Male and Female: He created them

A topic recently came up in conversation with several friends … and while I would have normally not thought twice about it … this time it piqued my interest.

Don’t get me wrong… it’s not the first time I have merely thought about the topic, but it might be the first time I have seriously done some of my own thinking and digging and research on the topic… biblical research, that is.  I haven’t fussed about it or felt the need to inquire and poke around and ask questions and understand the depths of it.  I certainly haven’t felt the desire to “be a trouble-maker” about it.  And believe it or not, I did not feel the need to blast it all over social media.  However, in my search for biblical truth I am finding some interesting and varying responses and stances.  And at this point I want to share that search and analysis with those who might be asking similar questions.

What is the topic?  Thanks for asking.  I’m talking about women’s roles in church leadership … specifically what we can learn from the Bible about the topic… and more importantly what we can learn from Jesus about the topic.

 

Martha and Mary | Diego Velazquez
Martha and Mary | Diego Velazquez

As a human-with-a-heart I have long been an advocate for people who have been treated poorly or have had certain rights withheld.  However, I would not consider myself a crusader when it comes to equal rights …  and especially not a feminist (as the word was once defined, at least:  angry, defensive and demanding rights).  Nor have I taken up research on the topic in order to justify a position of leadership I’m eager to sit in.  I’m just a curious person.

In my lifetime I have felt much need for justice when it comes to the topic of equal rights… but I also recognize that in some cases certain political or socio-cultural barriers exist.  Loving people through those barriers, accepting diversity and encouraging equal rights is how I took a safe {and albeit comfortable} stand on the broad topic of equal rights.  In my search for justice I have been inspired to action by reading many books on the topic; so needless to say, the topic of equal rights is important to me.  I always want to see the right thing done… and at times I have even been known to stand up for injustice at the risk of my own personal safety and well-being.

I am beyond grateful that God has given me opportunities to utilize my spiritual gifts throughout various roles of leadership in the church… throughout my entire life.  Starting at my youngest recollection of “leadership”… as a high school student I was teaching 3rd/4th grade Sunday School classes and acting as a mentor to junior high students.  I led an on-campus Bible study at my high school.  I facilitated a Bible study in my home.  As a college student I was given an opportunity to lead weekly classes for our college students (with male and female attendees) and acting as a mentor for high school students.  As a young single I was leading various outreach ministries within the walls of our church and in our community … to both males and females.   On various international missions trips I had the opportunity to minister to and with local churches, to college students and out in their communities … again, to both males and females.    On one specific missions trip I participated as a leader and mentor, ministering to church leaders… again, to both males and females.

In all of these instances only one ministry opportunity stands out where I was specifically told that as a woman I could only minister to other women.  I was in Romania at the time.  It was 2002.  As part of a larger team, I accompanied 3 female leaders where we were invited to speak on various topics on a regional church leader retreat.  We were asked us to minister to pastor’s wives and female lay leaders of all ages and backgrounds.  My topic?  What the Bible has to say about sexual purity and my personal journey.

I had, what I later learned, the distinct and unique opportunity to be one of the first women EVER to address the women of this Christian Romanian church about this topic.  (Side note: Imagine the sheer joy my mother experienced when she learned I may have been one of the first people EVER to utter the word “sex” from the pulpit in the entire country of Romania!  We have even joked that this accomplishment should be noted on my tombstone.) 

While I was sharing my personal experience to a room full of women from all places in life, with a Romanian translator at my side, I couldn’t help but notice the older gentleman standing in the entryway of the Church (just outside the sanctuary doors).

I completed my time of sharing and my translator walked with me to the back of the room.  The man at the backdoor was waving us down.  He grabbed my translator by the arm, and I thought for sure I was in trouble.  In a very excited manner (Or was this agitation?  I could not tell until it was translated!) he proceeded to tell the translator that he had specifically prayed for God to send someone to talk to the women of his church about this topic.  He recognized the need (I later learned it was because the women were looking to MTV as a model of how the American women dressed, acted, etc), but he did not know how he could accomplish it.  Having a Christian American woman talking about this to the women of his church just opened the doors for the pastors’ wives and female lay leaders to talk further on the topic.  It was an answer to his prayers!

