Women in ministry. Let’s talk about it.
“Should women be empowered to lead in ministry and should women be pastors?” was the question I put on my Instagram story for anyone to vote and answer. After 3,000+ responses, here are a few:
“I believe God has specific roles for women in churches, but pastoring is not biblical”.
“I think they can lead in ministry, but I was told a woman pastor is not a good thing”.
“Yes, but not for a pastor”.
“No, because no part of the Bible stated that God sent out females to spread the good news”.
“There are many roles a woman can fill in the church, but teaching isn’t”.
“Jesus believed in women. Absolutely”.
I believe it is important for us to hear viewpoints that are different than ours, but to be kind and to speak in love when stating our beliefs. An argument or debate never won somebody over to Christ, but love always has. So let’s talk about it.
All throughout the Bible, Jesus did call women. And if we are looking to the Bible for our facts, then this is a truth that cannot be argued. Let’s look at the beginning of Luke 8. Jesus broke SERIOUS taboos in the way that he elevated the role of women. It was extremely counter-cultural to have Mary sitting at his feet. And it overwhelmingly was counter-cultural for him to be so merciful to the women on the street.
Jesus ENTRUSTED women with His purpose (John 4: He led the woman to Him and in return she led the whole town to know Him).
Jesus GAVE women a voice (Mark 5: allowed the woman to tell her story).
Here is the thing, Jesus was pro-woman to the max. My friend Heidi put it like this… He could’ve chosen ANYONE to be the first to witness His resurrection. And you would ASSUME He would’ve chosen a man because a woman’s testimony wouldn’t even hold up in a court of law at that point. So, if He wanted a “reliable” witness in the world’s eyes? He would’ve chosen a man. But He chose Martha. And He sent her to go tell the word to His disciples and spread the news. In fact, Jesus did send out a woman to spread the news. She was actually the first to do so.
Especially in 2020, with social media and a plethora of ministries, we live in a unique time with lots of opportunities to be a leader and use our voice for Christ. Church leadership is chosen upon calling and character not preference and performance. Jesus showed beautifully how women are called to many of the same things as men within the church.
But what about all the scriptures that clearly states how women must remain silent within the church? What about the scriptures saying a woman must not have authority over man? When stating scripture and using specific verses as our foundation in believing why we believe what we believe, it is critical we understand the context in which the verse was written.
“1 Timothy 2:12-15 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
So much of our interpretation of women in church leadership hinges on the understanding of the word authority in this verse. Here are some critical considerations about the word “Authority”
The Greek word αὐθεντεῖν (authentein) is defined as follows in the Complete Word Study Dictionary.
αὐθεντεῖν (authentein) – murderer, absolute master… A self–appointed killer with one’s own hand, one acting by his own authority or power. To use or exercise authority or power over as an autocrat, to domineer (1 Timothy 2:12).
In 92 occurrences of the English translation “Authority” in the New Testament this word is used only once. While the literal meaning of the word is quite gruesome, the idiomatic use of the word had more to do with barking commands, or dominating, which would be something Paul would not want to permit whether be it a man OR a woman.
To understand the intent of Paul’s words, the context is incredibly important. For example, in both 1 Timothy 2:11 and 2:12 Paul uses the singular term for A woman (one woman), not plural women. Which means there was likely a specific woman who was teaching bad doctrine (likely Gnosticism), and perhaps doing so in an overbearing authoritative manner. Consider the context of the letter as a whole, Paul is writing to Timothy against false teachers in Ephesus (see chapter 1). Also, the very next verse (1 Timothy 2:13) reminds Timothy that Adam was created first. This is not to say that Adam is more important than Eve; that would be completely contrary to scripture. Rather, Paul writes this because in Ephesus at the Temple of Artemis, according to their Gnostic belief the woman came first in creation, then she corrupted the man. This is consistent with Artemis worship in which women dominated men, even with ritualistic castration of male priests, which was still practiced in Paul’s day, even though it was made illegal. There are powerful accounts about the early Ephesians church attending to the medical needs of castrated men outside the Temple of Artemis.
Given the historic context of 1st Century Ephesus and the literary context of 1 Timothy, it seems more and more convincing that Paul was addressing a specific problem unique to the Ephesian church, possibly even a specific person within the church. This explains the use of this rarely used, very specific word that we clumsily translated as “Authority”. One would be hard pressed to use this one verse as a proof text for what has become traditional historic Christian view of male and female roles and relationship even though that happens all the time.
“1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
It might appear on the surface that a woman is not permitted to teach in the church. But a quick look at the context dispels such an interpretation.
Context: In Chapter 11, verse 5 Paul has already suggested that women can prophesy, so he certainly is not suggesting that women cannot talk, teach, sing, etc. Upon further inspection we see that this is more about questions then about teaching (verse 35 ‘inquire’). The context of this passage is about order in worship. It is likely that there has been disruptive behavior by some of the women in the church.
Sometimes, the way people interpret scripture makes it seem like woman are not “called” to be in a higher ministry position. Or maybe that women can only lead in women’s ministry, children’s ministry, or hospitality. But that’s not exactly the case of it. Women are made different from men which means there are perspectives, ways of thinking, skill sets, character traits, leadership styles that are necessary to reach ALL people for His Kingdom. Effective leadership isn’t about your gender but it is about your character.
I don’t know about you, but I cannot picture Jesus up in Heaven cheering us on when we sit down here and argue with one another on whether or not women should be pastors. I can’t picture Jesus up in Heaven with a huge grin on His face after someone tells a woman that she is unqualified to be a pastor. As if Jesus was saying, “Atta boy. You make sure she knows her place”.
Us telling a woman who feels called to be a Pastor that she can’t is us therefore placing a limitation on one of God’s children. And the God we serve is a God of no limitations and who is actively working on our behalf in breaking limitations. And if we serve a God who is limitless, then who are we to place a limitation on one of His children and expect Him to be proud of that?
I just can’t imagine Jesus being proud of his people spending their time fighting on whether or not a woman should lead. “Pastor” or not. What you are called as a title will always be LESS than WHO you are called by. Speaking from a woman’s perspective, I can say that women have believed the lie that we’re too small to lead. Too insignificant to have a voice. That our voice doesn’t hold enough weight. But I do believe this is changing and this gives me hope.
Women need to feel empowered to lead. If we only do what we’ve always done in letting only men “feel called”, then we are only going to go where we’ve always gone and not reach new territory for the Kingdom. We are all gifted the same access to the same Spirit, the same giftings. God does NOT in return only let half of humanity use their gifting to their full potential.
Women, we do need you.
Women, you do have a voice.
Women, you are called.
Women, there is a place for you.
Women, there is absolutely a time for you.
And that time just so happens to be, now.
Jesus isn’t just for men. Jesus isn’t just for women. Jesus is for His people.
And that’s exactly who we all are.