A Biblical Perspective on Women in Leadership within Church Planting
Updated: Jun 24, 2019
By Jessica Scott
#NPLOKC Church Planting Resident
Where do women fit within the church? This is a highly debated topic today. It has resulted in churches and denominations splitting, people becoming bitter, and women left confused in their pursuit to serve God in a biblically sound fashion. The only way to receive clarity on this topic is by turning to the authoritative Word of God. By doing so, God’s true design is unveiled. Women are to lead through quiet submission, in accordance with their God-given and honorable role, and are effective through their faithful example of godliness.
Initially, it must be understood that women and men share equal value as image-bearers of God and coheirs of His inheritance. This truth is made clear from the words of God at creation: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the seas, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26) The next verse verifies that God did indeed create man in His very image, and that ‘man’ was created into two forms: male and female. Therefore, God made both sexes to equally bear His glorious image in this world; furthermore, He bestowed upon each authority over creation as caregivers. The gender roles are not identical; however, women and men are equally “coheirs of the grace of life.” (1 Peter 3:7)
Building upon the qualitative value established at creation, women and men also complement each other in a God-designed partnership. Creation was not complete until the first man received “a helper as his complement” since “it is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) Woman was formed out of man, finalizing God’s work with holy fellowship. The depth of this partnership is fully expressed through marriage, where the two become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24, Ephesians 5:31) Woman was created from man and for man, but man and woman are co-dependent – “for just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman, and all things come from God.” (1 Corinthians 11:8-12) The one cannot function as “very good” (Genesis 1:31) apart from the other. God’s design is for man and woman to express the fuller nature of God by uniting together.
As mentioned above, women and men serve as God’s image-bearers in different capacities. Of primary concern here, women are expected to submit to the authority of men within marriage and leadership. Paul articulates that “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:3) This order of authority was established as an expression of God’s ultimate authority, and it especially depicts the relationship between Christ and the Church. (Eph. 5:32) Husbands are called to execute this role as “the head” through sacrificial love, like Christ’s relentless love for the Church, that results in the wives’ holiness. (Eph. 5:25-29, 33) Hence, the male’s authority is not about lording over females as a dictator; rather, the purpose is to demonstrate the love of Christ and lead women in spiritual health and growth. Wives are commanded to submit in everything as to the Lord. (Eph. 5:22, 24, 33) This submission is another expression of the fear of God (Eph 5:21) and a clear picture of Jesus’ humble submission to the Father. (Philippians 2:5-8) The focus is not on who is in charge; the focus is on fearing God through rightly expressed relationships.
As for leadership, the only clear limitation put on women is the position of elder. When Paul described to Timothy who is worthy to be an elder, he designated that leadership role to men. (1 Tim. 3:2, 12) This design correlates with God’s created order which has already been discussed. Women are commanded to learn in silence when a part of church gatherings. (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:12) What is really of concern here is that women are expressing humble submission and allowing men to take up their role as spiritual leaders. Male leaders are responsible for ensuring the spiritual health of a church – the same goes for husbands and their families. As will be discussed, women have essential contributions to be made within the Church. Considering the sole limitation given, women are empowered to thrive as valuable members of the Church in every way outside of this one pastoral position.
Therefore, women are still expected to lead godly lives and teach what is good. Proverbs 31 gives the most beautiful, extensive description of a capable wife who serves as an excellent example of a woman living obediently through the nature God has given her. The passage highlights that the woman is a hard worker (13-19, 24, 27), provider for her family (11-12, 21-22, 27), wise instructor (26), and of honorable character (20, 25, 28-31). Submissive women do not sit and do nothing; they actively thrive through their gifts and skills, and they bless and lead others through their faithful example. Women play an especially important role in nurturing the family to spiritual health. (1 Tim. 5:4-5, 10, 14; 2 Tim. 1:4-5; Titus 2:3b-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-2) It should be noted that through submitting to her husband even when he is disobeying God, wives can win him over to the Lord through her “pure, reverent lives.” (1 Pet. 3:1-2) Women are given the command to teach “so they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, homemakers, kind, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered.” (Titus 2:3-5) Above all, there is an expectation of godly character firmly set throughout Scripture. (Prov. 31:10-31; 1 Tim. 2:9-10, 3:11, 5:10; Titus 2:3-5)
Amid heated arguments over this hot topic, what is important is this: women are valued by God as His image-bearers and Kingdom builders. The command to make disciples was given to the whole Church – male and female. Women are expected to lead through their God-given nature. Their biggest influencer is their faithful example through quiet, humble obedience to God. When women fulfill service in their role alongside men who serve God in their role, churches will be established, the Kingdom will be proclaimed, and God will be greatly glorified.