“They offered me the role of pastor at my church,” my friend told me with a smile. Originally from South America, she had been serving as a missionary for many years in the Balkans. Continuing with a touch of resignation, she added, “but back home, when I started a vibrant church plant with my friend, the denomination took it over because it needed a male pastor.”
These stories are not uncommon. Women are sent into mission by churches who support them prayerfully and financially. They are commissioned to evangelize, disciple, care, preach, teach and pastor. They are received back into silence and submission. As long as they preach and teach away from home, it is not a problem. As soon as they come back, it is. Women are equal ‘there’, but not ‘here’.
I am not sure why this is the case. Maybe there is some sort of cultural superiority at play. Things apply differently to ‘them’ than to ‘us’. Maybe there are not enough men to go, so we compromise and let women do the job. Maybe it does not matter, as long as we are not seeing it. Maybe we have never thought about it.
Complementarians often point to passages such as 1 Timothy 2:12 to bolster their position that women should not be allowed to teach. In it Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” They assert that Paul’s instruction to Timothy was trans-cultural, and so should be applied in a similar way today, even though our context is different.
But the apparent double standard between a woman’s permissions at home versus in mission sends a confusing message. Are women really equal with men? Or are they not? Are women really permitted to engage in the same ministry with the same authority as men? Or are they not? It seems to me that if Paul’s exhortation was truly trans-cultural, then it would apply as equally in mission as it does at home.
A pastor once told me, “we’ll just call it a missional encouragement, not a sermon. That way no one will get upset.” I had taught and preached in a variety of settings around the world as a missionary, but at home, it was different. The inconsistency in application leads me to believe the real issue is our culture and comfort levels, not Biblical adherence. For whatever reason, people are not comfortable with women in positions of influence and authority, so we limit when and where it can happen. If it were anything else, would mere semantics put us at ease?
Either Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12 are trans-cultural, or they are not. Either women can engage in the same ministry with the same authority as men, or they cannot. Either women are equal to men, or they are not. We cannot pick and choose in which geographic location Scripture applies.
God is using women in mission around the world. Many are hearing about Christ for the first time because of women. Churches are being planted because of women. Relief and development projects are thriving because of women. Justice is happening because of women. If it is okay ‘there’, but not ‘here’, ‘here’ is what is missing out. Women will always take advantage of opportunities and serve God however they can. Let us clarify our message: women, you are commissioned to evangelize, disciple, care, preach, teach and pastor. Everywhere.