A wave of uneasiness swept over me when I first read her Instagram post: “Hey, women are not the lesser half of the image of God.” It was written by a female pastor as a response to those who discredit women in church leadership.
While for years I’d accepted the biblical structure of male church leadership, I suddenly questioned the value of my role in the church. As a young female in professional school, I was familiar with having to work twice as hard to make my opinions heard or to gain the respect my male colleagues received. Was I a hypocrite for elevating the contributions of female leaders in my professional sphere while submitting to a doctrine that prohibited women from certain leadership positions in the church?
Over the past year, God has used the teaching at my local church, mentoring from godly women, and my study of Scripture to reveal the value of a woman’s ministry and to solidify my conviction that male leadership is God’s design for the church. Specifically, three key truths have helped me live joyfully under male pastoral ministry, rather than feeling devalued.
1. My ministry is not my own.
Contrary to a culture that urges us to be the bosses of our own lives, 1 Peter 4:10–11 reminds us we’re mere stewards of the gifts God has given us. As Paul says in Acts 20:24, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Notice that Paul doesn’t refer to the ministry as his ministry but instead acknowledges God as the source and focus of the ministry.
Because our ministry is not our own, a woman’s sense of calling to pastoral ministry or gift for speaking isn’t a sufficient qualification for church leadership. God has spelled out specific qualifications a church overseer must meet. In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
At first glance, we might be tempted to dismiss this command as a cultural standard. However, in verses 13 and 14 a different interpretation emerges: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” In referencing the first humans, Paul emphasizes a universal design for church leadership, similar to how creation reveals God’s intent for marriage between one man and one woman. In a culture of shifting gender norms, this passage gives us confidence the same model that applied to first-century Christians also applies to the church today.
2. Preaching isn’t the only important ministry.
It’s often assumed that prohibiting women from pastoral leadership bars them from influential ministry. But when we view pastoral teaching as paramount, we overlook the range of beautiful ministry occurring outside the pulpit.
When we view pastoral teaching as paramount, we overlook the range of beautiful ministry occurring outside the pulpit.
While my walk with Christ is consistently blessed by gospel preaching, my faith has been equally strengthened by the women at my church who have cultivated relationships with me during some of the most challenging times of my academic career. Witnessing their love and hospitality has provided me with a model for engaging in ministry to others at my school. Their example has enabled me to build relationships with several unbelieving colleagues, which has paved the way for gospel conversations. How wonderful that God used the ministry of these women to reach beyond the walls of our church to plant seeds in the hearts of unbelievers!
Hebrews 6:10 encourages us as we serve Christ: “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints.” Even if a woman’s ministry is less visible than a pastor’s sermon to a large congregation, we can rest assured God sees our service and will bless our faithfulness.
3. Joy comes from trusting God’s perfect wisdom.
Several years ago, I began writing down each time I witnessed God’s faithfulness in my life. When I recently picked up the notebook, I was humbled to see all the ways God had been working, particularly through the times when I received the exact opposite of what I prayed for. Seeing my limited insight contrasted with God’s perfect wisdom has helped me submit more deeply to his will.
God sees our service and will bless our faithfulness.
Though I’ll never fully understand the ways of God, learning to trust in his infinite wisdom has enabled me to joyfully submit to his design for church leadership. As Jeremiah Burroughs helpfully writes in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, “A contented heart looks to God’s disposal, and submits to God’s disposal, that is, he sees the wisdom of God in everything. . . . The Lord knows how to order things better than I.”
Sisters in Christ, while God hasn’t designed us to be church overseers, we can rejoice that the God of the universe has given us unique ministries and equips us for effective service to his church. Truly, we are not the lesser half of the image of God.