In I Corinthians 14:35, the apostle Paul writes, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.” This passage has guided much of the church’s approach to the role of women, and the often limited discussion on the topic has left many women in the dark. But as more women and men begin to question how they can best serve their churches, it appears there may be more that needs to be said.
One young woman describes her experience saying, “I went to everything that my church did growing up, and wanted to. And then the more that I have come to terms with what I think are my gifts, the more tension I’ve felt because I feel like the church that raised me is now trying to shut me down.”
This young woman asks us to consider how we are to respond to women who feel they have been called to a life of ministry beyond simply being the wife of a church leader. A woman may be able to earn a Master of Divinity at a Christian college, but can she really expect to find a ministry job in the Churches of Christ?
Should women be discouraged from leadership roles within the church?
These questions appear to be on the hearts and minds of a growing number of people. Just this semester a Summit class, a newly published book and a recent conference have addressd the issue in different ways.
Those who attended Dr. Stephen Johnson’s Summit class “Half the Church” and listened to the podcast that appears on his blog of the same name can sense that this issue has caused deep pain and confusion. Many of the women who share their stories find themselves trying to reconcile a desire to enter full-time ministry and a loyalty to a church family that often considers that desire to be at odds with what they believe.
Dr. Jeanene Reese’s recent book, Bound and Determined, details various ways in which the working relationships between men and women in academia and in the church have often been far from equal. As Reese says in her book, “Many of us have been formed by the presupposition, whether or not we state it, that to be male is to be superior [and] that to be female is to be inferior.”
These attitudes may be changing, however. According to a recent survey of Church of Christ leaders conducted by Dr. Johnson and Dr. Lynette Sharp Penya, many churches are becoming more and more interested in greater involvement for women. Fourteen churches surveyed said they believe women can preach.
It appears this topic is one that can no longer be ignored. These questions bear heavily on the hearts of too many Christian women to be left unanswered. When considering this topic, there very well may be an answer in the same book of the Bible that suggests women should remain silent. In I Corinthians 12:4-6, Paul tells the church that “there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.”