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Posts Tagged ‘women in church’

Conclusion

Perhaps a healthy thought would be to consider that like Priscilla in Acts 18:26, that the church’s best interest is served when men and women serve and even guide and lead together. Certainly, even if a team of men or a man lead a church, their wives and the women in other roles of leadership and ministry are co-ministers with them!

Perhaps if we were all healthier, we wouldn’t be as concerned as we get about who gets what role… and if women should not be in some role, or men, then we would all be happy about the roles that others get since we love them as much or more than ourselves.

Given that the instructions of Christ was that among His followers, the leader is the servant, it is vital that no one – male or female – would see leadership as their due – that they are somehow entitled to lead in Christ’s Church.

Some interpret I Timothy 2:11-15 as less about gender and more about the usurpation of authority.   I don’t necessarily agree with that conclusion, but I am confident that it is a good minimum application. That matches with Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10,

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   Mark 10:42-45

So, I hope the case has been made that I intended. Our church, which is led by a team of leaders, which is chaired by the Lead Pastor, does allow women on that team and also encourages women to be deacons… and could have a woman on staff whose title included the word “pastor”.

My goal isn’t to indicate that this is the only right or even best interpretation of all of these passages – but that it is an acceptable one while staying true to scripture.

I know that the width of my understanding could be wider than Paul (or the Holy Spirit) intends – though I pray not.

However, obviously I don’t think so, and those who made this decision for our church think the same. If I created my own church from the ground up according to my own preferred interpretations and applications, perhaps I would do a few things differently – however, these are easy places to submit to those who came in authority before me here.

Also, my general tendency is to seek freedom in the application of scripture… when the application is unclear.  I admit this is my bias.  So, when there are multiple biblically sound Christ-deferring possible interpretations, I like to default to less restrictive rather than more restrictive, so I can appreciate that aspect of this understanding as well.

To learn more about the church I am referencing, check out www.southspring.org

 

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So that works as a transition to women in an elder role:

 The church I am in right now doesn’t have anyone with the title “elder” – but we have a leadership board and we ask the church to select them based on the traits listed in I Timothy 3.

This is the decision making body of lay (not staff) leaders. They are elected by the church membership each year. The only quality of the elder that we do not emphasize for them is the teaching aspect. We ask that each of them be able to share the gospel through their own testimony and to have the ability to handle the word of truth well, but they do not have to be in a teaching role.

(this is actually why the Baptist church historically reserved the title “elder” for teaching pastors, as I understand it)…

We do encourage women to accept the roles as well. Some years, no women are voted into the roles, but most years, at least one is.

So, engaging with the room created by the material above, (including the wording of “husband of one wife” notes) we certainly see women in roles of leadership throughout scripture.

Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Esther, Naomi, Anna, Hannah, Abigail, and others are described as taking positions of leadership and perhaps most significantly, as prophets (Acts 2:17-18/Joel 2:28-32)

17    “ ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”

There is even good reason to think that Paul gives the title “apostle” (which just means “sent” in the original language) to a woman named Junia. Of course, as always, there are multiple reasonable and justifiable others ways to interpret this passage, but it is worth listing here as well. (Romans 16:7)

So, if the I Timothy passages were cut and dry… if Paul had written “No women can be an elder” or “only men married to their first wives are allowed to be elders” or something like that, then these other passages would have to be interpreted differently. However, since Paul left room, there is room for the others, too.

Please understand that I think it is possible that this is precisely what Paul did intend.  I think it is possible that Paul did mean to prohibit women from being in this particular role… but I also think he may not have.  Many are convinced he did and I appreciate and respect that view.

Of course, there are other passages in which Paul sure indicates his feelings about women (or wives) in authority over men (or husbands?) (1 Timothy 2:8-15)… some think this is about women “usurping” that authority… and it would make sense that an elder is some kind of authority over others in the church, but over the years many have offered other ways of looking at all of that… and what if a church decides not to have official elders at all? Is that disobedience to the scriptural teachings?

There is a lot here. I personally think there is less space scripturally for women to have the roles of elders (because of the seeming authority connected to them as shepherds of the church), but once again, I still agree that there is enough room for it to be acceptable if a church to determine to interpret these passages otherwise, or to structure the church and leadership in such a way as to protect these concepts.

How about women as “pastors”?

To me, this one is the easiest of all, though perhaps for different reasons than others.

I just do not see in scripture that the title “pastor” is an official job or officer title.

I admitted that I am not that far into my research of church “officers”… and I am personally not convinced that deacon and elder are meant to be “offices” so much as “roles” myself, but “pastor” seems to be a gifting and the word itself just means “shepherd”.

I think that at some point, many evangelical churches began to see the title “pastor” as some kind of biblical office… and of course, now it is a job title.

Different “pastors” may have totally different job descriptions, of course.

I completely understand the applying Paul’s teaching about women (1 Tim 2:8-15, I Cor 14:34) to the job description of women (though I am a little befuddled at times as to when a woman would be allowed to speak or not – Sunday School? Small Groups?  Children’s classes if there are men in the room?)

It does feel at times like all applications of these teaching end up being arbitrary because of how different the church experience is now versus at the time of Paul, but I always appreciate us making every good-hearted attempt.

I am not totally convinced yet that we should be treating “deacon” or “elder” as specialized officers in the church (rather than roles), but moreso, I do not how we came to see “pastor” as some kind of officer…

And especially I am confused by how “pastor” and “elder” came to be connected – especially to be seen as identical – as if often common in the Baptist world, for example.  I get that elders are supposed to be able to teach, but do all shepherds in the church teach?

