Should Women Be Leaders in the Church?1
An automated spiritual gifts test once assumed I was a man. It was a generic test, so at the end, the tally of my results indicated (to the formula of the test results) that I should serve as a teaching pastor or lead men’s ministry. I cried, and the elder leading our class had no idea how to console me. In his mumbling, he said this: “God didn’t mess up and you aren’t disobeying God by being a strong leader and teacher.” But as a professing complimentarian, I was confused. Should women be leaders and teachers in the church?
Today I continue the series we started with Janelle's post on Women and Image, and Taraleigh's post on Women and Work. I will attempt to tackle the issue of Women and Leadership, particularly in the church.
I can’t confidently say I know how it all works out, but there are some ways God has encouraged me as I continue to seek Him in the issue of women leadership. One encouragement is the way the Bible portrays women. It’s clear that women are important to God and He has chosen them to serve an important role in the lives of God’s people. We see incredible examples in Deborah, Ruth, Esther, Abigail, etc. And Jesus Himself esteemed women. After His resurrection, the first people He revealed Himself to and sent out to tell others were women (Matthew 28). This continued on in the church. Here are some key early church examples:
• In Acts 18:26 Priscilla and Aquilla together train up/disciple Apollos.
• In Titus 2 Paul tells older women to teach younger women.
• In 2 Timothy 1:14 Paul encourages Timothy to remember all that his mother and grandmother have taught him.
• In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus told all believers, men and women, to disciple others
• In 1 Corinthians 11 it is assumed that women are to prophesy and pray publicly
1 Corinthians 11 gives a point of clarification worth looking into. We cannot, in good conscience, ignore the fact that Paul set limitations for women in leadership in the church. His wording is a little confusing and not everyone is in agreement on what the limitations may mean. But I think we can look at an underlying principle that will help us as we strive to live this out: Women leading in confidence while submitting under male headship offer a unique opportunity to see the gospel on display. We get to show Jesus.
First, we have an opportunity to experience and show Christ as we refrain from taking headship positions. Christ, the Creator of life, left His full heavenly kingship position, becoming a lowly created man, living in submission to the Father, and which culminated in His willingly laying down His life to bring salvation to His own. As we weigh the opportunities presented to us through the lens of 1 Corinthians 11 and other helpful passages, we are learning to come under men and submit to others. That is a picture of Jesus, who perfectly submitted under the Father’s will, even to death.
Second, we have an opportunity to experience and show Christ as we teach, prophesy, disciple, and lead as God has gifted us. We must be careful not to use the limitations Paul set as an excuse to neglect the church. God has intentionally gifted us. Being a strong leader, gifted teacher, or prophet is not a mistake; it’s God’s perfect design. By leading in confidence and trusting God’s unique design for us as women, we get to experience and show the intimacy of God. A woman intimately understands the struggles women face in a way a man cannot. The best teacher to encourage women battling fear or struggling to tame the tongue is a woman who herself is learning to seek God’s power over sin and temptation. The best person to equip a woman wondering what it looks like for a woman to glorify God in the workplace is a godly woman already in it. It's a glimpse of the power of the Holy Spirit as we step out and display His gifting in our lives.
Women leaders are needed. We’ve talked about how other women need you. But also, the children of the church need you. They need to see a smart, successful single woman following hard after Jesus. They need a nurturing older woman to hug them when they come in a room, train them in His Word, and display their art on her fridge. They need to see a young mom choose daily to lay down her wants in order to serve her family and hear her speak words of exhortation to a weary church. These children will grow. They will likely face similar life circumstances. And you can be a guide for them in this young season, helping to point them in the way they should go and to the One who they were made for. The children need you.
But it’s not just other women and children who need. The whole church needs you. We need you to pray for us and speak bold words of prophecy. We need you to challenge us in areas of injustice we may otherwise ignore, or suggest ways we can show compassion to our neighbors that we may not even be aware exist. We need you to teach what you have been learning about God’s love in the unique ways He equips you. The church needs you.
You are needed. He has called us and equipped us perfectly to teach His ways in a way that reveals the Father’s intimate love and the Spirit’s power. He’s given us limitations that show the greatness of Christ’s submission. No computer-generated spiritual gift test comes up with results that say you are uniquely gifted to show Jesus in how you serve and in how you refrain from serving. But you are. So let’s be women who lead confidently, submitting under male headship, serving with gladness, and believing others will see a deeper glimpse of Jesus through it.
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