Lately I have been thinking about God, girls and women. At Carey we have some amazing women whom God has called to train for ministry and I enjoy spending time with them talking about their courses and their lives. We sometimes sit and reflect on how much our churches are coloured by a predominance of male leaders and this causes us to think about God, girls and women.
As the Baptist denominational college, Carey is committed to the ethos of training both men and women for church leadership, but why are there so few female pastors? Have you ever stopped to think about what does God think about women? What does he think about female pastors and preachers? Here are some of my thoughts.
Euodia and Syntyche were Paul’s co-workers in Philippi. They partnered with Paul in the work of the Gospel (Philippians 4:3). He clearly valued them as he named them both in his letter, urging them to come to an agreement on whatever was troubling them. To name them in a letter, especially in the main body of the letter, shows their importance to the Church. It is most likely that they were leaders in the Church.
This may have been house church leaders, deaconesses or even overseers. Philippi was a city in Macedonia where women played a very prominent role in society, both in ancient religious and in civic affairs. They were warriors, commanded armies and were economically active.
When Paul first preached the Gospel in Philippi he met a group of women at the place of prayer. It appears Philippi had few or no Jewish men, but these faithful women continued their practice to worship God. Paul came and preached Jesus Christ and Lydia and her household believed and were baptised (Acts 16:11-15).
The church then began at her house (16:40). As women played significant roles in ancient Philippi, so they did also in the early Church. When we meet Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians and realise how significant they were to the Gospel ministry in Philippi, it challenges me to consider New Zealand women and the roles they play (and are yet to play) in the Church in New Zealand.
I think ancient Philippi and New Zealand have some things in common; we too have women playing important roles in government, law and business. We see women on boards of governance, teaching at universities and running large companies. Women are quite visible in our society like they were in Philippi, so why are they less visible on Sunday mornings? Why don’t we see more women leading in the church?
One of the most misunderstood texts in the Bible in my mind is 1 Timothy 2 where women are told to be quiet (not silent!) in the church. However, I think we often don’t read this text with enough care. The imperative in this sentence is to “Let the women learn in quietness with full submission” (1 Timothy 2:11) but this is a very empowering text! It is firstly a command to let women learn. In society they had often had little opportunity to learn and in Ephesus false teachers had started visiting women in their homes and had taught them inaccurate truths (1 Timothy 5:15; 2 Timothy 2:17-18; 3:6).
Paul wanted women to learn correct teaching about Christ. He wanted them to learn well before they taught anyone. Paul would not allow inaccurate preaching from the women, but the rest of his letters show he wouldn’t let anybody speak false truths. Paul goes on to say that he is not currently permitting women to teach or have authority (a present tense is used), presumably because they were in no place to teach anyone anything until they understood it for themselves.
That’s great leadership from Paul! Paul talks about women learning in quietness and full submission for this was the posture of a disciple. Male disciples learned that way too. He was calling women to be trained as disciples of Jesus Christ just like the men were. How exciting for the women in Ephesus to be given the opportunity to learn!
In October 2014 Carey hosted Halee Gray Scott from Denver, Colorado, and she spoke with women at a conference called “Dare Mighty Things: Tackling the Top Issues for Christian Women Today.”
I would love women of all ages, and especially younger women, to come and join with us and talk about following Jesus Christ today.
Story: Dr Sarah Harris
Sarah is a New Testament lecturer at Kāreti Iriiri o Carey (Carey Baptist College)
This article has been re-published.