I’m Teaching a Class on Women in Church Leadership

If you’re part of our New Life Fellowship community, you’ve probably heard that I’ll be teaching a class on what the Bible says about Women in Church Leadership.  It’s a topic I’m particularly passionate about, mostly because it’s so relevant for today (being that women comprise large numbers of the Christian population around the world), as well as biblically fascinating (the topic requires a rigorous and intense study of Scripture).

As I’m gearing up for the class this Wednesday night, I thought I’d write some preliminary reflections on the topic.

1)  I Love the Bible – I truly believe the Bible is one of the most liberating texts ever, considering the context it was written in as well as its implications for today.

One of the coolest things about studying Scripture is pondering the dance between orthodoxy (right-teaching) with orthopraxis (right-practice).  The topic of women and their roles in Scripture deals with this very dance, and ultimately, the Bible espouses the inherent worth and honor of women as much as (or more than) any other sacred text.

2) I’m Surprised how Disinterested Men are in the Topic – Granted, this is more of a personal observation not backed by verifiable data, but here’s what I’ve experienced.

– In seminary, I took a class on Women in Church Leadership as an elective, and the class examined papers and books from the two most prominent positions today in American Christianity – Complementarianism (equal in personhood, different roles) and Egalitarianism (equal in personhood, roles based on gifting).

I couldn’t find the exact information about this, but I’d estimate that our seminary was about 80% male.

Meanwhile, it goes without saying that at least half (if not more) of the Christian population around the world is female.

One would think that what the Bible says about women in church leadership is of paramount importance.

The seminary class was comprised of 15 people total.  Of the 15 people, only two were men (I was one of them).

That’s a pretty wide disparity considering the overall makeup of our student body.

– When I’ve taught the class at New Life Fellowship, the same phenomenon happens – women are the primary attenders, and I’d say it’s probably a 10:1 ratio of women to men that want to learn about the topic.

I have my thoughts as to why the lack of interest for men (it makes sense why women would be interested), but still, I’m surprised.

3) I’m Bothered by the Regular Assumption and Charge that Egalitarians Do Not Rely on Scripture – I can only speak about this because I was a staunch Complementarian until I took the class in seminary.  I was well versed in MacArthur, Piper, Grudem, and others who insisted on the Complementarian position.  I too had an assumption that Egalitarians were not serious students of Scripture.

As a male, it was easier for me to make this assumption and be entrenched in a position without further reading on the matter.  (This isn’t true for all complementarians, but I would like to challenge some complementarians on this)

However, I was surprised and convicted when I started to read thoughtful Biblical scholarship on the topic from theological heavyweights like Gordon Fee, NT Wright, Walter Kaiser, Stanley Grenz, Aida Spencer, and Catherine Kroeger.

Meanwhile, I started to see how my own cultural presuppositions colored my complementarian view of Scripture (I used to think egalitarians were the only ones with cultural presuppositions).

After taking the class and devouring tons of literature on both sides of the issue, I found myself really convinced of the Biblical warrant for Egalitarianism.

Nowadays, I’m taken aback by some of the rhetoric of egalitarianism being a dangerous doctrine, particularly by the New Calvinist movement.

If anything, the most dangerous doctrines and practices are ones that violate the dignity and capacity of women made in the image of God.  Both Egalitarians and Complementarians would agree about this, I’m sure.

With that said, I’m strongly convinced that the Egalitarian position is the most faithful to Scripture, and I’m super excited to share why in the class on Wednesday night.

Women and men are welcome.

Egalitarians and Complementarians and I-don’t-know-tarians are welcome, too.

The Bible is a beautiful text, and I’ll say again, it’s the most liberating sacred text I’ve come across.

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20 responses to “I’m Teaching a Class on Women in Church Leadership

  1. oh i wish i could attend, drew! do you have any resources for those of us that are unable to attend to read?

  2. Hi Drew, I don’t attend New Life… but I was wondering if there was any chance I’d be able to hear it online somewhere!

    • Hey Kevin! We’ll work on making it available… otherwise, you can check out a couple of books – Finally Feminist by John Stackhouse, and/or Slaves, Women and Homosexuals by Webb for an Egalitarian position, and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood for the Complementarian position.

  3. Hi Drew,
    This is Daniel Shin from Eastbay (now called Evangel). I saw your link to this post on facebook and was interested to see what you have to say. I’m also wondering if your lecture will be available online or if you can send me your notes. I strongly hold to the complementarian view as a result of reading the authors that you mentioned but I am interested in hearing the other side as well. Thanks.

    • Hey Daniel! Good to hear from you. You can check out the Stackhouse and Webb books I referenced in a previous comment… also, I certainly know the context in which you’re in – I was in it myself!

      Please tell Pastor John and the family I said hello.

