WATCH DRURY WRITE A BOOK. – THIS IS A TEMPORARY POST Writer’s first draft of a book to be published by The Wesleyan Publishing House. as an introduction to the ministry. This web-posted copy is an early draft of the manuscript and not intended to be used as a final document. While the editors will catch minor errors if you see something significantly wrong or missing drop Keith Drury a note at email@example.com © 2003 Keith Drury
Women in Ministry
What if you are a woman who has sensed a call to the ministry from God? Can women be ministers and get ordained, or is the ministry reserved for men only? What if you are a woman and you are called to the ministry but your denomination won’t ordain women? Is it biblical for churches to ordain women? Didn’t the Apostle Paul say women should be silent in the church?
This chapter is to women called to ministry; however, men should read it too. Does your denomination refuse to ordain women? You should still read this chapter to see why some denominations do ordain women. Does your denomination enthusiastically ordain women? Read this chapter to see why some denominations resist the idea. Does your denomination rarely (perhaps even grudgingly) ordain women? Then you should especially read this chapter to determine how you might influence your own denomination in the future. You might not agree with this chapter, and your denomination might not either. But whatever your views, you should read it anyway.
The Bible and women ministers
Whole books have been written on the subject of what the Bible says about women in ministry, and we cannot adequately give the arguments here. Eventually you will want to read several of these books to discover why some churches refuse to ordain women who are called, and others happily ordain them. However, here we will provide a short survey of the positions to help you understand each. Of course, these summaries are not perfectly representative; there are as many variations on this issue as colors in the rainbow. But generally, these two summaries will help you see the primary positions. They are not given so you can bash “the other side” so much as to help you understand both positions and eventually reconcile them.
Don’t worry; the church will come to general agreement on these
issues just like we did several hundred years ago on slavery. At that time, many churches argued that
slavery was clearly supported by the Bible. Yet some used the same Bible to
claim that slavery was wrong. The
quarrel took years to resolve.
Eventually, the entire
Position #1 -- Women should not be ordained
For most of history the church has not ordained women—neither Catholic nor protestant. Ordaining women is a recent notion growing out of the feminist movement and it is contrary to Holy Scripture and church tradition. The apostle Paul was very clear: “women should remain silent in the churches” (1 Cor. 14). Men are the spiritual and administrative heads of the home and women should be submissive to them both at home and at church. When Paul said women should be quiet at church he meant exactly what he said—women should remain quiet at church! The Bible says it and the Bible says it very clearly—a woman speaking at church is unbiblical.
If anyone wonders if Paul really meant it, or was writing only to a single church, look at how he repeats it in 1 Timothy 2. Here Paul said it even more clearly. He told us exactly what his practice was: “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent.” What more do we need? Isn’t that clear enough? Women should not have authority over men, and they should not be speaking at church. Period. Sure, it is OK for them to speak to children, or teach each other, but they cannot teach or lead men. Thus a woman can’t be an ordained preacher—a position of authority over men that requires them to teach and preach to men. The Bible says it clearly and that should be enough for us.
Position #2 -- Women should be ordained
While Paul does appear to restrict women from speaking in two specific places in Scripture, he did this because of the social environment of that day. He was not making a rule for all time. Like his admonition to slaves that they should obey their masters, he was advising people how to live in the first century, not writing a rule for all time.
Besides, there have always been women active in God’s service, even though women were second class citizens in ancient days. At Pentecost, Peter claimed the prophecy was fulfilled that sons and daughters would prophecy. We don’t have their names, but certainly this prophecy was being lived out. In fact, Philip had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9). Prophecy was the first century equivalent of preaching. If Paul was so opposed to women leaders, what will we do with Priscilla—an obvious tower of power in the book of Acts. Or, how about Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2), whom Paul calls a minister from Cenchrea? When Paul ends Romans (16:7) he commends “Junia, outstanding among the apostles.” (not until the middle ages was the translation adjusted from the female name Junia into the male name Junias). What about Paul telling us in Galatians that “In Christ…there is neither slave nor free, male and female?’ Was he serious or not?
Yet even on top of all this evidence, there is an even more important argument: consider the trajectory of Scripture (or “heaven trajectory”). Is there any doubt that it is God’s intention that women and men be fully equal in heaven? Shouldn’t we be trying to move toward heaven, instead of looking back at the fall of humanity?
But the most important question is this:
does God call women? If He does, then He
expects them to serve. The resistance against women in ministry is
temporary—like those who defended slavery using their favorite proof
texts. Eventually, women will have full
access to ministry—it will just take time.
