Gender, Women, and Ministry

This is Part 6 in a six-part series on [cf]’s emphases and distinctives. See Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

We recognize that historically, Christian ministries have debated the issue of women in Christian leadership, and that this is an issue important to both men and women. We therefore wanted to present our case in brief below, so that people know what we believe and what questions to ask us.

Theology: We support women and men in ministry and leadership at all levels, as do InterVarsity and the InterVarsity Chaplains. We believe that women and men differ, but that the Bible does not supply gender roles.

Biblical basis: From creation, the God who speaks invested women with His image and called them to bear it (Gen.1:26 – 28). Israel recognized God’s call on women to be formal leaders in the community, notably to speak and proclaim His word (Ex.15:20; Judg.4:4; 2 Ki.24:14; Isa.8:3; Pr.1:8). Israel looked ahead to the messianic day when God would invest women with the Spirit of God as much as men to speak forth the word of God as God intended from creation (Joel 2:28 – 29). Jesus inaugurated that new creation, honoring women as witnesses of his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, even at times commissioning the women to bear a word of life to the male disciples (Luke 24:1 – 12, John 20:11 – 18), with women as his very first witnesses to his incarnation and resurrection, even when the legal testimony of women was not considered independently valid in courts. True to Israel’s prophetic hope, he poured out his Spirit on women (thus, Simon Peter quoted Joel 2:28 – 29 in Acts 2:17 – 18), making them apostles (Rom.16:7), deacons (Rom.16:1 – 2), and leaders in the church; and the early church carried on this tradition.

The name Jesus gave us for the Triune God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mt.28:19)–and we know that Jesus perfectly reveals God to us, so we do not change or avoid using these terms. We also recognize that God is not gendered in the same way that humans are gendered: He is neither exclusively male nor exclusively female. Consistent with investing women with His image, God employs feminine imagery to describe Himself. God’s wisdom is spoken of as a desirable woman (Pr.8), and is manifested as an actual, godly wife (Pr.31), thus demonstrating that God is happy to portray himself as female in relation to us (he is the desirable wife, we the amorous husband, through the wisdom motif), even though the opposite literary imagery occurs more frequently (he is the husband, we the wife; he is the father, we the children). God is spoken of as having pains in childbirth (Isa.42:14), having a womb (Job 38:29), being a nursing mother (Isa.49:15), and serving as a midwife (Ps.22:9 – 10, Ps.71:6, Isa.66:9). Jesus spoke of his own ministry with the parable of a woman seeking her lost coin (Lk.15:8 – 10). God also used for himself imagery of female animals nurturing their young: a mother eagle (Dt.32:11), bear (Hos.13:8), and hen (Lk.13:34).

Men’s roles and masculine characteristics of God can and should be addressed in this way, but we do not think that this is one of our distinctives at this time.

Practice: Women and men have much to teach each other, on topics related to gender and beyond. Though most of HRCF ministries are co-ed, we engage in and affirm places for gender-specific ministry – with equal opportunities and support for men and for women, as we are able. We affirm women in all levels of leadership in HRCF.

Women's ministry logo parody from InterVarsity's 2100 productions

Women’s ministry logo parody from InterVarsity’s 2100 productions

Men's ministry logo parody from InterVarsity's 2100 productions

Men’s ministry logo parody from InterVarsity’s 2100 productions

Sometimes we Christians are a bit funny about gender and ministry. So laugh with us and these parodies of women’s and men’s ministry logos. If you like the graphics, check out 2100 Productions or their Facebook page.  


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Student Leadership

Jacob’s probably leading a game of mafia in this picture…but it sure looks important.

This is Part 5 in a six-part series on [cf]’s emphases and distinctives. See Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.

Theology: We believe that student leadership on campus is important because Jesus develops people by giving them actual responsibilities to serve, lead, and teach others. The student years are an excellent time to participate in advancing God’s kingdom now and develop those leadership skills for the future. Leadership provides students with the much-needed training to continue in Jesus’ mission to the world long after graduation. Many HRCF alumni (and more broadly, alumni of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) have already publicly expressed gratitude for the experiences and training they received while students.

