[  Leadership Note  ]

Reflections on Women in Leadership

Upon the treatment of an issue such as the roles of women in the church, one must first begin with a clear recognition of the gravity of the issue. For centuries Christian culture and sadly the Church itself in many cases have misused, abused, and misinterpreted the Bible in favour of oppressing women. No doubt there have been many who have, under the guise of true biblical knowledge, limited values and freedoms granted all humanity by our Lord Jesus Christ. Such abuses should be recognized, confessed, and tenderly valued as a reality that influences much of the discussion on the issue. 

Secondly, one must clearly recognize the many dimensions of which the gender discussion is comprised and the directions in which it can run. For example there is the issue of inherent created value, of the means of accessing Divine Grace, the practical use of spiritual gifts, the preaching of the gospel, ministry leadership, and more. Some of these can be broken down further, and rightly should be in order to avoid confusion and error. Leadership in particular is one of these areas. Within leadership, there is pastoral leadership, elder/overseer leadership (which many equate with pastoral leadership), deaconal leadership, ministry leadership, as well as general leadership and probably still others.

Therefore a complete treatment of an issue such as the roles of women in the church warrants a much broader treatment than I am able to give here and far overextends my knowledge and ability to do justice. As such, allow me to communicate broadly and briefly some truth about some of the above mentioned aspects of our discussion, then hone in on the specific aspect that pertains to the leadership structuring of Celebration! Church Ottawa. 

In most respects there is no distinction between male and female in Christ. This means that the Bible is replete with support that men and women are completely egalitarian in terms of created value, in accessing Divine Grace, in the use of spiritual gifts, in gospel ministry, and in many forms of leadership. Genesis shows God having created man and woman and stating that they were, along with the rest of creation, “good.” There is nothing to support the view that, being created first, Adam would have some added value. The Apostle Paul wrote Galatians to a people plagued by a misunderstanding of Divine Grace. Many were trying to earn righteousness through the observance of the Law as if there needed to be something more than Christ’s sacrifice. Many were teaching that only the physically circumcised were Abraham’s seed (belonging to Christ and in the family of God.) To address this heresy Paul writes:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Gal. 3:26-29

Paul teaches that everyone, men and women, comes to God the same way and that through faith in Christ. Likewise all are accepted the same way and that fully without reservation, for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). In similar manner, the Bible teaches that spiritual gifts are given to all who are found in Christ, and all have certain responsibilities to use those gifts and advance the gospel. Jesus’ ministry as well as that of Paul provide evidence of a high status of women in both value and service (see the Samaritan woman, the women who travelled with Jesus, Phoebe, Priscilla, etc.). As Jesus and Paul demonstrated a revolutionarily stance toward valuing and equipping women, so should the church today look for ways to value and equip women in ways that are a testimony to the world.

The primary facet of the issue, that stands in relief to many cultural leanings, to which Celebration! Church Ottawa holds is that of women elders/pastors. This is to be understood as a unique subsection of the issue of women in leadership. To be gifted in and exercising leadership is a task and a privilege with many outlets; here we mean to focus on the specific New Testament office of pastor/elder/overseer. While many Scriptures inform the topic, for sake of time we’ll focus on the two primary texts. 

First is the Genesis Creation/Fall account. Many other texts on this issue refer back to these accounts. The primary thing to be understood here is that more important than man being created first, Adam was given responsibility to rule over creation (along with woman) and was forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This command was given before Eve was created, and through the events of the Fall, we see that Adam was partially effective in being the leader/initiator in their relationship to relay God’s command. Unfortunately we also see the serpent circumvent the created order by deceiving the woman and having her initiate toward the man. We observe that Adam “was with her,” and he said nothing to initiate, lead, or protect, thus allowing her to fall into deception. To make matters worse, he follows suit in the disobedience quite willingly, and the fact that God addresses Adam upon the punishment shows that God is holding Adam responsible, not Eve. This gives us a solid look at core relational roles of manhood and womanhood which inform other important roles as we move through Scripture. The fact that these roles existed before, during and after the Fall all point to their permanence. Were they only to be seen after sin entered the world, then it could be argued that Christ’s redemption absolved the roles as a result of sin. Instead, Christ’s redemption should enable us to more clearly realize the value in fulfilling this created order apart from sin.