You see, at this time in the Romanian Christian church they still observed the New Testament rule of women sitting on one side of the church and the men sitting on the other side of the aisle.  The women still arrived to church services with their heads covered with a scarf.  And of course, the women were not allowed to speak in church, even to their own husbands.  (Our American Team was briefed on this, and asked to honor their traditions.  We did so gladly, recognizing their obedient hearts.  They were simply doing what they felt was right to do, according to their traditions and translation of scripture.)

To complete this account of what happened on this trip to Romania, I cannot move on without saying that God utilized my spiritual gifts in a way that, yes, He could have used others to accomplish.  But I answered His call to be obedient in those moments…  and He used my obedient heart and spiritual gifts to share His word and make a difference.  My obedience to Christ’s calling on my life (ministry to the people of Romania) paved the way for other women to continue to address a much-needed topic within their church.

But the collective actions of our Team did much more than that.  According to follow-up from my translators and Romanian friends over the years I learned that the American team paved the way for many modern day updates to come about in their churches.   All of these changes were well and good and within Biblical standards.  For instance, families started sitting with each other in church (yes, the wives next to their husbands).  The Christian Romanian churches eventually moved beyond the New Testament translation and picture of what the church “should look like”.  And through their own scriptural search they found a new picture of what sitting at God’s feet was all about.

And with that, I return to my personal search.

 

Once I started digging around I quickly discovered that this topic is STILL a rather touchy one within the institute of the “church” today.  And I must say this finding surprised me.  Do a quick Google search and you will run across countless sites arguing all sides of the topic.  Additionally, I’m finding it QUITE interesting that various translations of the same Bible verses have led to such confusion.  And then I realize that when it comes to confusion I shouldn’t be surprised that it exists.  Our enemy, Satan, desires for us to be confused.  It’s his chance to get his foot in the door.  He loves to stir up confusion and discontent.

Books, blogs, websites, articles, white-papers, etc… in fact entire research projects (and more) have been dedicated to this topic.  I talked to both male and female pastors, male and female Christians, church leaders (volunteers) and my own Pastor Father.  I have read various church’s constitutions and bylaws and charters and mission statements to try to comprehend their stance on the topic.  I took impromptu surveys of local church staff at area churches, throughout various Christian denominations.

I dove in to understand nuances of terms like patriarchalism, egalitarianism, complementarianism, hierarchalism, etc… and learned that many people call themselves the same thing, but mean something else altogether.

All of that said, I’d like to highlight a quote I ran across in this search.  I could not better describe how I currently feel about this topic…

“…I want to stress that functional ‘equivalence’ is not the end we seek, but merely a step in correcting the devaluation of women that industrialization and a latent patriarchalism have encouraged.  ‘Interchangeability’ is not the sign of equal worth that justice demands.  Men and women are not interchangeable.  They are uniquely different – different not in their full humanness that each shares equally, but in their gender gifting that they give to each other uniquely when they may function in identical roles.”  – Alan F. Johnson, My Journey from “Male Only Leadership” to “Biblical Gender Equality” | How I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals

 

Interchangeable we are not.  That’s what I know.

Complement each other… yes, I would hope so.  Learn with each other and for each other and from each other… yes, I would hope so!  Be open to having discussions (rather than conflict) with each other… yes!  After all a difference of opinion is just that… it’s not a call to conflict… it’s just a need to talk it out as we seek to understand each other’s perspective.  I urge all of us to listen to each other… and above all things, to hear each other.

Several denominations, around the world, have learned from women pastors for decades… while other church denominations wouldn’t think twice about inviting a woman to speak from the pulpit. Some denominations still abide by their socio-biblical understanding of the woman’s “place” in the church… covering of heads, not speaking in church, only teaching to other women and children, etc… while other churches greatly support and are enriched by husband and wife leadership teams, call on the women of the church to provide guidance and leadership at varying levels, encourage ministry of and to women in their church and train up both men and women alike to be mentors to their congregation.

Not surprisingly, some of the staff at churches I queried had answers that just didn’t jive with me.  They were “OK” with women filling certain roles within their church and leadership teams, but not other roles.  And their reasoning?  Not typically biblical.  More experiential.  Maybe my searching questions, and without judgment I might add, may be enough for them to think again about their decisions… maybe not.  What they do and how they make these decisions is their choice.  There is no judgment here.