Biblical basis: Jesus said, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…’ (Mt.28:19 – 20) When Jesus said this, he was telling his disciples to teach others what he taught them, as they called others to also become disciples of Jesus. We believe that this responsibility falls not simply on pastors or professional campus ministers, but on all Jesus’ disciples, including students (cf. 2 Cor.3:1 – 3; 1 Th.1:6 – 8; 1 Tim.4:12).

Practice: Learning to shepherd others is a great journey. We train student leaders to lead in all aspects of the life of the fellowship.

Student leaders, especially bible study leaders, are trained to appreciate the cultural, historical, literary, and theological background to the passages we cover and the principles we follow. In a small group Bible study, student leaders come prepared to guide other students if they get stuck in the passage.  The focus is on accurately grasping the biblical text and the overall biblical story, and then responding with actions appropriate to the passage.

We also train students to be evangelists: to know and to articulate the reasons for their belief, tell the story of their faith journey, and witness relationally and intellectually. We train students to acknowledge and articulate how faith informs their lives.

Students lead worship, and we work to train student worship team leaders who will remind others of the spiritual importance of worship, the cultural aspects of music and the attentiveness necessary to work with a variety of song and worship-leading styles.

We train exec team members to care for the whole fellowship and to develop student leaders within the fellowship. Exec members also are trained to develop and articulate the vision of CF, to be strategic, choose content, and develop relationships within and outside of the fellowship. Student leaders grow in skills and character qualities. They work to understand and articulate their faith. They become better listeners than they were before. They grow in empathy, compassion, and patience. In short, they become better leaders, thinkers, speakers, friends, and better disciples of Jesus. Just as when the twelve disciples helped Jesus feed the five thousand (Mt.14:17 – 21), their baskets are fuller than when they started.

Multiethnic Ministry

This is Part 4 in a six-part series on [cf]’s emphases and distinctives. See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Worship team @ winter retreat 2011

Worship team @ winter retreat 2011

We are concerned that students sometimes experience ministry in which they learn nothing about ethnic-specific churches and their role in sustaining ethnic minority communities, or how to relate to them once they graduate, even when these church traditions are their own. We are also concerned when Christian students subconsciously believe that there is only one ‘Christian culture’—their own, mainly—and that Christians of other ethnicities, cultures, and generations should conform to it. We are concerned that some ministries help people adapt to the culture of the ministry, rather than train people to be influential Christian leaders in their own communities. And we are concerned about Christian graduates who believe that the main way to influence culture is to attain positions of power. In combination with our teaching on Christian restorative justice, our view of culture leads us to be culture makers and not culture warriors.

Theology: ethnicity (Greek ethnos) is a biblical category, part of each person’s particularity, and is unequivocally affirmed by God as part of creation. In this, we differ from academic sociologists, who tend to say that both ethnicity and race are social constructs. We recognize that, sometimes, defining ethnicity might feel like defining the Pacific Ocean—we know where it is, even though its boundaries are difficult to pin down. Hence, ethnicity is a centered set concept rather than a bounded set concept.

However, race is a socio-political construct that attempts to group people based on physical appearances; it is not a biblical category and must be dismantled.

Culture is a mixed product of both creation and fall; hence, God is redeeming human cultures, not just individuals, and we expect to see God create a variety of Christian cultures. Some aspects of culture that we have found to be significant are the history of ethnic interaction with Christian faith and church; which religions and worldviews students deal with at home; experience of injustice or privilege; experience of immigration/displacement or not; perceptions of power, leadership, and responsibility; individualism vs. familial culture; the role of parents, family, gender, and age; views on dating and marriage; protocols of speech (quick or slow, loud or soft, direct or indirect, interrupt or not, how to have conflict); what is humorous and fun; perceptions of time and lateness.

