Last week I attended the Polishing the Pulpit workshop in Sevierville, TN, and one of the lectures I heard haunted me as I headed back home. David Shannon from Mt. Juliet, TN dealt with a question that had been submitted – are men and women “equal” in the Church? I won’t rehash the entire session, but I encourage you to listen when it becomes available on the PTP website.
His thesis was that the sexism that exists in our national culture has invaded the culture of our local congregations. This floored me. Students of the Bible understand that there are two very clear passages in the Bible that restrict women from leading in the public assembly (1 Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2), but these are not the defining passages on women’s roles! From Phoebe to Priscilla to Lydia the New Testament is full of examples of strong, godly women who wielded great influence in the formation of the New Testament Church. In fact, Paul’s second letter to Timothy begins with a reminder of the impact his mother and grandmother had in laying the foundation for his faith (2 Tim. 1:5).
The problems over women’s roles in the church are indeed cultural as opposed to being scriptural. It is the disrespect and lack of care for our godly women that has led many to abandon Biblical teaching and seek out offices and positions that go against the God’s divine plan for church leadership. We need to remember that our differences do not indicate that one gender is more important than the other. We are indeed equal on every level, and it is time for us to figure out how to eliminate these gender issues from our churches. Below are five things we can do to help combat some of the problems we are facing. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and each congregation is unique in the issues they may face.
1. Know the Difference Between Culture and Scripture
In situations where we are deciding what men and women “can” and “can’t” do, we need to make those decisions based on scripture and not culture. We know that women cannot lead during our assemblies or be appointed as elders and/or deacons, but other than that it is up to the leadership of each individual congregation to determine what roles men and women will play. We must be creative and open-minded as we try to use each person’s talents and abilities to aid the growth of the Church.
2. Develop Leadership Skills in Boys and Girls
I fear that as we prepare for the future of the Church we are focusing far too much on public roles and far too little on the truly important aspects of the work of the Church. It is essential that we teach boys and girls how to study the Bible and communicate its message to the lost. We also must teach them how to develop relationships with other Christians so that iron can sharpen iron as God intended. We need to be training preachers, elders, deacons, and song leaders, but we also need to be teaching communication skills and genuine love and care to young people of both genders!
3. Identify and Cultivate Female Leaders
I often hear people lament the lack of female leadership in local congregations. When it is time for a women’s Bible class to begin the group is often left searching for a capable teacher. In times of female fellowship, we have not prepared women to lead their peers in song or prayer to uplift and inspire them. If we think that as men we can relate to women more effectively than a strong, female leader can we are being ignorant. Among our church family, we need to identify and cultivate spiritual, female leaders to meet the needs of the ladies of the Church.
4. Don’t Be Sexist
This seems simple, but apparently it is pretty difficult to do. We could avoid all of this controversy if we just let men do everything in the Church and relegated women to cooking for potluck and helping in the nursery during services. I do not mean to disrespect those two tasks, but we need to understand the diversity of things that women can do! Sometimes when we think about things we have to stop and say – am I being sexist? Am I underestimating the value of an idea because a woman suggested it instead of a man? Am I making jokes that perpetuate a stereotype and demean women? It’s so important that we are sensitive to these things and do our best to treat each and every person we meet with respect. After all, that’s how Jesus did it (see John 4 and John 8).
5. Remember that God’s Plan is Perfect
I realize that some reading this will scoff at the fact that men and women have “different” roles. Many believe that the passages of restriction are outdated and misogynistic, so they will not accept their practical implementation. “Different” roles are not good enough for some who believe that women have the right to take on leadership roles in the Church and in public worship. If you fall into that category I urge you to remember this – God is perfect, and His plan is perfect. His thoughts and way are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), and He has set the members of the body in place with different talents and abilities to complement each other (I Cor. 12:12-26). God has chosen men to hold leadership roles in the Church, and we have to understand and accept that. We also must understand that while our roles are different, we are equal and share the responsibility of working together in the Kingdom and fulfilling the Great Commission! In whatever role we play, may we always obey God and glorify him in everything that we do!
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