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Women: The Church's Most Wasted Resource

Jesus often gave women a platform. Why doesn’t the rest of the Church?

Jesus didn’t have favorites, but ... He did play favorites.

At least that’s the impression an uninitiated reader of the Bible could get. In general, Jesus seemed tough on Jewish insiders and soft on heathen outsiders. However, when it came to women—He basically liked them all.

Just think of the Samaritan woman; the foreign woman who begged for the crumbs off the table; the woman caught in the act of adultery; the woman who prostrated herself at His feet, kissing them and washing them with her tears before letting down her hair to dry them; Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary; the women who stood by Him when He was crucified while the men hid; Mary Magdalene, to whom Jesus first appeared after the resurrection. He seemed to be drawn to women’s authenticity, loyalty and openness to God, regardless of their beliefs or nonbeliefs.

What’s interesting is that Jesus not only honored and protected women (a traditional role), He also provided them with a platform from which they could expand their influence (a countercultural role). As scriptural screenwriter-in-chief, the Holy Spirit chose to cast many women in the lead supporting actor role of the Gospel stories. This was because the star of the show (aka Jesus) was quite comfortable working with and alongside women.

It’s a fact that Jesus did not choose a woman to be one of the Twelve, but it’s just as true that He did not choose a man to be the first person to witness and announce His resurrection. It’s also a fact that no women were included in the inner circle of three who were present with Him at Gethsemane and the Transfiguration, but it’s just as true that no women followers bear the shame of having denied Jesus publicly.

The spiritual exodus of women

How would you feel if you were capable of leading, thinking, guiding, shaping and forming a spiritual community but were denied the opportunity to do so? This experience leads some women to walk away from the Church, Christianity and, in some cases, God.

Many women are discouraged. And while some of them, particularly young women, leave the organized Church only, others walk away from the faith altogether. In fact, in 2010, the Barna Group found that 26 percent of Americans have changed faiths or adopted a significantly different faith view during their lifetimes. Barna released its study just after the author Anne Rice famously renounced Christianity on her Facebook page. According to Barna, Rice “shares a spiritual profile with nearly 60 million other adults nationwide,” most of whom, the research found, are women. Since breaking with the Catholic church, Rice has publicly reaffirmed her commitment to Christ several times; however, Barna’s report notes, “The most common type of spiritual shift was from those who were Christian, Protestant or Catholic in childhood to those who currently report being atheist, agnostic or some other faith. In total, this group represents about one out of every eight adults (12%), a category that might be described as ex-Christians.” Disillusionment with their church and religion was cited as one of the top reasons people gave for leaving their faith.

But for many women (particularly wives and mothers), leaving doesn’t mean walking away; more often it means showing up without being present. Women often do this because they want their husbands and children to grow spiritually. They participate at the minimal levels and give just enough to ensure their families are included, even if the women are not growing themselves. They seem to be masters at finding ways to feed themselves without requiring as much from the place they call church.

Doctrinal division

There’s a lot of confusion among both men and women about what the Bible does or does not say about the role of women in the Church. Women struggle (often in private), trying to determine whether their church's positions on women’s roles are genuinely God’s ideal or simply a reflection of dogmatic conditioning and cultural bias. The most ardent students of the Bible on both sides tend to be the ones who are most certain their view of the biblical role of women is the correct one.

Given the polarization, it’s dismaying how uninterested Christians seem to be in trying to understand why their brothers and sisters can read the same biblical passages and come to opposite conclusions. We need to learn how to stay in the room with differences and not “break up” over every biblical disagreement.

We need to start a new conversation about women and the Church. At the very least, Christians need to think more honestly about these issues. There is room to grow and new things to discover about how God wants to use women to move His Kingdom forward. That’s why it’s important to to read, ponder and think most deeply about the things that cause disagreement. Not to win but to learn. We need to stop comparing our best with others’ worst. We need to stop criticizing each other and open our own ideas to critique.

My bias is that, just like men, women should have as much influence as they’re capable of exercising in the Church. But my opinion, regardless of how deeply held it may be, doesn’t give me permission to ignore, dismiss or demean those who disagree with me. And it especially doesn’t give me an excuse to be mean. Jesus told us to love one another—not to agree with one another.

Celebrating women

Evangelicals are passionate about personal sin—swearing, adultery, gossip, drunkenness, lust, anger and so on. They have significantly less interest in systemic sin—racism, greed, selfishness and repression of women. This low view of systemic sin, this privileged paradigm of power, makes it easy to ignore the way women are treated in Church.

I recall once hearing Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Thomas Friedman put it this way: “Those with power never think about it, but those without power think about it all the time.”

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But the worst thing is that millions of women have given up protesting and trying to move forward and have allowed themselves to be convinced that they aren’t and shouldn’t want to be men’s equals in the Church that dares to name itself after one of history’s most radical advocates for women—Jesus of Nazareth.

Take a closer look at the women who will be and are currently part of your community. Listen—really listen—to them. And more importantly, consider the radical way Jesus related to women in a culture that sought to shut them down, curtail them and control them.

