I grew up in a pastor’s home. For my entire life, all I’ve known is the life of ministry.
And unlike many who grew up in my situation, I loved it.
I loved sitting in the front pew as my dad spoke, scribbling down notes in my spiral journal with smiley faces all over the cover.
I loved sitting on the floor in my parents’ home office and reading through the books that they would deem “appropriate” for me.
I loved it when my mom preached, and can still distinctly remember a sermon she preached on Jesus in Revelation. I still can’t read through that passage without hearing her words on the man whose hair was white as snow & voice like rushing waters.
I loved being a pastor’s kid.
I loved the church.
And I couldn’t wait until it was my turn.
I’ve wanted to be a pastor for as long as I can remember. While there were times I thought I may do something different, and while I wrestled with calling as a teenager, I always came back to this life of full-time ministry. Honestly, it seemed natural and it was something I loved, and it was something I was good at. I had no choice but to be – it’s all I’d ever known.
So, going to Bible college was almost a no-brainer. I say almost because I went through a phase of being very against pursuing ministry and deciding I wanted to be a French teacher. But, I digress. With my parents’ full blessing and all the enthusiasm of a 17-year old on her own for the first time, I went off to Bible college – passionate about the ministry career and calling I was pursuing.
It shocked me, when I arrived at my multi-denominational Christian university, that there were people who sat in my classes that believed I couldn’t be a pastor. Not because of a moral failure, a lack of theological understanding, or a stance on a particular issue. They believed I couldn’t be a pastor simply because I was a woman. I can honestly say, that was the first time I’d ever encountered such a belief. I’m sure it was present in some of the circles I was a part of during my childhood and teenage years, but I was completely oblivious. Being a pastor seemed a natural choice – being a girl had absolutely nothing to do with it!
Hearing these beliefs spurred me into a bit of a crisis of calling. If I was going to be a pastor, I was going to be absolutely sure that Scripture didn’t forbid me from being one. So, I dove in. In various classes (and even in my free time), I started to study books, Bible verses and commentaries about women in ministry. I read the entirety of Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood a la Piper and Grudem, despite wanting to throw it across the room a number of times. I listened to every side of the debate and read as many commentaries as possible. If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it right.
As I read the arguments, prayed about them, and continued to pursue Jesus, I found myself more confident than ever – women could be pastors. In fact, they should be. The church needed them. Here’s how I reached that conclusion:
The Creation Narrative – God’s original plan – paints a picture of equality.
One of the first arguments often used for women being unable to be pastors is the word often translated as “helpmeet” in the creation story. To summarize, God creates Adam, and then creates Eve. In Genesis 2:15, God says “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for Him.” (NASB)
This word helper has often been translated as “helpmeet” – leading some Christians to assert that women are suited for roles of helping and assisting. Rather than being leaders at the forefront, women should serve only in roles that “help.” However, upon study of the original language, one quickly finds that this word helper is far from meaning secondary or less-than. The word in the original language, ezer, is often used to refer to God. Here’s what John Walton has to say:
Nothing suggests a subservient status of the one helping; in fact, the opposite is more likely. Certainly “helper” cannot be understood as the opposite/complement of “leader.” (Genesis – The NIV Application Commentary, 176)
If God is an ‘ezer’ to His people, surely a woman being an ‘ezer’ to the man doesn’t mean she is weaker, lesser or subservient. In fact, it suggests that she is his supporter, his equal – ruling creation at his side. If this is God’s original plan as revealed at Creation, we can be confident that anything less than this is a result of living in a broken and fallen world.
Jesus valued women.
I touched on this in last week’s post, but I’ll reiterate it again here. During Jesus’ lifetime, we see Him loving women and treating them as equals. He converses with the woman at the well in John 4, despite it being looked down on in his culture. He allows a “sinful woman” (likely, a prostitute) to wash his feet and pour out oil on them, effectively deeming himself unclean. He calls the woman who touched His garment a daughter of Abraham. Luke tells us of the women who followed him and supported his ministry. He allows Mary to sit at his feet and hear Him teach – a position typically reserved for men. And, He reveals Himself to a woman when He is resurrected – when women were considered completely unreliable as witnesses, He shows up and tells them to spread the news.
