Monday, April 20, 2009

Calling All Theoblogians #6

Ok, I know I'm opening a HUGE can of worms with this one but I've been thinking about this a lot lately and I'm just getting more and more confused.

I want to ask about......women in ministry!

(I hope I'm not hearing any claws being sharpened ;))

To me, the question 'Should women be in ministry?' is misguided. Of COURSE they should be in ministry, of course they should teach, encourage, lead etc. God has given women these gifts for service of his church and for mission to the unreached.

I think a more appropriate question is: 'WHO should women minister to?' In what context?

Since I've been a Christian I've met highly opinionated people from both sides. Some say women should only teach children or other women. Others don't think it matters at all, if God has gifted a woman she should be allowed to lead. But when I probe further, I've found it rare for these people to back up their views from Scripture. Some come from conservative churches and have just accepted that teaching no questions asked. Others have been brought up to hold their family's position. Some believe the 'end determines the means' and that we should be thinking 'missionally' so if women preaching will get more people into the church then we should go for it, that anyone who thinks differently is a sexist bigot.

You see I think it matters greatly how God wants his church to be run. It doesn't matter what we think would make the church more 'successful' or 'trendy', we need to be asking whether God cares about the gender of his church's leaders and preachers. If he does, then we must adhere to his guidelines regardless of how 'backward' this may seem in the eyes of some. If he doesn't mind, then we have freedom in this issue.

So my next question is: what DOES the Bible say?

Those who have used the Bible to back up their views, have pointed me to 1 Timothy 2:12 where it says I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. Therefore, they have come to the view where woman can preach and teach to children and other women but not where men are present. They say this is because God created Adam first and then Eve and Eve was to be Adam's helper. This does not make her role less important but if she were to lead, then it would be a role reversal which is against God's created order.

Yet I'm convinced that neither of the two churches I've been a part of have got this right and their positions have left me more confused than ever. At my old church, women were not allowed to preach or become elders or service leaders. Yet, they were allowed to lead the congregation in prayer during the service, lead music and lead Bible studies in mixed groups. During my time there I was a Bible study leader in mixed groups and no-one had a problem with this. When I asked why women were allowed to teach in Bible study but not during the church service, I was told that leading Bible study is not really leading, it is 'fascilitating', that is Bible study is more of a discussion and if I were teaching heresy, there were men there who could quickly correct me whereas sermons where not usually interrupted. I never understood why women weren't allowed to lead services as it's an MC role rather than a teaching role.

At my current church, I have never seen a woman get up in front of church for anything except to sing; everything is done by men bar morning tea, music and Sunday School. I'm not sure if that's the church's 'official position' on the matter or if it's a country church thing but I've only heard one female ever question this and she, like me, moved up here from Perth and is fairly new to the district. Duncan has told me about other churches he knows of where women are deliberately kept from getting up the front during church for fear they will become 'power-hungry'. In my view, this is terrible because it is legalism. I'm not talking about teaching/leadership here, I'm talking about the fact that women are being banned from things that Scripture does not warrant for fear 'girl power' will invade the church. This is a shocking thing, putting fences in front of sisters in Christ a lot of who have no desire to 'take over', they simply want to serve God (like Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2). While I was at uni, the Christian Union held annual elections for their committee and while I was in second year, a girl took over as president. One of my female friends was most unhappy about this because she had this staunch view that Christian males should always lead in all contexts even though in this case no guy wanted the president's job. The president's role was not of spiritual leader but rather an admin leader and encouraging of other Christians at uni.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no hardcore, bra-burning feminist. I'm not asking these questions because I have a burning desire to preach at my church (everyone will probably sigh with relief). I love public speaking but if I never preach that's no skin off my nose. I trust the guys who are leaders and want to encourage them in their roles. Rather I don't like meaningless traditions and fences being put up (in case of women being banned from everything) and I think church practices should always be questioned and drive us back to the Bible. This may make us realise we were right all along or we need to seriously change how we do things.

