A Secondary Issue That’s Really Quite A Big Deal

14 Apr

It’s been a while since I’ve released a post about women in ministry. I’ve still been studying the topic with great interest, but I have wanted not to be hasty in posting my ideas. Most of all, I want to be sure I have biblical clarity on the subject. I also want to be sure I have the clarity of language to say what I mean as precisely as possible. I don’t know that I’m saying anything particularly new, but I want to own the message myself, and not just parrot what I read in some book. It’s important to me to be able to sit down with just me and the Bible and be able to honestly see in the text what it is saying.

I am planning on putting up some posts soon explaining where I am coming from exegetically. But before I do, I feel like it’s important to clarify why I’m even writing these posts. Why make such a big deal out of it?

I have talked with several people who seemed baffled by my choice of study. As they’ve told me, it’s an interesting theological discussion, but it’s hardly a primary issue. And to a point, I have to agree that they are right. The main and plain basics of Christianity are along the lines of who God is (including questions about the Trinity), who Jesus is, how salvation works, and what Scripture is. These are the kinds of theological questions that determine whether you spend the rest of your existence in joy and glory or in fire and torment. These are the really big issues that we need to be willing to stake our lives on. These are the questions that tell us if a person is a genuine brother or sister in the Lord or not.

Note that “women preachers” don’t make that list. That’s not downplaying the issue; that’s reality. Baptism (dunking vs. sprinkling), the mode of taking communion, the timing of the rapture, predestination, church government structure, and many other significant issues also don’t make that  list. This is, in part, why we can maintain overall unity with believers with whom we differ. As long as we can agree on the big points, we’re solidly on the same team.

So why drudge up this particular issue so much?

When I had just begun studying it, I was asking the same question. After all, I already believed that the Bible allowed for women to teach, preach, and lead. I work for a ministry that believes the same thing. My father, brother, guy friends, and male leaders are all supportive of women in whatever area of ministry to which they are called. All I knew was that my heart was moving as I was studying the Word, and I knew better than to pass that up. Yet it still seemed so strange to me.

One night, months ago, as I was in the Prayer Room, I began talking to the Lord about this. I was grateful for the direction and energy in my study, but I was also perplexed. Why bring up this issue? Why study it? I was worried that maybe I was just picking a fight. Why invest so much time and energy in a secondary subject that had so little bearing on my present life?

The first thing the Lord corrected me about was that — of course — this wasn’t all about me and my life experience. I’m not particularly proud that I had to be reminded of that one.

In fact, as I was pacing in the aisle and praying, He began highlighting to me different women in the Fire in the Night internship who weren’t joining staff with us once their program was over. I felt Him say to my heart, “But it is a big deal to her… and to her… and to her… and to her…”

I was dumbstruck. I began to weep. The gravity of this discussion really hit home with me. It’s true that this is a secondary issue, as compared to the key doctrines of the faith. But just because it’s secondary doesn’t mean it is minor. And the reason it is not minor is because it involves real people’s lives. Lots of them. Accoring to recent studies,* more than 60% of American church attendees are women. In other words, this doctrine profoundly affects the treatment of more than half the Christian population in this country. That’s a lot of people.

This is kind of a big deal. Make that a really big deal.

We have to remember that this is not just concept. It’s not just an intriguing little debate. It has real impact on real women’s lives.

It’s one thing to hold a good-natured debate as to whether or not women may preach to a mixed audience. It’s another to be that woman with a preaching call on her life, feeling torn between what she feels like the Lord is telling her to do and what prominent teachers are saying is her rightful place. It’s one thing to argue about it and then walk away, with a “live and let live” mentality — after all, it’s a secondary issue. It’s another thing to be a woman who is informed repeatedly that she is out of godly order and in rebellion to the expressed word of God. It’s one thing to decide you would rather not sit under the teaching of a woman, just to be safe. It’s another thing to be a woman invited to address a crowd, and having male pastors turn their chairs around to make a statement about how they refuse to receive instruction from you. (This has actually happened.*) It’s one thing to decide what women were made for, how their hearts work, and what they really want. It’s another thing to be a woman who does not fit that model, and consequently feel like a failure to your gender.

Does this determine which side of the argument is right? Certainly not. The ultimate authority on the subject is still the Word. The debate cannot be about “I want/I feel/he said/she said.” It has to remain grounded in the heart of God and what He has commanded us.