A hundred years have not even passed since women got to vote! In 1920 the
Until then, women will find a place of service. If God calls an Asian, or a black, or a single person, or a white person He always has a place of service for them. If you are a women and God calls you, He will provide a place of service for you too. Your denomination may refuse to ordain you, but some denomination somewhere will ordain you. No one denomination is strong enough to block you from ministry if God has called you. The Roman Catholic Church was once so universal and powerful (during the Middle Ages) that they could block all women from ordination, but not today. A woman called to the ministry will find a place of service—either in your own denomination, or in mine.
Extra challenges for women in ministry
This book is not neutral on this issue. It promotes women’s ordination. However, that is not to say that ministry will be easy for you if you are a called women. God has called you to the ministry and you must obey. You must do it. But be forewarned; life as a minister may be much harder for you. That’s not a pretty fact, but it’s true…at least for now. Knowing so from the start will help you prepare.
A woman in ministry faces extra challenges and barriers many males
don’t experience. Most of all, she will
find it more difficult to get a job (for now at least). Most denominations aren’t big on trying to
maintain gender balance among the employees and leadership. Most denominations
When a congregation is deciding who will be their new pastor, (especially senior pastor/preacher) they are often considering several resumes. They will consider your training, gifts, skills, and your references. They’ll look at your church involvement in college and seminary and your “track record” at other churches. But they’ll also consider other things—even if they don’t admit it out loud. For instance, many churches will “prefer” married couples over a single man or woman. Many will prefer a couple with children over a couple with no children. Lots of churches will prefer a young family over an older minister who is an empty-nester. A single man with no female interests whatsoever has the hardest time of all getting a ministry job. And many local churches will prefer a man over a woman. Not just male members, but female members too.
All this sounds very unfair. And it is. But if a denomination permits local people to “vote” and interview and choose their own minister, both personal and congregational preferences will affect the outcome. And these preferences and prejudices are influenced by hundreds of years of sociology far more than good theology or biblical exegesis.
It may be unfair, even outright wrong, but it is true. If you are a women entering ministry, you need to recognize this now. Indeed, if you are a single man, Black, Asian, overweight, have grey hair and your children have all moved away, recognize this factor as well. A local church’s preferences and prejudice will be a factor in their hiring even after you’ve “made the cut” based on your competence and “track record.”
For these churches, selecting a minister is something like selecting a spouse. College students don’t “try to be fair” or “give everyone an equal chance” in selecting whom to date. You probably spend time with people you prefer and don’t even think of dating people who are unattractive to you for the sake of being fair to them. Churches who tip the scale on otherwise equal candidates with personal preferences think they are doing the same thing you would do in dating. (They aren’t, but that’s what they think.) Most of these churches don’t believe they are doing anything wrong.
So, if you are a woman going into ministry, you may have to be better than the men who interview for the same position. That’s not fair, but it’s true. You’ve simply got to be better. Luckily, that’s not difficult. Women tend to have some traits that make them better equipped for many elements of the ministry. Perhaps that is why God calls both women and men into the ministry—men and women both have traits the ministry needs. Just like God wants both men and woman to be active in raising children in the home, perhaps he needs the strengths and traits of both men and women in raising up spiritual children in the church.
But getting a job is not the only extra challenge you will face as a woman minister. Even after you get a job as a minister, there may be people in your church who resist your ministry--especially your preaching. It may surprise you to discover that your most deep resistance may come from other women, not men. And when you get sick and are missing from the pulpit they'll crack jokes about you being "the weaker sex." If you decide to stay home and care for your preschooler daughter when she has an ear infection, some unkind people will remark, "She's doing the mommy thing." And if you decide to stay home an entire decade to raise your children as a stay-at-home mom some will wonder what happened to your call and "lifetime ordination" and use it to dismiss women’s ordination altogether. If you are in a denomination where there are few women in ministry you'll get invited to the "Minister's wives" meetings and when you attend the mostly-male ministerial retreats, you may have trouble finding a ride with a fellow minister unless there is a group going. If you are a co-minister with your husband it is admittedly easier, but if you have a husband outside of the ministry, people won't exactly know how to deal with him as a "pastor's husband." If you invite people to your parsonage you'll have to sort out who is the social entertainer and who will do the cooking. And there are a hundred other little things that you'll notice about being a woman in ministry that seem to make it harder for you.
But what can you do? If you are called can you walk away from it? If you are truly called can you decide "it’s not worth it?" Thus the real question for all men and women headed for ministry, but especially for women, is am I really called? In fact, this may be your only “defense” against people who are against your being in the pulpit. To debate this topic with someone based on Bible verses sometimes just gets you in a dart-tossing contest. Let’s face it, people both support women in ministry and oppose women in ministry using the same Bible. (That is not to say that the Bile is unclear on these points, just that we have not found a church wide consensus on this yet) The only thing you may be able to say if your ministry comes under attack is simply, “God has called me.”
