If your family is like mine, it’s a beautifully diverse mix of people who represent political and theological views from all across the spectrum. You go home for the holidays and are excited to announce at your family gathering that your church has hired a new pastor! They’re so excited, but assume they misheard you when you use a feminine pronoun…. “She?!?!!?” How do you respond to your concerned relatives?
Here’s a list of ten helpful responses to begin the dialogue. If your relatives ever come to the point of saying, “Wow, I would love to learn more about this!” Please email me and I’ll send you a reading list on the topic, a mile long, written by respected evangelical men and women. I also have lists of podcasts and PhD scholars who even respond to direct questions asked over email. 🙂
When Uncle John begins raising his voice
Uncle John, I understand that you think the bible is clear about women in leadership and I appreciate how quick you are to remind us that the Bible is very important and we can’t just pick and choose which parts of it we like. I don’t agree with your conclusions about what the bible teaches about women, but I also don’t want to argue with you. I respect you a lot and I would be interested in open dialogue on this topic. We should meet up after the holidays or perhaps exchange emails and have this conversation digitally! I really love my church and the scriptures; this is important to me! Thanks, Uncle John!
But what about the children?!
Grandma Susan, yes, we hired a woman to be our pastor. She has young kids and she loves her family very much. She actually brings her kids with her a lot and it’s really great because our church has a lot of young families in it. For her, pastoral care sometimes looks like folding laundry with another young mother, talking about Jesus. In 1 Thes 2:7, Paul likens himself to a nursing mother to describe his pastoral care for his church and we see that in our new pastor. It’s beautiful.
But 1 Timothy 2:12!
Neighbour Tom, it’s true that 1 Timothy 2 teaches that a woman ought not to have authority over a man. You’re right! At our church we believe that the role of a pastor is one of servanthood and humility and did you know that the greek word used by Paul in 1 Tim 2:12, translated as, “authority” is actually never used in the Bible outside of this verse? There are many greek words Paul uses throughout his letters for authority but he doesn’t use any of those words in 1 Timothy 2. When we look at how this word is used in other Greek documents from the 1st Century, it actually means violent and oppressive authority and is often associated with murder! No one is to have that kind of authority, especially not pastors!
But there are no women pastors in the bible!
There were actually many women who served as leaders in the early church! In Romans 16:7 Paul refers to a female apostle named Junia and even says that she is outstanding among the apostles! In 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Eph 4:11-12 Paul says that God appointed apostles first and then prophets and then teachers. It’s a pretty big deal that Junia is an apostle! Did you know that ancient translations tried to hide this fact by translating ‘Junia’ as ‘Junias’ to make her a male? That’s because early translators knew the implications of there being a female apostle. You can read all about that interesting bit of history in a book by Scot McKnight called, Junia is Not Alone.
But Jesus is male and God is father so …only a man….!
Grandpa Sid, I know that Jesus was a male and I understand why you’d think that only a male could be head of the church since Jesus is the perfect representation of God. But did you know that there’s never a reference in the bible, anywhere, to the Pastor as the head of the church? Only Jesus is the head of the church! Jesus is the head, and the rest of us are all different parts of the same body. I think it’s fascinating to consider the role of gender in describing the church though. Some passages refer to the Church as the ‘bride of Christ’ (a female body) but other passages refer to the church as the body of Christ (a male body?). Grandpa Sid, do you think the church as a unified whole is male or female? Is it possible that gender is just a metaphor here? Also, can I ask you something? We both think that becoming clothed in Christ and made new in Christ is important. We are to be holy as the Father is holy! We also agree that Jesus is the perfect representation of God. Do you think Jesus’ ‘maleness’ is a part of what makes Jesus, God? If so, then can women ever be like Jesus or holy as God is holy? Do you think Jesus’ ‘Jewishness’ is part of what makes Jesus the perfect image of God? The image of God is male and female, right? And we both believe that the blood of Christ is sufficient to remove any and all barriers between the believer and God, right? So wouldn’t that mean that women can also gain direct access to God the Father because of the work of Jesus on the cross? All of us believers are priests! We all have full access to God because of Jesus and can be full recipients of the Spirit! It’s so exciting to be a part of a church that truly envisions the priesthood of all believers, male and female, Jew and Gentile. I like talking about this with you, grandpa.
