The conversation surrounding gender roles in the church has been an interesting one for me to consider because of the tension I’ve wrestled with regarding this topic, especially as a wife and also a woman who works in ministry full time. Until this year, I didn’t experience much tension around this topic. I have felt comfortable in the position that Hope held and the way it plays out in my marriage. For some reason, this past year, my pride decided to get the better of me. There were moments that I’d feel upset because I’m a female. There were times that I’ve felt I don’t have the opportunity to be part of certain meetings and conversations because of my gender. As someone who believes herself to be a skilled and competent woman, who has received gifts from the Lord to serve him and the church, my pride would lead me to believe that I can do better (and am better) than the males in those meetings and conversations. How awful! Thankfully, as I’ve worked through these feelings, the Lord has surrounded me with some great men and women who’ve been incredibly gracious to walk with me as I’ve processed my thoughts. My experience, and the grace I’ve been shown in the process, have encouraged me to write this article on the topic of gender roles in the church.
Throughout history there have been four different viewpoints held in regards to Gender Roles and the Church:
Patriarchal: Men are superior to women and should lead in all areas of life. There are many differences which make men more fit and capable to lead. These play out in both the home and church. It is assumed that women should not work outside of the home.
Feminism: Women are superior to men. Smarter, more caring. Due to their strengths, and the history of failed male leadership, women should hold places of leadership in all realms of life (work, home, church etc) Women have a higher capability than men do.
Egalitarian: Men and Women are made in the image of God and therefore given equal value and worth. Their equality before God is the assigning factor for leadership in all realms of life (work, home, church etc). Roles are based on giftedness and preference with a sense of teamwork. Often, decision-making leans more to a give and take.
Complementarian: Men and Women are made in the image of God and therefore given equal value and worth. In addition to equality, they have been given different roles by God within the home and church in order to tell the two-gender story of the gospel.
Now that we have a basic understanding of these four beliefs, I’d like to take a look at how we see this playing out in both society and the church.
Gender Roles & the Church
While I was growing in my understanding of this topic, I read a book by Kathy Keller called Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles and she writes this, “How does one talk pastorally and compassionately to 21st-century people so that the notion of gender roles is presented not as an embarrassing antiquity the church is stuck with but as a gift, meant for our good.” Oof. Good question.
How does the Gospel inform us of Gender Roles within the church? That’s a tricky question, one I hope to flush out. Myself, along with fellow Hopesters, Davis, Naty and Cor came up with this definition.
“Men and Women are made in the image of God and therefore given equal value and worth. In addition to equality, they have been given different roles by God within the marriage and church in order to tell the two-gender story of the gospel.
PAUSE: What does that mean? You have heard of two genders. And you likely have heard of the gospel. But what is the two-gender story of the gospel? Let’s go on.
“This story is told well within the home when husbands reflect the leadership of Jesus, in their self-giving, sacrificial love toward their wives. And though well-aware of their husbands’ flaws, wives tell the story of the good news of Jesus when they celebrate and encourage their husbands similar to how the church responds to the love of Christ.
“This complementarity is also seen in the church through the relationship between elders and the congregation. Elders are a small team of godly and trained men, approved by church members, who are called to reflect the leadership of Jesus in shepherding, leading, spiritually directing, and sacrificing for the church. As with Christ, this group is to lay down their lives in whatever ways necessary to care for, protect, nourish, and bless the congregation. The congregation plays a complementary role to the elders. This group, made up of men and women, is called, gifted, and empowered to lead and exercise their talents alongside the elders and, ultimately, in honor of Christ.”
Are there passages that speak to this? We believe so!
Take a moment to read Ephesians 5:21-33
Instructions for Christian Households
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansingher by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Christian marriage, by the power of the Spirit, is a beautiful reflection of Christ and then church. The church being the wife and the husband playing the role of Christ. Husbands are to sacrificially love their wives, laying down his preferences to serve and love her. While at the same time, wives are to pursue, encourage and follow their husbands. Both spouses are unable to do any such thing without the help of the Spirit working in them and through them.
Now what about in the church?
Let’s take a look at 1 Timothy. 1 Timothy is a letter from Paul to Timothy and can be referred to as the letter that is “how to plant a church.” All throughout the letter, Paul is giving Timothy instructions on how to create order in certain ways. In this chapter, we see Paul writing to Timothy on instructions for worship.
The verse that creates quite a bit of tension is 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Take a moment to read it.
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.
Oof. Do any women feel a slight twinge in them as you read that? I know I do. How do we reconcile that in light of the gospel?
In 2011, Cor along with Hope elders and a few female staff thought it’d be helpful to write out the reasons behind we hold to the complementarian stance (you can read it HERE). It’s a dense read and yet a helpful study of scripture to why we believe this to be true.
In his paper, he reflects on this verse and says,
“Let’s begin with what it cannot mean. Does it restrict teaching of any kind by a woman? No. It should be clear that what Paul is espousing is not the restriction of any kind of teaching by a woman. Scripture specifically endorses women teaching children and it urges that older women be trained to teach younger women. In Colossians 3:16, Paul exhorts the people to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another.” Certainly all the members of the church, male and female, do some type of teaching and admonishing.
“Then, what type of teaching is being restricted? We believe the specific kind of teaching being restricted is that of teaching and preaching with authority over the church, and a number of clues from this passage support that interpretation.”
Living out what you believe is tough. And while this article may not have answered all your questions, I hope it was a good starting place for you as you begin to learn and wrestle with gender roles within the church. The beauty of serving a good God is that we get to trust the Lord in his design for men and women. His design is an incredible reflection of Jesus and the church. As men and women, we can trust the leadership God has established within the church as the giftings He’s given all believers. Both genders get the opportunity to reflect the gospel.