Dear Unlocking Femininity,
I’ve been reading your series on 1 Timothy 2, that women should not have authority over men, and I am wondering if there aren’t gray areas or exceptions to this rule? I have recently been asked to lead a Bible study for both men and women and there are three problems I see when trying to relate this passage to my situation. First, my pastor asked me to take up this position. If it were wrong, why would they have asked me? Secondly, there really isn’t any male leadership that could take up this teaching role. There are only a few men in that class and all of them are either not where they need to be spiritually to be leaders, or they just don’t have the teaching abilities that I do. So, if I don’t take up this role, no one will. Lastly, with the culture the way it is, it seems like it’s okay to fill this role. I mean, it’s not like I’m the pastor or anything. I know that’s clearly wrong, but I’m just a Sunday School teacher…not even a teacher…more like a “facilitator”. It’s different….right?
These are great questions that many women are facing today – and not just in the liberal arenas. These questions are ones being asked by wonderful godly women who want to serve God with the abilities that He has given them, and yet are clouded by their circumstances and the teaching they find in the Word they so love to study.
It’s as though these women are stuck between a rock and a hard place with no clear understanding of which direction to take. On one hand, the leadership God has placed in their lives is giving them this great opportunity to generate growth in the church by using the natural leadership and teaching talents that God has blessed them with. They are able to combine ministry, teaching and nurturing, and studying the Word of God. And really, there is nothing quite as fulfilling as this combination. And by submitting to their authority they are able to enjoy this type of ministry. However, there is the other side…the rock. In their studies, they come to passages like 1 Timothy 2:12 where it says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent,” 1 Corinthians 14:34 where it says, “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission,” or 1 Corinthians 11:3 which says, “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man.” It is clear in these passages that women are not to be teaching or having authority over men in the church. The question is raised. Which are we going to listen to? A decision has to be made then; which should be moved…The rock or the hard place?
1. Do you obey your authority and trust that they are correct in allowing you to take on this position of leadership over men?
This is a difficult question to answer and quite possibly one that might not have a direct “yes” or “no” answer. On one hand, it is good and honorable to listen and obey the authority that God has placed over your life as your pastor or church leadership. They are your spiritual mentors. They have a certain level of respect that is awarded them due solely to their position as pastor. On the other side, however, the word authority is a rather relative term. For example, if you have a job where you are given a certain level of authority over those below you in the chain of command, then you have the authority to tell them what tasks to do, the authority to check up on whether or not they had done their tasks, and in some cases, the authority to put consequences into place if they did not complete those tasks. And while you might have a great deal of authority in their lives, you yourself have a higher authority…your boss. This boss has immediate authority over your life. They could tell you what to do, check up on whether or not you’ve done those things, and even put consequences into place for you. And as much authority as your boss may have over you, they may have a higher authority…the CEO. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, your pastor has a role of authority over your life. It’s true, and you should respect that. Listen to that. But looking at the other side, there is a higher authority in place…God and His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And it tells us what to do or not to do (Exodus 20), checks up on us to see if we have done the tasks (Matthew 7:16-20), and even has the authority to put consequences on us for disobedience (Matthew 7:21-23). So the question you have to ask yourself is, “Which authority am I going to choose to obey? God or man?” Colossians 3:22-23 speaks to the motive of our hearts when Paul charges slaves to “obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” He mentions this again in Ephesians 6:5-7, “Be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” Which authority are you going to choose to obey? God? Or Man?
2. There really isn’t any male leadership. So, if I don’t take up this role, no one will.
It is unfortunate that a church finds itself lacking enough male leadership to fill the needs of its congregation. But it’s even more unfortunate when this church sacrifices biblical standards in an effort to rectify the problem. John Piper says, “If I were to put my finger on one devastating sin today, it would not be the so-called women’s movement, but the lack of spiritual leadership by men at home and in church.” Male leadership among the lay people in the church is at an all-time low, it’s true. The Barna Research Group conducted a study in 2000 that said 45% of the women said they attended a Christian service the week before whereas only 35% of men could make this claim. Women are twice as likely as men to be involved in discipleship activities at church, 50% more women than men said that they attended Sunday school the previous week, and 1 in 7 women (14%) said they had served in a leadership role at church, while only 9% of men have held leadership positions. This begs one to ask, “Where are all the men?”
