Women in Church Leadership

By: Diane Chandler
Friday, January 21st, 2011

Last week, I had a three-way phone conversation with friends of mine, a married couple, who live in another state.  Last year, the husband became the senior pastor of their local church, where he had previously served as a board elder.  My friends described a recent issue being discussed among the current board elders, which is comprised of all men.  It has been suggested that a multi-gifted person in the church, who has been in fruitful ministry over many years, be invited to serve on the elder board.  This person is a woman.  The reaction ranges from full agreement to adamant refusal.

In this conversation, both of my friends (the pastor and his wife) are very supportive of this woman joining the elder board.  Not only has she faithfully served in the church but also has ministered at other churches and in the community with obvious giftedness and anointing, which has earned her great respect. However, one elder, in particular, is having a problem with the thought of a woman having authority over a man.  Of course, you can imagine the Scriptures that he has identified to preclude any such eventuality, among them 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

This issue of women serving in church leadership remains a contemporary “hot button” and raises the question of how spiritually gifted women might fulfill their God-given calling within the local church and beyond. These scriptures mentioned above remain the arsenal for the prohibition of women fully expressing their giftedness in serving the body of Christ. Further, traditional views/practices and cultural assumptions related to the preclusion of women serving in leadership roles in the church reinforce these textual interpretations.

These issues are real and contentious, often leaving Christian women who are gifted and anointed to defend their callings, often facing misunderstanding and rejection.

In his excellent piece, “Gender and Leadership: My Personal Pilgrimage,” Dr. J. Robert Clinton traced his paradigm shift in deconstructing his assumptions and biases on this issue.  Clinton did three things:  (1) carefully examined the biblical text, (2) read books/materials that offered biblically/theologically sound interpretations of the problematical passages excluding women from church leadership, and (3) observed the gifted women in his Fuller Seminary classes and in Christian history.  He concluded, “Now after the shift I see that women or men can exercise leadership in any role if gifted and called by God.  I see the problem of having women in leadership positions in churches or parachurches is cultural or organizational (a matter of change dynamics) not theological” (p. iii). I appreciate Clinton’s openness to evaluate his assumptions and the dozens of women he has affirmed throughout his leadership career.

In this blog, I’d like to open the conversation for both women and men that will continue in upcoming blogs

-What has been your journey regarding this issue of gender and leadership? 

-How would you advise my friends (the pastor and his wife), who are hoping to provide a safe place to discuss this issue with their Board elders but also who do not want the process of adding a woman elder to be hijacked by one vocal opponent?

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Diane Chandler
This entry was posted by on Friday, January 21st, 2011 at 8:55 am and is filed under Christian Leadership, Church History, Church Ministry, Leadership. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

13 Responses to “Women in Church Leadership”

  1. Jennifer Maynard says:

    I empathize with that very vocal elder, because at one time, I believed as he did. Then the Lord took me on a journey that radically change my heart and my theology. The journey started in your spiritual formation I class, Dr. Chandler, where one of my classmates was a senior pastor of a church and female. After observing her obvious anointing and giftings, I began to question what I had been taught. So I did a research paper on 1 Timothy 2, and and concluded that Paul’s advice to Timothy was appropriate for that time and place, but not in all times and places. It was shortly after writing that paper that God revealed to me that I was called to ministry leadership, one day. God can change hearts and minds.

    My advice to your friends would be this, pray that he would have an open heart to see things differently, and maybe the board of elders could go over those “problematical” scriptures as a study, particularly looking at the cultural background which prompted their writing.

    • Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:

      Jennifer,

      I want to thank you for your responding to this particular blog. Your being able to identify with this one particular elder that I mentioned helps all of us understand that our views are a result of our backgrounds, worldview, experiences, perspectives, biblical interpretation, and role models. What I glean from your contribution here is that you recognized the Spirit’s engifting (i.e., my word) and anointing another woman to serve, which in your case was a woman senior pastor.

      Your suggestion to take a look at the problematical passages is a great way to go forward. This is one way the senior pastor might consider broaching this sensitive issue. And I hope he considers others as well. I am certain that the Lord will use you in ministry in ways that open doors for other women as well.

  2. Eileen says:

    In my church, a woman can serve in any non-pastoral capacity within the church. She can read the scripture lessons, serve communion, usher, serve on the church council (we have a council, not a board of elders), lead a ministry team, teach adult Bible classes, teach Sunday school, lead youth group, lead the worship music, etc…. and we’re considered a very conservative/traditional church. I have been told by some feminist women that my church stifles women, but I don’t think so – It doesn’t say that women are any less worthy than men are, just that they are different.

    Several years ago I took an interesting course on “Women in Ministry” with Dr. Catherine Clark Kroeger, founder and president of Christians for Biblical Equality. She and her husband wrote an interesting book entitled, “I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence”. She also co-edited a book entitled, “Women, Abuse, and the Bible: How Scripture Can Be Used to Hurt or to Heal” but I think it’s out of print now. If you are not already familiar with her work, I would recommend that you check her out.

    • Eileen,

      Thank you for responding. It sounds like you and the women in your church feel supported as they serve in a variety of capacities. What might happen if a woman feels called to pastoral ministry role? How might she be advised?

