In today's ongoing debate over women's leadership in the church, the discussion has focused on God's intention for men and women and which of them can preach, teach, and lead. But we've overlooked another factor: how the pulpit has become a coveted idol of contemporary Christianity.
Many of us have come to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that the man standing up front every Sunday is the only one doing real ministry. Sure, our church might have a "music minister," a "children's minister," and so on, but we see those positions as ancillary. We have made the pastorate and church eldership idolized positions. We have turned preaching into the enviable celebrity focus of ministry. I'm afraid that in this Internet age, mass-media pastors (deserving as they may be of accolades and honor) have often become an ill-fitting archetype for what congregants expect of their local ministry.
Of course, preaching the word remains a central point of Christian ministry, but we have celebrated it at the expense of minimizing and diminishing many other ministerial works. We tend to elevate the position of pastor to an unhealthy level that I believe was unintended in the New Testament, where we are told that all the saints are to be equipped for work and service. Ephesians 4:11–12 says:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
Yes, we should open the doors for women to participate in the body of Christ through effective, meaningful, productive ministry, and we urgently need to.
In her Relevant Magazine article, "Why We Need More Women In Ministry," Jenny Rae Armstrong raises valid concerns regarding Christian women who are undervalued or not used to their potential. She writes:
The body of Christ requires a balance of male and female leadership to remain whole and healthy. To allow one half of the body to atrophy while the other carries the weight (whether it's men or women doing the heavy lifting) results in a lopsided image of the Church that is frightful to behold.
Although she and I may not agree on every point of solving this problem of a lopsided image of the church, I too believe the church must involve women in ministry in a fuller way. In pursuing solutions the church should be reminded, contrary to some contemporary presuppositions, there is far more to ministry than just the pastorate. In our celebrity-driven society, we find it easy to put pastors in very lofty and precarious positions.
As I see it, this tendency is a consequence of other distorted views. Today's church lacks a robust understanding of vocation, and the priesthood of all believers. We've grown comfortable with viewing the pastor as "ruler" instead of as "servant." Some of us falsely see our pastor as in charge of everything, and worse, we can fail to recognize that even a head pastor is a sinner like us, saved like us by grace alone through Christ alone.
In its purest form, this elevation of the pastorate is tantamount to saying that the only significant work of God is to teach and train men. When we make the teaching of men the Holy Grail, we truncate and hamper the work of the gospel and neglect the rest of the people in the church. This type of ministry model causes men to see ministry to women as second best, and ministry by women as irrelevant if not illegal. Moreover, it causes women to see ministry in this same way, often with the consequence of stirring women to covet the biblically proscribed role of teaching to men.
It ought not be in the Bride of Christ that the work of the "ministry" be reduced to the teaching and training of men. Women miss many crucial roles that are open to them under this type of model. In the end, it is the entire church that suffers.
Scripturally, there is far more to the work of the ministry, work that is open to women: Evangelism, discipleship, hosting groups in the home, missions, music, mercy ministry of all variety, the building engineering board, Bible study and/or book studies, deaconate work, or any other work God has gifted a woman with. As theologian R.C. Sproul has said for many years in a variety of published media, women can participate in any non–juridical position in the church (1 Tim. 2:12).
I'm not sure how this gets lost when we discuss these issues, but Paul was unflinching in partnering with women in the work of the gospel as a matter of course in his work. He had no qualms about evangelizing women directly and partnering with them in the work of the gospel. (See Acts 16:13–15, Acts 17:12, Acts 18:18, Acts 18:26, Rom. 16:1–16, 1 Cor. 1:11, Phil. 4:3.) It's a shame that we tend to remember Euodia and Syntyche more for their quarreling, then for Paul's commendation of their laboring side by side with him in the gospel (Phil. 4:3).
Let us give as much true liberty as the gospel would give. Let us demystify "ministry" as much as we can in accordance with Scripture. Let us not allow the fear of the slippery slope to cloud our eyes and tempt us to put limits on people which God himself does not put—that's not Scriptural. Those who trespass the gospel limits, which God himself has placed, will do so. It is our job to make sure that God's Word is the only stumbling block, and that we are not introducing or provoking reactionary contentions and strivings. We should have no fear of true gospel liberty and of broadening our idea of ministry to legitimate and good kingdom work.
Luma Simms (@lumasimms) is a wife, and mother of five children. She has a B.S. degree in physics and studied law before Christ led her to become a writer, blogger, and Bible teacher. Her book Gospel Amnesia can be found at GCD Press. She blogs regularly at Gospel Grace.
This article is the part of a weekly series on women in leadership, appearing on Thursdays on Her.meneutics. We previously discussed women maximizing their gifts and talents in undergrad, at seminary, and in the church.