Quite frankly, I’m not sure how I would feel attending a church with a female pastor.  Before recently I hadn’t really thought about the option.  I’ve never sat through a formal sermon delivered by a female ordained minister.  I’ve attended funerals led by female ministers, attended Bible studies led by females, been mentored by females, worked with and supported female missionaries … but I just don’t know if I would be comfortable with hearing a sermon from a female pastor.  That said, growing up as a preacher’s kid made it difficult for me to enjoy listening to anyone but my own father when it came to sermons.    Listen, I do not believe there is anything theologically wrong with a female pastor… but I do think it’s a personal preference.

Wrong or not, on more than one occasion I have left churches in the middle of sermons because the male pastor had a voice I just couldn’t stand to listen to.  Petty or not, it was my personal preference.

 

Mary Magdalene depiction | Peter Paul Rubens
Mary Magdalene depiction | Peter Paul Rubens

 

I have read a lot of opinions… asked a lot of questions… prayed for wisdom on the topic… sat with several pastors for long conversations… read and re-read various Biblical translations of pertinent verses…  and asked for the Holy Spirit to help me find clarity on this topic.  I recognize that people will have varying opinions from mine.  That’s ok with me.  I expect varying opinions.  I welcome varying opinions.

 

What follows is what I KNOW and BELIEVE in my heart to be truth:

 

We, male and female, were created equally… in the image of God.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  Genesis 1:27

 

Jesus did not appear to have come up with a list of “what women are allowed to do” and “what men are allowed to do”.  In fact, I have found that quite often Jesus challenged the male prejudices of his time!

Jesus was pleased, and defended her, when Mary sat at his feet to learn from him (traditionally a male role).  He said to her jealous sister, Martha:  “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:38-42

 

Women were valued participants of church leadership in the New Testament church.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.  I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.”  Romans 16:1

 

(Side note:  please note the footnote on this verse.  “The word deacon refers here to a Christian designated to serve with the overseers/elders of the church in a variety of ways; similarly in Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8, 12)

 

Every Christian has been given a unique set of spiritual gifts.

Christians go to 1 Corinthians 12 for insight on “spiritual gifts”, and more specifically on their place in the church.  It can be said that our spiritual gifts are responsibilities bestowed on us by God.  This indicates that each has its own place in our lives and in the life of the church.  Even more so none of these gifts are “better” or more important than another.  Each gift, each part is a portion of the whole working together.

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”  1 Corinthians 12:4-6

 

And lastly, 

I believe that leaders are defined by their qualifications and character, their personal walk with God, their spiritual gifts and a divine calling… not by their gender.

 

We are not interchangeable.  We are unique. 

 

God desires to use each of us in a way that pleases Him and His kingdom.  All He asks is that we are obedient to His call.  This is what I know.

 

 ———————————————

For additional resources on this topic, see below:

Disclaimer: Please note, these resources may contain various opinions and stances on this topic and may not necessarily depict my views or beliefs.

 

Books:

How I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership, by Alan F. Johnson (foreword by Dallas Willard)

Men and Women in Church:  Building Consensus  on Christian Leadership, bySarah Sumner

Beyond Sex Roles, by Gilbert Bilezikian

Discovering Biblical Equality: Complimentarity without Hierarchy, by Gordon D. Fee

Finally Feminist:  A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender, by John G. Stackhouse Jr.

Junia is Not Alone, by Scot McKnight

 

Websites/Articles:

Her.meneutics, by Christianity Today

Gifted for Leadership: Women Called to Ministry, by Leadership Journal

The Junia Project

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2 thoughts on “Male and Female: He created them

  1. Hmm.. I’m pretty much comfortable with a male leader of the church. Kinda like in the order in marriage, God,husband (head of household), wife, children… I do however love and respect many Women teachers. Bottom line for me…we will likely not agree with every call in our churches, what matters is we worship and serve the same God. Good read Lori!

    • Thank you for the comment, debi. And thanks for the support. I love knowing that God created us all in His image… and yet we’re all so diverse in physical traits and motivations. We serve an amazing God.

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