Women in the Church: Part 1

Women in the Church: Why I am an Egalitarian

Part 1: Serving with Gifted Women in the Church

Some time ago, a mother shared with me a story about how her daughter courageously shared the gospel with her friends at school. One day in class, the ten year-old girl was telling some of her fellow students about her favorite Bible story. When the teacher overheard the discussion, he reprimanded the girl for talking about the Bible at school. The girl responded defiantly by telling the students that she would meet anyone who was interested in hearing about it during recess. Which she did, and they showed up.

Upon hearing this story, one might anticipate this girl eventually serving God in a leadership role within her church, perhaps as a pastor, congregational teacher, or leader in the church. Sadly, however, the leaders of her church believe and teach that these roles are inappropriate for women. Such positions are restricted to men, despite the evidence of women’s giftedness for them.

This view, that certain ministries, roles, and positions are restricted to men, is a form of what is called ‘complementarianism’ or the ‘patriarchal view’ of women in the church. Its advocates do not believe that women are of lesser value or dignity than men, but that God designed women to be subordinate to men in role or function. “Equal in dignity, subordinate in [certain] function(s)” is the usual motto. In particular, women should never operate in positions of authority over men. Complementarians differ over what kinds of activities constitute such authority and therefore should be allowed versus disallowed for women in the church (e.g., some believe that gifted women should be allowed to preach or lead, others dispute this). However, all agree that women should serve under and be accountable to male leadership.

I am an egalitarian, which means that I believe in the full equality of women and men before God, in the home, and in the church. In terms of ministry in the church, I believe that women should be welcomed and encouraged to serve in all of the church’s ministries, including positions of church leadership and authority, because I believe that ones giftedness should determine a persons qualification to serve – not ones gender.

I have had the privilege of serving in ministry and leadership with many gifted women. When I was in university, the president of our Intervarsity Christian Fellowship group was a young woman. She led wisely, faithfully, and effectively.

In church leadership (at the ‘elder’ level), I have served alongside women who brought tremendous depth and richness to the leadership teams. One is a prayer warrior, a woman of wisdom who is an encourager and mentor to many, walking with them and providing discerning guidance. Another is an HR expert in the business world, holding an MBA degree and serving as a consultant to several major corporations as well as non-profit organizations. Her spiritual sensitivity, relational wisdom, and expertise in things like team building, conflict resolution, interviewing, and employer-employee relations were a huge benefit to our church. Another is a former church planter (along with her husband, though she was the ordained minister), mother of four, and now a PhD candidate in theology. She brought theological depth and a passion for spiritual theology to our leadership team. Another is a wonderful writer and gifted communications expert, an executive at a large non-profit organization, whose spiritual depth, maturity and mentoring wisdom shaped conversations. Another is a stay-at-home mom who grew up as a missionary kid, trained as a high school teacher, has a graduate theological degree, and in her daily life exemplifies humility, simplicity, hospitality, and charity. Her views helped us maintain perspective and balance in our meetings. Another is a dentist who cares deeply for others and serves them in practical ways, both at work and in the church. She is the kind of leader that pours into others, offering them support, counsel, and discerning wisdom. Another is a math instructor who taught calculus to engineering students at a well reputed university. In addition to serving in leadership, where she often helped move a conversation forward though her ability to think clearly and identify the crucial issues, she blessed the church through her gifts in teaching, organizing, and worship leading. Another is an entrepreneur who runs her own business, sits on numerous boards, has strong strategic leadership abilities, and is a capable preacher. My own wife is a gifted spiritual director, speaker, teacher and counselor, with a keen sensitivity to the voice and leading of the Holy Spirit and an ability to help others discern what God is up to in their lives. She also holds an MDiv degree and works within a well-formed theological framework.

Over and over again, I have found that the presence of women in church ministry and leadership enriches the church (or particular leadership teams within the church) in significant ways with added depth and breadth. This is not something new in the history of the church, though unfortunately the stories of women serving in such influential capacities (in the Bible and in church history) have often been forgotten, ignored, or played down. Women bring to the table particular perspectives, experiences, ways of relating (to God and other people), ways of asking questions and solving problems, and unique gift-mixes endowed by the Holy Spirit that are simply lacking in male-dominant (or male-exclusive) ministry and leadership models and practices.

Over the next several weeks I will be blogging about why I am an egalitarian. I will offer reflections on a number of biblical, hermeneutical (interpretive), philosophical, theological, practical, and ethical considerations that are relevant to this issue.

The posts will go live on Tuesday mornings. I welcome questions and feedback, but I won’t post anything that is rude or disrespectful.

My purpose in all of this is not to put down those who are not egalitarians. I respect their views and understand that the Bible is often less than fully clear on this issue (and so disagreements over interpretation are bound to occur). My main purpose is simply to explain my own position, with the hope that: (1) It can be of some encouragement to women who are sensing God’s call to serve in the church as pastors and leaders; and (2) It can offer some perspective to those who are presently thinking through this issue.

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2 Responses to Women in the Church: Part 1

  1. heidi says:

    I enjoyed today’s post, and look forward to future installments in the series. I appreciate the encouragement that gender should not be a determination on how one serves God and others. I often wonder how much more effective ministries would be if people were encouraged to serve based on giftings and not gender (I think they would be more effective, but I wonder how drastic the change would be).

    One point to add, though, about women serving on leadership teams. While I did not hear you say this, I often fear being the “token” female, or being expected to bring the “female perspective” to leadership teams. I don’t usually know what the “female perspective” is, and even if I knew, I may very well disagree with it. I can bring my own perspective, which is informed by my gender, but is also informed by many other factors. I guess this goes back to serving based on gifting and not gender, so that all people can bring their unique strengths and abilities to the team.

    • Thanks for your comment, Heidi. You are correct – I don’t want to erect stereotypes (so that we can have the token ‘female’ perspective or quota). Thanks for pointing that out. Gender is complex. I see it as both biologically rooted and socially constructed. Due to both biological and social-cultural factors, our experience of reality is gendered experience. So, without specifying how exactly that all plays out in stereotypical ways, I just want to affirm that women bring unique perspectives and ways of experiencing the world into ministry and leadership. Moreover, each woman will do that uniquely. And this enriches the church.

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