I wonder whether others are as jaded as I am about the debate over the role of women in ministry . . .
We evangelicals have armed ourselves with prooftexts, laid out our exegetical battle plan, sharpened our rhetorical bayonets, and joined battle over the role of women in the church. We’ve pitted egalitarian arguments from Genesis 1 against complementarian arguments from Genesis 2. We’ve debated whether the real Paul is the apparently restrictive Paul of 1 Timothy 2 or the seemingly liberated Paul of Galatians 3. We’ve even gotten testy with one another over issues like whether mature Christian women can teach adolescent males, as if the age of 18 is biblically significant.
What has resulted from all this? For me it’s like WW1 trench warfare. It’s a stalemate, resulting in a theological no man’s land.
Is the stalemate all there is?
I realize many of us have arrived at deeply-held convictions regarding the two views of the role of women in ministry. That’s not the problem. Whether we identify as complementarians or egalitarians (as if there were only two options) is not what I’m talking about. Yes, we need to articulate biblically-based views of current issues, including this one. The problem is that we seem to think our work is done when we have decided which trench we occupy. Sure, it’s important to think through issues like this and come to reasoned conclusions, but it’s also important to act on what we have concluded. Our deeds incarnate the views our words articulate. We should be more concerned about helping women actually do ministry than we are about winning the arguments about women’s ministry roles.
There’s more than the stalemate.
Whether we identify as complementarian or egalitarian, we should agree that ministry isn’t primarily about position or status—unless we buy into “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them” model of church leadership (Matt 20:25-28). When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he showed us that ministry is about serving one another (John 13:12-17), not about who is the master and who is the servant. As Paul explained in Philippians 2:5-11, Jesus’ example jolts us out of egocentric, status-oriented thinking, into cruciformity. This has profound implications for how we think about and enact ministry. Jesus was among us as one who serves (Luke 22:27), so we must do likewise.
The key question driving this event is drawn from conference speaker Carolyn Custis James’s work in her book Half the Church: Is our vision for women robust enough to enlist and empower all women to bring all their gifts to the body of Christ? If not, at what cost? Participants will be encouraged to reflect on the experience of women in the church—how they are flourishing and how they are marginalized—and to consider how the body of Christ can recognize their gifts and encourage them in their callings. For more information on the other conference speakers and panelists, including Dr. Lynn Cohick, Rev. Dr. Justin Holcomb, and Pastor Marcus Little, click here. The conference schedule is here.
It’s time to come up out of our trenches and end the stalemate by working as hard on equipping, supporting, and facilitating women in ministry as we’ve worked on the arguments about women’s ministry roles. This is not about being trendy or politically correct. This is about churches getting in step with the Spirit of God who gifts all believers for ministry in the body of Christ to the glory of the Father. Talking prayerfully and candidly about this issue with ministry-minded women and men would be a step in the right direction. Reading Half the Church in groups and planning how to implement its insights would be another. The snow and ice in Grand Rapids will [probably] be melted by April 16, so . . .
Finally, notice how Paul stresses the whole church in Ephesians 4:11-16 (NIV):
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.