I believe women are far under-utilized in ministry.
While the Bible does reserve certain roles in the family and home for men, I believe the Bible isn’t nearly as restrictive as many pastors and churches are when it comes to involving women in leadership and ministry.
To be clear from the outset, this article isn’t an argument for installing women as pastors in the local church. I believe that the role of pastor/elder is reserved for male leaders in the local church. However, what I am advocating is that pastors and leaders would work hard to make sure that their conservative culture is not driving their decisions more than the Bible regarding how they do (or don’t) empower women in ministry. Sometimes, it seems more like traces of chauvinism influence our decisions on how we deploy women in ministry, rather than the Holy Spirit and His Bible.
My Liberal Background
I came from what most would consider a very liberal lifestyle before meeting Jesus. I was anything but traditional in my views on men’s and women’s roles in family and society. Suffice it to say, one of the songs I wrote in a punk rock band I used to sing for was actually called Male Feminist. That gives you an idea of where I was at on these kinds of issues. So when I first came into contact with the ecclesiological perspective that women couldn’t occupy every single office in the church that men can, I was a bit put off. It took some time for me to understand that function isn’t synonymous with worth when it comes to gender roles. But as I came to understand that God has designed men and women with different but complementary roles to play in the family and home, I was amazed at the beauty of God’s plan. Both men and women have unique roles to play, which work together and make everyone indispensible. There is no chauvinism or undue feminism wired into God’s plan for the family and the home.
Three Perspectives on Gender Roles
What I came to realize as I continued studying the Bible and issues of ecclesiology is that there is a far wider range of perspectives on these issues than I ever would have imagined. Here are the three basic perspectives evangelical Christians tend to adhere to on gender roles:
The Egalitarian Perspective
The egalitarian perspective contends that, because women and men are equal, women can occupy any role of leadership in the local church that is referenced in the New Testament. Egalitarians find support for their perspective in passages like Galatians 3:26-28:
“26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The Hierarchical Perspective
Generally speaking, the hierarchical perspective holds that roles of authority and teaching are exclusively to be occupied by men in the church and home. The controversial issues with those who hold this position are mainly over the application of their view. Women are often allowed to do little more than teach children or other women when it comes to positions of leadership in the local church. In some rare cases, women are even discouraged from holding formal teaching positions over women and children. In hierarchical churches women are often restricted from praying publically in services, leading worship, praying with other women after church services, helping lead small groups, giving announcements, or sharing their personal testimony when men are present. The hierarchical camp finds validity for their practices in passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-13:
“11 Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” (NKJV)
The Complementarian Perspective
Those who hold to the complementarian perspective believe that women and men are both created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and are therefore equal in value, dignity, and worth. However, complementarians make a distinction between the value of men and women and the respective functions they serve in the church and home. They believe men and women are designed to fulfill exclusive but complementary functions in the church and home.
A Plea to My Hierarchical Friends
Because I do not have as many opportunities as I would like to interface with people who hold the egalitarian perspective, I want to close this article by reaching out to my friends in the hierarchical camp. I agree with my hierarchical friends that God has made men and women equal, but different. I agree that the office of elder/pastor is reserved for men. But I also believe the hierarchical position and approach to ministry is fraught with over-extended applications. My reason for this is not my personal preference; it is the broader biblical portrait of women in ministry that drives me to this conclusion.
Women in Ministry in Scripture
Here are some compelling glimpses of women in ministry in the Bible the hierarchical camp needs to consider:
1. Paul was happy to be assisted by a female deacon.
Romans 16:1-2:“I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant (diakonos; i.e. deacon) of the church in Cenchrea, 2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.” (NKJV; parentheses added)
Phoebe was a woman who Paul refers to here as a deacon (diakonos; servant). Apparently, she had delegated authority to carry out the vision and mission of Paul, her pastor. She wasn’t operating as an authority over the people. But the church in Rome was exhorted to respect the authority of the pastor who commissioned her. Question: What would that look like in your ministry?
2. Philip's daughters prophesied.
Acts 21:9-“Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.”
1 Corinthians 14:3 tells us that prophesy is speaking “edification, exhortation, and comfort to men.” Question: Did God violate 1 Timothy 2:11-13 when He gave these women prophetic words for God’s people? Or does our application of passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-13 need to be questioned in light of verses like Acts 21:9?
3. Paul acknowledged that women prayed and prophesied in the gatherings of the Corinthian church, and he didn’t rebuke them.
1 Corinthians 11:5-“But every woman who prays or prophesies…”
The context of 1 Corinthians 11 is the communion dinner. Of all the things people debate about in this passage, what is clear is that women were praying and prophesying in the Corinthian congregation.
4. Paul commanded Titus (another pastor) to facilitate opportunities for the older women to teach younger women about biblical womanhood.
Titus 2:3-5: “the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— 4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”
5. Priscilla helped her husband explain God’s truth to a young, ambitious church-planter who had some funky doctrine.
Acts 18:26-“So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”
What about 1 Timothy 2:12?
The word translated authority in 1 Timothy 2:12 is only found in that particular passage in the New Testament. Paul’s command in that verse comes on the heels of his instruction about the qualifications of elder/pastors in the church. It seems to me that Paul is singularly forbidding women from occupying the unique place of power occupied by men serving as elder/pastors in the local church. Men alone are to serve as the doctrine setting, church disciplining, governing authority of the church. If this is true, we are able to hold to a literal interpretation and application of this verse while also making room for the broader witness of the New Testament regarding the roles women can play in the ministry. At the end of the day, it seems to me that the complementarian perspective makes the best sense out of the most biblical passages in contrast to the egalitarian and hierarchical perspectives.
Questions for My Fellow Calvary Chapel Pastors
As a Calvary Chapel pastor, I specifically want to invite my Calvary Chapel brothers to prayerfully think through some questions:
- Is your view of women in leadership roles truly biblical or more culturally driven?
- Does your view and practice regarding women in leadership account for all the verses above or just the verses that support a “male-only” approach to ministry you are comfortable with?
- Is God (through the Bible) calling you to reevaluate how you might free women to serve His church in your context?
- Are there traces of chauvinism in your thinking or leadership structure that need to be confronted and transformed with the Biblical teaching on gender roles and differentiation?