If you are truly called, then you must find a place of ministry. This is not to say you shouldn't try to change your denomination and people—you should. But being an activist for change in how churches should treat women ministers will probably not be your primary calling. Your calling will be the same as any man's calling—to be a prophet and priest for the people of God. To represent God to the people, and the people to God. Indeed, more men should be leading the charge on bringing change in this area—that will appear less self-serving.
And if all else fails…
If you are a called woman, God has a place of service for you. God wasn’t playing games with you when He called you. You might even have to change denominations—as hard as that would be. Remember, God is far less concerned about your denominational label than He is about equipping and ministering to His universal church. God is not a Baptist, Nazarene, Methodist, Presbyterian or Wesleyan. God is the God of His universal Body of Christ—the church. God’s call to you was never a denominational call anyway. It was a call to be a minister in the church universal. In fact, many denominational ordination rituals ordain you to be a minister in that particular denomination “and the church universal.” So, if you are called by God to His universal church, and your denomination refuses to “confirm that call” by ordaining you, what else can you do? Go find a denomination that does appreciate women in ministry and join them! God won’t be disappointed. This sounds drastic. And many women would "rather stay and fight" than leave the denomination of their childhood. However, fighting for this cause can take a toll—despair and bitterness are sometimes the price this battle extracts. As a young woman, search your heart carefully on this matter. If your denomination is turning back the clock on women's ordination, you may have to jump ship to save your ministry.
Face it, some denominations have never ordained women and they don’t intend to (though eventually only a few will refuse ordination of women—but this could take more than your lifetime). Several major evangelical denominations have recently turned back the clock and stopped ordaining women—even ousting women already ordained from the Ministry! (Shame on them.) But there are lots of denominations who welcome both men and women into the ministry, and these denominations will increasingly become places of service for women called into God’s work. Some of these will actually promote your opportunities for ministry. However most will just “give you a chance to make a church grow.” They might not give you any preferential treatment, and they’ll expect you to produce a “good track record” where you are. But they'll give you a chance.
But even if they don’t give you preferential treatment, at least these denominations will ordain you. If they do, then use your gifts and graces to produce the fruit of ministry wherever you go. Prove that you can minister to a congregation and reach out to the unchurched. Make the church grow. For even the most highly prejudiced people on this issue are often impressed with fruit. (And district and denominational leaders always are!) People may tell you that you shouldn’t be fishing as a woman, but if you catch a string of giant fish for the kingdom, don’t worry, they won’t tell you to toss them back! Producing the fruit in your ministry is the route to greater freedom in the future.
So know this: if you are a woman headed for ministry: it may be hard, but if you are truly called,
what else can you do but obey that call? God doesn’t call people as a trick; He
won’t call you if He has no place for you to minister. If He’s called you, go for it. If you can’t “go for it” in your own
denomination, switch to a more female friendly denomination. But you cannot abandon your calling just
because it is difficult. Certainly you
could at least (at least?!) plant a church like the apostle Paul did. The apostles in
So what to do?
So are you a woman called to ministry? What should you do? First, clarify your call so that it becomes a burning certainty—you’ll need that certainty in the ministry. Second, be encouraged that given the two thousand years of church history, women like you have made great progress in the last hundred years. Third, know that ultimately the church in the future will be shocked that in the past the church actually refused to ordain women—and they’ll remember you kindly as a pioneer. Fourth, find a good women minister as a mentor and model and develop the savvy you’ll need to “work the system” in your future ministry. Finally, be encouraged—God values you or He wouldn't have called you. God can be trusted. God does not call up workers if He has no job in mind!
Follow up study and application
1. Tell about a woman minister you have met or heard speak—describe her ministry.
2. Tell about your own personal preferences and prejudices in who you would like to be your pastor—not just male/female but other preferences—be honest and don’t condemn others confessing.
3. How does a denomination change its traditions—that is, how would a denomination adopt a different stand on ordaining women?
4. This book argues that a call must be confirmed by the church—what would a person (woman or man) do if no church anywhere would ordain them, and even when they tried to start an independent church nobody would attend. What advice would you give this person?
5. There are many in-between positions on this issue. For instance, some argue for (married) women to be submissive at home but equal at church. Others argue that a woman should be ordained but for staff work, not ever to serve as a senior pastor and preacher. Without committing yourself too quickly on these issues, explore them in discussion with others.
6. Make a simple chart using all the Scriptures listed in this chapter and how you are inclined to interpret them. Find somebody who disagrees with you to help you refine it.
7. Interview a woman in ordained ministry and hear her story, or if none are available interview a woman called to ministry to get her take on where she is headed and the obstacles she thinks she faces.