Women in the church are often pushed to the margins. Sometimes the exclusion is explicit and intentional and other times, it’s implicit and subtle. As more and more women share that they feel invisible and unwanted at church, it’s clear we need to take intentional steps to make women feel seen, invited, and empowered to use their gifts. Here are three ways we exclude women and what we can do about it.
Problem 1: We Push Women to the Margins When We Exclude Great Women from the Bible in Sermons
A few Sundays ago, I was assigned to teach my Sunday school class about King Josiah and the discovery of the Book of the Law. But there was no mention of Huldah whatsoever in the national curriculum we use. They completely skipped over her!
For those of you who don’t know, Huldah was a prophetess who lived during the time of Jeremiah and Zephaniah. She was consulted by the high priest of Israel to interpret the Book of the Law and what it meant for their nation (2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22-28). I asked my class if anyone had ever heard the name Huldah. Unsurprisingly, no hands went up.
I made a point to include that she spoke for the Lord and we talked about seeking wise counsel when there are things we don’t understand. As I taught, I could see a group of girls stop chatting, really focus, and ask questions. It occurred to me how little these children hear about women in Scripture. In fact, many pastors write women completely out of the biblical narrative.
Solution 1: Tell the Stories of Great Women from the Bible in Sermons
It would benefit the entire church body if women of the Bible such as Huldah, Deborah, Abigail, Mary Magdalene, Phoebe, Prisca, and others were taught on Sunday. When churches teach about these women and their stories openly and honestly, they start to chip away at the patriarchal mindset which has taken hold in many churches. They start to see Scripture through the lens of the entire Bible and not just one or two verses used out of context and as weapons against women.
Women in the Bible were leaders, prophets, and proclaimers. Throughout the New Testament Jesus showed how much he valued women, and it’s time for modern churches to do the same.
Problem 2: We Push Women to the Margins When We Discourage Women from Proclaiming the Word of God
“The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng” (Psalm 68:11 NIV).
There's a clear pattern of women proclaiming victories throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, Miriam (Exodus 15:20-21) celebrated the victory that the Lord had given the Israelites over the Egyptians. The judge Deborah (Judges 5:1-31) sang about Israel’s victory over Sisera’s army. Women (1 Samuel 18:6-7) proclaimed David’s victory over the Philistine.
In the New Testament, Anna (Luke 2:36-38) spoke about Jesus in the temple to all who were looking forward to redemption. The Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) proclaimed the presence of the Messiah to her town and many believed in him because of her testimony. Mary Magdalene (John 20:17) was told by Jesus to go and tell others about his resurrection.
After Jesus conquered death, the greatest victory of all (1 Corinthians 15:57), he waited for the men to leave and revealed himself first to a woman and told her to share what she had seen. She followed his instructions and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord but they refused to believe it (Mark 16:11). Later when Jesus appeared to the disciples, he rebuked them for not believing those (the women) who saw him after he had risen (Mark 16:14).
Who was it that saw Jesus after he was risen and tried to tell the disciples what she had seen? It was Mary Magdalene! In Scripture, Jesus gives the Word to a woman, tells her to share the news, and then rebukes those who won’t listen to her. How ironic that today we continue to celebrate our victory in Jesus Christ, yet so many women are silenced and prohibited from sharing the good news because of their gender.
Solution 2: Urge Women to Proclaim the Gospel
The world desperately needs to hear the good news of the gospel. Jesus says in Luke 10:2: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Instead of limiting the role of women and further decreasing the number of workers, churches need to encourage their entire church body, both men and women, to proclaim the gospel and be ambassadors for Christ. Women need to know that their voice and work is meaningful and that their testimonies are valued and can bring people to know Jesus.
Problem 3: We Push Women to the Margins When We Embrace Division over Unity
We are all unique and have our own spiritual gifts. We have strengths and weaknesses that do not conform to any gender stereotypes or roles.
My husband and I were trying to find a local church recently. During a visit to one church, we noticed that there were additional men’s Bible studies but nothing for women or general groups. We decided to inquire why and were told that the women cook for the men while they study and the men are responsible for sharing what they learn when they get home. I guess if you are a single or widowed woman then you’re out of luck?
We were both speechless and then my husband joked that they would change their minds quick if they ever tasted my cooking. It’s no secret in our home that he loves to cook and is the much better chef and I would rather have my nose in a book, studying. This type of gender segregation should never be tolerated.
Solution 3: Make No Unnecessary or Arbitrary Divisions
Women and men are both called to learn and sit at Jesus’ feet to soak in his word. We should all imitate Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:38-42). She was commended for learning from Jesus and he promised that “it will not be taken away from her.” Giving every member of the body of Christ an opportunity to learn and participate in studying the Word of God is essential to creating a unified, inclusive church.
At our current church, women can lead, teach classes to both men and women, open and close in prayer, and share the gospel freely. We are treated as equals and our knowledge and insight is welcomed to be shared.
In giving women the opportunity to learn and teach our fellow church members, we’re promoting the flourishing of the church and investing in the gifts of believers. I recently taught a class on eternal perspective and I felt empowered—for the first time—to use my gift of teaching with fellow adults instead of only teaching children or women. Women and men can learn together and from each other, and we can value each other as integral parts of the kingdom. We are all on the same team with the same mission. I pray that we as the church will strive to model Romans 15:5:
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you each the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Women have too often been pushed to the margins of the church. That’s the problem. Together, we can begin to implement the solution.