Women in Christian Leadership
Judges 4:4-5 - Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim.
Deborah was a prophetess and judged Israel for forty years.
It is obvious that she had the strength and displayed the right approach to be placed in leadership. Her leadership role was shown in her ability to motivate and to encourage.
She knew the Lord and because of that knowledge, she displayed a spirit of inspiration to the people. She possessed talents and had great faith. She was also well respected.
Deborah lived in a period of Israel’s history where the nation was at a low point in terms of its relationship with God. Anarchy was rife and Israel was oppressed by the Canaanites. The oppression of Israel was directly associated with the spiritual decay that had corrupted the nation.
Deborah was a godly woman whose leadership abilities restored Israel’s security. It was Deborah’s courage that enabled Barak to defeat the enemies. Under Deborah’s leadership, Israel was able to destroy the entire army of Jabin, a Canaanite king.
Deborah used her tongue to speak God’s commands to those who needed encouragement to free themselves from oppression.
Exodus 15:20-21 - Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them: “Sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!”
Micah 6:4 - For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage; And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
Miriam was one of God’s special gifts to the people of Israel. She was a leader of the Hebrew people during the Exodus. The Egyptians had commanded that Hebrew babies be drowned. When Moses was a baby, his sister Miriam saved him by hiding him among the reeds at the edge of the river. He was found by Pharaoh’s own daughter, who adopted him. Miriam arranged that the real mother of the baby should be a nurse for the baby.
When the Hebrews left Egypt, they were led by Moses, Miriam, and Aaron. As a leader of the Hebrew women, Miriam led them in ritual singing and dancing. Miriam had an unusually influential position in the community. This made her words and ideas important, because they listened to her.
She began the Israelite tradition of celebrating God’s victories through dance.
At one point in time, she questioned Moses’ leadership. God placed leprosy on her for a week. She repented and God healed her. After this incident, Miriam served with Moses for the next thirty eight years before her death.
Esther 4:15-17 - Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!” So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him.
The story of Queen Esther is filled with intrigue, romance, bravery, and honor. It is the story of a queen who became the savior of the Jews.
Esther was a very beautiful woman. Her greatness was based on her willingness to sacrifice. Queen Esther occupied the highest position in the mighty Persian Empire. She was a Hebrew girl who was chosen by King Ahasuerus to be his wife.
Israel was in captivity to Babylon. King Ahasuerus divorced his wife Queen Vashti because of her rebellion against him and began searching for a new queen to take her place at his side. Esther was introduced to King Ahasuerus and he fell in love with her. She was chosen as his wife and queen.
Esther's uncle Mordechai was the leader of the Jews. He encouraged Esther to hide her faith from the King. At the time of the marriage, it was not revealed to the king that his new bride was Jewish in origin.
Haman came into power as the Prime Minister and was only subordinate to the king. He decided that given his rise to power, it would be appropriate for everyone to bow down to him.
But Mordecai refused to bow down to him. Haman was very angry and asked the King to authorize a royal decree to annihilate the Jews. Haman did not know that the king had great respect for Mordecai because on a previous occasion, Mordecai had told the king about a plot to assassinate him. The king never forgot about Mordecai’s faithfulness and he intended to honor him.
Esther ordered all Jews to hold a fast for three days and nights to request God’s intervention in this vital matter. She herself would also be fasting, and after that time would approach the king. She took a great risk because custom prohibited the queen from approaching the king without being invited and this could lead to her death. Esther was willing to risk her position and entire future in order to save her people. She was willing to sacrifice herself for her Jewish nation and when she approached the king, she found favor in his sight and he offered her any request up to half the kingdom. Esther told the king about Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews and to execute Mordecai.
Esther also shared the secret of her faith and proclaimed herself a Jew. She begged the king to spare her people. The king was furious with Haman and ordered that he be hanged on the gallows he had built to hang Mordecai. The bravery of Esther saved the Jews. Queen Esther will always be remembered for the life she led and the role she played in saving her people through love and selfless devotion.
Jesus and Women
Matthew 9:20-22 - And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour.
Luke 8:1-3 - After this, while Jesus was traveling through some cities and small towns, he preached and told the Good News about God’s kingdom. The twelve apostles were with him, and also some women who had been healed of sicknesses and evil spirits: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out; Joanna, the wife of Chuza Susanna; and many others.