      • I haven’t read books by either of those authors but I’ve heard of their hermeneutical approach. Maybe I’ll get to reading one of the books but I’m looking forward to hearing your lecture. I lament your change of position on this subject, bro. But I still respect you and other egalitarian Christians like Walter Kaiser, Roger Nicole and Gorden Fee. 🙂

    • Daniel – I’d argue that the hermeneutical approach is actually very similar (12 step exegetical method, etc, etc). I think the main questions relate to application and contextualization. Certainly the reading of the Genesis text is of prime importance too, but I actually believe the egalitarian reading of Genesis 1-3 is more compelling than the complementarian reading.

  4. Is there currently a shortage of women in protestant ministry, vis-a-vis their proportion among Christians of both genders? How about at New Life itself? Are men seeking positions of leadership at NLF? If so, what is the normal response by existing leadership to their application? Have men been denied positions of leadership when they sought them — by men and/or women already in leadership? Are decisions ever deliberately made to position a woman in leadership over a man when, ceteris paribus, there are equitably qualified candidates of both genders? If so, is it much of a wonder why few men are interested in this topic? When was the last time a class was offered on “Men in Church Leadership,” and how many women showed up? And finally, generally speaking — and stereotyping if need be — what is the consensus assessment of the majority of Christian men by the majority of Christian women? Is it egalitarian, complementary, respectful, honorific, appreciative, and affirming? If not, why not?

    This sounds like a terrific class. I hope many show up and learn much about Christian women.

    • bill! lots of questions here, and I don’t know if I’ve thought deeply enough about many of the questions you’ve posed. I’d love to chat sometime in person if possible.

      By the way, as for the idea of a class on “Men in Church Leadership”, that class would never be offered because it’s a given considering the androcentric culture in which the Bible was written.

      Thanks for the comments!

  5. I need to skip choir to attend this class. Can you hook me up with Peter Rohdin? 😉

  6. I’d really love to attend this, however, I won’t be able to make the first session’s date. Would it be OK to come at the second session?
    Even though I am female, I’ve always grown up seeing males/females working in the church in the same capacity (according to their gifts) so I’ve never wondered about a woman’s role in the church. It wasn’t until college that someone questioned my views of a women’s roles in the church and I never really had a formulated response as I always just went on what I saw … it would be interesting to hear what you have to say.

    • Shanella- That’s actually a common story I hear – “I didn’t think about before until someone said something in college.” I’ve heard this story from so many people – I even heard it from a Chinese Christian woman from Beijing wh was leading 100s of people to faith until an American missionary explained to her that she should not teach the boys. She was utterly confused.

      Her story broke my heart, and I had to affirm her in her passion for sharing the good news.

      I’d like to make it clear that people who grew up in a particular background, either complementarian or egalitarian, generally say: “The Bible is clear that…”

      Hence, it goes to show that all of us have our cultural presuppositions…

      Yes, show up for part 2!

  7. • The typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories. [1]

    • On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches. [2]

    • This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands. [3]

    • Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants. [4]

    • The majority of church employees are women (except for ordained clergy, who are overwhelmingly male). [5]

    • Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return. [6]

    • More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only two out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church. [7]

    • Churches overseas report gender gaps of up to 9 women for every adult man in attendance. [8]

    • Christian universities are becoming convents. The typical Christian college in the U.S. enrolls almost 2 women for every 1 man. [9]

    • Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry. [10]

    QUESTIONS:

    1) Is the Church concerned by these statistical truths? Or would the U.S. Church prefer to maintain the status quo demographically?

    2) If the Church is concerned and wishes to attract more men, is the Church proactively thinking about how most faithfully to the Gospel to do so?

    3) If by “women in leadership” is meant more women ordained clergy (does it?), will this increase likely attract more or fewer men?

    4) Since studies show that “Churchgoers are more likely to be married and express a higher level of satisfaction with life — Church involvement is the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness; and religious participation leads men to become more engaged husbands and fathers;” [11] [13] AND NLF places a special emphasis upon Emotionally Healthy marriages and families, how will this vital information influence NLF’s decisions regarding outreach, ministry, leadership, and the role of wo/men in the life of the congregation?

    5) Not surprisingly a study from Hartford Seminary “found that the presence of involved men was statistically correlated with church growth, health, and harmony, (while) a lack of male participation is strongly associated with congregational decline.” [15] Is NLF bucking this trend by either a) attracting and keeping the ratio of men to women about 50:50, or b) despite a higher proportion of female attendance and participation managing to keep the church growing, (emotionally and spiritually) healthy, and harmonic?

    6) Should a Gospel adhering church deliberately structure its ministries to attract more men AND, if so, what role, if any, should the Church play in matchmaking — proactively seeking to introduce Church men to Church women with the hope that these introductions lead to marriages; given the statistical truth that “Church involvement is the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness; and religious participation leads men to become more engaged husbands and fathers?”

    FOOTNOTES:

    [1] “U.S. Congregational Life Survey – Key Findings,” 29 October 2003, .

    [2] This statistic comes from Barna’s figures on male/female worship attendance, overlayed upon the Census 2000 numbers for adult men and women in the U.S. population.

