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Women in Church Leadership .1

I’ve been encouraged lately to read a lot of blogs with different views on the role of women within church leadership. I am encouraged because usually theological topics are considered boring and mundane, but this topic has sparked a smooth discussion from all sides (at least from what I’ve seen).

Interestingly, my last paper of the year for my theology class was on women in church leadership. The question my professor wanted me to answer in the paper: should women be ordained as elders or lead pastors of a church? As I finish the school year this week, I’ll dive into some of the topics I covered in my paper.

To start off check out some of these blogs that cover the topic of Biblical feminism and church leadership.

Here is my introduction to the topic:

Though it might not be a life or death decision for some, there is no way to sit in the gray area of whether women should be ordained as senior pastors or elders. This is essentially asking: should women be allowed to be key leaders and decision makers for a church body? I have found that a person’s answer usually depends on how much they let culture influence them. John Piper says, “A large number (of pastors) assume that gender distinctions are not of vital importance; consequently, their congregations follow the culture rather than the Bible.” Since the 1960s it is common for women to be associated as equals with men in our society. For many people this is something that should be reflected within the local church body. Essentially, what we must discuss is whether this societal change is reflected in the Scriptures or whether church bodies must transcend today’s culture on this issue.

To some, the idea of women being subordinate to men and commissioned to be child raising moms is demeaning and traditionalist thinking. To others, the idea of a woman leading a church or having a dad raise the children at home is preposterous. The ability to bridge these two ways of thinking is certainly not easy, but not impossible either. As I come to a conclusion, it is a fresh reminder that the Bible tells us that both men and women are bearers of God’s image, equals in relationship to God, and also that men and women perform different roles within the body of Christ. Because I see culture changing with the wind, the importance of being rooted within the context of what Scripture has to say is vital.

I’ll start with some of the main passages in Scripture tomorrow and share my conclusions after that.

(Go here to read Part Two)

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  • Jan

    Is it okay for them to serve “de facto” in those roles without ordaining them or giving them the position clearly? What about missionaries who serve in those roles? Food for thought.

  • Jenni Clayville

    Great topic… sticky one.

    Here are my thoughts… totally opinions:

    As a woman in ministry (and as efficient and effective I may think I am), I believe having a woman in the senior pastor position is questionable. Not that they couldn’t do it or that they’re incapable, but I fully believe God has called us women to be the HELPER.

    I don’t believe women should be ordained. It’s not biblical – however, I have my own questions about ordination in general (for men AND women). Licensing, however, is a very smart and practical way for a woman minister to go.

    Elders though – just like Deborah was a judge in the Bible, I believe women can lead strongly and efficiently in these roles.

    You didn’t ask for all this, but I gave you my $.02 anyway. It’s my break from unpacking. :)

  • Tyler

    jan- good questions. hopefully i can cover some of those in my coming posts.

    thanks for your thoughts jenni. ordination is totally another beast, i totally agree. i think they are tied together but someone’s view of ordination usually isn’t a gender thing.

  • Pete Wilson

    Great post. You’ve given me plenty to think about!

  • Ric Wild

    Definitely a worthy topic for discussion. I have several comments:

    1. I think it’s interesting that you [Tyler] described this topic as a “smooth discussion” because my experience with this topic has been anything but smooth. “Volatile” I think would be the word that I would choose. But I’m encouraged to hear that your experience has apparently been better.

    2. Culture may be a legitimate influence on a person’s stance on this issue, however, most people that I know who vigorously support a women’s full participation in the ministries of the church appeal to scripture, not culture.

    3. I think it’s important to acknowledge that much of the societal changes that we have seen in the last 100 years in the form of women leaving “traditional” roles and women entering into leadership in the church has actually come about because of people reading their Bibles. Moreover, all kinds of societal changes can be linked to religious (Christian) activism: the end of the slave trade and the civil rights movement would be two prime examples of this. If you want to read all about the 19th & 20th century female ministers that helped to create the societal change that has lead to an increasing number of women in ministry you can read their heroic stories in a book called Turn the Pulpit Loose.

