Every day more women are being empowered to pursue the ministry call of God on their lives. Not all women, just as not all men feel called to lead, speak or minister at a leadership level in the church. But some do, and that has been a long journey of changing traditional norms, challenging cultural bias and overcoming poor biblical exegesis. What we are seeing now, is women being asked “What do you feel called to do?” instead of “Here is a list of callings for women… pick one.” Isn’t that exciting? I believe our future is brighter together. Paul said it best when writing to the Galatian church,
Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
However, women who feel a ministry call, both inside and outside the local church context, still face challenges. This subject, just when things seemed to be changing, once again is getting attention. Why? With more and more church groups removing the restrictions on women in leadership, others are doubling down on the old ways. We do not all need to agree. But respectfully, if anyone thinks we will ever go back in time to the “women must be silent, women can’t be pastors, women can’t lead men, a woman’s role only includes prayer, worship or women’s Bible studies”… we will not. Those days are over and I am so excited as a father that my daughters will have the opportunity to pursue church leadership in the light of their call, and not in the shadow of their ovaries.
To my Complementarian friends I’ll go too far for you, and to my Egalitarian friends I may not go far enough. However, whatever your position let me say this to the ladies. We believe in you, your call and your gift. Our commitment to you is that we will support you, see the gifts of God developed in you and champion all of your vast accomplishments and contributions to the body of Christ.
Our church has about a 50/50 ratio of men to women in overall leadership. It just worked out that way. We simply have never made gender the primary qualification for ministry; except in Men or Women’s ministry. On this journey, I have intentionally wrestled through several questions and issues. I obviously cannot address all of them here, but these are three changes I made on the journey that created an atmosphere for women to grow and be released. I am so glad we made the journey.
I Started Preaching From The Lives Of Great Women In The Bible
What a church believes, dictates what a church preaches and ultimately practices. Think about it. The number of sermons preached from the lives of women in the Bible, ironically mirrors the number of women leading in churches today. Few. So the question we all must ask is, “What do we believe about women in ministry?” Rarely do we hear a sermon about a great woman in the Bible unless it’s about Esther, occasionally Deborah or it’s on Mother’s Day. Nor, do women get to preach except on Mother’s day or at a women’s conference. This is changing, and it’s about time. It is my contention that if we heard from our pulpits the stories, miracles and roles that women played throughout the Old and New Testaments, we would see more women released in the church. How about a sermon on some of these women, guys?
Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Moses’ sister and the first prophetess. Deborah who was a judge in Israel and told one of her generals: “Just so you know, if I lead you into battle the world will know the battle was won by a woman.” (Judges 4:4-5). Esther who was “called for such a time as this…” (Esther 4:14) and saved the Jewish people from annihilation. Abigail (2 Samuel 25) who was discreet and wise, and convinced David not to destroy her people out of revenge, so that his heart would remain clean. Huldah the prophetess (2 Kings 22), Hannah the mother of Samuel (1 Sam 1-2), Sarah whose name was changed by God from Sarai (Princess) to Sarah (the Mother of all Nations) because of her faith. Sarah is even mentioned as one of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11! And one of my favorites to preach… Rahab. She was a prostitute in Jericho, who protected God’s spies and ended up in the very lineage of Jesus. Just to name a few.
In the New Testament we have Lydia (Acts 16:13-15) a successful businesswoman who met Paul at a prayer meeting and launched the Philippian church out of her home with Paul’s help. Priscilla (Acts 18:2, 26) the wife of Aquila, who helped instruct Apollos, a great future leader in the church, about the Holy Spirit. There were also three other women who were identified as leaders of house churches; Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11); Nympha (Colossians 4:15) and Apphia (Philemon 2). Paul commended four women, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis (Romans 16:6, 12) who did good work for the Gospel. And of course Phoebe, who delivered Paul’s letter to Rome and who is referred to as “a servant of the church” (Romans 16:1-2) and considered to have held a spiritual leadership office in Cenchreae.
In all of his writings, Paul referred to 16 women by name. I submit that if the lens through which we view the role of women in the church were to start here, rather than 1 Corinthians 14 or 1 Timothy 2, we would all see things quite differently. Here are the sixteen names in alphabetical order.
Apphia (Philemon 1:2), Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11), Claudia (2 Timothy 4:21), Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5), Euodia (Philippians 4:2-3), Julia (Romans 16:15), Junia (Romans 16:7), Lois (2 Timothy 1:5), Mary (Romans 16:6), Nereus’ sister (Romans 16:15) Nympha (Colossians 4:15), Persis (Romans 16:12), Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2), Priscilla (Romans 16:3-5), 1 Corinthians 16:19), Rufus’ mother (Romans 16:13) Syntyche (Philippians 4:2-3), Tryphena (Romans 16:12), Lydia (Acts 16:13-15, 40)
I Bravely Faced The Most Difficult Portions Of Scripture
What about those two passages? You know the ones. Those two passages that evidently negate everything else you read about women in the Bible. Let’s go there quickly. For the sake of space we will leave 1 Timothy 2 for another time because it is the easiest to explain. As an example, lets just look at 1 Corinthians 14:34-39 because it is so juicy!
Did you know that when Paul wrote those famous verses, 34-35, declaring that when women speak in the church it is “disgraceful” he was actually quoting someone else? Of course you didn’t, but it’s true. Verses 34-35 are what someone else wrote to him, and verses 36-38 are his response. Let’s change how it looks.
Now read it again! It looks and feels a little different, doesn’t it?
“Dear Paul, 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.”
“Dear Corinthian Leaders, 36 Or, did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.
38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.” NIV
This is called a Quotation-Refutation and is clear in the Greek. Paul was not attempting to silence women in the church, he was actually rebuking the men for trying to keep them from speaking. When read correctly, Paul is actually accusing them of perpetrating an absurd and overtly contrary-to-the-Gospel idea, that the word of God came only to the men.
I believe that this is one of the most unfortunate and tragically misinterpreted passages of scripture in the body of Christ. The potential lost is staggering. So we focus on the future gained. Limitless.
I Gave Both Men And Women The Ability To Dream
When only men are developed, women lose their ability to dream. I remember watching my wife in the early years. I noticed that she believed she was called to full-time ministry, but her leadership dreams were limited. You will never understand your call while there is a limit on your ability to dream. God never intended for this dichotomy to exist. He just wants you to know what he is calling you to do, then follow God’s dream for your life with all of your heart. However, when you dream about things you have never seen, you will either feel guilty for dreaming it or you will question its validity.
So, I did two things. First, I made sure that the women in our community would always see modeled for them what God was birthing in their heart. Second, I have done everything in my power to make sure that women have the same opportunities to develop in their leadership as men. The level of desired leadership is not an issue. Whether they want to lead a serve team on the weekend, or if they have a five-fold calling bound for church Eldership, their dream fulfillment will be based on their call and character and not on their gender.
Donna and I have been blessed with great women role models. I would like to thank all the wonderful women who have shown us what it means to know you’re called and how to walk in that calling. Thank you for not getting bitter when others seemed to have ignored your contribution. Thank you for always sowing the seeds of greatness into the women in my family. You have solidified to my generation that God is no respecter of persons, and you have helped set the stage for the next generation to lead with confidence. The lack of fear we see in our daughters comes from the lack of compromise in our mothers. Thank you. Now, let’s build the church!
Pastor Doug Lasit