women in leadership

Wrestling with the Buts: Women in Leadership and the Bible

Lady in the MarketThese days it seems like everywhere I turn, I’m getting pulled into discussions about what the Bible does or does not allow women to do. Can they be pastors? Can they preach? What about other teaching and leading ministries? How about leadership in the home? Articles such as this one by Matt Walsh, and this one from Got Questions, have been sent to me with requests for my perspective.

I’m not a Bible scholar, but I have extensively thought about, prayed through, and researched these issues. I grew up in a complementarian church, and have written previously about how I changed my mind about women in leadership. This article, though, isn’t about my personal process. It’s dealing with the popular objections Christians have about women in leadership. In short, we’re wrestling with the buts. Instead of reinventing the wheel with my own written responses to the arguments, I’m including a series of articles that respond in a much better way than I can. Here we go…

…BUT Adam was created before Eve (Genesis 1-2; 1 Tim. 2:9-15)

A scholarly take on the ‘creation order’ argument – http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/genesis-equality-part-1

Word study on helpmeet (Heb. Ezer kenegdo) – https://godswordtowomen.org/ezerkenegdo.htm

…BUT no women are found teaching men in the Old Testament

An examination of women and their ministry throughout the OT & NT – https://rachelheldevans.com/blog/mutuality-women-leaders

…BUT Jesus was a man

This article deals with this objection, as well as the larger context of God and gender – http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/does-god-have-gender

…BUT the 12 apostles were all men

Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian’s article deals with this objection beautifully – http://godswordtowomen.org/Apostles.htm

…BUT Paul says women can’t be church leaders or teach / have authority over men (aka the 1 Timothy 2 argument)

The short answer – http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/other/short-answers-challenging-texts-1-timothy-211-15

The long answer – http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/1-timothy-28%E2%80%9315-and-gender-wars-ephesus

The meaning of ‘authority’ in 1 Timothy 2:12 – http://juniaproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/THE-MEANING-OF-%CE%B1%E1%BD%90%CE%B8%CE%B5%CE%BD%CF%84%E1%BD%B3%CF%89-IN-1-TIMOTHY-2.12.pdf

…BUT the man is the head of the home (Eph. 5:21-33)

On the Significance of Kephalē (“Head”) – http://juniaproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Cervin-Sig-of-Kephale.pdf

Q&A: Does the Bible Allow Women to Have Authority Over Men? –  http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/mutuality/qa-does-bible-allow-women-have-authority-over-men

There are probably many other ‘buts’. To be honest, even with everything I have read on these topics, I still don’t have all the answers. However, what I do know leads me to believe that the Bible’s answer to the question of women in leadership is a resounding YES. Leadership, just like any other ministry in the church, depends on one’s gifts, calling, passions, and interests. It does not depend on gender.

All in all, everyone is entitled to their viewpoint, and we do need to learn to disagree agreeably. People are supposed to know we are Christians by our love (Jn. 13:35). But I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m tired of defending my ability to exercise my gifts, so I’m just gonna be over here getting shit done for Jesus.

Further Resources

For an overall scholarly treatment of the biblical basis for women’s ministry in the church, NT Wright’s video and article are excellent.

Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy – Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (eds.). Available from Amazon.

For Individual or Group Bible Study – In the Image of God: Exploring what the Bible says about men and women. Available as a PDF from Proost.*

*I have gone through this study myself and with a group, and found it a non-threatening way to examine and think through key aspects of this topic.

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Taking Off Our Glasses: A Leadership Lesson

I’ve worn glasses for a long time. I think I got my first pair when I was three, or at the latest, five. I’ve worn them for so long that I often forget I’m wearing them.

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I suffered from depression for six years. Everything felt so dark and hopeless, like wearing a pair of sunglasses that could never come off. I couldn’t imagine that life could look any differently.

I think how we see and engage in leadership is not so different from these experiences. We become saturated in a single perspective and we cannot imagine it could look another way. We do not even realize we are wearing glasses. So, we continue thinking and operating with a narrow, anemic perspective, believing that’s all there is. Maybe we find mentors, read books, go to conferences, or take courses. Seemingly we are engaging in good things and becoming better leaders. But all of these things are the same colour as our glasses so that we are never challenged. If something different does manage to break in, the threat of the anomaly is quickly quenched. To reference Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a popular Nigerian author and speaker, there is great danger to a single story.

Most of what I have seen, read, and experienced regarding leadership is from a white, Western, male perspective. This is not a bad nor a wrong perspective, but if it becomes my only set of glasses, then it is incomplete. Some time ago I came across Next Leadership. It’s a UK-based organization founded by Kate Coleman. Not only is she a woman, but she was also born in Ghana, and has been a pioneer for women in leadership in a number of areas. Her book ‘the 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership’ was the first book I ever read on leadership by a woman. For the first time in my life, I saw a different perspective on leadership, and discovered well articulated, unique challenges for women in leadership.

A number of months ago, I found another book on sale: ‘Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women’ by Dr. Halee Gray Scott. This was my second book on leadership by a woman. Both Coleman and Scott recognize that from the outset, many women are disqualified for leadership based on their gender, especially as it relates to specific theologies among Christians. However, they write presuming (and presuming correctly) that women do have leadership gifts and are already leading in all kinds of arenas. Through these books, I began to see more of my glasses.

One particular aspect stuck out to me from Scott’s book. In her studies, she focused her thesis on perceptions of female leaders serving in para-church ministries. She discovered one of the unique challenges for women in para-church leadership (and likely in Christian leadership in general), was the discrepancy between how good women were perceived compared to how good leaders were perceived.

When women display the desirable leadership traits – confident, competent, assertive, and bold – they cease to be viewed as warm and caring and are instead perceived as tough, aggressive, and domineering. This creates a double bind, because if women act in ways consistent with gender stereotypes, they are not viewed as competent leaders, but if they act in ways consistent with good leaders, they are not liked. In political circles, these women are called ‘iron ladies’. (p.107)

Scott adds, “since perceptions of female leaders strongly correlate with perceptions of successful leaders, but greatly contrast with perceptions of women in general, it means that Christians view female leaders as exceptions to the rule” (p.115). From my own experience, her research results ring true. I’ve had to decide that I will use my gifts and pursue my calling regardless of how favourably people view me, as a woman or as a leader. More women than I can count have told me they could not do what I do. This could be true, since we are all given different gifts and abilities (1 Cor. 12). However, even those that could lead likely believe it is not possible. Scott concludes, “whether we like it or not, we do not think a woman can be both a good woman and a good leader” (p.107). We lose out on capable leaders because many women consider this price too high to pay, and choose instead to act in ways that will gain them social acceptability as a woman.

How can we move forward? The first step is to realize the danger of a single story about leadership, and have the courage to seek out other perspectives. Imagine you actually are wearing a pair of glasses, and that leadership can look differently than you may have believed until now. With your new and evolving viewpoint, challenge others to see beyond what’s right in front of them. Use whatever privilege you have to encourage people, especially women, to pursue leadership in ways that are unique to them. Whatever you do, refuse to let a single story dominate the leadership landscape.