A Woman’s Role in Church — What Is It, Anyway?

Relationships between men and women spark conversation and controversy, and if you want to get a good argument started, ask the question,

“What is the woman’s role in church?”

Not surprisingly, many men and women, especially those of the evangelical persuasion, reply along the lines of,

Gathering Thoughts, inspirational original oil painting of woman on ocean coast beach in the waves by Steve Henderson licensed wall art home decor at Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, Amazon, Kirklands, Wayfair

How we live, and what we do, takes thought, consideration, prayer, and meditation. There are no easy, trite answers. Gathering Thoughts, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed wall art home decor at iCanvas, Wayfair, Kirklands, and more

“She must be submissive and quiet, respectful to male leadership, and she should NEVER TEACH MEN! She may, and should, actually, teach children’s church, since this is a special area that women are really talented in.” (We also, for some reason, are exceptionally skilled at changing diapers, dealing with runny noses, and mopping up the product of upset tummies. And the donut ministry, in the back foyer with the coffee pots, simply wouldn’t exist without women.)

A plethora of Bible verses are brought into play as to why women take a secondary (but, we are assured, important) role in spiritual matters. We’ve all heard about how Eve ate the apple first, which we’re told says volumes regarding her naivete and how easily she is fooled, although one can’t help but wonder about Adam’s perspicacity, or singular lack of it. If the temptation account of Genesis 3 makes the woman look credulous, the man comes out looking hardly any better.

Whacked by Bible Verses

But the point is, although there are plenty of verses to verbally thrash any upstart back into submission — a misguided technique we easily fall into when we see the Bible as travel guide or spiritual etiquette pamphlet as opposed to a rich resource for learning about who God is, and how much He loves us — there are always verses that don’t fit, and need to be prodded and pulled and pummeled into shape:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

This is not a counter statement to the “other side’s argument” so much as it is a beautiful affirmation of the worth and value of all human beings — women are not “lesser,” employees (rapidly becoming the 21st century slaves) are not “inferior,” those of Jewish descent or perceived Jewish descent are not superior, possessors of a “Better Than the Rest of Humanity” pass regardless of how they act, believe, or treat others. We are all one in Christ, beloved children of a most merciful and loving Father, and we are all to approach our Father individually and privately, relying upon Him to build and strengthen our closeness to Him.

The Father of Daughters and Sons

Diaphanous inspirational original oil painting of beautiful woman in lilac dress at grand canyon by Steve Henderson licensed wall art home doecor at allposters, amazon, art.com, Great Big Canvas

If we stop worrying about buildings and systems, it’s amazing the places God can take us — and there’s no glass ceiling. Diaphanous, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed wall art home decor at Great Big Canvas, Art.com, AllPosters, Amazon.com

As women, we do not need to secure our husband’s, or any male’s, permission to enter into conversation with our Father, nor do we need testosterone-based guidance in studying the Scriptures, in the same way that many of us are capable of contributing to the family income, managing the finances, or getting the car in for its oil change without subsiding weakly into virile arms, aflutter with the vapours.

We use telephones, drive trucks, push lawnmowers, and conduct public conversations with men, women, and children. And quite honestly, we teach men all the time — whether it’s because we are their managers at work, their mothers who don’t stop giving advice when they reach adolescence, or simply intelligent, articulate beings who find that, sometimes, we have something significant to say.

But the problem is, while we are able to walk down the street without being accompanied by the household footman, we can’t — in many churches — stand behind the pulpit and teach.

The Glass Cathedral Ceiling

But is this a problem? If the cathedral ceiling of the rapidly becoming inconsequential contemporary “church” is closed to the voice of women, does this mean that women do not speak?

Not at all, because when we recognize that there are two major definitions of church — 1) the multiple weekly event that involves, for most people, sitting and listening and 2) the body of Christ in which we are all valued children of our Father, each with unique gifts meant to be used — then we can effectively decide where we want to spend our energy (and, come to think of it, our money).

And the best place to spend it, the one in which we are not fettered by literally man-made dictums, is in the real church, the one in which we operate as a son or daughter of God. Now in this real church, we speak and give and receive and teach and learn as we we go about the process of living, and we reach, and are reached by, those who are in our sphere of influence — family, friends, the checker at the grocery store, the librarian who forgives our late fees.

