Last week, I shared how we answer comments about the volume of the music and the depth of the teaching. Today, I want to share my answer to the question of women teaching. It’s a pretty complex issue, so this blog post is longer than my usual posts.
About a year ago, I came to the conclusion that a teaching team is more effective than a single voice at providing consistent, Biblical teaching to the people of Oak Leaf Church. Instead of the Lead Pastor teaching 50 weeks a year, we made the effort to involve other speakers who would bring a different perspective and style to the platform. One of the people we added to the teaching team was Suzy Jordan. Suzy, as you might have already determined, is a woman.
While the overwhelming majority of our church has appreciated this move (after all, Suzy is an excellent, engaging, and Biblically knowledgeable speaker), a small number have raised theological concerns. Of course, we studied the Scriptures in advance and made our decision on our findings. The following paragraphs summarize my position.
Simply stated, while we believe the Bible is clear that the role of a Lead Pastor, Lead Elder or Senior Pastor should be a male, we also believe that the Bible not only allows, but encourages women to fill leadership positions in the church.
While time and space don’t permit a full discussion on what the entire Bible has to say on the subject, it’s worth mentioning a few passages.
In 1 Timothy 2, Paul deals with the roles of women in the church. He talks about dress, praying in public, and leadership. These passages have sparked wild debate, some of which has resulted in lively and scholarly discussion, while some has resulted in division and denominational superiority.
Paul specifically says, “I do not permit women to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” Most scholars agree that Paul is not discussing using authority, but usurping it. I do not believe this passage is a blanket statement forbidding women from using the gift of teaching in the church.
Even if this was the case in 1 Timothy 2:12, we do not find these same admonitions in other letters from Paul, indicating that this may be a specific response to a specific problem. Craig Keener believes that Paul was specifically referring to “unlearned” women who were spreading false teaching throughout Ephesus. Paul’s use of such strong language indicates that it is the abuse or the “stealing” of authority that is out of bounds.
We must not take this one passage, or any one passage, and build our entire belief system. Books and commentaries have been written explaining the nuanced language the underlying meaning of Paul’s words. This passage, and others, should be viewed in light of the entire Bible.
The biggest problem with interpreting this passage in 1 Timothy as excluding women from leadership roles in the church is that Paul clearly commended women for their grace and skill in leadership in other epistles.
It’s important to remember that the New Testament was written during a patriarchal time in human history. Therefore, there are fewer references to women. However, there is clear evidence that influential women were involved in spreading the gospel and building the church.
Romans 16 lists several women who occupied important positions in the church, including Phoebe, who is described as a minister, deacon or servant, depending on how you translate the word diakonos. Paul also commends Priscilla, who is actually mentioned before her husband in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Priscilla and her husband were instrumental in teaching Apollos and Paul called them both his “fellow workers.” In the book of Philippians, Paul encouraged Eudioa and Syntyche, two women, to agree in the Lord, noting that they had labored with him in the gospel. 1 Corinthians 11:5 discusses women praying and prophesizing within the worship service.
Paul didn’t approach ministry in every city in exactly the same manner. Instead, he tailored his approach to the context. In Acts 16, Paul built the evangelistic work on a preexisting prayer group led by an upper-class professional woman named Lydia. When people came into the church, they did not replace Lydia’s leadership. In the book of Philippians (written to the church discussed in Acts 16), Paul urged two women leaders to agree in the Lord. In this church, there wasn’t a discussion about women teaching or leading, because it wasn’t culturally appropriate. Women in leadership was simply not an issue in this church.
There are many examples in the Old Testament of women leaders and ministers. Miriam was a prophet (Exodus 15). Deborah was the leader of a nation (Judges 4-5). Esther was an advocate who saved her people.
Women are Gifted
Nowhere in the New Testament, does God imply that certain spiritual gifts are given exclusively to men. 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 indicates that both men and women in the early church had the gift of prophecy. In 1 Corinthians 12:18, Paul describes properly equipped women who were appointed to teach. “No restriction is mentioned in the numerous references to teachers and teaching in the Epistles except in 1 Timothy 2:12, where it is required that learning precede teaching,” writes Gilbert Bilezikian.
In most cases, those who forbid women to teach in the church based on Paul’s words in 1 Timothy, do not require women to wear the head coverings described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11. Furthermore, those who would not permit a woman to teach in a “main service,” often have no such problem with women or couples teaching in children’s or student ministry, yet the Bible makes no such age distinction. These two examples are not meant to deflect the argument, but to point out the complexity of the situation.
