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Q47 : Women in Leadership Roles in the Church

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Q47 : Women in Leadership Roles in the Church

I understand and fully believe in the leadership of men in the church, especially in the pastor - elder role. My questions are, can a woman be the Worship Leader (or Music Minister)? Can she be a Youth Minister? Can a woman, who has the gift of teaching, teach a small group if men attend? What if a woman is a prayer warrior, can she lead the Prayer Ministry in her church?

I read your doctinal beliefs and since it matches mine, I would like to know what any of you have to say. Please also provide your scriptural references.

A47 : by Tony Garland

All of the roles you mention (worship leader, youth minister, teacher, and leading a prayer ministry) are ineffective unless the person occupying the role exercises spiritual authority and leadership. This fact, it seems to me, indicates that Jesus' command (given through Paul) in 2 Timothy 1:12 would apply:

Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Timothy 2:11-14)

Although there are many scriptures which teach about the differing role of men and women within the church, this statement by Paul is unique in it's clarity and appeal to timeless principles which cannot be attributed to cultural artifacts prevailing in Paul's day. Paul identified two activities which he does not permit women to pursue: (1) teaching of a man; (2) having authority over a man.

His opposition to women teaching or exercising authority over men is explained by appealing to two historical precedents: (1) Adam was created first—implying the headship of the man (taught explictly in may other passages, eg. Nu. 5:23; 1Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:24; Col. 3:18); (2) Eve was deceived by the serpent whereas Adam was not. (This cuts two ways: it also infers a more weighty condemnation and responsibility for Adam's disobedience. Notice that Jesus came as a man to redeem mankind—the Fall being attributed to Adam, Rom. 5:14.)

We should understand that Paul's reasons prohibiting women from participating in these activities are scriptural and not cultural. It is also important to grasp that the common elements in this dual prohibition involves a combination of exercise of authority ("teach," "have authority over") and role reversal ("over a man").

When applying this passage to situations in the church, the following questions must be asked:

  1. Does the activity engaged in by the woman involve exercise of authority?
  2. Does the activity involve authority exercised over a man?

If the answer to these questions is "yes," then Paul's prohibition would apply.

Given this background, your question really boils down to this: do the above-mentioned roles or activities involve authority exercised over men? My contention is that they almost always do. (The one exception I would make is where the youth ministry involves boys of an age well below adult status. In New Testament times, this would have been prior to a boy's bar-Mitzvah which was probably at age 12, Luke 2:42-49.) Not all will agree. Some may contend that the roles of youth minister, teaching a small group, or leading a prayer ministry do not involve the exercise of authority. Yet I fail to see how this can be if the ministry is at all effective and Biblical in nature.

Ideally, since the role of youth minister is also frequently denoted youth pastor—pastor being a term synonymous for shepherd, overseer, and elder—this role should be occupied by one of the (plural) elders within the church. But since many churches operate in disregard for the NT mandate of plural eldership, or they simply do not have the qualified active men to fulfill this role, the position is often recast as minister, which is synonymous with the Biblical role of deacon. Here again, there is no clear evidence in the NT for the position of deaconess, but clear passages which teach that even deacons are to be men (Acts 6:3; Php. 1:1; 1Ti. 3:8-13).

Unfortunately, lack of qualified male participation in the local church has caused a vacuum which is often filled by women. While the willingness of women to step up to fill the shoes where men have failed their calling is commendable, it ultimately results in a less effective youth ministry as young men lack an in-depth relationship with a male leader. I believe this serves to perpetuate the cycle.

Regarding the activity of leading worship, this too should be the domain of an elder. Can a worship leader truly be effective without spiritual authority over those led? Unless there are no men in the congregation, this authority is implicitly exercised "over a man". And what about the worship team? If there are men on the worship team, then the worship leader is exercising explicit authority over men. The worship leadership role is not explicitly identified in the New Testament, but was occupied by men in the few OT examples available to us (1Chr. 6:31; 15:22; 1Chr. 25:1; Ne. 12:31).

I believe the modern Church makes several mistakes in regard to the position of worship leader. First, it elevates musical worship out of proportion to other forms of worship (e.g., doctrine, prayer). It is most interesting that one of the earliest references to the activities of the NT church doesn't even mention music ministry:

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added [to them]. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:41-42)

Music is an important expression of worship, but it has been elevated above everything else to the point where the musical portion of the church gathering has become the epicenter of controversy and the primary means by which many evaluate the suitability of a fellowship in meeting their felt needs. In this regard, worship leading, in some churches, has greater visibility and focus than teaching doctrine—this is a grave danger and turns the NT totally on its head.

The other error which is often made leads in the opposite direction: placing a greater emphasis on musical ability than spiritual maturity and a knowledge of God's Word. This often results in filling this position with someone who it is assumed can be lacking in eldership qualities so long as they are musically gifted. When this happens, the church is undervaluing the importance of musical worship and assuming that the spiritually immature can somehow lead the congregation into God's presence.

Ideally, the worship leader, where men are in the congregation, should be a man who exercises spiritual authority over those being led—whether explicitly or implicitly. It is my contention that he should be an elder. Again, not all will agree.

When we consider teaching, there again I will maintain it is impossible to be an effective teacher without the exercise of authority. When a teacher teaches, he or she is imparting knowledge from a source of greater knowledge to a recipient with lesser knowledge. This entire process assumes that what is being taught is of a greater truth and authority than the formulative ideas held by those being taught. Can one find an example of teaching within the NT where the teacher is not exercising some authority over those taught? Not that I'm aware of. (Priscilla participated with her husband, Aquila, when teaching Apollos, Acts 18:26.)

As one example, consider a woman teaching a small group with men in attendance. Consider the situation which develops when one of the men challenges some point of her teaching? The first response would be to consider what Scripture itself teaches, as it should be. But what about a situation where there are disagreements about how to interpret what Scripture teaches? (Believe me, these situations always occur at some point.) Now we have the woman who is teaching the group attempting to correct or even suppress what she perceives to be error on the part of the man. Clearly, there are situations where she will exercise authority over the man.

Regarding the woman who is gifted in prayer, what does it mean for her to lead the prayer ministry in her church? Who is she leading? Are there men involved? Is her leadership completely devoid of authority? It seems to me that effective prayer ministry involves a deep understanding of spiritual things coupled with discernment and the exercise of authority. Is there any other area of ministry which is as frequently subject to errant teaching and subjective perception as prayer? But this is precisely Paul's point in his warning to Timothy: that women in general (as typified by the example of Eve) are more subject to deception. This is part and parcel of their emotional make-up, which was also designed by God as the source of innumerable blessings for which we are all abundantly blessed.

In asserting that all of the positions, with the exception of ministering to early-age youth, should be occupied by men (and preferrably, elders) I would be remiss if I failed to recognize that for various reasons, men of our era have consistently fallen short in the area of spiritual leadership. This results in church congregations, with rare exception, within which the women outnumber the men. This has often meant that women have stepped into roles which men fail or refuse to fill in order to get the job done. Where this has occurred, the results have not been optimum (Jdg. 4:9). Yet when the dust of history has settled, true Christianity will owe an incalculable debt to those women who have stepped up where men have failed to provide Biblical leadership.

Yet for all this, we must recognize the dangers of populating positions of church authority, reserved for men, with women:

  • The results will not be God's best (Isa. 3:12; Jdg. 4:9).
  • Gender-matching role models for young men in the church will be lacking.
  • Fewer men will develop into these roles since they are already held by women.
  • Scripture gives several examples of controlling women exercising authority over men. It is never pictured in a positive way (1K. 21:7, 11; 21:25; Isa. 3:12; Rev. 2:20).

Attempts to label these roles as being that of a 'minister' (rather than 'pastor') or 'facilitator' (rather than a 'teacher') is Christian 'political correctness' and will not get around the need for authority for effective leadership. (Note that this is not autocratic authority, but Biblical servant leadershipa.) Rather than attempting to circumvent Scripture, how much better to follow the teachings of our Lord—including recognizing the need for plural eldership leading the local church?

If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. (John 14:21)

I can recommend the following resources for further study of these matters:


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