      I appreciate the book recommendation of I Suffer Not a Woman by Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger who do a commendable job in identifying the cultural context which many scholars feel played a role in Paul’s exhortation to Timothy regarding women keeping silent in the church. Although the original publication date was 1992, I believe that the Kroegers’ work still helps inform Greek exegetes as well as women who have felt prohibited from leadership roles in the church. Their examination of the Greek words authentes and authentein also contribute toward this end of sound interpretation.

      Glad you are a part of this conversation~

      Diane

  3. Nancy says:

    Looking forward to this discussion. Checking some of the Priscilla papers from CBE may be helpful. One by Dr Vic Pfitzner, “from Scripture to Doctrine” may be helpful and “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives” by John Jefferson Davis may lend some significant helpful information. An article in Mutuality magazine “Is it ‘all Greek’to the the church” regarding the influence of Greek philosphy on the church’s teaching about gender is interesting.
    When speaking to people about this issue, I have wanted to discuss the Greek words used for authority in these passages,etc but frankly, they are not swayed by this or my theological discussion. They seem to recognize the ministry of women, by watching women and seeing that God is using them with authority and power.
    I am going to be teaching about Mary and Martha next week, and in my preparation, I was amazed at Jesus’ counter-cultural attitude toward women in this passage and many others. What an offense to mankind’s sensibilities He must have been.
    Looking forward to other’s thoughts.

    • Nancy,

      Thank you for your helpful recommendations, including the Priscilla papers from the Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), found online at: http://www.cbeinternational.org/

      You suggest that discussion of Greek words and biblical interpretation do not dissuade people from their position. It does often seem like such conversations cause each side to dig their heels in deeper.

      I wonder, as you suggest, if walking in the character and integrity of the Lord Jesus regardless if a woman is affirmed or not in her calling is one of the greatest testimonies of God’s hand being upon her. Despite misunderstanding opposition, it is a place to be to remain confident in God; albeit very difficult for so many at times.

      A resource that I have particularly enjoyed is Loren Cunningham and David J. Hamiltion’s book Wyh Not Women? A Biblical Study of Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2000). You may know Loren Cunningham is the founder of Youth With a Mission (YWAM), which has equipped and dispatched men and women all over the world.

      Indeed, Jesus held a very counter-cultural view of women in His day. What I have particularly appreciated are the men of God who have upheld the dignity and equal participation of women in the church and various other contexts. God bless these brothers.

  4. When God called me to be a pastor, I was stunned because in my upbringing, that had never been a consideration. I wanted to be in ministry, but assumed it would be as a pastor’s wife. I didn’t even realize the way I was limiting myself. The realization of the calling excited and challenged me, and whenever I questioned God on the whole “woman thing”, I felt Him telling me not to worry about it. He will clear a path for me.

    God used women throughout the Bible to lead, but I understand why some have a problem with it (based on the verses listed). I believe they are sincere in their belief that it isn’t scriptural and I don’t feel the need to fight them on it. I believe if God has placed this calling on my life, then He will lead me to the place where I am needed and welcomed. Sometimes I find myself getting defensive when I’m faced with opposition, but I try to remember that God has promised to make a way for me and HE is responsible for opening doors. I am responsible for obediently and faithfully doing what He calls me to do. If a door is closed, I don’t bang on it. I withdraw and wait for another opportunity to present itself.

    God has blessed me with a church that does ordain woman and I was ordained in the last year. I don’t have a traditional congregation at this time, but as a minister I carry that call with me wherever I go. I minister whenver the opportunity comes up and quietly wait to see what God has up His sleeve for me next. What other way is there to live? Serving Him is such a blessing.

    • Nancy says:

      Check out this link
      http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/01/19/how-they-changed-their-mind-about-women-2/
      (Check CBE on FB for more info)
      From a Wheaton Prof who changed his mind to supporting women in ministry.

      • Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:

        Nancy, thanks for this link. I’ve not seen this book edited by Alan Johnson entitled: How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals (Zondervan, 2010), but I look forward to securing it. Appreciate your sharing this resource.

    • Kimberly, knowing one is called and how one is to serve the body of Christ are so important. And it seems like you have this kind of clarity.

      Years ago, Dr. Fushia Pickett visited Regent University and spoke to women in the School of Divinity, a year or so before she her homegoing in 2004. She was an outstanding Bible teacher before she received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which served to empower her teaching and international ministry. With the help of a walker she mosied slowly down to the podium, put each of her hands on each side of it, and preached powerfully to the women in the room. She exhorted everyone, “No one should tell you who you are. The only place to look for your identity is the Word of God. If you don’t know the Word of God, you will be duped when people discredit you because you are a woman.”

      She went on to say that she never had to make a way for herself, but that God had opened every door for her. Good advice for every woman who thinks she has to prove herself.

      Thank you for the reminder that we carry the calling within. Calling is not a position, although that may eventuate. We are His vessels for His glory. And how we bring Him glory is to honor one another.

  5. Sharla Grinie says:

    Hello! I just found your wordpress via Yahoo. What a informative blog you have! I like it very much! Thank you for supplying such precious service to the whole internet community!

    • Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:

      Thank you, Sharla, I trust that you will be a regular reader and contributor to our renewal dynamics blog discussion.