Wayne Grudem writes:
We must also admit that evangelical churches have often failed to recognize the full equality of men and women, and thereby have failed to count women equal in value to men. The result has been a tragic failure to recognize that God often gives women equal or greater spiritual gifts than men, a failure to encourage women to have full and free participation in the various ministries of the church, and a failure to take full account of the wisdom that God has given to women with respect to important decisions in the life of the church. If the present controversy over women’s roles in the church can result in the eradication of some of these past abuses, then the church as a whole will benefit greatly.
In Gifted to Lead, Nancy Beach encourages male pastors to develop women leaders and teachers for several reasons:
- For the sake of the congregation: Women leaders and teachers offer an important perspective and experience essential for both men and women in the church. She notes that most churches have a higher percentage of women in attendance. We’ve certainly experienced this through Suzy’s teaching.
- For the sake of the unchurched in our community: A church that does not rely on the leadership of qualified and skilled women can appear out of touch with reality. What we communicate, and the way we communicate, and who communicates, speak to our values. Women need to hear from Godly male and female leaders.
- For the sake of the staff: A team that involves qualified women will make better decisions. Women have gifts, skills and wisdom that can help a church accomplish its mission.
- For the sake of our daughters: Decisions about women in leadership will have a ripple effect for years to come.
The women on staff at Oak Leaf Church are extremely talented and gifted. Those gifts deserve a platform and a place of expression. Ladies like Suzy Jordan have been called and gifted to teach, and we would be wise to learn from their insight.
The Senior Pastor
The Biblical relationship of women and men in marriage, and the example of Christ’s headship in the church provide a good model for leadership in the local church.
The senior pastor or lead elder is ultimately responsible for the leadership of the local body of Christ. The financial situation of the church, the ministries of evangelism and discipleship, and the effectiveness of the staff all points back to my leadership. I am responsible and accountable for everything that happens during our church services.
If a guest speaker comes in and teaches false doctrine, that’s a reflection on my pastoral leadership and I’m responsible to correct it. No matter who is teaching from the platform or pulpit, I am accountable. When Suzy, another member of the teaching team, or a guest speaker preach at Oak Leaf Church, they do so under my authority, regardless of if they are male or female.
Can a Woman Be a Senior Pastor, Lead Pastor or Lead Elder?
Before answering this question, we must affirm that the Bible teaches that there are important distinctions between men and women.
In Biblical Eldership, Alexander Strauch writes “Discrimination against women is a grievous sin and a dishonor to God in whose image women are created. Yet in our zeal to right the wrongs committed against women, we must not forget that God designed male-female distinctions in order for the sexes to beautifully complement each other and to exercise different functions in society. To deny those distinctions is as destructive and dishonorable as it is to discriminate against women. We need to be perfectly clear about the biblical teaching regarding women and men as fully equal in personhood, dignity, and value, but distinct in gender roles.”
John Piper writes in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, “Over the years I have come to see from the Scripture and from life, that manhood and womanhood are the beautiful handiwork of a good and loving God. He designed our differences, and they are profound. They are not mere physiological pre-requisites for sexual union. They go into the very root of our personhood.”
God created us male and female, with unique attributes and distinctions. There is a difference.
In the Old Testament, the highest spiritual authority came from the priests, the male descendants of Aaron. In the New Testament, Jesus appointed men to be apostles, and this pattern is carried forward in the early churches, were the elders and pastors (the words are often used synonymously) are men. In listing the qualifications of an elder, Paul tells Timothy that an Elder must be the husband of one wife. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul consistently uses male pronouns to describe the office of an elder.
This does not mean that women are not gifted to teach and called to leadership, however it does mean, that based on the example of the Old Testament priests and New Testament apostles, that the role of Lead Elder should be a man.
For Further Reading
- Paul, Women and Wives by Craig S. Keener
- Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church by Nancy Beach
- Beyond Sex Roles by Gilbert G. Bilezikian
- Women in Ministry: Four Views by Bonnidell Clouse, Robert G. Clouse, Robert Culver and Susan T. Foh
- Women and Ministry: An Article from Dr. Tim Keller. Accessed at http://www.upc-orlando.com/resources/written/doctrines/doctrine06.html