As a North Carolina Baptist who has worked and worshipped in Baptist circles for most of my adult life, I see an urgent need for conservative evangelicals to take decisive steps to ensure that women’s voices are being heard in our churches. In light of recent revelations of sexual harassment and abuse in Southern Baptist churches, as well as the long list of pastors and church leaders who have fallen due to impropriety related to women, it’s important to ask ourselves: are the lines my church has drawn between the functions of men and women based on tradition and opinion, or are they based on a close scrutiny of the entirety of scripture?
I do not pretend to be seminary-trained on the nuances of this issue. However, I have done a lot of reading and discussed it with countless pastors, church leaders and laypeople over the years. I have been met by varied reactions. My response is always the same: Is that a personal opinion, a presumption of what the Bible says, or is that based on where your careful study of the Bible leads you?
I want to clarify. I am not challenging scripture. I am calling all of us to be truer to it. I affirm the biblical concept that teaching pastors are to be men, and I gladly accept my husband’s leadership in the home. However, it seems clear that the delicate relationship God created between men and women is one we need to get right. The skewing of God’s design for that relationship in the home can have tragic and far-reaching effects. Why would this be any less true in the church?
I am not saying that giving women more of a voice in the church would have protected us from sexual impropriety in our churches. The issue goes much deeper than that. But, I do know that when we tolerate even unintentional misapplications of scripture, no matter how insignificant we might deem it, there are consequences. I believe taking proactive steps toward ensuring women have a voice in the direction and decisions of the church may help prevent some of the problems outlined above – in part, by serving as a different set of eyes. I wonder if our churches may experience some of these problems, in part, because they have insulated themselves from women leaders and women’s unique understanding of and sensitivity to issues pertaining to sexuality, and what might turn into problems.
There are other good reasons to remove any unnecessary limits on women serving in the church. The most obvious is the amazing giftedness of some women in our churches. Why, without solid scriptural backing, should those gifts of administration be relegated to women’s ministry alone?
In addition, how women are regarded in our churches may affect our witness to those who are seeking Christ. In a culture that is acutely sensitive to improper treatment of women, why would we tolerate restrictions on women in the church not clearly commanded by scripture?
Finally, adding more women to leadership roles would enable us to better minister to women and children in our churches. The chairman of deacons in a church I attended, once asked the congregation: “What can we do to serve you all more effectively?” I answered him via text message: “Install some women deacons.” Let women see they have a deacon who they can approach with a sensitive matter or a complaint they may be embarrassed to discuss with a man.
I concede women deacons may be a step too far for some. It is an issue on which beloved and respected brothers and sisters in Christ have come to differing conclusions. If you believe that scripture is clear and that God would have us only ordain men as deacons, I would not suggest that your interpretation of scripture is incorrect. However, many pastors and church leaders believe the Bible gives freedom here, and there are compelling reasons to move in this direction. Yet many remain silent because it would be “divisive” or “frowned upon” either within or outside of their church.
If you and your church are not comfortable with going in that direction, perhaps consider a women’s advisory board or council, voted on and commissioned by the church. To make this group effective and not simply a figurehead, it should meet regularly and church leadership should commit to seeking their opinion on all matters being considered. Creating such a group without giving it any “teeth” would do more harm than good.
If your church needs to take smaller steps, you could ask more women to serve on committees – and chair committees – and ask women to make presentations in front of the church. Even asking women to join in taking up the offering can be a big step in some churches.
I am also aware that change can be difficult, and this is not the most important issue our churches face. However, what does it say to women and men that this issue is not important enough to tackle or not worth the hard work? Especially when we see that women could bring even more value to the church and could add another layer of accountability that is clearly needed.
It is more important than ever for all of us, pastors and laypeople, to take another look at how women serve in our churches and ensure we are arriving at these conclusions based on solid biblical understanding of all applicable scriptures. If you would like to dig into this issue, and I urge you to do so, you might begin by consulting with your pastor or mentor. Some other good resources to get you started might be:
• 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons by Benjamin Merkle
• Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches (2019) by John Hammett
• Sojourners and Strangers by Gregg Allison
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Traci Griggs is director of communications for the North Carolina Family Policy Council and a member of Fairview Baptist Church in Apex.)