An email from a listener: “My name is Sarah. I’m 19 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 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 because I’m confused!”
The Right Question
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.
“Not all teaching and not all authority are restricted from women. Authority over men is restricted.”
So amen to the question. And I would really encourage her or any of the other women who are asking questions to look at this: I have tried, along with Wayne Grudem, to ask fifty crucial questions. That is the book that they can get for free. There is a free PDF of it at Desiring God, or you can buy the booklet at Amazon. It is made up of fifty crucial questions in which I try to answer that question and forty-nine others. But here are just a few pointers.
Authority in the Church
First, Sarah is right to care about both things — dreaming of ministry and honoring God’s pattern of how men and women relate to each other in all of life, in the home and church and society. And she is right that the Bible is not as unclear as some people think it is in 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 very two 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. But not all teaching and not all authority are restricted from women in that verse. Authority over men is restricted.
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 into that position.
Women in Ministry
I wrote another little book I called What’s the Difference? And at the end of that booklet I put eighty kinds of things — eighty kinds of ministries — just to give women examples of what kinds of things are open to them.
And let me close with a story. I have talked over the years in various places on manhood and womanhood issues — back in the eighties I would get a lot more vicious, negative flack than I do today — and 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 what I might have said — “I am not calling it into question. God is calling it into question” — I didn’t go there.
“Care about people physically, and especially eternally, and minister in whatever way you can.”
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, ‘Oh, 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 that 75 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 fifteen.
They have limitless needs of every kind, right? Physical needs and educational needs and spiritual needs and relational needs and parenting needs and needs for rescue and endless needs that they have. And my response is this: Do anything you want. Care about them. Care about them physically, and especially eternally, and minister in whatever way you can.