Biblical basis: We believe that God wants each person to hear about Jesus in their heart language (Acts 2), and that he honors human language and aspects of culture (Rev.5:9) as he transforms and redeems human beings. Jewish and Gentile Christians maintained cultural distinctives as a part of their witness to the unity Jesus brought about and as a part of their outreach to other Jews and Gentiles (Rom.14 – 15; 1 Cor.8 – 10; Gal.2; Col.2 – 3). Jesus ministered to and taught his disciples to do ministry both to Jews and Gentiles (Mt.8:28 – 34; 14:13 – 18:35; 28:16 – 20). God’s command to spread out over the whole earth (Gen.1) suggests that he wanted and intended human diversity of ethnicity, culture, and language from the beginning. In this light, God’s intervention at Babel (Gen.11:1 – 9) is not a merely curse, but instead is God’s intervention in order to carry out his intentions despite human disobedience.

Practice: Just as each individual has a limited cultural range, each fellowship has a limited cultural range. Because of our understanding of God’s heart, because of our mission to reach the whole campus, and because of our awareness that someone in any given group will always feel more culturally marginalized than others, we have adopted a multiple fellowship strategy. HRCF planted AACF in 1994 not only for the theological reasons above, but because practically, we were predominantly Asian and were becoming less effective at reaching non-Asian American students. HRCF also planted BCF in 2008 to better reach the Black student community.

We feel that a multiple-fellowship strategy best engages people from diverse cultural backgrounds and best allows for Christ’s redeeming action in our cultures to be made known. Thus, AACF and BCF dedicate their time to exploring more deeply the issues that arise within the pan-Asian and pan-African communities, to displaying qualities of leadership from within those cultures, and to helping non-Asian and non-Black students become better able to engage with Asian and Black cultures, respectively.

The fellowship names—Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship, Asian American Christian Fellowship and Black Christian Fellowship—indicate the mission, not the constituency of the fellowships: anyone is welcome in every fellowship. Students have been in more than one fellowship or switched fellowships because of friendships or a changing sense of mission, and we encourage these ways of engaging with our sister fellowships. And HRCF draws on what we learn from AACF and BCF to extend our reach.

We see that the campus in some sense wants a Pentecost of inter-ethnic understanding and reconciliation without the Spirit of Jesus, but instead struggles to understand why tensions still exist. We believe that our multi-fellowship strategy is a better witness to the campus than a single-fellowship strategy. In fact, we believe that our cultural-organizational diversity is better witness to the world than the western university’s enthusiastic embrace of the ideal of diversity.

HRCF is a multiethnic fellowship—and this is not a politically correct term for the leftovers and the White Americans. Our ethnic composition fluctuates every year, so we cannot generalize about who we are in this regard; however, regardless of our current ethnic composition, ethnicity and culture is just as important to us as it is to AACF and BCF. By calling ourselves multiethnic we indicate that we talk about what Jesus has to say about culture and ethnicity, and we each seek to understand and appreciate our own and others’ heritages as a part of our mission.

According to our resources and abilities, we participate in a wide variety of worship styles, and we worship in different languages. We seek to appropriately address different needs and opportunities as they arise in different groups and to honor and develop different types of leadership. We also seek to articulate our own cultural backgrounds in order to help people understand more about us and about God’s heart.

At HRCF, AACF, and BCF, we envision Christian students eager to humbly learn more about how the gospel heals each cultural group. We envision Christians participating in both multi-cultural and culturally-specific forms of ministry, and learning to bridge them. We envision Christians who seek to transform culture wherever they are, whether on their kids’ playgrounds or in the boardroom. We envision churches that produce Christians of integrity who impact at least their own communities of origin. We envision Christians who want God’s glory to be manifested, not merely within the limits of modern politics in a nation-state, but in many languages and many cultures.

Social Justice

This is Part 3 in a six-part series on hrcf’s emphases and distinctives. See Part 1 and Part 2.

Theology: Jesus is restoring us to God’s creation order, so we emphasize Christian restorative justice. We hope to honor the dignity God has given each person, since He made us all in His image. We also honor the creation order as the normative state of relations between persons.

