Partners in the Gospel: Joan Flikkema
Published by Calvin Seminary
In the kingdom of God, there are secret agents—those working behind the scenes quietly, but formidably.
Meet special agent Joan Flikkema.
A former teacher, Flikkema first became interested in the roles of women in ministry as she learned about gender disparities in education. Then she noticed the struggle of women trying to find their place in the church. Ever since, she’s been investing her time, writing, and financial resources to support and encourage women in their theological training.
Flikkema is committed to ensuring that women who are called to ministry are also equipped for ministry. To that end she has founded and supported a breadth of scholarships at Calvin Seminary, including the Joan Flikkema Scholarship for Women in Ministry, named in her honor. Flikkema’s support has directly influenced the life of countless women at the seminary, some of whom are featured in this issue of The Forum.
And it all started with a question.
Has God forgotten to be gracious to women?
When Flikkema heard this title, and the talk that accompanied it by a speaker in the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) denomination, she didn’t feel bound by the constraints of 1970s America on women.
“That title inspired some of us — women and men together — to become partners in the Gospel,” says Flikkema. “We wanted to affirm and celebrate God’s gifts to women for ministry.”
Soon after, Flikkema became one of the founding members of the Committee for Women in the Christian Reformed Church (CW-CRC).
“It was difficult for women who had gifts for ministry and sensed God’s call to advocate for themselves,” Flikkema reflects. “The CW-CRC became their supporters and advocates.”
The group’s purpose, Flikkema says, was to develop understanding of and support for women who had gifts (which) prepared them to serve in ministry.
Because financial support for women in seminaries was almost nonexistent, the CW-CRC established the Women in Ministry Scholarship Program. At first, CRCNA women received support to attend various seminaries in the Reformed tradition. Later the program shifted its focus to Calvin Seminary.
“We were motivated by an understanding that each generation is called to make the world a better place,” Flikkema recalls. “Roberta Hestenes, a strong Christian and leader at a Christian university, said that the key question is not what is God’s will for my life? but how can I participate in the Kingdom?
“Our group wanted to help women who had the gifts and talents for ministry to honor that call.”
But, in many ways, Flikkema and the CW-CRC would have to pave their own path.
“As advocates for women in ministry, our group had to challenge interpretation of Scripture, church order, and cultural patterns. We emphasized the importance of not quenching the Spirit.”
Like the early Christian church, which dealt with its own identity issues, Flikkema says that the church has continued to experience crises of identity throughout history.
“Our group began to build on new forms of understanding and actively explaining and modeling the roles of women in ministry,” Flikkema explains. “When we began in the early 1970s we understood that a cultural shift takes about fifty years to emerge and go through formation and implementation and acceptance, and that appears to have taken place in the CRC for women in ministry.”
It is important to note that the decision of calling and appointing women to ecclesiastical office within a CRCNA church is a decision made by the specific congregation.
CRCNA.org notes: “All congregations in the Christian Reformed Church in North America may allow women to serve in the office of minister, elder, deacon, or commissioned pastor. The CRC recognizes that there are two different perspectives and convictions on this issue, both of which honor the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God….”
For the churches open to calling women, there are women open to their calling.
“Women are showing in their ministry roles that they are very capable and well qualified for church leadership,” Flikkema notes. “They are needed for gender balance in our churches. They are living out their callings in many ways as pastors and chaplains. They nurture Kingdom citizens.”
Flikkema has aimed to help fill the gap of financial support for women training for ministry. She is filled with gratitude for the many women and men who took seriously their calls to be co-workers in the Kingdom and were part of the project to provide pathways for the ordination of women.
“The women in seminary programs need support,” she says. “As human beings they need social support. They also need professional support through networking in the church. They need financial support for their studies. They need the encouragement of others as they study and connect in their ministries.”
Attending Calvin Seminary, Flikkema says, provides an environment for women to establish these valuable connections. Flikkema encourages the Reformed community in what she calls their significant place in western Michigan and the Christian world.
“Women and men together can be the human resources that improve the quality of life in our communities,” she reminds us. “We are living in times when we need all of the resources that we can have to provide insight and strength for spiritual survival.”
In the kingdom of God, there are secret agents—those working behind the scenes quietly, but formidably. Meet special agent Joan Flikkema. She is committed to ensuring that women who are called to ministry are also equipped for ministry. To that end she has founded and supported a breadth of scholarships at Calvin Seminary, including the Joan Flikkema Scholarship for Women in Ministry.
This article appears on page 9 of the Summer 2021 edition of the Forum. Download this issue.
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