I'm also confused about what is 'preaching' and what is 'teaching' and if there is a difference between the two. Duncan and I spoke with someone recently who is of the view that women can preach in churches (give a sermon) as long as it is ok with the elders. He mentioned the 1 Timothy verse but said it does not refer to women in general, rather to wives submitting to their husband's leadership. He said the NIV translates it badly and we need to look at the Greek (this is opening up a whole other kettle of fish on Bible translations which I'll post on another time). What I don't get is that why would God want me to follow Duncan's leadership outside of church yet in church it is reversed? That doesn't make sense. This guy also said that women are allowed to 'preach' but not 'teach' because teaching is more in-depth expounding of Scripture but he never explained why he believes this and offered no verses to back it up. Then I was even more confused when he said I would be allowed to preach as long as Duncan was present but then he seemed to change his mind and said I could preach but Duncan would have to be absent because I am not meant to teach my husband. To me, this makes NO SENSE. It's like I would have to plan for Duncan to be absent from church weeks in advance so I could plan my sermon. This guy, while being an advocate for women preachers, said that a woman should never be given the title of 'Pastor', that is a man's title, even if she is a children's pastor. Again, I have no idea where he got this from and my head was spinning by that stage.

The issue of women teaching opens up more grey areas than we realise. One example is books. If I write a Christian book explaining Scripture, then is a man allowed to read it? Or does that only matter in church contexts? Duncan and I study the Bible together on our 'date night'. A couple of weeks ago, he didn't understand something we were reading and I had a better understanding so I explained it to him. Is this wrong? Duncan didn't have an issue with it.

Part of me thinks I am never going to get the answer I crave. That either the Bible is too obscure in this area or nobody will want to give up their cherished traditions or already formed views to see what it actually says.

Anyone out there want to have a stab at this?


Mark Edwards said... takers...

I used to be a lot clearer on this issue that what I am now....

honest answer...mmmmmmm

Sarah said...

C'mon Mark :)

Does 'mmmmm' translate as you agree with what I've written or you are not sure of your views?

Mark Edwards said...

I do find it interesting that everyone had something to say about money....but no one is touching this! :)
I used to think that women preaching was a big no no...but because God has changed my idealistic conservative views on so many things, I need to really revisit this.

What I will say is this, at our church women lead communion, lead worship, pray and share in the service. I have been to many conferences where women have been the keynote speaker, or one of the speakers, and I have been blessed and enriched by what they have shared.

However...I believe the husband is to be the spiritual leader in the home...and I believe that is how God has wired us, and how it works best, I see it in my own church, when the dad comes to church, so does the rest of the family...when the dad for whatever reason is absent, it is a struggle...

I think in some way this must apply to the church, but how...I am not as dogmatic on as I once was.

Amanda said...

Hi Sarah, I was given a blog award, and with it I am to nominate 5 or more others. I know I don't comment much , but I have been following your blog for some months now and found all of your posts worthwhile reading and wish to nominate you for the Sisterhood Award.

This is what you need to know:
I have nominated you for a Sisterhood Award. It was given to me by someone who thought my blog was creative and inspirational. In return I got to nominate a minimum of 5 women whose blogs I find inspirational and encouraging.

You can see the post at my blog at Now you get to share the award with other great bloggers. Here is how it works:

1. Put the sisterhood award logo on your blog or post (found on my blog, just copy it and save it to your computer first)
2. Nominate at least 5 blogs which show great Attitude and/or Gratitude!
3. Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
4. Let them know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog.

I've written specifically what inspires me about your blog in my post:

Sarah said...

Thanks Mark and thanks Amanda for the award.

Perhaps the unsure of their position so they are reluctant to comment. I guess I can understand, I seldom comment on blogs when I'm very unsure of my views.

Sarah said...

Ooops, that 'the' was meant to be 'they are'. I need to learn to proofread.

Taryn said...

Big one Sarah, all I can say is that I agree with you on the point you made about it being rather blurry when we allow women to lead in some contexts, and not others. Who decides which settings are appropriate and how can we be sure they are right?

I have felt aware of the limited, but real opportunity to teach in song-leading when I've done this in the past, not to mention the ad-hoc teaching that occurs in Bible studies and one-on-one discussions.

I think that Paul was definitely including formal settings, such as church meetings, in his comment to Timothy about women not teaching. That seems a given. What would Paul, and therefore God, have though about women leading Bible studies? It's pretty hard to be certain without knowing exactly what issues Paul had with women teaching. If it was to do with the God-ordained roles for men and women, then it's hard to imagine God would want women leading men in any spiritual context.

Beyond this I don't know, and so it's an issue where I prefer to 'err on the side of caution'. Perhaps that is what a lot of others in the 'conservative' world do as well?

Sarah said...

Yeah good points Taryn. I guess I've just found it frustrating as a woman who wants to serve God when it's been suggested to me that I do Sunday School. The same as not all men want to preach, not all women want to do kids' ministry, it's really not my thing.