I’m a complementarian. If you’re looking for an article debating the complementarian versus egalitarian views of Scripture, this isn’t it. This article is concerning the practical applications of complementarian theology. For those who believe they hold to a complementarian theology but aren’t confident about what that means, below is an extremely simplified overview of the main points.
Complement: A thing that contributes extra features to something else in such a way as to improve or emphasize its quality.
• God created “mankind” — both male and female — “in the image of God,” with equal value and dignity as persons created in His image.
• God created mankind male and then female, the order and gender reflecting complementary roles within their equality and unity.
• As a result of the entrance of sin, both male and female would struggle to maintain unity and equality as they fulfilled their perfect roles.
• The redeeming work of Christ on the cross enables both male and female, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to once again live as God originally intended: fulfilling their God-ordained roles to complement one another, leading to a holy unity, which glorifies God as a picture of Christ and His Church.
So with this basic understanding in mind, I pose the following questions to my fellow complementarian ministers of the gospel in relation to how we lead Christ’s church:
Is our practice dominated by male priority that goes beyond the bounds of Biblical theology? Are we truly complementarian, or are we sexists, covering our sin with a cloak of complementarianism? This is not an accusation, but an honest question. One I have had to wrestle with.
Scripture teaches an equality of dignity, value and essence between male and female whereby the gifts and callings of man and woman are to complement one another within a “last shall be first” loving-servant-leader authority structure.
Are we truly believing and living out this divine allegory of perfect union, seeking to ensure that our sisters have opportunity to fulfill their proper positions as one of the two complementary parties in Christ’s church?
For those of us who are men — those entrusted with the role of headship in home and church — it’s our loving service as leaders to be sure that this godly complement exists in the church body as much as in our personal relationship with our wives. Without it we have neglected the complement in complementarianism. In my own personal struggle, it’s my heart’s attitude that has needed to change.
I remember the first time I was in church leadership where we had regular meetings with all those leading ministry in the church (not just elders), and three of those ministry leaders were women. I remember how much I hated it when one of the women would give their opinion or ask questions about anything I was talking about or in authority over. It grated on me. Why? Because I rejected any attempt of theirs to complement my own thought process or actions regarding the ministry I was doing. I would think, “They should keep their thoughts and opinions to themselves or tell their husbands, not me!” Another classic reaction in my heart was, “Who are they (women) to question me (a man)?!”
After much wrestling with God through study and prayer, I can now answer that question: “They" are God’s perfect design for complementary ministry, women whom He has given to the church just as He gives wives to husbands to bring an improvement or “complement” to His church and its leadership.
All we have to do is look at the teaching of the New Testament to find women everywhere, doing all kinds of ministry.
Considering the very harsh cultural norms still existing in that day, it’s quite revealing to see the number of women specifically mentioned as participating in the ministry versus the number of men specifically mentioned.
Many women were with Jesus, being taught by Him, ministering to His physical needs and financially supporting His ministry out of their own pockets. Many women were active in the Jerusalem church, serving with Paul and active in the churches of Asia. Scripture records the ministry of Priscilla and Aquila as those who discipled and taught. These were women of prayer, support, evangelism, hospitality, teaching and doing many things for the promotion of the gospel and the completion of Christ’s mission. In a culture still steeped in male dominance for the sake of male dominance, Christ’s church and teachings provided numerous new opportunities for women to be leaders and teachers and servants of every kind within the God-ordained structure of complementary roles. So should it be in Christ’s church today.
Even if I appoint a woman to lead a ministry, if I don’t recognize in my heart that her service and opinion is just as valuable and important to the health of the church and success of the ministry as a man’s, then my heart is not embracing Biblical complementarianism. I’m a fake, a hypocrite. I say this to my own shame, because I’ve lived it.
God has designed His body to best function with the full complement of female members.
Do we see women as vital and important members of our ministry? They should be! They have gifts and talents not only helpful but necessary to the completion of the mission. So long as the Biblical command to not usurp the authoritative teaching role of the church’s overseer(s) is preserved, women can serve the church wherever the overseer(s) have need. While women's ministry is an obvious start, it’s not the only way women can serve. Nor is children's ministry. In fact, men are often undervalued and truly needed to lead and serve in children’s ministry.
May we rid our hearts of any sexism (unintentional or otherwise), so we can honestly evaluate the current state of women in ministry in our local body. As pastors, may we listen to the voices of those female leaders in the church body, just as we should be listening to the ideas and opinions of our own wives before making decisions in our families. May we overcome that habit of listening but then mentally diverting their opinions to a place of non-importance because “she’s a woman.” May we actually and consciously choose to remember that God has given those voices to complement our own. By purposing to give them their full weight, we are fulfilling God’s best plan. We are allowing the full blessing of the complement in complementarianism.