Taken from Resignation of Eve: What If Adam’s Rib Is No Longer Willing to be the Church’s Backbone? by Jim Henderson. Copyright © 2012 by Jim Henderson. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Top Comments


Guest1 commented…

People also use Paul to indicate that a man is useless unless he marries, becomes the head of a household and makes children. Paul died having never known a woman or sired children. Paul is used to create a prosperity and health doctrine, though people forget that Paul had ailments that even God would not take away after Paul's begging and pleading, and Paul was far from rich.

And here's the single most pathetic part of Evangelical theology today: the letters of Paul carry far more weight than the words of Christ itself - it might as well be the Paulian faith rather than Christian. Just change it. In Paul's name we pray, Amen.


Marcus commented…

The big "no duh" issue with your responses here, with this whole stinking argument as a whole, is that men should not have spiritual authority over men either. Authority does not come from human. It comes from God. Do women, then, have a different God of lesser authority that the Bible forgot to mention? No.

The second problem isn't that women can't be raised to the level of men in terms of pastorship over a whole church, group of churches, denomination. The problem is that we give these peeople, whether man or woman, more authority than the Bible enlists. You'll all keep using the words of Paul to tell why women shouldn't be pastors, but then you don't heed the rest of the heirarchal structure that Paul put in place for the church. You have a pastor, elders, deacons, all laid out like ranks in the army. If you take the time to study this, you will find that they are all pretty well synonymous and equal. And nowhere does it create a government body over a number of churches beyond the individual fellowship's walls.

Meanwhile, you keep touting all of these roles women can fill in the church that are pretty much the exact same ones that the church body should all have equally. The pastorship that women are bashed over the head with isn't men's to begin with. You guys might as well be arguing over who gets to store a nuclear weapon. It doesn't matter who gets it, because the fact is that none of you should.

Women don't need more power. Pastors, who unfortunately are mostly men, need to have less.


Peg Roy


Peg Roy commented…

Very well put. Now I want to read the book!

Jim Meatloaf


Jim Meatloaf commented…

My last two churches have included women (teaching) pastors as part of a large (5 or so) team of pastors. Don't know what to make of Paul, but I don't want to go back, the facts are they're amazing teachers with mature outlooks and incredible walks with God. Perhaps I'm emergent, but I think preaching should mostly be testimony anyway, and in that light, any prohibitions based on gender don't make any sense.



Jim commented…

The author thinks that elevating the status and opportunities of women is counter-cultural. Where do you live...Saudi Arabia?

Think about this. Typically, in our churches, young men are told that their role in life as a husband and father will be to provide for and protect their wife and children (correct!). They had better prepare themselves to be able to fulfill this biblical function as required (also correct!).

What are young ladies told? Pretty much, "the world is your oyster. Take your pick. If you want a career, go for it. MS? PhD? Bank President? Go for it. But if that's not for you and you want to be a home maker, that's great too! Find a husband who is at the same time gentle, cultured, tough, and who will provide everything you need, while at the same time having unlimited time to meet all your "needs".

Meanwhile, Superman is out there struggling to compete in the job market with the women who have "chosen" to follow the career path...for now at least...until they "choose" something else...just as they were taught in church.

In church it's the same thing...women are not obligated or required to set examples of leadership, they can simply demand it if they wish.

The Bible indeed elevates women to the status of preciousness that they deserve. Women are precious and to be loved and respected for all they are. But the feminism that has taken over our churches (and publications) has nothing to do with it.



Shiloh commented…

Thank you for the article. Here is a comment to consider..

I agree that we should not be "mean" to those with differing viewpoints on women in ministry. However, you suggested that we should not let our differences divide us as a church. It is easy to say this when the difference does not directly affect you (as you quoted Friedman). While many differences we allow to divide us are not central to the gospel, I would argue this one is. The way the church views women, reflects its theology of the Imago Deo (Image of God) and the solidarity of humanity. If a church does not believe in women in ministry we should all get up and find a new church. Here is why.

I think all of us today would agree that we would not attend a church whose theology only allowed black men to be children, youth, or associate pastors and not senior pastors. Regardless of whether it directly affects us personally or not, we would find another church based on the basic premise that racism is wrong. And, we would expect others to do the same. We do not tolerate racism and we know it is not Biblical to treat a group of people differently simply because of how they were born. Yet, we seem to be okay with this logic in regards to women. We attend churches that will only allow women to be children, youth, or associate pastors. We don't research why this belief sounds so unlike a loving life-giving Jesus. We don't stand up for those being oppressed. And most of all, We don't get up and leave. In fact, we challenge those who do leave to not divide the church.

Many Christians respond with, "Men and women just have different roles. It doesn't mean men and women aren't equal." If we have come to know anything throughout our history of civil rights it is this, we cannot segregate people and still say they are equal. There is no such thing as separate but equal. Ask those who are separated if they feel equal.

Should not everyone, not just women, be utterly appalled by what this what this says we believe about God? A God that oppresses women (and people of any color) is a God that none of us would not want to serve. It is not a God that comes to bring life and life more abundantly.

While there are many theological differences that I would say do not merit changing churches. I currently attend and serve at a church that has several different theological perspectives than I. However, the church's stance on women, race and age are all reasons to take a stand and if needed get up and leave.

Meaghan Smith


Meaghan Smith commented…

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