Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Women As Ministry Leaders & The Member-Driven Church--Making A Centuries Old Controversy A Moot Point

From Awake From Atrophy (Jessica & Drew are married, visiting Jacob's member-driven church):

Jessica swallowed and quickly prayed for wisdom and courage. She hated confrontation, but she really had to ask. “You mentioned that you have women on your elder team. That brings up a question I’ve had for a little while. What do you believe about women in church leadership? How does that fit within the member-driven church model?”

Jessica didn’t realize she was holding her breath until Jacob began to answer and she released it. The question of women in ministry leadership roles had sparked many painful conversations in her years of growing up in the church, and for obvious personal reasons, was important to her. She was ready for him to wince, or look uncomfortable. Most pastors didn't like that question.

But Jacob didn’t blink—didn’t even hesitate.

“We encourage women to step up and lead in our church, if they're mature enough. But, honestly, the typical debate on this subject is kind of a moot point for us.” Jacob sort of shrugged. “It just isn’t an issue in the member-driven church. I think the controversy around women as ministry leaders is a product of two things: First, the typical structure--that was established in the medieval centuries skews what leadership means. Second, most people misread the context of the scripture passages on women in church leadership. Once we chose our model and saw the cultural background behind those passages, the question just went away for us.”

Jessica tilted her head to the side and raised her eyebrows. She’d heard many answers to this question, but never that it was irrelevant.

Jacob must have seen her confusion. “Let me explain. It all comes down to which leadership roles are restricted and which are not. Almost no one has a problem with women in some types of leadership roles, like leading a children’s ministry, for example. It’s the preaching woman, or the woman as an elder, that people argue over. But when you think about the member-driven church and what we ask all our members to do, it doesn’t make sense to be concerned about a woman leading. I don’t know any church that I’d respect who would prevent women from sharing biblical insight with other members in a conversation, or stop women from praying with people in need, or keep them from collecting money for needs. No one is really arguing over whether women are allowed to minister directly to other members. People argue over who gets to be the preacher on the stage.

“Without the pulpit dominating every other ministry, we don’t have a power struggle over who stands on stage. If you really want, I could talk more about how we interpret the verses in the New Testament where Paul places restrictions on the behavior of women during church gatherings, such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15. For me, the bottom line is this. Close study of each of these passages reveals that every time Paul restricts women’s behavior, he is citing a local law or local cultural controversy.

"For example, in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Paul says, "The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church."

"For years I read that passage and just assumed that the law Paul was talking about was the Old Testament Law--God's Law. One day I decide to validate that assumption and found there was no such Law established by God. Most Bibles today capitalize the "L", reinforcing that assumption. But the law that Paul is referencing would have to be a law of the city of Corinth.

"In short, this passage turns out to be about finding a way to honor local laws--a common theme for Paul.

Drew opened his mouth to speak, but Jacob continued, "He also says plainly that in Christ there is no male or female. Add to that the clear historical passages of women leaders in the church, including those listed as New Testament church Elders, and we don’t have any problem with women serving as Elders in their own right. Sure, Paul charges husbands and wives to submit to each other, with the husband as the servant-leader of his family. But the family dynamic is really an entirely different issue.

“Basically, the women-as-leaders discussion just isn’t a big deal to us. It’s kind of silly to think that women shouldn’t engage other members in a way that positively influences them in our church. We don’t make a big deal about a preacher and don't have a pulpit, so we don’t argue over whether women can be the preacher. Our model tries to imitate the early church. That might explain why the Bible seems to contradict itself on the question of women preachers. Culturally, it wouldn’t have been a real factor in the church life of people in New Testament times, either. Women Elders are named in the Bible, sure. But the ‘problem’ of women preachers dominating a stage each week wouldn’t have occurred to them because no one dominated the stage each week.”

“But the Bible does have something to say about women not being teachers of men, doesn’t it?” Jessica had to ask.

“It’s 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” Drew offered. He and Jessica had discussed these passages more than once and he was eager to hear Jacob’s explanation.

“Yes, I know that passage. This passage on women, in my opinion, is the most complex to understand. It talks about Adam and Eve and who was and wasn’t deceived in the fall of man. I will say that instead of making Adam look better than Eve, I think that passage is mostly a sad indictment of Adam. While Eve sinned, she was deceived. She believed she was doing the right thing. Adam, who was not deceived, knew he was doing was wrong and did it anyway.”

“I know some people who wouldn’t agree with your position, even if they believed the rest of the member-driven church principles,” Drew declared.

“Drew,” Jessica shot him a disapproving look.

“Well, I’m not saying that we disagree,” Drew half-apologized, “I’m just saying some people will disagree.”

“I do realize that,” Jacob acknowledged. “You don’t have to believe what I do concerning women in ministry to agree with the member-driven church model, though. You could implement the rest of the model and exclude women from your elder team. We don’t. But you could have male elders only, if you felt compelled to, and still run your services the way we do.”

“Thanks for explaining that,” Jessica said.

“Yeah, thanks,” Drew said. "I didn't realize how much of that argument was tied up in modern assumptions about the elements of the service."

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