    [3] I came up with this figure by taking the U.S. Census 2000 numbers for total married adults and overlaying Barna Research’s year 2000 percentages of male vs. female attendance at weekly worship services. The figures suggest at least 24.5 million married women attend church on a given weekend, but only 19 million married men attend. That’s 5.5 million more women, or 22.5%. The actual number may be even higher, because married people attend church in much greater numbers than singles.

    [4] Barna Research Online, “Women are the Backbone of Christian Congregations in America,” 6 March 2000, .

    [5] Ibid.

    [6] “LifeWay Research Uncovers Reasons 18 to 22 Year Olds Drop Out of Church,” PowerPoint presentation accompanying study, available at the LifeWay Web site, http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/article_main_page/0,1703,A=165949&M=200906,00.html, accessed 12 September 2007.

    [7] Barna, “Women are the Backbone of Christian Congregations in America.”

    [8] I get an e-mail message about once a month from a pastor overseas whose congregation is almost totally female.

    [9] Camerin Courtney, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Christianity Today, Single Minded. View at http://www.christianitytoday.com/singles/newsletter/mind40630.html.

    [10] Based on a show of hands at the National Coalition of Men’s Ministries meeting in 2005. The consensus in the room among hundreds of men’s ministry experts was that less than 10% of congregations had any ongoing ministry to men. Compare this to the 110% of churches that offer women’s and children’s ministries.

    [11, 12] “Why Religion Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability,” The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, 1064, 25 January 1996, .

    [13] Penny Edgell (Becker) and Heather Hofmeister, “Work, Family and Religious Involvement for Men and Women,” Hartford Institute for Religion Research, .

    [14] Christian Smith and Phillip Kim, “Religious Youth Are More Likely to Have Positive Relationships with Their Fathers,” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 12 July 2002, findings based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1997).

    [15] C. Kirk Hadaway, FACTs on Growth: A new look at the dynamics of growth and decline in American congregations based on the Faith Communities Today 2005 national survey of Congregations. Hartford Institute for Religion Research, http://hirr.hartsem.edu.

    http://www.churchformen.com/allmen.php

  8. Drew:

    Sure, I’ll chat with you vis-a-vis some time. Glad to.

    BTW, “By the way, as for the idea of a class on “Men in Church Leadership”, that class would never be offered because it’s a given considering the androcentric culture in which the Bible was written.” — IF, as you say, the Bible is written androcentrically either BECAUSE or DESPITE the fact the cultures of the Biblical characters were androcentric, would not this fact warrant a class about the same? In other words, is the fact that a Biblical Truth is “given” sufficient justification for NOT teaching it? What other givens about the Bible warrant the omission of teachings about them? Would it not benefit both men and women to know this fact, and then to explore contemporary models of leadership for men and women given the Bible’s historicity? Why would this not be taught? Are you not going to mention to the attendees that EVEN THOUGH the cultural milieu of 1st-century Palestine was unquestionably androcentric Paul had the temerity to write the very Epistles you’ll use to Biblically justify the active participation of women in Church leadership? But certainly these justifications do not in any derogatory way negate the androcentric nature of Jewish and Christian history, and we shouldn’t expect that men will not continue to play active leadership roles in the Synagogue and Church?

    IMHO this sounds like a great class that would attract both men and women who can heartily embrace our great Judeo-Christian history without undo criticism, resentment, and negative judgment. Am I incorrect?

  9. I am encouraged by your courage to present this class and I am sure that there will be great conversation and a great deal of light (as well as heat) on this topic. I do agree that there needs to be more men to seek engage in this process and too often cultural bias tend to find gender enclaves that don’t allow for us to exchange in meaningful ways. Hearing and have civil robust discourse in our defense should not threaten but rather give us assurance on our theological stances. I have had great conversations with pastors, theologians and lay leaders who have challenged my complementarian views. I hope that we were able to broaden our sincere pursuit of glorifying God on this view because the implications are profound and also how we parse it is so critical to the dignity and liberty that is availed to all of God’s children through the gospel (on both sides of the views). I pray for Christ centered engagement those nights and I will do my best to come to the second session.

  10. Edwina Gramuska

    Dear Drew,
    Any info you can pass along would be greatly appreciated. Alexis has a friend here in SC whose church preaches that women who preach will go to hell. Thanks for doing this powerful study.

  11. Drew – good stuff man. I’m w/ u all the way.
    Had the privilege of studying under the late Stan Grenz – one of the great minds on this subject. He once said that all the arguments pertaining were exegetical, but very few theological. That’s controversial in itself to be sure, but I think he was saying that you can’t build entire cases on a few verses w/o taking the entire theo message of the gospel into account. I often find the exegetical argument stalemated, or poorly conducted, and am dissatisfied. But my egalitarian stance comes from seeing hands on, profoundly gifted women for ministry.

    I’m convined every Christian man can benefit from a healthy dose of feminism.

  12. Pingback: Men Who Stay Home, Women Who Work « WAYNEPARK.COM

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