The place of women in the Jewish culture is well known. Most frequently, women were regarded as second-class citizens. Both Old and New Testaments present situations where women were demoralized and depersonalized.
Women in ancient Israel had their position in society defined in the interpretation of Hebrew Scriptures. Their status and freedoms were severely limited by Jewish law and custom in ancient Israel. Women were restricted to roles of little or no authority. In Jewish life, women were considered the property of their husbands, along with household goods and slaves.
The manner in which Jesus dealt with the women of his day gives undeniable evidence that the oppressive treatment of women in accordance with Jewish custom and law came to an end. He nullified many centuries of these oppressive laws and customs. He clearly treated women and men as equals. He ignored numerous Old Testament edicts which specified inequality.
Concerning women, He consistently violated the rules of the major Jewish religious groups of the day. His ministry reached out to men and women equally. His teachings were directed to women and men equally.
The treatment of women by Jesus was nothing short of radical for His day. He clearly did not go along with the customs regarding women. Jesus’ regard for women was much different from that of His contemporaries. He treated them with high regard. Jesus broke custom in his championing of women as equally worthy of his concern and ministry. His evaluation of them far outstripped the most expansive and tolerant in his day and continually surprised even those who knew Him well.
All the Gospels portray Jesus as the one who fully accepted women. Regardless of their social or marital status, He was courteous and compassionate towards them.
Jesus affirmed the worth of women in society. He included women among the inner circle of His disciples. Even though most Jewish women were not permitted to study the Old Testament, Jesus taught them. In a cultural society in which women were not counted as full members of a Jewish congregation and were discouraged from studying the Law, Jesus taught women alongside men.
Jesus opposed the prejudice and misuse of organized religion against women and defended widows against the greed of the Pharisees. He ministered to women. He broke cultural barriers by speaking to them, regardless of whether they were Jewish or Gentile. He even touched them publicly, which was something unheard of in Jewish society where a man would not allow a woman to count change into his hand. Jesus showed the high value He placed on women by ministering to them in a vital and practical manner, both physically and spiritually. He healed many women and cast demons out of others, thus showing His care for them.
Jesus gave dignity to the Samaritan woman, whose past was far from perfect. He ministered to her at the well and His disciples were surprised that He spoke to the woman. She in turn became an evangelist in her city, proclaiming Jesus as the Savior of the world.
Jesus used women frequently in His illustrations. He also treated His mother and all women with the deepest respect. He treated women as human beings. His behavior in light of the culture of that day shows that He came to redeem mankind, both men and women.
He called a certain woman a daughter of Abraham and repeatedly expressed concern for widows. He ignored ritual impurity laws.
Jesus included women in His circle of followers regardless of their backgrounds. Women as well as men were attracted to Jesus in His ministry. The fact that women followed a teacher or rabbi was an unprecedented occurrence in history of that time.
He even accepted the monetary support of women. A number of women left their homes and travelled with Jesus during His ministry. They provided material support for Jesus and His disciples. Jesus accepted the gifts of service that these women offered Him.
These women supported Jesus and His disciples financially. They were women with means and so probably came from an upper echelon of society.
Jesus not only accepted the service of women, but He also used them to spread the gospel. Both the angel of God and Jesus Himself instructed these women to take the most important message to His disciples – that He had risen from the dead. In keeping with the Jewish attitude toward women, the disciples did not believe the women.
In a society where a woman's word was not allowed in court, they were commissioned by Jesus to be the first to proclaim the resurrection.
Women leaders in the early church
Galatians 3:28 - There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In spite of the frequent references to women, the early church’s leadership was mostly male. But one cannot emphasize sufficiently the role which women played in the early church.
The outpouring at Pentecost
Acts 2:14-18 - But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy.’”
The church from its inception included women. Nothing was more natural than women being numbered among the 120 who waited in the Upper Room for the power that was promised to them by Jesus before He ascended to heaven. This would empower them to be witnesses of Jesus to the ends of the earth.
