Here is an email from a listener who writes, “My name is Sarah, and I admire your ministry. I’m nineteen and have listened to your sermons off and on throughout the last two years, and they have really helped me desire God more. I am learning what it means to delight in Jesus. I attend a Christian university, and I have felt called to do something in ministry or evangelism. My question is, How as a woman can I work in ministry and evangelism while abiding by biblical roles and instructions for women (i.e. not having authority over a man). Pastor John, I would love if you could answer this question because I’m confused!”
Amen, amen, amen that she feels called to ministry and evangelism or whatever. I just want to so affirm that women and men are ministers. In no way does any biblical view of manhood and womanhood imply that men are out and about being active for Jesus, and women are not out and about being active for Jesus or in and about being active for Jesus in their families. So, amen to the question. And I would really encourage her or any of the other women who are asking questions to download or buy 50 Crucial Questions — my attempt, along with Wayne Grudem, to answer that question and 49 others. But here are just a few pointers.
Authority Over Men?
First, Sarah is right to care about both things — dreaming ministry and honoring God’s pattern of how men and women relate to each other in all of life: the home and church and society. And she is right that the Bible is not as unclear as some people think it is on 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” Those two things — teach and exercise authority — are the two very things that distinguish an elder from a deacon. Elders are to exercise authority or govern, and the elders are to be the authoritative teachers in the church.
So, what Paul seems to be saying here is that there should be male elders in the church; not all teaching and not all authority are restricted from women in that verse. It is authority over men. There is a kind of authoritative teaching over men that is referred to there. And it compromises the way God has wired men and women when women, over time, become the authority in a man’s spiritual life. I really believe that. I think that is why Paul put that there. It undermines something deep in both the man and the woman.
But there are endless possibilities for ministry for women in this world that do not put them under or into that position. I wrote another little book I called What is the Difference?, and at the end of that booklet, I listed 80 kinds of ministries, just to give women examples of what kinds of things are open to them.
And let me close with a story. As I have talked over the years in various places on manhood and womanhood issues, back in the 1980s I would get a lot more vicious, negative flack than I do today. I can remember one young woman — really angry at me — saying, “How dare you call my calling to ministry into question.” And instead of saying to her, “I am not calling it into question. God is calling it into question,” I didn’t go there. I just said,
You know, it may be that you haven’t misheard the voice of God, but that you have misapplied the voice that you heard. In other words, maybe God is saying to you, “Follow me. Serve me. Give your whole self to me. I am going to use you mightily in my purposes on the earth to glorify myself and to save sinners and to build up saints. I am going to use you for that.” And then you, maybe, took it and spun that out in terms of, “I guess I am supposed to be a pastor and have authority over men in that role.” And I said, “Maybe not. Maybe you have just misread the word.”
And then when they say, “Well, what are you saying we can do?” my answer is, “Seventy-five percent of the seven billion people in the world — I just checked this to make sure this is a true statement — are women or under the age of fifty.” They have limitless needs of every kind, right? Physical needs and education needs and spiritual needs and relational needs and parenting needs and needs for rescue and endless needs. And my response is, “Do anything you want. Care about them. Care about them physically and especially eternally and minister in whatever way you can.”