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Women in Ministry

A painting of a woman sitting on the ground talking to a group of men in Biblical times.

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. (Judges 4:4-5 NIV)

I am ordained in the Global Methodist Church, which is a denomination that ordains women to pastoral ministry. Deborah is a prime biblical example of why we believe God calls and gifts and uses women to lead. In a culture that was clearly male-dominated, God raised up Deborah to be Israel's Judge and used her to deliver Israel from the oppression of the Caananites. In addition to being a Judge, Deborah was a prophet, which in God's Kingdom is a position of higher authority even than the kings of Israel.

I know there are two passages of Scripture in which the Apostle Paul says "Women should remain silent in the churches," (1 Corinthians 14:34) and "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet." (1 Timothy 2:12) But Paul also allows women to speak and prophesy in church in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5: "Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved."

I believe Paul is speaking to specific situations in the church at Corinth and in his instructions to Timothy, who was battling false teaching in the church at Ephesus. The main thing Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 14 is chaos in worship, which was evidently partly due to women interrupting the services. Paul insists that those women in that church be silent. In 1 Timothy Paul is dealing with strong, educated women who were eligible to be priestesses in the temple of Artemis (Diana), and who assumed they could be pastors in the Ephesian church. Paul does not permit those women to lead before they learn what it is to submit to Christ.

One of the main principles of understanding the Bible well is the principle that any single verse of scripture is to be understood in the light of all the rest of Scripture. The Bible is the best commentary on itself. It seems clear to me from the examples and principles of the Bible itself that God did use women in roles of leadership over men, and that He does not disqualify a person from leading or being a pastor based solely on gender.

Deborah was a Judge of Israel (Judges 4). Priscilla co-leads a church in their house with her husband, Aquila (Romans 16:3-5). She joins Aquila in teaching Apollos (a man) the deeper things of the faith (Acts 18:24-26). Junia is listed by Paul as an Apostle (Romans 16:7). And Jesus had female disciples (Luke 8:1-3).

Paul himself states the principle of equality of male and female in Christ in Galatians 3:26-28:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

I believe there are more important questions regarding the qualifications of a pastor than "Are they male or female?" More importantly, "Do they know Christ personally and deeply?" And "Do they believe the Bible is the Word of God?" Also, "Are they gifted by the Holy Spirit?"

Ultimately, God chooses whom He calls and gifts as pastors. The Holy Spirit gives the spiritual gifts, including the gifts of pastor and teacher. Every believer is gifted by the Spirit and called to ministry. The ministry we are called to is the ministry we are gifted for.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8 NIV)

Are women called to ministry? In my reading of Scripture and in my experience, yes! I have female colleagues in ministry whom I would gladly accept as my pastor. They are committed to Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, biblically sound and clearly gifted to lead and teach. The task of showing Christ to a fallen, hurting world is far too important to limit the leadership of the church by disqualifying half of the people because of their gender.

To my friends in other denominations who disagree with me on the place of women in ministry, and to members of my church who have a hard time with this reading of Scripture, I love you and respect you. I do not believe you hate women. I understand you are being true to your reading of Scripture, and I respect that. I see it differently, and I do not believe this is an issue of orthodoxy that rises to the level of breaking fellowship with another believer over it. As John Wesley said in his sermon on "The Catholic Spirit," if your heart is right with the Lord and we agree on the essentials of the faith, then give me your hand and let us walk in fellowship. (My summary, not a direct quote)

To my women pastor friends in the Global Methodist Church (and elsewhere), keep being faithful. Preach the Word. Demonstrate your calling by exercising your gifts for ministry. Let God sort it out.

To the members of my congregation, be open to allow God to use any Bible-believer, Spirit-filled pastor to lead you into deeper discipleship. The time could come when God calls a female pastor to Grace Church. Love her as deeply as you are loving Shirley and me. Follow her as passionately as you now follow my leadership.

In all of it, to God be the glory!


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