This is a distinction between job title and job description, in my mind.  Even if I were convinced that women not teaching in church was a correct application in the activity that we call church today, I do not see why “pastor” in a job title that didn’t include teaching would be forbidden.

What am I missing?

Further passages that offer challenge to the “no teaching at all” application include I Cor 11:4-6, when women are referenced as praying or prophesying, (see also Acts 21:9) so these are two roles that Paul seems to accept (though their head should be covered – always strange to me since the Jewish tradition is the opposite, but he explains the motivation).

Given that I think the correct understanding of the term “pastor” is as a gifting or a role in the Church rather than an office, then I also think there is even less of a good case to make to prohibit women from having the title “pastor.”

What makes sense is the idea that in many churches today, the “pastor” is the title given to the leader of the church – as in, the highest authority figure in the church. Given Paul’s admonition against women being in authority over men, it makes sense that IF the highest authority position is “The Pastor”, then that position would be held by a man. However, what about in an elder/committee run church?

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We can start with women as deacons:

The main passage that people reference in saying that women should not be in the role of deacon are found in the letters to his younger protégé’s Timothy and Titus in the criteria listed . For example:

I Timothy 3:12

Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.”

This passage (and its sister passage in Titus) has been the main point of contention. Does the wording of this passage forbid women by saying “husband?” And remember, that the language can also mean “man of one woman”… the words in each of the passages are slightly different – but are all assigned the same word in Strong’s Concordance.  The distinctions, if of great meaning, are being missed by me.

Granted that this passage has also been interpreted to apply to single men and divorced men as well as women, but who is it meant to apply to? Who is being denied the opportunity to be a deacon?

Keep in mind that “deacon” means “servant”. Paul encouraged his young pastors to choose people as “elders” (later on that) and “servants” in the churches they led.

Could this verse be intended to reference a sex or gender or just the idea of fidelity to one spouse? People have disagreed since probably not long after Paul died and could not longer make it clear… but here are a few further factors to contribute to the uncertainty:

One is the previous verse:

I Timothy 3:11

Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.”

Some translate this passage as actually “the women likewise…” (Remember the Greek word issue?) and that is specifically references the women who are deacons.

Most likely to have an impact on the correct interpretation of 3:12 are Paul’s warm words about a deacon in Romans 16:1-2

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.”

The word here for servant is “deacon” and there is nothing in the context to indicate that Paul doesn’t mean to honor her as a “deacon” as described in the pastoral letters. In other words, I think it is very likely that Phoebe was a deacon, and she was certainly not the husband of one wife.

I think this also possibly means that phrase is not meant to be understood that way in the other places where it is used – it is not meant to forbid women from becoming deacons or perhaps not elders either, since the same phrasing is used there:

“Therefore an overseer (elder/bishop?) must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…” I Timothy 3:2

Again, there are different words in the Timothy and Titus passages.  One common theory is that in each, Paul is referencing a total of three offices (deacon, Presbyter, Eklesion) or that the last two or different types of the same office or that he is using the last two terms interchangeably.  My research has not taken me far enough into the offices side of this conversation yet.  I hope to have the time to in the future.

In the meantime, back to the role of women…

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Women in Ministry

Right now, I am the Lead Pastor at a church that allows and encourages women in roles that some other churches do not. Women can serve as deacons, as teachers in a co-ed Life Group, members of the Leadership Board (the main decision making board of the church), can be licensed as a minister, and could hold the title “pastor” (though not likely in the position of “lead pastor”).

Sometimes we get questions about these decisions and so I thought I would write an article to show why I believe that these are biblically acceptable options.

I want to note that language – biblically acceptable – is very intentional. I do NOT think that the decisions this church has come to are biblically necessary.

I have worked in other churches that had very different conclusions on these issues. Immediately before coming be on staff at this church, I was an elder at a church that would have said none of these were allowed, and I think that is a biblically acceptable option too!

I have no intention for this to be an in depth article about women in the church or home in general. Heck, it isn’t even a very in depth conversation in women’s roles in ministry – that takes books. This is just a simple explanation of why I think the options chosen by the church where I am are biblically within the margin of error, so to speak.

So, given so much margin in how to interpret the biblical teachings on the roles of women in the church, what are some of the complicating factors and how do I feel comfortable with the direction that our church has gone?

Here are some complicating factors:

Let me start with noting that I am not a Greek expert.  I have never been really trained in it.  I am including the insights I have taken from commentaries, notes, Strong’s Concordance, and others.  I apologize when the Greek is too simplified.  I look forward to hearing where I may be making mistakes here.

The Greek word for “man” (aner or some similar version of it) (for example, see Romans 4:8) is also the Greek word for “husband” (see Romans 7:2). There are times when this creates uncertainty in the language as to which is being emphasized (the sex or the role).

To further complicate matters, the Greek word for “woman” (gyne) is also the Greek word for “wife”. The meaning is based on the context entirely.

Go check out I Corinthians 11:3-16 and imagine how important this distinction would be.

How about the idea that women are to be silent in church from 1 Cor 14?

“…the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (ESV)

I think this passage is intended to be understood as “wife” each time.  I am not the scholar that many who disagree with me are, so take my opinion as not worth much, but to me, Paul seems to think that wives (not women as a whole sex) should be asking their questions of their husbands (verse 35) instead of their teacher… and this makes sense in the understanding that Paul thought of the husband as the spiritual leader of his wife.

But anyone can see how this can be confusing, especially given the Greek language! It is easy to see why there is a lot of room for interpretation of passages like this… and why there is great disagreement?

So, what about the roles in the church?

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