Perhaps one reason for the lack of male leadership in our churches is that men haven’t seen a need to fill. When the women “fix the problem,” men tend to sit back and let them. As women, maybe we need to be more patient, and wait on the Lord to stir the men to leadership. The fact is God wants to grow His church. He longs for the members of each local church to mature. 1 Peter 2:2-3 says, “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.” Hebrews 5:12-14 charges the non-growing Christian by saying, “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.” When fully trusting in the sovereignty of God and the passion He has for His Bride, we will find that God can and will do the work of building his church (John 15:1,2). We might just need to get out of the way.
3. Does culture play a part in understanding my role as a woman?
Culture tends to be the fall back that a lot of egalitarians stand on. Unfortunately when this “card” is played, one has to follow its logic to the very end which makes God’s Word moot. Following it, I can also say that with culture the way it is, it is also okay for me to be homosexual, disobey my parents, have sex outside of marriage, practice recreational drug use, live for money, and hate my neighbor, all because that is the culture I find myself in today. However, if seeing Scripture as above the confines of culture, and looking at it historically, it has surpassed a countless number of cultures and yet it remains the same. Psalm 119: 89 says, “Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” Cultures come and go, sometimes quicker than you realize, but there are only two things that are eternal: God and His Word. Because God’s Word is forever, we can trust it over our culture.
4. Is there a difference between facilitating and teaching?
This is where the shades of gray come into the picture. Is there a difference between facilitating and teaching? Scripture is completely silent on the subject of facilitating group bible studies. And since teaching and learning are such broad terms that really could have a variety of ways they are carried out, it’s hard to put a defining line of what is or is not appropriate leadership for a woman. Piper and Grudem give this definition in their book, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, “Teaching inappropriate for a woman is the teaching of men in settings or ways that dishonor the calling of men to bear the primary responsibility for teaching and leadership.” In other words, if your facilitating of a Bible study in any way dishonors the call of certain men in your group to step up and take that primary responsibility, then perhaps your facilitating is inappropriate.
When it comes right down to it, we don’t have the power in and of ourselves to tell you whether or not what you are doing is right or wrong. That belongs to God and God alone. But what we would encourage you to do is four-fold:
1. Study. We recommend you taking a season and really study these issues for yourself. Dig into the Word of God, some great commentaries, and email some notable theologians. Really nail this issue down in your own life. Some recommended books we have found insightful are Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. In fact, we suggest checking out the entire website, http://www.cbmw.org. They have a lot of free material available online (including whole books like RBMW) and a great gender blog. I also recommend Women in the Church by Kostenberger and Schreiner.
2. Pray. Whenever faced with a decision that seems overwhelming, James 1:5 always comes to mind, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” Isn’t that just one of the great promises in Scripture? I love it! If you need wisdom, just ask for it. Plain and simple, ask and it’s yours. Remember that God in His sovereignty has a plan to grow His church. Trust that plan! Prayer will help align your heart to the promises and commands of God. It is a powerful tool; don’t underestimate it.
3. Decide. Once you have studied and really sought the heart of God on this issue, then decide. Also be aware that there is a lot a woman can do to serve the church. She doesn’t just take the position of a wall flower. Maybe a solution would be to make this Bible study for just women? Where did we get this idea that it’s better to teach men than women anyway? Lord knows women need solid Bible teaching, and who better to deliver that than another woman insanely passionate about the Word of God with a keen ability to teach! This is why Paul charges older women to teach the younger women (Titus 2), because no one gets a woman like another woman. So, decide. This step is where the rubber meets that proverbial road, and a choice is made. Where will you land?
4. Stand. James 1:6-8 paints a vivid picture of a person who falters in trusting God. “Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” Don’t be like this person who flounders in their faith, trusting in God one moment and the world the next. Stand firm in your beliefs. There may be consequences in the choices you make, but if they’re biblical, and God-honoring choices, then you have kept yourself under the protection of God and His Word. The Psalmist says, “You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope. Get out of my life, you evil-minded people, for I intend to obey the commands of my God. Lord, sustain me as you promised, that I may live! Do not let my hope be crushed. Sustain me, and I will be rescued; then I will meditate continually on your decrees.” Psalm 119:114-117