There is no guarantee, however, that we will wear religious robes, or bask in the adulation of acolytes, or receive compensation for what we do, which is, indeed, what those at the top CEO status of the religious organization that we mistakenly identify as “church” receive. If that is our goal, then we probably won’t reach it, because few people, even men, make it to the top of that corporate ladder, and even in the lesser regions, where male elders and deacons and pastors spend more time studying “leadership issues” than they do books of the Bible, it would do little good for a woman to try to break in. The people who cleave to that sort of teaching aren’t ready to hear words — from a woman or a man — that don’t conform to their rule models.

So why bother? Why waste energy with a system that presents itself as a weak substitute for the real thing when we could be learning, questioning, reading, praying, loving, teaching, and doing good things for others, going about our Father’s business with all the energy and creativity that He has given to all of us?

Whether you are a woman or a man, if you know that you are God’s daughter or son, then speak. Those who have ears to hear, will listen.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. You may notice that I’m not particularly big on group-think, group-speak, or inveterate group participation, because commonsense shows us that, in all groups, only a few benefit from the energy and contribution of all.

That’s not how it is with God, who shows no favoritism. He does not bless others, at the expense of you and me, because others are more valuable. But for some reason, we act as if He does.

Posts complementing this one are

What Does “Real Church” Look Like?

When Christian Leaders Say “Jump!” Do We Leap?

“If You Leave Church, How Will You Fellowship?”

About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She writes about life, art, and the art of life.
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4 Responses to A Woman’s Role in Church — What Is It, Anyway?

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I feel that my place is NOT one of leadership at all…other than maybe one-on-one…and I am the most content NOT being in charge…but there are women who can handle it. We have a woman rabbi where we are attending now…and one of the lay people who fills in for her is a woman and also teaches our class and I like how she does things as well. BUT…THANKFULLY some of the other women who do NOT belong in leadership and do not know it, are for now thankfully, NOT teaching or leading. It was not a concern to me either when we were in the church…part of our lives were in ones that only let men lead for the most part. The system in play now is for this time of life. I do not believe it will be in our future life to come. No fences there either so far as I know…heehee….what a shock that will be for quiet a few.

    While not all men we have had in leadership where we have been, were the greatest…the ones who messed up the most, quite frankly, were women. I think their motives were not the best maybe? Well, that is how it was…for whatever reason. Part of being content is knowing what your strengths and talents are and then finding a place to use them. Hubby and I have always felt one of the greatest lacks in churches, or maybe any group, are those willing to help…be it with cleanup, setup, being a friend to others, hospitality, all things no one assigns you to do and most others are more than happy to let you do. Yet so few takers in those spots.

    • It is interesting, Elizabeth, how often the disciples and people argued about who would be greatest, and how Jesus continuously expressed the need for humility, the willingness to be last, to lead by serving. Whether “leaders” are women or men, that aspect of humility — and willingness to lead the way Jesus did — seems to be lacking on a broad scale. I can’t help but wonder how many mega-ministries and churches would be without their leaders if the perks of money, fame, and accolade didn’t accompany. If nobody noticed the people at head of the class, if everything they said didn’t “matter,” is their message of such value that it is still worth speaking?

      I agree with you that the willingness to help is one hard to find, perhaps because helping IS such a humble thing, an action that often goes unnoticed, definitely unheralded, to the point that “helpers” are considered inferior or lesser somehow. Perhaps a step forward is to shut away the voices, stop listening to the self-imposed leaders, and spend time, alone, with our Father and have Him be our guiding voice.

  2. Jewell says:

    It has always been sad to me that so many are willing to silence the voices and gifts of half of the body of Christ simply because of anatomy.

    • A wise observation, Jewell. The odd thing is, the more we tighten the strictures around a people, it’s like squeezing cheese — the whey comes out. You can’t stop it. Totalitarian systems of all sorts do their best to restrict thought and speech, but the more they squeeze, the more the truth comes out. It’s simply too strong to be managed and mangled by human hands.

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