Jesus’ vision for relationships is not necessarily reconcilable with socio-political interests, cultural trends, or short term self-interest, but we are called to pursue his standards above these other considerations. His vision testifies to the coherence of Scripture.

Biblical basis: Genesis 1 – 11 narrates how God’s concern for each human person is higher than any given social order.

Shane Claiborne speaking at a Veritas Forum that HRCF co-sponsored at Harvard in 2009

Shane Claiborne speaking at a Veritas Forum that HRCF co-sponsored at Harvard in 2009

And God in Christ Jesus, in his life, teaching, example, and atonement affirms the extraordinary worth and value of each person to himself (1 Jn.2:2; 2 Pet.2:1; 1 Tim.4:10; Ti.2:11; 1 Tim.2:3 – 4; 2 Pet.3:9; Ezk.18:23, 32 – 33). Regarding relationships, Jesus restores people to God’s creation order in marital relations and sexuality (Mt.19:3 – 12), in economic relations (Mt.19:13 – 30), and in relations of power (Mt.20).

Practice: We appreciatively critique other forms of social justice – meritocratic, distributive, libertarian – as being helpful but incomplete forms of justice. In particular, we critique the penal substitution atonement theology for elevating meritocratic or retributive justice to the highest justice within God.

We are also concerned about the conflation of nationalism and Christian faith that exists in the political right in the United States, and the pressure of individualistic, secular liberalism upon Christian faith from the political left.

We seek to tell a broader story. Hence, we consider the global church and the global context, not just the American church and American context. We value the witness of the global church wherever we see Christians attempting to live according to Christ-centered ethics. For example, we frequently mention the early church’s categorical stance against war and their radical ethic of giving, the medieval Catholic critique of slavery, usury, and the ‘free market’, the Anabaptist critique of the union of church and state, the contemporary Catholic social teaching about Christian ethics, the witness of the European church in human rights and the Black American church in civil rights, and the insights of evangelically-oriented liberation theologians.

We contribute a biblically Christian critique of the structural and institutional inequalities within various fields (e.g. health care, education, business, finance, law and policy, international relations, the modern prison system) as we perceive biases against the poor, weak, foreigner, enemy, and stranger.

Evangelism–and some atonement theory

One of our public interactive displays

One of our public interactive displays from last year when the Science Center Plaza was under construction.

This is part 2 in a six-part  series on HRCF’s emphases and distinctives. Part 1 is here.

Our understanding of Jesus’ work is ontological in its foundations, not merely juridical. We stress that Jesus came to cleanse evil out from human nature in his own person, and share with us his new, God-soaked humanity by his Spirit, so that we might also be cleansed.

We use public interactive displays on many different topics that invite people to reflect on whether human nature needs healing, whether God is good enough to do that, whether there is any other solution to the problem of evil, and whether anyone compares with Jesus in healing and transforming human nature.  This has led  to many long, thoughtful, and wonderful conversations over the past few years.

The atonement theology we emphasize is called ‘Physical Redemption’ or ‘Recapitulation’ (in the earliest, classical patristic writings and the Eastern Orthodox tradition (in C.S. Lewis and in the Reformed stream of Karl Barth and T.F. Torrance Catholics like J.R.R. Tolkien, Hans Urs von Balthazar, Thomas Weinandy, and Elenore Stump).

In HRCF, you will frequently hear said:

•      Jesus shared our diseased human nature so we could share his healed human nature.

•      God is solving the root problem of evil in the world at the deepest level—in each one of us—by calling everyone to Jesus.

•      God wants to undo and remedy all human evil (not just some) at its source in each person.

•      God’s wrath is aimed at the corruption in our nature—at human sin—not at not our personhood.

•      God will not be ‘satisfied’ until all the corruption in us has been burned away.

•     Hell is where the transforming love of God has become torment for those who refuse to be transformed.

•     God unequivocally loves every single person, not just some.