All the men and women joined together constantly in prayer. The miracle of Pentecost was that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon all believers. Women, including Jesus’ mother, joined with the men in prayer. They were present at Pentecost and were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
In the Old Testament times, the Spirit of God came only to a few. These were mostly priests, kings, and prophets. Now He could be received by every child of God. The prophet Joel foretold of the Spirit being poured out upon all flesh and upon every significant division of human kind.
As to race, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon Jew and Gentiles. As to sex, the Holy Spirit came upon both male and female. As to age, the Holy Spirit was given to both young and old. And as to social rank, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon both slave and free.
The outpouring at Pentecost heralded the birth of the New Testament church. This supernatural event fulfilled Joel’s prophecy, which included the supernatural empowerment and prophetic gifting of both men and women.
The basic definition of a prophet is one who speaks for God. Prophecy consists largely of speaking God's Word, calling people to repentance, warning of future judgments, and praising the Lord. Whenever the Holy Spirit moves on a chosen vessel, the Spirit of prophecy is at work.
The Bible makes no distinction between the prophetic ministry of men and women. A prophet, whether male or female, is God's servant and is called and anointed by Him. Their responsibility is to speak the Word of the Lord.
Understanding the position of women in the early church is important because it establishes the foundation for the ministry of women in the church today.
Although women, minors, and slaves were not permitted to be witnesses according to Jewish law, the Gospels make it quite clear that women were witnesses from the time of the ministry of Jesus in Galilee to His death and resurrection.
Women who believed
In most places where the gospel was preached, women (both Jew and Gentile) are mentioned as being among those who believed. In Jerusalem, multitudes of both men and women believed. In Samaria, both men and women believed as a result of Philip's preaching. Hebrews 11 is full of female heroes of faith.
Timothy's mother Eunice and grandmother Lois lived at Lystra and were believers.
At Philippi, Lydia became the first Christian convert in Europe and there were other unnamed women who were part of the church there. At Joppa, Dorcas and other women were members of the early church.
Women in the early church were intercessors in prayer. Mary, the mother of Jesus, joined the men in prayer waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit:
When Peter was put in prison by Herod, the believers were praying in the home of Mary, the mother of John and Mark. Rhoda, one of the women in the prayer meeting, met Peter at the door after the angel delivered him from jail and carried news of the victory to others at the prayer meeting.
In the city of Philippi, a group of women met by the river to pray.
Women in Acts provided material support to the work of God. Lydia provided lodging to Paul's missionary team. Dorcas had a ministry to widows and provided them with clothing. Her ministry had a great impact on the needy.
In Corinth, Paul lived in the home of Priscilla, who not only shared in her husband Aquila's business but also had an important place in the Corinthian church. They allowed Paul to share in their business during his stay in Corinth.
Women were victims of severe persecution which came upon the early church.
Before the apostle Paul's conversion, the Bible records that he entered into homes and temples of worship and bound both men and women to take them to Jerusalem for trial.
Junia was noted by the apostles for her faith. She was a fellow prisoner with Paul for the cause of Christ.
The Gifts of the Spirit
Paul never indicated that there were separate gifts for men and women. He stressed the fact that the Holy Spirit and His gifts were for all believers regardless of their gender, race, or economic status.
He taught that these gifts were given for building the body of Christ and to bring unity and maturity in the church.
Paul’s fundamental teachings clearly recognize women as ministerial colleagues, as evidenced in the Acts of the Apostles and his New Testament writings.
The role women played in the early church was not passive. They struggled right along with the men to spread the gospel message.
They labored as fellow workers, had great responsibilities, organized churches in their homes, and were imprisoned for their faith.
Because of persecution, they were scattered abroad and went everywhere preaching the Word.
These women provide inspiring role models for Christian women who seek their own places of service in the spiritual harvest fields of the world.
The following are some examples with Scripture references:
* Women deacons are mentioned several times in the New Testament (Romans 16:1-2; 1 Timothy 3:11).
* Dorcas was known for her good works and was referred to as a disciple (Acts 9:36).
* Philip the evangelist lived at Caesarea. He had four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9).
* Women are taught how to conduct themselves in public prayer and prophecy in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:4-5).
* Euodia and Syntyche were two of Paul’s co-workers in ministry. They were possibly leaders of house churches (Philippians 4:2-3).
