What does Gender mean for the activities in a Christian church? Should men only be doing certain things? Are there ministries that only women should do or are there offices inappropriate for women to fill?
Every church needs to decide questions like these as part of its constitution and work. The Bible gives some direction about it, but also leaves ambiguity, so I would expect that different churches would draw gender lines of ministry differently, even within the same denomination. (Indeed I see my expectation realized in the variety of practices today.) I greatly appreciate my own denomination’s (Presbyterian Church in America, or PCA) recent statement and recommendations about the matter for several reasons, one of which is recognizing a certain degree of variation of practice within its ranks.
But here I would like to offer three guidelines for any church who wants to honor Christ and the Bible’s teaching on gender. You might come down in different places on specifics, but you should be doing these to please God. These three guides are simple, but essential to approach His best for your church. They also make the most flourishing environment for church relationships:
- Take Equality seriously.
There is no way you can get church relations right if you are not viewing women as equals in bearing God’s image. You are not getting past the first chapter of the Bible! The loss of this truth allows countless injustices and ministry losses. So unless your church policy frames a partnership of the genders, you have sowed the seeds of neglect and even abuse in your polity.
- Take Asymmetry just as seriously.
To say, as some churches do, that there should be no difference in how women and men serve in the church is to commit the opposite error. Just as much, a negation of difference denigrates the gift of bearing the Divine Image. So your church should look for ways to be the family of God. That means delineating ways that brothers, uniquely and characteristically, can take charge for the flourishing of all the people, provide security for their sisters, and apprehend God’s vision for the church.
Likewise your policies should provide unique and honored ways for women to promote their brothers, provide rest for the people, and empower the vision of the church.
- State the policy positively.
Please do not make the easy mistake of stating your church policy as a list of prohibitions. The Apostle Paul does state some church gender policy negatively, as in “I do not permit a woman to teach …” (1Timothy 2:12) or “they are not permitted to speak…” (1Corinthians 14:32). But we must not mistake the occasional nature of Paul’s epistolary instructions for his whole presentation on gender in the church. The guy was writing letters to solve problems. We can tell from all of his statements taken together that the apostle taught a robust theology of gender. In its more systematic presentation, he surely affirmed the call of women to do certain things in the church, and held up their vital place in the operation.
This last guideline seems to be lost on many church policy-committees. If you take it to heart, it will mean a lot more work in setting your policy, because it will force to you think about what women, as well as men, ought to be doing, not just what they oughtn’t, which will mean envisioning structures and forming venues to help them do it. Like I said, more work.
But the positive, constructive process will be wonderful for the vistas it opens up in your church. And just as importantly, it will give women a vision for using their gifts well in the service of their Lord. It will make a place for them, which is what we, especially men, need to be doing.
What do you think? Does your church get it right (or is it moving closer to what is right?)