Women are the greatest and largest untapped resource in the church today. You might wonder why I would say such a thing, being that more women attend church than men. But I stick to the statement because the reality for many churches is that only men can hold positions of authority as elders and deacons. The reasoning goes something like this: “the Bible says women can’t serve over men, so women can’t hold those positions.” Really? So, a woman can serve as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, can be elected as governor of a state, and can manage men on a factory floor, but that same woman cannot serve as an elder in many evangelical churches? I once asked a pastor that very question, and he answered with “yes, because the Bible says so.”
If you are of the belief that a church office is to based on gender instead of just good ol’ calling and gifting of the Spirit, then, methinks, it behooves us to ask these questions of the biblical text:
- If women are not to exercise authority over men in the church, how do we account for actual women leaders in the Bible, such as Deborah, Huldah, Philip’s daughters, Priscilla’s role in Apollos’ life, not to mention the list of women leaders in Romans 16? If our impulse is to say that these are exceptions because there were no men to “step up”, what does that say about our theology, that God isn’t big enough to find a man to put into a position of leadership?
- If we insist that women ought not to teach and be silent based on Paul in the book of 1 Timothy, why do we ignore Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians that women are to publicly prophecy and pray?
- Doesn’t the prominence of women in the ministry of Jesus and Paul suggest something different than just having women tag along to teach children?
- Just when does a boy become too old for a woman to legitimately teach him? If women can’t teach men, why in the world would we ever think that they are the best teachers for boys?
- How can we apply Galatians 3:26-28 as everyone else besides women as free to serve?
- Does the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers only apply to men? Doesn’t the absence of women in church leadership go against this?
- Isn’t it weird and confusing that women have an equal vote in congregational decisions, even when a male leader is being elected and/or disciplined when they aren’t supposed to exercise authority?
One day, several years ago, while driving through an intersection, a car turned right in front of me and caused me to slam my brakes. After getting on my way (and proud of myself for not saying a word) my daughter, who was five years old at the time, leaned forward from the back seat and asked me, “Dad, is that guy an idiot?”
Kids often imitate their parents in everything, whether good or bad. This is no less true for adults. When it comes to Christianity, the faith is passed on not just from individuals reading their bibles in seclusion, but is handed down from person to person (2 Timothy 2:2). Christians learn from leaders how the faith is lived out and practiced, not primarily from listening to sermons, but through imitating what they see. It is good for us to ask the question: who do I imitate? We pass on things we learn from others, so it is imperative that we learn from the right people.
Consider just a few biblical verses on this: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what was promised” (Hebrews 6:12). “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
We must imitate those Christian leaders who have a proven character in persevering in the faith in the face of pain and suffering, and have done it with great humility. This does not necessarily mean that we emulate those who eruditely speak the Word of God, have superior gifts and abilities, and enjoy success in ministry. It does mean that we ought to imitate, and have as mentors, those persons who imitate Christ and are not self-promoting peacocks who go after being admired and praised. Paul chose Timothy to go to the Philippian church because Timothy had proven himself as being genuinely concerned for others, and not for making decisions that would simply further his ministry career (Philippians 2:19-23). Timothy had learned from his mentor, Paul, how to cultivate a life of service to others rather than to be self-serving.
We are to imitate those who have proved themselves in hardship. A Christian leader who has not undergone the purgative fires of trials in this life may more easily become seduced by their own importance. However, leaders who have seen their share of hard circumstances, pain, and suffering, and have come through it loving God and serving others out of grace and humility, are leaders worth imitating. Put in this light, the choosing and electing of church deacons and elders is greatly important. Just getting a warm body willing to serve is not really an option. Perhaps it could be that many young people are leaving the church, and even the faith, because they have not seen genuine Christianity lived-out with passion and integrity among those who hold leadership positions in the church.
So whom will you follow?
What Christians will serve you well as good models of faith and ministry?
Be alert for Christian leaders who exemplify genuine meekness, selfless service, and are in the habit of being helpful and doing good to others. Imitate such persons.
If you do not have someone in your life you can truly consider a “mentor” in the faith, begin today to search for a person for whom you can imitate. It’s not only biblical, but will change your life for the better.