Women in Ministry
We understand that this topic has been studied and debated by evangelical believers over the centuries, with some reaching different conclusions than those presented here. We believe this to be our best understanding of what Scripture teaches regarding this topic and respectfully request that you give prayerful consideration to the position presented below.
Women participate equally with men in the priesthood of all believers. Their role is crucial; their wisdom, grace and commitment exemplary. Women are an integral part of our ministry teams, worship teams, mission teams, and professional staff, both pastoral and support. We affirm and celebrate their Great Commission impact.
While Scripture teaches that a woman’s role is not identical to that of men in every respect, and that the office of elder is to held by biblically qualified men, it also teaches that women are equal in value to men. Biblically, we believe women may function in any ministry role except in the capacity of an elder. Under the elders’ oversight, a woman’s role in ministry should be based on her gifting and calling by God. In submission to the elders, a qualified woman is free to teach, give pastoral care, and lead in any environment or capacity to which a qualified man may be called.
Outside the role of elder, the only other issue governing the role of women in ministry leadership is how it affects the advancement of the gospel in a particular context. In certain cultures (such as Muslim), limitations may be placed on women in leadership to avoid discrediting the Gospel within that cultural context. With the credibility of the Gospel as the ultimate priority, women should be trained, equipped, and encouraged to minister or lead in any capacity (under the oversight of the elders) as freely and as far as culturally permissible.
Female Leadership in the Bible
Old Testament history includes accounts of strong female leadership. Miriam was a prophet, one of the triumvirate of leaders God sent to Israel during the Exodus period (Ex 15:20). Deborah, as prophet and judge, led the army of the Lord into successful combat (Judges 4 to 5). Huldah, also a prophet, authenticated the scroll of the Law found in the temple and helped spark the great religious reform in the days of Josiah (2 Kings 22; 2 Chron 34).
The New Testament also records ministering women in the Church Age. Tabitha (Dorcas) is called a disciple and had a ministry of helps (Acts 9:36). Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8,9). Euodia and Syntyche were Paul’s coworkers who shared in his struggle to spread the gospel (Phil 4:2,3). Priscilla was another of Paul’s exemplary “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Rom 16:3, 4). In Romans 16, Paul greets a multitude of ministering persons, a large number of them women.
Phoebe, a leader in the church at Cenchrea, was highly commended to the church at Rome by Paul (Rom 16:1, 2). Unfortunately, biases of modern English translators have sometimes obscured Phoebe’s position of leadership, calling her a “servant” or “helper”, etc. Yet Phoebe was diakonos of the church at Cenchrea. Paul often used this term for a minister or leader of a congregation and applied it specifically to Jesus Christ, Tychicus, Epaphras, Timothy, and to his own ministry. Depending on the context, diakonos is usually translated “deacon” or “minister.” Though some translators have chosen the word deaconess (because Phoebe was a woman), such a distinction is not in the original Greek. It seems likely that diakonos was the designation for an official leadership position in the early church.
Junia was identified by Paul as an apostle (Rom 16:7). But many translators and scholars since the 13th century were apparently unwilling to admit there could have been a female apostle, so many of them masculinized her name to Junias. The biblical record shows that Paul was a strong advocate of women’s ministry.
Ministry in the New Testament is “charismatic” (grace-based) in nature. It is made possible and energized as the Holy Spirit sovereignly distributes spiritual gifts (charismata) to each member of the body of Christ (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:7-11,27,28; Eph 4:7-12; 1Pet 4:10,11). While some gifts are a spontaneous work of the Spirit and others are recognized ministry gifts to the Body, all are given for service without regard to gender differentiation. For example, the gift of prophecy is explicitly for both men and women: “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17). That women received and exercised this gift of the Spirit is well attested in the New Testament (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor 11:5).
There are only two passages in the entire New Testament which seem to prohibit women from serving in a leadership capacity in the church (1 Cor 14:34 and 1 Tim 2:12). Since these two passages must be placed alongside Paul’s other statements and practices, they can hardly be absolute, unequivocal prohibitions of the ministry of women, including leadership. Instead, they seem to address a specific context of leadership (eldership) and specific local problems that needed correction in the Corinthian church.
It seems clear in 1 Timothy that Paul’s concern about women usurping the authority of male leadership in the church is in the context of men serving as elders. Headship responsibility and authority in the home, as well as, in the church, is to be held by Spirit-led men. However, the authority of the office of elder and the function of gifted leaders and teachers under the oversight of elders are two different matters. To say the leadership roles of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher are exclusively elder (male) roles goes far beyond the teaching or intent of the Scripture. There is no prescribed limitation anywhere in the Bible placed on women serving in any of these capacities among adults in mixed-gender gatherings. The only prohibition is for women usurping the authority of an elder, and that would be equally true of any man as well. Biblical submission is the responsibility of every believer in the community of the church.
Regarding the specific, local problems in Corinth, there are various interpretations of what Paul was limiting when he said, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (14:34). Options include: (1) chatter in public services; (2) ecstatic disruptions; (3) certain authoritative ministries (such as judging prophecies); and (4) asking questions during the service. Yet, Paul does allow women to pray and prophesy in the corporate service (1 Cor 11:5). So, the idea of women “keeping silent” and “not permitted to speak,” cannot be applied simplistically or universally, otherwise Paul would be blatantly contradicting himself.
We are aware that the ministry and leadership of women are not accepted by some individuals, both within and outside the Christian community. We condemn all prejudice and self-promotion, by men or women. The existence in the secular world of bigotry against women cannot be denied, but there is no place for such an attitude in the body of Christ. We acknowledge that attitudes of secular society, based on long-standing practice and tradition, have influenced the application of biblical principles to local circumstances. We desire to respect, yet wisely redeem, cultures which are at variance with Kingdom principles. Like Paul, we affirm the priority of the Great Commission; it takes precedence over every other consideration. We must reach men and women for Christ, no matter what their cultural or ethnic customs may be (1 Cor 9:19-23).
The message of redemption has been carried to remote parts of the world through the ministry of dedicated, Spirit-filled men and women. A believer’s divine calling via gifts and anointing should give rise to his or her ministry.
Sermon on Women in Ministry (click the picture below)
Questions & Comments Welcomed:
We welcome your questions and comments. You may contact the elders of the church by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Information provided by First Baptist Church of Eugene Oregon used with full permission