* Paul acknowledged that Priscilla and Aquila not only risked their lives but were also involved in an important ministry to the Gentile churches. Priscilla and Aquila taught the famous Biblical scholar, Apollos (Acts 18).
* A number of esteemed women served in a variety of ministry roles such as deacons, ministers, teachers, church leaders, apostles, and workers. Phebe, Priscilla, Mary, Adronicus, Junias, Trypehna, Tryphosa, and Persis were all in the ministry. They helped Paul greatly (Romans 16).
* Female elders and teachers are described in the church (Titus 2:3).
* The second epistle of John was addressed to a woman, the Elect Lady.
* Phoebe carried the great doctrinal statement of the book of Romans to the believers in Rome. She was referred to as a minister and a deacon.
* Paul addresses Apphia, Philemon's wife. This couple had a church in their home as did Lydia and Nympha (Philemon).
Apparent contradictions and prohibitions
There are two passages of New Testament passages that appear to restrict the ministry or leadership of women.
1 Timothy 2:11-12 - Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 - Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
The above passages of Scripture are often used to prohibit women from teaching or preaching in the church. Paul did not prohibit women to minister, or else he would not have told them to make sure their heads were covered when praying or prophesying.
It is important to remember that all the instructions in the New Testament were given within the context of a church in which women were active in ministry.
Paul's main purpose was to prevent confusion in the church. He wanted to ensure that everything was done in order in the worship services. This is why he told women not to interrupt the church services, but rather to wait and ask their husbands at home. The women in that day had little or no education. Paul advised the wives if they wanted explanations, they were to ask their husbands at home since the men were better informed than the women.
The cultural context in which this instruction was given must also be considered. In Jewish churches, the women sat in one section and the men in another.
Newly converted women were interrupting the services with enthusiastic outbursts, appropriate in paganism, but inappropriate in Christianity.
It was quite normal for the president of a synagogue to bang on the pulpit and shout to the women's section to be quiet.
It seemed that the women in the Corinthian church were not only talking during services, but were also shouting questions to their husbands in the men's section. Proper order is Paul's concern in this passage and there is no conflict between this passage and his description of what a regular church service should be. Whatever interpretation is given to these passages it should not cause division.
Paul also warns that women should not assume a domineering attitude over a man and should submit to their husbands as the high priest in the home.
Paul speaks of the importance of a woman praying with proper covering for her head. In Paul's time, the wearing of a veil by a married Jewish woman signified they were under submission to their husband. It was an outward custom signifying an inward attitude. Paul indicates that a woman's hair could also serve as a symbol of this covering. It was not necessary for men to wear a covering since they were the covering for the woman as designated by God.
The important concept of Paul's teaching is that a Christian woman should be in proper relationship to her husband by demonstrating an attitude of loving submission to him. Ministry without this attitude is ineffective. Whether or not this is symbolized by the custom of the wearing of a veil or long hair as it was in Paul's time, is not the important issue.
These passages of Scripture should not be used as a barrier to women's ministry in the church. Women in the New Testament were active in ministry by exercising their individual spiritual gifts as well as being active in spreading the gospel and planting churches. Once again, everything should be considered in light of Paul’s views.
Galatians 3:28 - There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In Christ, women:
* can be born again (John 3:1-7)
* can be filled with the Holy Spirit without limits (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:1-11)
* can speak in other tongues (Acts 2:1-4; 1 Corinthians 12:13)
* are priests under the new covenant (Revelation 1:5,6; 5:9-10; 1 Peter 2:5-9)
* may prophesy (Acts 2:17-21; Joel 2:28-32)
* can have faith and expect miracles (Hebrews 11:35; 2 Timothy 1:5)
* can pray for the sick (Mark 16:15-20)
* can pray with their husbands (1 Peter 3:1-8)
* can pray in the church (Acts 1:13-15)
* may teach with their husbands (Acts 18:18,24-28; Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19)
* may teach younger women (Titus 2:4,5)
* may teach the youth (2 Timothy 1:5)
* can function in their spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-13)
* are called to be a witness for Christ (Acts 1:5-8)
* have ministries of helps (Romans 12:6-8)
* (etc. etc.)