Scripture: Romans 16:1-16
Observation: In the final chapter of Romans, Paul sends greetings to many of his friends, including both men and women.
Application: It is time, my friends. Today, we’re talking about women in ministry.
We’ve been together for seven weeks so far, and tomorrow is our final day together. For the past few weeks, I hope you’ve been challenged, stretched, and encouraged. I hope you’ve laughed like crazy at some of my antics and musings. I hope you’ve grown closer to Jesus and to others you do life with. As for me, I’ve loved writing it all, and though I’m not quite ready for it to end, this final piece is an important one, at least for me.
Out of all the things I’ve written, this is the one that I’ve been most fearful of and most looking forward to. Isn’t it crazy that we can feel such opposite things all at one time?
In the spirit of honesty and transparency, I have a lot of fear right now – fear of what others will think or say, fear of offending someone, fear that I’ll somehow misrepresent the Bible or the apostle Paul or women in general, fear of sharing something I haven’t fully figured out for myself.
But the only thing I’m more fearful of is not saying anything at all.
So, here we go. I should warn you this post will be long, and it probably won’t be filled with lots of scholarly research. Instead, it’ll be filled with the honesty and transparency of my own story, a story about trying to figure out what I believe about women serving in the church. It’s deeply personal for me, which is why sharing it is so hard. I realize we may have different stories, different viewpoints, different perspectives, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, this is just a debate – it shouldn’t deter us from focusing on what really matters: living a life fully submitted to our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, because I can’t think of any more caveats to mention, I guess it’s time to just jump right in…
Should a woman be allowed to lead in the church?
I wish it were simple to answer that question. For centuries, people have tried to answer it, and answers vary from “absolutely, under any circumstance” to “yes, but they can only lead other women and children” to “no, absolutely not.” So, what’s the truth? Should women be allowed to lead? If so, who can they lead – women, children, men? And if they can lead, should they also be allowed to preach? What’s okay, and what’s not?
About a year and a half ago, I started this journey of figuring out what I felt about women in ministry. I was (and still am) on staff at a church, leading at a high level and trying to navigate the challenge of leading people (including men) twice my age. However, as the opportunity to preach from stage presented itself, I had no choice but to make a definitive decision: what do I believe about women in ministry? Do I think it’s okay for women to preach? What do I believe God says about my purpose?
If you start to do your research, you’ll read about this very passage, Romans 16:1, where Paul addresses Phoebe, “a deacon in the church.” Some argue that this passage shows that women were accepted in leadership roles in the church. Others argue that the term “deacon” in this context simply means “servant.” If you continue to do your research, you’ll inevitably find yourself reading 1 Timothy 2:11-12, which clearly states that women should learn quietly and submissively and should not teach men or have authority over them. Some argue that the meaning of this passage is straightforward: women should not teach or lead men. Others argue that this sentiment about women leading and teaching applies only to the Ephesian culture; some note that in this patriarchal culture, women traditionally weren’t as well educated as men, and therefore wouldn’t have the qualifications to lead. Others note that these Ephesian women were caught up in heresy, and this is simply Paul’s attempt to silence false teachers. As you continue to research this topic, you’ll find yourself reading about Deborah, Esther, Ruth, Priscilla and Aquila. You’ll find a thousand different opinions and viewpoints.
Eventually, you’ll have to do what I did: start praying and figuring out what you believe yourself.
I wish I could tell you I have a neat, pre-packaged sound bite of an answer for you. But, the truth is it’s so much more complicated than that. Here’s what I believe: As followers of Jesus, each of us has one purpose: to fulfill the Great Commission and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. As followers of Jesus, we are each given spiritual gifts, and these gifts are meant to be used to build up the body of Christ.
I believe my purpose is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I believe God gave me a gift of communicating.
Therefore, I believe that part of my purpose is to spread the Good News by using my gift of communicating to the body of Christ.
I would never, ever try to tell you what Jesus thought about something that isn’t directly recorded in the Bible. But, if I had to guess, I’d guess that Jesus would celebrate when someone heard the Good News, regardless of whether the person heard it from a man or a woman.
So, that’s where I landed. I don’t know if it’s the right answer. But after a year of research and of prayer, of talking with my own pastor and other followers of Jesus I trust, that’s where I am. In May, I had the opportunity to preach for the first time. And, friends, that week was filled with so many emotions. Not only was it my very first time preaching, it was the very first time we had ever had a female preach from our stage. I felt a colossal amount of pressure; I felt pressured to preach well, and I felt pressured to prove that woman can lead and speak and teach. I’ll be honest – the pressure was almost too much. Whenever I started to feel comfortable with the idea, I’d have 1 Timothy 2:11-12 ringing in my head, telling me that women should be quiet and shouldn’t teach, or I’d have someone say, “Wait, you get to speak to everyone? Not just the women?” And, all of the sudden, I’d have to re-convince myself of my purpose once again.
One afternoon, a few days before I was supposed to speak, I called my best friend and started sharing all of my fears and apprehensions. I told her I just wished there was another woman who could go first – let someone else fight that battle of whether or not it’s okay for a woman to speak from stage. She let me talk (aka word vomit all over the place), and when I finished, she paused and asked me if I believed God gave me a gift to speak.
I told her I did.
She promptly said, “Well, then you have to be brave. You have to go first.”
I had to go first.
Chances are you’ve had your own “go first” moment. It’s the moment where you know what you’re supposed to do and the opportunity is right in front of you, and you have a choice to make: do I go first, taking a huge leap into the unknown with no promise of success, or do I stay back, play it safe and wait?
This was my “go first” moment – and I decided to go for it. I played “You Make Me Brave” on repeat for the next five days (yes, I’m serious), and I did it. And here’s the truth: not everyone was okay with it. A few people even left our church. I actually watched someone leave and walk out of the auditorium the moment I got up on stage to speak. That part was pretty hard.
But, I’ve learned something important: our problems don’t outweigh our purpose. God gave me a purpose. He put it inside of me and equipped me with all of the tools, the endurance, the capacity to live it out.