a commitment to good works and hospitality.
Now, I’m not suggesting you set up the panel of nans. The last thing you need in church leadership is another committee. However, I want to encourage us to think again about the shape of church life. Are all gifts included and honoured? Are all wise voices heard?
You may have seen before that, writing as a complementarian, I believe that both complementarians and egalitarians fall short on this. Now, it is obvious where we complementarians go wrong isn’t it. We focus, rightly, on the scriptural expectation that elders will be male that we focus solely on the gifting, calling and responsibility of elders. The risk is that we miss those other gifts and voices, especially when it comes to women in our congregations.
However, egalitarians too fall short and it’s for exactly the same reasons. They are so focused on the equity issue as they campaign for female elders and vicars that they miss that this is not the only context in which gifts are used and wise pastoral discernment exercised. This leads to a narrow focus and competition for jobs and status instead of releasing all the gifts and pooling all the discernment available to us.
So, don’t start making changes to your formal structure but do ask again whether the whole body is functioning as it should in a healthy manner.