In last month’s posts I sought to explain why my views on women in ministry have shifted from being more restrictive and hierarchical to more inclusive. This was not a hasty change, nor was it motivated by any agenda other than seeking to be faithful to the Bible’s own witness regarding gender and leadership.
I once assumed that the Bible forbade all women from ever having authority over men in the church. This seemed to me to be the “plain” meaning of certain passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and it was the dominant perspective in the cultural circles I grew up in. Women can’t be pastors or elders or preachers; they can only teach other women or children. That’s “God’s design.”
But then I was encouraged to pay more attention to how often Scripture presents women in significant leadership roles, especially as part of the community of Christ’s followers. I had to consider what the implications were if there could be female deacons (like Phoebe), female teachers (like Priscilla), and female apostles (like Junia).
I was challenged to learn more about the original context of passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-36. I saw that my previous understanding of these passages was missing the points Paul was originally trying to make in the culture he was writing in.
And I’ve done more homework on the history behind how and why the long tradition of barring women from ministry rose to prominence, discovering in the process that the logic behind that tradition is completely out of sync with the biblical picture.
That’s why I’m now compelled not only to speak out in favor of allowing women to serve in high levels of ministry, but also to implore churches to encourage women to step up and exercise their gifts for the benefit of the body of Christ! I began this journey asking, “Could this be okay?” And I’ve arrived at a place where my soul is shouting, “We need this!” We need women in ministry!
Female voices need to be heard in the church. When half of the body is silenced, the whole body suffers.
Whether you agree that women should be allowed to be pastors and preachers or not, I implore you, dear reader: Consider how you or your church can do more to encourage women, to let female voices be heard, and to give women a platform to do all that God is calling them to do. Not only that, but recognize and honor the women who are serving and giving of themselves for the cause of Christ.
On a related but incredibly important note, for those churches that have women as part of their paid staff, pay them what they deserve for the work they do!
There is no excuse — biblically or theologically or ethically — for a church to pay or recognize women less than men simply because of their gender, or to bar them from a pastoral title and salary but then expect them to do the same level of work as the male pastors for less pay. If anyone should be leading the way in fair and equal treatment of staff, it needs to be the church! “The laborer deserves to be paid” (1 Timothy 5:8). Many congregations have a long way to to go in this matter.
My prayer in writing all that I’ve written is to see Paul’s vision in Ephesians 4:12-13 come to pass: that all of God’s people — his sons and daughters — would be equipped to carry out the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity and maturity in the faith.
If you’ve missed any of my previous posts, here are links to the whole series:
If, after reading my thoughts on the subject, you want to go deeper or still have questions, here is my recommended reading list on women in ministry:
- Why I Believe in Women in Ministry (Blog Series)
This recent blog series by New Testament professor Nijay K. Gupta was the catalyst for my recent exploration of this topic. It spans 22 total posts, but each one is fairly brief and readable.
- “Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis”
This essay by N. T. Wright is a fantastic summary of most of the key issues.
- This series of online articles by William Witt (Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Trinity School for Ministry) on women’s ordination is an incredible and important resource, especially for info on tradition and church history as well as on the theological questions about women in ministry.
- Ruth Tucker & Walter Liefeld, Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present (Zondervan, 1987).
- Craig Keener, Paul, Women, & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Baker, 2004).
- Alan Johnson, editor (with multiple contributors), How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership (Zondervan, 2010).
- Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Baker, 2016).
- Michelle Lee-Barnewall, Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate (Baker, 2016).
See you down the path.