The acappella churches of Christ I attended in my 20s allowed me to work in children’s classrooms and cook for potluck suppers. When I was in my 30s, the church plant we joined allowed me to sing “special music” but not lead worship…when we merged with another church plant, women were allowed to sing on a praise team that led worship from the front, with microphones. As long as a man was actually leading the praise team.
When we joined an independent Christian church it was immediately evident that women were allowed to do much more. Women occasionally read scripture, sang, or prayed in the service. Women were allowed to serve as “ministry coordinators” (their term for “deacons”). As a ministry coordinator I was allowed to lead a group of first impressions volunteers, both male and female.
After we’d been there three years, I was hired as the Children’s Ministry Director. As such, I was considered part of the “pastoral staff” and I was allowed to attend all staff and elder meetings. In addition to “administrating the programs” involving children and families, I was allowed to participate in hospital calls, pastoral care, long range planning, and curriculum development. I co-wrote a class on spiritual gifts and was allowed to lead a church-wide service initiative. I led small-group Bible studies, and even spoke – from the pulpit, with a Bible in hand – for non-Sunday morning special services (twice in 11 years). I was allowed to do ministry in many ways.
I was “allowed” to do ministry.
Yet, in scripture we read “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them…All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. …God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (I Cor 12) and “To each one of us grace [gifts – same Greek word] has been given as Christ apportioned it…”(Eph 4)
The Spirit distributes… God has placed… Christ apportioned…
Calling and giftedness are the role of the Godhead. Not one of the passages on spiritual gifts limits any specific gift to a specific gender. Not one of the passages on spiritual gifts suggests that church leaders have the job of assigning specific gifts or roles to specific people. Instead, church leaders are exhorted to equip God’s people for service. In fact, the purpose of such variety is for the benefit of the whole church, as well as for the growth and maturity of the individual using those gifts. Consider I Corinthians 12:6-7:
There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
When I am asked a question about what I believe about women in ministry, the challenge often presented is the two limiting passages, 1 Timothy 2:11 (I don’t permit a woman to teach or to assume authority) and I Corinthians 14:34 (Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak). But that’s not all the Bible says on the topic. And the spiritual gifts passages (encompassing over 52 verses in four different books) are just one example of that tension within God’s word. So the reader must use discernment in reading and interpreting and applying the texts – all of them – in a way that brings glory to God and supports the ultimate goal of bringing others into the kingdom.
I believe God will hold us accountable for using our gifts the way He intends (not the way society always expects) and I also believe God will hold us, as leaders, accountable for being good stewards of the gifts he’s given each of our church members, including women. We need to encourage each other to have genuine dialogue about things we disagree on. But we also need to encourage each other to do the ministry God has called us to do.