The message read:
I read [your latest post] and really enjoyed/agreed/thought deeply about the words. Then I looked . . . and saw that you are a preaching pastor. My heart aches. You are in sin. Women are not to be pastors.
The message from this stranger continued, and then an article was shared as a resource for “the Lord to show me the truth.” The truth is, this wasn’t the first message of its kind that I’ve received, personally. I am a pastor. I’m a pastor who preaches on Sundays to men and women.
And along with e-mails from concerned congregants about our leadership decision, encouragement on a Sunday sermon or updates about illness or new additions to a family – every now and again I’m also reminded that my role as a woman who leads and preaches in the church isn’t welcomed, approved or validated by some.
Growing up, I didn’t see women leading in our small home church in Houston, Texas. Mostly, I observed women – my mother included – preparing and filing membership documents in the back church office, teaching Sunday school to children, directing the choir, or readying the fellowship hall for donuts after church. I never saw a woman open a Bible and preach to the larger congregation about Jesus and the Gospel, nor did I see a woman exercising her leadership gifts to cast compelling vision or lead healthy teams of servant leaders into the future.
When I was younger, I always thought it odd that my mother could lead as a Human Resources professional for a large oil company – but not in our church. Something didn’t add up.
For many women, this is still reality: they’re welcomed to use their myriad spiritual gifts of hospitality, administration, leadership and teaching as outlined in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 – but only to a certain extent. Usually, if restrictions are present within their church communities, the line is drawn regarding who women can teach (babies and youth), or who they can lead (other women, but not men).
These restrictions aren’t without what seems to be biblical support, straight from the text itself. There are a few texts that have made their way into this conversation. Some cite the words of Paul, the apostle:
“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.” – 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (TNIV)
Others flip to his words in 1 Timothy 2: 11-14:
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.”
According to these two passages, taken alone in isolation – then my sister who came through the DMs was right: I’m not to be a pastor.
A question that should be asked, then, with these texts, and any other within the Bible, should become: Who is the author? Who’s the author talking to or addressing? And what specific situation warranted these words? This regard for a biblical hermeneutic, or a theory of interpretation of the biblical text gives us more insight into what a biblical author meant by certain words within a certain context.
Obviously, different interpretations of given texts often clash and scholars disagree, but when it comes to these two texts, an egalitarian (versus complementarian) read of the apostle’s words might suggest that there is not a universal application against all women leading and teaching.
In the 1 Corinthians passage, for example, Paul may have specifically been addressing a problem within the Corinthian church of women who were known to interrupt and therefore disrupt worship gatherings . . . with their questions. A spirit of curiosity may have been welcomed, but the incessant questioning resulted in chaos within the gathering. Paul’s proposed solution to that issue, then, was for women to hold their questions and ask their husbands – who, culturally, would’ve been better educated.
The 1 Timothy passage gets pretty layered when considering not only cultural context, but grammar and the Greek language, as well as a perspective of creation as outlined in Genesis. What we do know is that the city of Ephesus was known to be a hub of pagan worship. And so many egalitarian perspectives would hold a similar view to theologian and author Stanley J. Grenz:
“[Paul’s] main purpose . . . is to assist a church suffering from heretical teachings perpetrated by persons who aspired to be teachers but did not have the prerequisite understanding. To this end, Paul emphasizes the need for good teaching. Hence, orthodox teaching – not the preservation of male headship – appears to be upper-most in Paul’s mind as he writes his injunction concerning women.”
Texts like these two also seem to contradict those like Galatians 3:28, where Paul’s words would suggest that all are one in Christ Jesus, not just in the hopes for salvation, but in the carrying out of life in Christ within the community.
In Romans 12, Paul also makes it clear:
“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”
The Spirit of God gives gifts indiscriminately to both men and women in the Church for the use of building up and equipping the body of Christ. These gifts are to be used in love, and not to be yielded as tools of authority or submission.
Many church leaders may reference the words of Paul, but my calling to ministry didn’t start as a rebellion to a debate about whether or not I should lead or preach.
As a 22-year-old, I was volunteering at our church’s high school summer camp. Even though I went to help out with the fun and games of camp competition, I rested against the wall in the back of the auditorium as the speaker for the week taught about Jesus’ first miracle in John 2. There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee and the raging celebration was about to come to a halt because the wine had run out. Mary, Jesus’ mother is trying to get Jesus to do something about the situation, when a couple servants on the scene become involved. Mary turns to these servants and says something that’s been the driving force behind my ministry’s motivation and dedication to Christ’s church as a pastor and preacher:
“Do whatever he tells you.” —John 2:5.
And then, at Jesus’ instruction, the servants end up transporting what looks to them like water to the master of the banquet. And somehow, somewhere along the way — the water turns into something else.
In hearing those words spoken by that teacher years ago, clarity settled on my heart. Regardless of what makes sense to man, regardless of one’s interpretation of abBiblical text involving an apostle’s words that may differ from mine – my devotion to Christ as a servant of the Gospel in pursuit of His glory here on earth has one driving force:
I long to do whatever he tells me to do. By the Holy Spirit, if the gift of grace that God has given me is to preach, then I’ll carry that vessel along the way. If it’s to lead, then I’ll carry that one. If it’s to cast vision for a broken and yet beautiful Church, then I might tremble with each step, but Jesus holds the words of life — and so I’ll go.
At the end of the day, my theology of being a pastor and preacher who also happens to be a woman isn’t one that I spend energy defending. There are those who will disagree with me, my position, my church – even my husband – for “letting” me exercise these gifts in my current vocation.
And if and when they do disagree, I’ll hold space with that person, love them to the best of my ability and encourage them by the Spirit of God with grace and truth. I won’t let what I don’t yet know about the mystery of faith in Jesus deter me, nor will I allow another’s perspective – particularly out of the context of personal relationship with me – be enough to sway me from what I’m convinced is my work to do.
My confidence is in the power of the Word of Christ, who can take what doesn’t make sense and turn it in to a miracle that points to His authority.
Women have been included in the great story of the Gospel since the beginning, and by God’s design, we’ve been equipped to proclaim the good news of the empty tomb, of the Resurrection, of salvation. We’ve been equipped to lead and prophecy and teach and administer mercy and care.
May we as women – and may all of us – continue to walk forward in what is ours to do with Christ. May our devotion to Him outweigh our discontent with or contention against another’s view. And may we all work to live out our faith, to do whatever He tells us – out of love for God and one another.