For many years I served in protestant churches where women had limited access to church leadership – severely limited.
Women could not be elders. Elders are decision-makers in these contexts. Women could not be deacons, either. Deacons were ministry team leaders – the hands and feet of the ministry of the church.
I grew up in the Roman Catholic church. Of course, in a Roman Catholic church a woman cannot be a priest. However, this is the only leadership position unavailable to women. And, some would say, they have a comparable opportunity available in the sisterhood. As a Catholic, I served as an altar boy alongside young ladies. I took communion from women, including my mother, who were entrusted with the very body of Christ.
You may be aware, perhaps, that in I Timothy, Paul instructs women not to teach or have authority over a man. And in the same little book, Paul also advises that an elder should be a man of one wife.
Many of us, me included, have at times interpreted these passages as restrictive of women’s roles in church leadership. As such, women have not been allowed to be elders, pastors, deacons, worship leaders, communion distributors, ministry team leaders, Sunday school teachers, etc.
However, have we also considered Junia (a woman) in Romans 16, who is listed as prominent among the apostles? Apostle was an authority position above elder or deacon. Have we considered that the same Paul who said women should not teach was also a close companion of a woman named Priscilla, who taught Apollos (a prominent apostle, on par with Paul himself)?
Have we considered that the Gospel of John is littered with examples of women as evangelists and preachers, including a woman being the first to proclaim his resurrection (and to the remaining 11 disciples, nonetheless)? Have we considered that Paul (again, the source of the seemingly anti-women-in-church-leadership material) spent time living with Phillip and his four unmarried daughters who were preachers?
Have we legitimately asked ourselves whether the heart of God and these sorts of religious restrictions against women are consistent with one another?
Let me now be less interrogative and more pointed: We have allowed sexism to live in the church under the banner of two to three passages which did not even come from the mouth of Jesus himself.
We have willfully ignored other passages which point to women’s inclusion in every aspect of church leadership. We have kept the door to the boardroom closed to women whom God has gifted and chosen. We have refused to ordain ministers whom God has blessed because they were the wrong gender.
Our churches have made mistake after mistake because decisions are made only by men without consideration of, or input from, our beautiful sisters.
There are many churches we can look to for an example of how to honor women in church leadership. Chances are there is a church in your area which has been doing this for so long, they don’t remember any different.
Here is what I really believe is the most important thing for church leaders to hear if they are in a context where only men are allowed in leadership: Open the window to the man cave of church leadership and allow for some dialogue. This participation does not have to threaten you. It was meant to bless you.