Women's Ministries in the Church: Conflicting or Complementary?
There is no denying the fact that the ministries of Brothers and Sisters have occupied important place in the functioning of the local church. This is acknowledged and underscored by the Lord Jesus and His Apostles. But there are different points of view as far as the types of ministries both brothers and sisters ought to perform in the gatherings of the believers. With regard to the ministry of sisters, there is wide range of opinions and points of view. It ranges from total involvement at one extreme, even in leadership roles in certain Christian denominations, and total denial of opportunities for Sisters in any ministry whatsoever in certain churches. There are those who teach against head covering for Sisters in the large evangelical communities on the one hand while there are others who insist on head covering even in their homes (as we are to pray without ceasing and would need head covering almost 24 hours a day). In this light, it is profitable to examine the biblical position on the ministries, roles and responsibilities of sisters without bias or preconceived notions.
The Common Ground
The Bible teaches emphatically that both men and women are equal before God and in relation to God. Man and woman were equally created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). They are equal in God’s sight with regard to the salvation of their souls (Galatians 3:26-29). Both men and women are co-heirs of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). The woman is not inferior and less important than the man. This is reflected in the way God relates to man and woman and how they relate to God.
Framework for Ministries in New Testament
Even though men and women both serve the Lord and His church in significant ways, we should not conclude that God has intended men and women to function in the same capacity. They have different roles and responsibilities in the ministries of the church.
Here we should be careful to understand that even though all believers are imparted spiritual gifts, some are exclusively for ministries in and for the general assembly, like shepherding, preaching, leading, guiding and teaching all the believers. Many other gifts are for use for all believers on a personal and individual basis (help, prayer, encouraging, giving etc.). We are all called upon to heed to these instructions in the Word of God.
We see that general accountability in the administration of the spiritual gifts in the assembly is vested with the ministering brethren who are the spiritual leaders of the church like elders (pastors), teachers, evangelists and deacons. All believers should exercise their spiritual gifts under the leadership of the assembly which is given to the brothers (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy 3:1-10; Titus 2:5-9).
The Bible clearly defines the role of the women in the church, as in the family and society. It is abundantly clear that the Bible doesn’t envisage women to be in the leadership role of the church (1 Timothy 2:11-15; 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35). This means that they are not envisaged to be pastors, elders teachers and preachers in the assembly. The Bible warns that the church should not be marred by the leadership of women because in the beginning, a woman was used by the enemy to mar the first creation of God through sin (1 Timothy 2:12-14). Thus women are not expected to take leadership roles, but to take supportive role in the church.
Examples of Women’s Ministries
During the Old Testament times, several women were given spiritual responsibilities, like Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Chronicles 34:22) and Anna (Luke 2:36). They performed their ministries under the Law and within the restraints laid down in it. Hannah followed this restraint in keeping silence in the Temple of God as she prayed quietly when her lips moved, but sound didn’t come out (1 Samuel 1:13).
The New Testament introduces us to Priscilla (Acts 18:26) and Phoebe (Romans 16:1) who were involved in the ministries of the church by involving in evangelism, teaching of individuals and sisters. These ministries were definitely on the basis of the spiritual gifts given to them by the Holy Spirit.
When we study the subject of spiritual gifts, we see that the Spirit of God imparts spiritual gifts to all believers (Romans 12:3-10; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 1 Peter 4:10-11) which include sisters as well as brothers. The sisters are to minister on the basis of their spiritual gifts, just as men, in the assembly of God’s children on the basis of the spiritual needs of the believers.
We read about the admonition of Paul to the sisters to do their ministries by covering their head only. This includes prayer and prophesy (forth-telling or preaching and not foretelling) (1 Corinthians 11:5).
Luke writes about the four daughters of Evangelist Philip. These young ladies had the spiritual gift of prophesy (forth-telling or preaching and not foretelling) (Acts 21:9). At the same time, we can notice that when the Spirit wanted to foretell something to Apostle Paul, He used a brother to speak to him and not the sisters, even though these four forth-telling sisters were there (Acts 21:10-11).
All of these evidences prove beyond the shadow of doubt that Sisters are given spiritual gifts and ministries by the Holy Spirit and that they are expected to minister to the needs of believers in the church and people outside on the basis of these gifts.
Women’s Role in the church
Sisters are given a distinct role to teach and build up other sisters, especially the younger women folk (Titus 2:2-5). The areas of their teaching are not necessarily the doctrinal truths which are normally taught by the men who have the teaching gift and responsibility. The elder sisters have the mandate to teach the younger ones biblical truths related to behavior, character, attitude, family and social relations. These include:
i. Discipling younger sisters in their daily walk
ii. Exercising self-control in their personal and social behavior
iii. Relation with husbands in loving, respecting and submitting to them (to the married ones and those who contemplate marriage)
iv. Biblically correct children wisely and prudently
v. Personal restraint in passions, aspirations and desires
vi. Modesty in personal appearance as good examples to others and for keeping testimony
vii. Uprightness in character and behavior
In these areas, a woman understands other women more intimately and can exercise her prophetic (forth-telling) gift to minister to their spiritual needs. They may teach the younger ones individually, counsel them individually and in small groups and in the gatherings of the sisters.
What the Bible teaches about women with prophetic (forth-telling) gift leads us to think that there are regular gatherings of the sisters during the week. Otherwise, where would the sisters who have the prophetic gift exercise it? How else would the assembly know that certain sister has the prophetic gift? Surely she doesn’t have permission to exercise her prophetic gift in the general assembly gatherings but only in the gatherings of sisters in the church or in the community and among children (like Sunday school).
It is also true that the prophetic gift is not to help women in their physical needs alone like what Tabitha (Dorcas) did. Tabitha probably also had a prophetic role in reaching out and teaching the women at Joppa. We read about Phoebe who was a deaconess in the church in Cenchrea and Priscilla who was a partner in association with her husband Aquila in building up Apollos. Paul also speaks about several sisters who partnered with him in his long years of ministry at various places, in Romans Chapter 16. We also read about such ministering sisters who battled in gospel with Paul like Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2-3). These sisters were not necessarily cooks or butlers of Paul, but his associates in spiritual ministry with spiritual gifts and who worked among the women folk in the places where Paul ministered.
When Paul mentions about women prophesying with head covering, he can only mean that women have such a role in the church. But prophesying by sisters could only be exclusively among the sisters in the assembly, as the sisters are not permitted by the Bible to teach or lead the brothers in the assembly (1 Timothy 2:11-15).
But women’s gifts are to be used in the assembly as authenticated by the Scripture, among sisters, outsiders and children who may be baptized at a relatively younger age, or even unsaved children. But it may be administered under the general leadership and the guidance of gifted men in the assembly. Sisters would do well to remember that they have to exercise their gifts in humility, contrition and submission. Sisters should accept and perform these ministries with grace and without rebellion or conflict. At the same time, the leadership of the church should not be tempted to suppress the spiritual gifts of the sisters, but fan it to flame (2 Timothy 1:6).
Lastly, the New Testament emphasizes the role of sisters also as godly mothers who bear and bring up children for God (1 Timothy 2:15). In this, Jochebed (Moses’ mother) and Hannah (Samuel’s mother) were great examples in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we have the example of Lois and Eunice (the grandmother and mother of Timothy) (2 Timothy 1:5).
In conclusion, we may say that what the sisters are instructed to do cannot be done by the brothers effectively. What the brothers alone should do must not be taken over by the sisters. Thus we serve the Lord in His Church in a complementary manner. That pretty well summarizes our concerns about the role of women in the church.