    4. The appeal to Eve being called a “helper” in Genesis needs to be reevaluated. Language is a tricky thing and anyone who is bilingual or knows about translation can tell you that a lot can get lost in the translation process. In our modern English vernacular, we typically think of “helper” as meaning that someone is “inferior” or in a “supportive (subordinate) role.” However, the Hebrew word’s modifier is more appropriately rendered “suitable,” “face to face,” “equivalent,” or “visible.” The point here is that the creation narrative is stressing the fact that Eve was a good companion for Adam, not his laundry folder. For more on this follow the link:

    5. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure the Bible doesn’t say anything about ordination.

    6. I’m not so sure ordination is a “different beast”. I think the question “Should women be pastors?” and “Should women be ordained?” is essentially asking the same thing.

    Alright, well sorry this was more than several comments….

  • randy

    what I find interesting about this type of discussion on this topic is that most people really do go through a lens of culture to help define what things are. Though many think that there interpretation is correct, most still utilize this “me” filter based on own understandings of words and actions.

    For example, the word helper (as Ric stated) is seen by some as “inferior”. The Hebrew word for helper (azer) used specifically of Eve with Adam, is the same word used of God in his helping role with mankind. I wouldn’t think of God as being inferior in any way, and I doubt most Christians would as well. But when we try to put the word in our own culture, that is what tends to happen.

    I would be on the side of the fence (if there had to be) where women should not be elders. The tricky part is defining what indeed an elder really does. Which again goes through the grid of culture … for example, in my former church we had a deacon board, but no elders. Our current church has elders but no deacons. Biblically, in the new testament there is weight for having both in the church, and deacons have the ability to be both men and women, but when it comes to the ultimate leading role (which seems to be that of the elders) it does seem to be restricted to men.

    Why is this?

    It could be for as many reasons as there are people, but obviously there is some order to it. What if (here is why my cultural theory comes in — my “me” glasses) … what if God designed church leadership roles (and marriage roles) to reflect and glorify God in some way? What if God wants to carry a sameness through most of our known history in the role that men, will tend to be the main leader(s).

    We shouldn’t have a problem identifying that men and women should marry in an opposite sex relationship in marriage and then per Ephesians and 1 Peter and others we see that there are specific roles (say hello to the s-word … submission). Marriage seems to reflect a relational aspect of what God does. Jesus submits to the Father, but is Jesus inferior? There is definitely a role to be held with each member of what has been called the Trinity.

    It seems like if in marriage there is some gender role/relationships, it could carry over to the leadership within the church, especially in light of passages that demonstrate no female elder listed anywhere (whereas there are female deacons listed). There have been prominent women who seem to have taken a role within biblical history of a main leader, but seriously, how many in comparison to men taking the role? And in our new testaments we do read of women being leaders within the church, but do we see any woman in a main leadership role?

    Even to use the somewhat-current-cultural argument that women have done great things while in the role of a main leader (like a pastor), there could be instances where this happens, but is it what God may have set up? God may have used situations, but would that be his first “choice”? I can think of lots of people who have done great good and reform in America (and the world), but aren’t believers in Jesus at all. How would that argument now stand up against the current-culture use?

    We do see equality in the bible of men and women, in fact Jesus seems to promote more of it than there was in the old testament. But equality doesn’t mean that we HAVE to have the same roles. In fact in every way shape and form, women can do everything that men can do … and potentially even better given the situation … except the one thing of being an elder.

    Why does anyone HAVE to be an elder? : )

  • Tyler

    what i meant by ordination being a different beast is that theologically, ordination alone is a totally different topic outside of this one. obviously it touches some of the gender issues i’m discussing but i’d rather not get into the meaning of ordination here.

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  • ash

    Ric Wild/Randy- your discussion about the word “helper” is great, and I have long agreed with that. Women came from man’s side, not his head to be above him, not his feet to be below him- but his side, to stand next to him. No where in the scriptures does it say that women are NOT to be pastors…or that pastoral responsibilities are only for men. In fact, the most successful churches I have been to (and this is not determined by SIZE) have been the ones where women are considered co-pastors w/ their husbands and have authority and equal roles w/in the church. Tyler you mentioned Deborah- she was Judge, she had “authority” with the people of Israel and when the people faced their greatest need, their greatest battle- it was a man who shyed away and a woman who was given the glory. Just food for thought….(Wink)=P

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