But Adam was created first!
Uncle Rick, Adam was created first! That’s true. And Eve was made to be a helper to Adam. Uncle Rick, have you ever done a word study to see how that Hebrew word for “helper” is used elsewhere in the Bible? It’s regularly used to describe the way God helps us. When you read throughout the Psalms that God is our help in times of trouble, it’s the same word! You don’t believe that God is to be like a domestic worker for us, do you? You don’t think that since God is our helper, we have authority over Him, right? Also, Uncle, I don’t mean to get all nerdy on ya, but I really love studying the bible. The english teaches that Eve was made from Adam’s “rib” but that word in Hebrew is never translated as ‘rib’ anywhere else in the Hebrew. The most literal translation is “side” and it seems, in the Hebrew, that God split Adam and took one side and made a woman. If you go back and read the story, you’ll see that Adam isn’t referred to as a ‘male’ until after the ‘split’! In Gen 5, both Adam and Eve are called Adam! Isn’t it neat to consider Adam, upon waking up, declaring, “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” He recognized her so deeply and mysteriously because they were in the same body before. The image of God is male and female. Wow!
But Jesus never commissioned any women!
Dad, I know that Jesus never commissioned any women to be his followers. None of the 12 were women! That’s important to consider. Dad, could I challenge you to consider that Jesus also never once commissioned a Gentile to follow him either? It’s pretty significant and was quite scandalous that Gentiles were invited into Church leadership. Dad, you’re not Jewish, and I’m glad that hasn’t limited your opportunities to serve Jesus according to the fullness of your gifts. I love you, Dad.
You’re picking and choosing scriptures to suit the feminist agenda!
Mom, there are actually many women named by Paul and other NT writers who served as leaders in the Church! Can you name them? Remember, we have to read all of scripture and not just pick and choose. There’s Phoebe in Rom. 16:2 (a deacon!), Chloe (she lead a house church in Corinth! 1 Cor 1:11), Junia the Apostle (Romans 16:7) Apphia (Philemon 1:2), Eoudia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2), Nympha (Col 4:15), Priscilla (1 Corinthians 16:9; Acts 18:26), Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother, and Junia (Rom 16:1-11). Don’t forget about Philip’s four daughters who all prophesied (Acts 21:9)! The letter of 2 John is actually addressed to a woman who was the lead pastor of her house church! John uses the same terminology for her as for himself! John calls his own congregants his dear children and acknowledged this female pastor’s congregants as her dear children. It’s a beautiful little book of the bible. Mom, that’s just in the NT letters. Women proclaimed the gospel to men throughout the Gospels and there are many female prophets in the Old Testament! Consider Miriam and Huldah. It’s ok, mom.
But what about tradition?
Uncle Dan, I agree that tradition is important. We do need to honor the past and the heroes of the faith who’ve gone before us. Change for the sake of change, is dangerous! We do have to consider the ways each generation has had its own blindspots though. Think about the reformation! Heroic believers broke with tradition to break away from the Roman Catholic church. Consider the abolition of slavery! Brave Christians broke with tradition to end slavery and segregation. We’ve always been re-examining long-standing biblical interpretation because each generation has its own unique ignorance. This is responsible readership.
Well, it’s a slippery slope!
Hey little brother! I appreciate your concern about the ‘slippery slope’. Our Pastor really loves the Bible and has studied it full time for more than eight years and can read it in both original languages! You should come to one of our services and listen to one of her sermons. Jesus says that you’ll know a tree by its fruit, and as a congregation and as a denomination, we believe her service to our community has so far, demonstrated and embodied the good fruits of the Spirit. You’d be welcome to come any time and she’d welcome your feedback and willingness to dialogue about the importance of holding all of Scripture authoritatively, and not just picking and choosing the bits that suit us best.