•     God loves you, and will always love you.

•     Hence, we invite everyone to receive Jesus’ new humanity, by his Spirit.

Biblical basis: In the person of Jesus, the Eternal Son of God took human nature to himself to cleanse it of the corruption of sin (‘flesh’, Jn.1:14) that dwells in each one of us (Rom.7:14 – 25). Within his own person, and throughout his life, Jesus realigned that human nature with the love of the Father, by the Spirit (Lk.2:52; Mt.3:13 – 4:11; Lk.4:1 – 13; Rom.3:21 – 26). Simultaneously, he poured out the wrath of God upon that corruption, ultimately defeating it on the cross (Rom.6:6; 8:3). In his resurrection, Jesus was raised to be a fresh, cleansed, healed, God-drenched, God-soaked human being (Jn.20; Rom.5:12 – 21; 1 Cor.15:45; Eph.1:15 – 2:10; Col.1:15 – 20). By his ascension and Pentecost, he shares the Spirit of his new humanity with anyone who believes in him (Jn.20:22; Rom.8:5 – 11). He actively and unreservedly wants every person to be saved from sin (1 Jn.2:2; 2 Pet.2:1; 1 Tim.2:3 – 4, 4:10; Ti.2:11; 2 Pet.3:9; Ezk.18:23, 32 – 33), for their healing and transformation which he will complete when he returns to renew the physical world. Hence, we say that the work of Christ is the person of Christ.

On Distinctives, Emphases, and Christian Unity

Over the last few years, HRCF has been discussing our “Emphases and Distinctives.” Now we’ve written them down to clarify and publicize a sense of what our theological tendencies are and what is important to us. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting about each of these distinctives.

HRCF’s Emphases and Distinctives: Evangelism, Social Justice, Multiethnic Ministry, Student Leadership, and Gender and Ministry

We call these our emphases not because not everyone in HRCF holds these views, or must; but because they are what tends to be taught. We call them our distinctives because our emphasis and perspective on these issues is a major part of our answer to the question, ‘How does HRCF differ from other Christian fellowships at Harvard?’

We believe that HRCF is doing and saying things that Jesus has entrusted to his church that no other fellowship at Harvard College is doing.

HRCF’s first existence at Harvard College can be found in 1936. When HRCF was founded, there were no other Evangelical Christian fellowships at Harvard. Since then, we have welcomed the ministries of other fellowships and organizations. We have even planted the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian-American Christian Fellowship in 1994 and the Harvard College Black Christian Fellowship in 2008.


In HRCF, we believe that we are already united with other Christians—in fellowships at Harvard and churches around the world—as the body of Christ by the Spirit of Christ. We do not believe that this spiritual reality is best reflected by a single organizational structure.

While you might expect an organization with a predominantly Protestant heritage to say this, please do us the honor of reading on.

Biblical basis: Unity is a spiritual reality in Christ (Eph. 2:11 – 22). We are already one body, called to live in peace with one another (Eph. 4:1 – 6). Jesus prayed for unity among believers for the sake of mission, defining unity by the standard of the relationship between the Father and himself (Jn. 17:20 – 26). Thus, in the New Testament, unity is not located in terms of who you call your human leader (1 Cor. 1), your physical proximity to other believers, or even a common gathering point, but by commitment to the apostles’ teaching, healthy relationships, reconciliation, and even financial sharing across the world (Acts 2:42 – 47; Phil. 4; 2 Cor.8 – 9). Jesus said that whoever is not against us is for us (Mk. 9:40, Lk. 9:50)—certainly an unusual statement to be preserved into the New Testament if organizational loyalty was a preeminent concern in the early church.

We heartily want you to know that HRCF brings content and activities to Harvard College that no one else does, even among all the Christian organizations on campus. HRCF is at Harvard to bring the whole gospel to the whole campus to transform the whole world, and we’re excited to continue doing ministry here.

If you have any questions or want to talk more, our leadership and staff love to talk about all these topics.