The language and reference to unique male responsibility is a theme that is picked up and applied throughout scripture. For sake of time and space, most references will need be left for another time, but many Scriptures use similar language to refer to the unique leadership of the man in the marriage/home, of Christ being the unique leader of man, and of God calling out men to specifically lead, teach, protect, and empower the church for its work (see 1Tim. 2:1-3:7; Eph. 5:21-33; Eph. 4:11-13; etc.). As the cumulative responsibilities of biblical manhood come to bear on pastoral leadership, we look at the qualifications listed in 1Timothy 3.

It is important to note that while other important texts on gender issues originate in books written to address very specific events, situations, and/or people, 1Timothy is written by a pastor, for a pastor addressing guidelines for a group of believers. Undoubtedly there are specific issues underlying the motivation behind the letter, but the text seems to be written as a normative statement among churches. One of the specific qualifications to be a pastor/elder/overseer is to be a “husband of one wife,” or the most literal translation, a “one-woman man.” In choosing the word for this “man” the author uses the Greek word aner which is to be distinct from anthropos. You see, anthropos is a common word for man that generally means “humanity” and can refer to a man or a woman. The word aner on the other hand is uniquely male. Later in 1Timothy 3, Paul addresses the office of deacon, and gives its qualifications. Then in quite parallel form, he gives the qualifications for women leaders in verse 11. The word translated “their wives, are to be women .” in the NIV is a poor translation. That whole phrase is better translated as simply “women.” This points to Paul giving qualifications for deaconesses, specifically outlining women as leaders but as separate from the office of pastor/elder/overseer outlined at the beginning of the chapter. Again for the sake of space and time, let me close with a few comments, provide some additional resources, and leave more discussion for other days and different mediums.

On a personal note, I come from a church background that held doggedly to this interpretation of Scripture while teaching men to value women and to work diligently to protect, provide for, love, serve, and empower women as well as equip women to realize and exercise their spiritual gifts and callings. I also come from a social and educational background that is profoundly humanistic. I studied in an environment that raised every banner from gay rights to universalism to extreme feminism. While I value social action and human rights, I am bound by my belief that God ordained the Bible to be His unique revelation to humanity. And as such I must do my best to be faithful to what it says before factoring in personal or cultural biases. As one scholar relays “radical egalitarianism regarding gender roles mirrors societal developments more than it issues from an exegesis of the biblical texts themselves.” I believe that a “historical” or “fundamentalist” reading of the relevant texts is still appropriate, and it is supremely unfortunate that history has shown this reading to be taken to extremes and used for malady. God’s command to Adam in the Garden was essentially obedience because God said so. Because I believe that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than mine, I purpose to follow His revealed will as I best interpret it from the Bible just because He said so. While I may be able to spend some time relaying ways that His revealed will benefits the believer, ways that originate from my perspectives, my ultimate motivation for obedience is in following what I deem to be His expressed will. And in this case that is to joyfully embrace both the similarities and the differences in biblical manhood and womanhood. I fully realize that many solid churches, even within our own denomination, believe differently on this issue. I enjoy great relationships with many of the leaders of these churches, and we are able to dialogue openly about such matters. I think our Lord is faithful to use us all to advance His Kingdom, but I am bound to regard that which I believe to be the most accurate rendering of Scripture as the best practice for His Church.

Therefore, as the current leadership of Celebration! Church, our recommendation is the following (see 1Tim. 3:1-7):

The office of pastor/elder/overseer (member of the Pastoral Team) within Celebration! Church shall consider for its membership, as nominated and elected by the church body, men with a desire to serve in such a capacity with a desire that they believe to be from God. He should be irreproachable, unable to have charges brought against him. He should be a one-woman kind of man, focused and controlled in his affections, faithful. He should be calm, with a cautious wisdom, serious, dignified, and warmly hospitable. He should be able to teach effectively in order to equip and protect the flock. He should not be given to abuse alcohol and be free from addiction. Avoiding violence, he should be gentle, not quarrelsome, and should not be given to greed. He should preside over his own household in a beautiful manner, holding children within the sphere of obedience with propriety and should be proven to honour his wife (women), striving to love as Christ loves the church. He should not be a new convert, but be put to test, approved, and hold high regard with those outside the faith community.

We believe that men like this, as they grow in bond with the Lord and with each other, most effectively bear the final responsibility for a local body of believers under the leadership and scrutiny of Christ and the Holy Spirit and provide the best platform from which to equip ALL the saints, men and women, in order to “[attain] to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Together with their wives and other godly male and female leaders, they will raise up generations of young people who will realize the richness of the family of God, embrace biblical manhood and womanhood and wonderfully reflect the mysteries of the gospel.

Other resources: