Where Do Women Belong in the Church?

I've heard the casual observer and the occasional grumpy old man lament over the fact that women are "taking over the church." And I have to admit, I can see why the casual observer or grumpy old man would think so. As I look around my own church, we have multiple women's ministry events every week and maybe one or two men's ministry events a year. Our women's ministry has Bible studies and discipleship classes, services for single moms and the occasional fun girly event. Any woman new to our church could find dozens of different places to plug in, and that's just not the case for men. 

By the way, I stinking love women's ministry. I co-created and regularly write on this blog for women. I just created a small group curriculum for young women. I teach two women's discipleship classes a week. I love women, I love ministering to women, and I love being ministered to by women. 

But as I look at the women's ministry explosion in our churches, I find another reason (besides the fact that I love women) why I'm so involved in women's ministry, and I think it's the reason a lot of other women are involved, too. 

In many churches today, women's ministry is one of the only places where a woman can exercise her skills, passions and Spiritual gifts.

A woman might be gifted at teaching but cannot teach a small group, she teaches in the women's ministry. She might be a gifted leader but cannot lead committees or ministry teams, so she leads women's ministry events. She might be a gifted writer but is often passed over, so she writes for women's ministry needs. 

I don't think this is done out of spite, but out of practicality. I think it's subconscious and gradual--a natural reaction to our church culture. We are called to exercise our Spiritual gifts to build up the church (Romans 12:6-8), and if the only place a sister feels she can do that is in women's ministry, then there she goes. 

And that is okay. If you think at any point I'm saying that women's ministry is somehow lesser, please go back and reread paragraph 2 until you know that I stinking love women's ministry and think it is such a worthy ministry.

But I do think that with this mindset, the "women can only minister to other women and to children" mindset, the church suffers.

A friend of mine was sharing with me recently that while her small group leader is great at ministering to others and bringing people together, he simply isn't a good teacher. Obviously, just because someone is not gifted at teaching shouldn't exclude them from being in small group leadership. But it should exclude them from being a small group teacher. My friend said that in this case, she thought that the leader's wife made a better teacher, but had no chance to use her gifting.

And that's where the church suffers.

When we eliminate 50% of our possible leaders, teachers, writers, counselors, and speakers from the majority of our church ministries, we are hurting ourselves.

We are pushing men to step into roles that just don't fit them and concentrating the skills of women into a very small amount of ministries.

 I understand that many people--men and women, oppose this kind of thinking because of a Biblical conviction and I respect that. I, too, believe in the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture and don't believe in just throwing out certain passages of Scripture because I don't like them. I, too, was raised in conservative churches and am still trying to figure out exactly where I land on the women in church leadership spectrum. I don't have it figured out. 

I don't view it as my job to try to tell anyone how to interpret the Bible. But I always ask everyone, no matter where they land on any theological issue, to really study the Scriptures about it. Again and again. Give yourself permission to change your mind. Ask yourself if your views are coming from the Bible or from tradition. Ask yourself if you're getting meaning out of the Bible, or making the Bible say what you want it to. In this case, look at the New Testament and see what our sistren (female version of brethren. Surprised you had to ask) did in the early church.*

Then ask yourself: what should I do because of this?

The Bible changed my mind on some of the specifics of women in ministry, and it might change yours too. It may make you believe that it's okay for women to teach mixed groups, to lead ministry teams, or to be to be deacons. But even if you're not willing to go that far, maybe it will cause you to think that we should see more women praying in church services, sharing their testimonies, or leading the occasional small group discussion.  

And I understand that the majority of those I am writing to are, of course, women. So I want to encourage you: learn more about your Spiritual gifts, talents, and skills. Get trained and equipped to use them. Develop them and don't be afraid to volunteer them in a context where you feel comfortable. Let it be known what your Spiritual gifts are. Don't be militant or forceful about it, but let them show.

And if you want to use them in the women's or children's ministry, that is wonderful. Those are some unbelievably worthy ministries, but don't settle on them as comfortable defaults. If you do, you may be cheating the church and yourself out of a gift the Spirit has given you.  

- Erin

* I know this begs the question "So what does the Bible say about women in church leadership?" I'm hesitant to give my opinion for three reasons. One, this issue is still up for debate in Christian circles. Brilliant theological minds fall all over the spectrum on this one, so I am well aware that my opinions and my views are not the one way to interpret Scripture. Two, I so want you to study the Scriptures (and study other people who have studied the Scriptures) and decide what you believe about this for yourself! And three, this post would probably be 8,000 words if I undertook such a topic.

If we have any interest in the subject, I may write a follow up post(s) about what I believe concerning women in ministry and how I got there Biblically. Let us know if you'd like that.