If we truly believe that Jesus is the embodiment of God, the “Word became flesh”, then it naturally follows that how Jesus treated and viewed women is exactly how God views and treats them. In every instance of Scripture, we see Jesus treating women with respect that was unnatural for the culture of that day. He allows them to be His followers and an active part of His ministry. If Jesus did that, then certainly, we should too.
The Holy Spirit empowered (and empowers) men and women equally.
I am a firm believer that the testimony of the early church found in Acts and the rest of the New Testament is one of the greatest testimonies for women being church leaders that we can find in Scripture. On the Day of Pentecost – often considered the birth of the church – depicted in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is poured out on both men and women. They experience the Spirit in the same way. When Peter gets up and preaches to the crowds who are watching, He proclaims that this is a fulfilment of the prophet Joel’s words centuries earlier:
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy… Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
That proclamation is confirmed all throughout the book of Acts. We see Philip’s daughters prophesying (Acts 17), Priscilla teaching alongside her husband, Aquila (Acts 18), Lydia and a group of women becoming the first church in Macedonia (Acts 14). We see a disciple named Tabitha providing for the poor (Acts 9), and the crowds Paul dragged to prison made up of men and women.
Even in Paul’s letters, we see women celebrated their roles in ministry. In Romans 16, Paul commends twice as many women as men for their ministry. These include Phoebe, Julia & Junia. Paul celebrated women who prophesied throughout his various letters.
The Bible testifies to the involvement of both women and men in ministry, and the Spirit empowering them to do a variety of tasks in the early church. As I believe that our God never changes, I believe that what was true for the early Church is true today. I believe that God intends for His church to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit – with men and women doing His work side-by-side.
Many of the passages used to restrict women in ministry have been misinterpreted.
One of the greatest areas I struggled with as I dug through the Scriptures were with what many call the “problem passages.” These are a few passages in Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy and Titus) that forbid women from speaking in church. Paul instructs in these passages, in one form or another, that women need to keep quiet and submit to the leadership of men. I really wrestled with these verses. I believe that what the Bible says is true, and I refused to simply ignore these verses because they didn’t fit with what I believed. However, I also struggled to reconcile them with what I believed the rest of the Bible said about women.
Thousands of pages have been written on what these verses could mean, but let me summarize. In each of these passages, context matters. We must remember that the letters Paul writes were actually written to a particular group of people. If you understand the setting in which Paul writes, it becomes clear that women speaking loudly, out of turn or disrespecting their husbands publicly was a major problem in these churches. Paul’s command for these women to be quiet was intended for that specific church setting.
The fact that Paul celebrates women prophesying, speaking and leading in other letters (and even in some of the same letters!) indicates that this must have been specific, not timeless.
I do believe every woman in ministry needs to wrestle through these verses for themselves. You can’t take someone else’s word for it. I’m attaching some of my favourite sources to do just that.
As I worked through the Scriptures, something incredible happened – the Holy Spirit confirmed my calling time and time again.
Through conversations with mentors and friends, through open doors into ministry opportunities, and through a confidence that I had not possessed before, I became sure that God had called me into pastoral ministry.
And I believe He continues to call women – as He has for centuries.
I believe that the need in our world today is too great and the reach of the church in its present form too small to limit over half of its members to behind-the-scenes ministry.
I believe that the Holy Spirit uniquely gifts and empowers women to work alongside men to radically impact the world for the sake of His kingdom. I believe we each bring something important to the table, and when one gender’s voice is heard exclusively, we miss the richness and beauty God intended for His church.
So I believe in women pastors.
I support them,
I love them,
and I am one.
Let us continue to preach, to pray and to pursue Jesus.
As we do, He will be faithful to empower and use us – all for His glory.
Because at the end of the day, that’s what this life of ministry is all about.
Some Resources I Recommend:
“The Role of Women in the Church: A Pauline Perspective”
The Junia Project
Christians for Biblical Equality
“Paul, Women & Wives” by Craig Keener
“Half the Church” by Carolyn Custis James
“Discovering Biblical Equality” by Ronald Pierece, Rebecca Groothuis & Gordon Fee
“Finally Feminist” by John Stackhouse
Check out my link-up in last week’s post.