Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Women and leadership

A few months ago I said I'd be writing on women in leadership and now finally I have the time to do so. Its a big topic, and I'm trying to sum it up in a few paragraphs when there have been whole books written on it. So here goes.

I have been to churches where for a women to be in any form of leadership they need to be married to a male leader . If they're not, then they're not officially qualified to be a leader no matter what their gifts and calling. I have also been to churches and talked to Christians who think that women should only be leading and speaking to women and children at the very most. Some churches only let women into leadership if they are married.

Some churches won't even you let you be on staff and certainly won't let you be an ordained pastor unless you're a married male. They take the passage saying that a church leader should "be the husband of but one wife" to equal that all leaders should be married males. They also use the famous passage by Paul talking about what women should not be doing in church as justification for keeping them out of leadership.

Here is that passage in full "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 v33-35).

You would think this makes it obvious. It doesn't. Firstly, look at the context it was written. It was written to the Corinthian church in a culture where men were the most educated and most knowledgeable people in society, and a place in Corinth where women were preaching false doctrine about a female god named Diana. Into that context, why wouldn't Paul write that women shouldn't be speaking in church? The principle surely is that the untaught and unqualified shouldn't be speaking in church, which makes a lot of sense.

Lets see what Paul says elsewhere. In his letter to the Romans he says "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me" (Romans 16 v1-3)

Phoebe was a deacon in the early church. A deacon would have meant someone in leadership and would in all probability have meant she led meetings and preached to congregations of both men and women. Paul speaks of her very highly, not as some inferior person in an inferior role. He is sending her to the Romans, which means he must have placed great trust and authority on her.

Then there is the last sentence, about Priscilla and Aquila. Now when writing it was the norm at the time in letters to name people in order of seniority in the church and certainly to name the man first. However, Paul mentions Priscilla first, a sign of her higher authority within the church - in which she had a more prominent role than her husband.

These two things combined with the contextual look at the Corinthians passage can only lead me to conclude that not only did Paul agree with women in leadership in the right context but actively promoted it. Women were senior leaders and deacons in the early church.

In Corinth women were uneducated and some were preaching false doctrine. It made sense for them not to lead or preach. It's the principle that is taught here, rather than the literal text itself.

That passage has in fact been down the centuries, in a male-dominated culture, been used an misinterpreted by the church to keep women at arms length. Actually Paul actively supports and encourages the opposite.

If you're not convinced, then at the Gospels and see what Jesus said about women and how he treated them.

Jesus respects women, He treats them as equals. He goes and speaks to the woman at the well and talks to her like he'd talk to other people. When he rises from the dead He chooses a woman to be the first to hear the good news and go and tell people. Not a man, which would have made more common sense, given that women's testimonies were not regarded as valid in the culture of the time. But Jesus chooses a woman to be the first to preach the good news that Jesus is risen. She goes and tells the disciples that Jesus is alive. Not once does Jesus ever treat women any differently than anyone else. He never makes clear that they are not to preach or to lead or are somehow inferior to men. All He does is precisely the opposite.

At the original creation before the fall men and women were given dominion over the earth, it was only when sin entered the world that God put men in charge over women. If Jesus has come and taken away our sin, then surely Christian women are now free from that curse. A new covenant, a new order, back to how God originally intended.

In the Old Testament there are women leaders like Esther, although as the curse of Eve was still in place there were no female figures in the Jewish church. Once Jesus comes along though that changes radically.

If you're still adamant women should not be in leadership, then think of this. What if Jesus came down now and stopped the work of every female in church leadership. The ministry of Jackie Pullinger would not have happened and when you think of the impact she has made for Jesus on this world that's just plain ridiculous. Joyce Mayer is another gifted leader and speaker who has changed lives for Christ.

Imagine a female was preaching at an evangelical meeting when hundreds were becoming Christians. Would Jesus come in an say "Stop now, you're not mean to be leading or preaching". I doubt very much He would, especially not as the first person He asked to speak the good news of His resurrection was a woman and given the equality and respect He afforded women.

Some people have called what I'm talking about as 'feminist Christianity', trying to follow the politcally correct culture of the time. Nothing could be further from the truth. What it actually is is Biblical Christianity, its following the example of Jesus and the early church. It has not one iota to do with feminism or political correctness. Read the Bible and see for yourself.

Jesus is in favour of women, respects women and chose a woman to be the first evangelist. The early church practised women in leadership and Paul actively promotes it. Jesus has broken the curse on women through the cross and now they are free to serve and glorify God in the ways He is gifting and leading them to do. I believe that if we restrict women in leadership and preaching, we are trying to restrict God. That's not something I want to have to answer for in Heaven and its definitely not Biblical.

Men and women should be working in leadership together as a team, not one superior to the other. God has given gifts of leadership and preaching to men and women alike - let them use them.