Let’s just dive right into this. I believe and joyfully accept what the Scripture teaches about the equality of men and women as creations of God in His own image with differing roles according to gender in the home and the church. I’m a complementarian.
Some men shrug at the notion of gender roles, while other men get combative. The biblical vision of complementarity only excites a few men, and that breaks down to some extent along generational lines.
But nearly every woman grows intense and agitated on this issue. And here’s why: How we think about complementarity and how we practice equality between men and women with differing roles affects pretty much every woman in our homes and our churches. The self-interest of women is good, right, and necessary. The disinterest of men is at best benign neglect, and at worst a failure to consider and love half the human population.
I’m a complementarian, but I don’t like the way I sometimes feel when I hear the issue discussed, and, more importantly, when I see shabby application and practice. If we’re honest, many of us are better at thinking about this issue than we are at either talking about it or living it. That’s true of a lot of issues really; but few other issues directly and immediately affect as many people as this issue. The consternation, grimaces, hurts, and disappointments of our sisters–who are themselves complementarians–should register with us much more deeply than it appears to do in so many cases.
I’m a complementarian, but we need a way of talking, writing, and applying the Scriptures that not only celebrates gender distinctions and roles but celebrates in a way that infuses those roles with deep meaning. Many people celebrate God-created gender differences the way they “celebrate” some cultural observance not their own, with a passing acknowledgment and perhaps a bit of intellectual curiosity without any signficant or lasting embrace of the difference and its beauty. Our “celebrations” can be perfunctory and obligatory, rather than doxological and deep. Such “celebrations” rarely surpass the superficial and stereotypical. So shallow affirmations and “celebrations” ultimately feel dismissive and patronizing, lip service to quickly appease and move on without the messiness of genuine understanding. I’m a complementarian, but I don’t want to celebrate gender differences and roles in a perfunctory, obligatory, superficial and ultimately patronizing way.
There are many questions and issues that feed this pastoral angst for me. But if I could boil it down to one practical issue or application question it might be this: What are the meaningful roles and contributions that women should make in our families and congregations?
Years ago, I remember asking that question to some leaders and members at one of the first churches I had the privilege of belonging to and serving. Everyone returned blank stares. I asked the question because I was coming up blank myself. So this isn’t a harsh judgment of that church. It’s just an illustration of a sobering reality: most churches and leaders have not thought at any length about what meaningful roles women should play in congregations while joyfully embracing the Bible’s teaching about gender roles. When it comes to practice, too many of us have thought about the negative–how to safeguard the complementarian position–but have neglected the affirmative–how we should equip and deploy our sisters for service.
I love my sisters in Christ and I want to see them enjoy every freedom that Christ gives and flourish in every meaningful role that Christ defines and encourages. So over the next couple weeks, I want to sketch out about 10 things I see women doing in the scripture that help shape and define meaningful feminine roles in the church, roles well beyond serving in the nursery and helping organize the next potluck. The Bible gives us a view of women’s roles well beyond the church equivalent of “women’s work.” Faithful brothers should be champions for those roles. Faithful leaders should think this issue through, since it affects at least half our membership. And faithful congregations should work through this issue so that while the bounds of God’s design are maintained a normative culture of female flourishing develops.
As we work through this, a few resources might be helpful:
John Piper and Wayne Grudem (eds), Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. A must-have reference work exploring, as the title states, biblical manhood and womanhood.
Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Articles, book reviews, sermons, conference, and book reviews aimed at “proclaiming God’s glorious design for men and women.”
Carolyn McCulley, Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World. A former feminist herself, Carolyn offers a very skillful look at the history of feminism, its affects on our view of women, and how women might pursue a vision of womanhood in keeping with God’s design.
There are tons of other useful resources available. Feel free to recommend some you’ve found helpful in the comments. And offer your thoughts: Do you think the church and Christian leaders have an effective way of talking about and applying a joyful, meaningful vision for women’s roles in the home and church? Feel free to give a shout out to pastors and leaders you think are doing a good job on this.