However, this should determine how we talk about it and think about it. This is not just theory. These are real issues that dramatically affect the lives and callings of millions of women (as well as the men in their spheres of influence). It means we take the subject seriously. It means we speak with compassion and kindness to everyone involved. It means we don’t discuss it glibly, as if this is just one of those fun debates on par with trying to figure out whether the two witnesses are really Moses and Elijah. Real women — and men, for that matter — are in real turmoil over this stuff every day. It is not fair to tell women on one hand, “This is who you were created to be”, and then also say, “This is not a big deal.” What that clearly communicates — even if unintended — is, “Your gifts, callings, desires, longings, and very personhood, are not that important. We can’t be bothered to come to biblical clarity on the subject.”

I have also been struck with how this affects women coming into the Church for the first time, as well as women who feel like they have been driven out of it. While we certainly can’t judge truth based on how people react to it, at the same time, if we realize that so many hearts are on the line, we must take great care in what we assert and how we do so.

What do we say to the woman who enters our congregation, having grown up  under emotional/physical/sexual abuse, having been told that she is worth less than men and her only purpose in life is to be an object of pleasure to men — and that she has no right to argue or resist? Is she really going to understand the nuances of ontological equality versus permanent positional inequality? What do we say to the strong, single, outspoken woman with leadership gifting on her life, who feels a call to something other than the nursery or the ladies’ teas? Is she going to be able to interpret the insistence on her proper role in life, going against the grain of all her God-given gifts and skills, as anything else than a sign that she is a hopeless failure of a godly woman?

When I think of the thousands of women who have fled the Church to feminism, plunging headlong into the immorality and shedding of innocent blood that comes with it, it makes my heart sink. What if our lack of clarity and lack of truth spoken in love has contributed to this? What if, had we reexamined our position and/or tone, we could have prevented even a handful of these women from getting burned and leaving the faith? What if we have unwittingly caused those women — or even we ourselves — to make the command of God of no effect by our tradition (Mark 7:9)?

I’m not attempting to pin the fall of these women on any individual, organization, or doctrinal stance. Each person will answer individually before the Throne for his/her decision to continue in Christ. We don’t get to blame others for our sin. But I bring this up to stress it again: this is a big deal.

Whatever side of the issue you land on, it is crucial that we acknowledge and take seriously three major areas:

  1. We hold to our particular view because we believe it is biblical truth. Pretty  much everyone understands this point from the get-go.
  2. This is a serious and significant issue, even if it is not a “main and plain” doctrine.
  3. This is a serious and significant issue because it affects millions of real people. Hearts are on the line. Destinies are on the line. In some cases, lives are on the line. Quick, easy and dismissive answers aren’t going to help anybody, and may in fact spiritually injure people along the way.

In other words: we all need to regard it with kindness, with biblical understanding, and while earnestly seeking the heart of God for the human beings He loves so much. Whether or not you ever launch into an in-depth study on the issue, we all need to adjust how we see it. Before we can enter into meaningful, edifying discussion about it — and more importantly, before we can even care enough to search out the Lord’s heart about it — we need to open our eyes to what’s really going on and what’s really at stake. That may not change your theological position, but hopefully it will tweak how we all think about it and talk about it.

Exegetical posts to follow. Today, I mainly wanted to set out, in part, the why behind the what.


*Note: I do not endorse the general content of the articles/websites from which these citations originate.


Posted by on April 14, 2010 in Women in Ministry


8 responses to “A Secondary Issue That’s Really Quite A Big Deal

  1. Terri Tippins

    April 14, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I have been told that I am ‘just to sensitive’, when it comes to the issue of women in ministry. I believe that that is just a kinder way of saying, ‘what’s the big deal? As a women that has been called into ministry, and ever so gently reminded that God really prefers men over women to teach and preach, it soon becomes painful and personal. I am looking forward to your upcoming posts about this issue. Having been in meetings where the topic of women in ministry was discussed I have found that those that I always considered ‘cool’ and ‘collected’ could most often lose thier cool when this topic was introduced. As a matter of fact, I have watched the faces of people change instantly from serene to mean………so, like I have come to realize and you have posted, this is ‘A secondary Issue that’s really quite a big deal.”

    God Bless

  2. brianbeattie

    April 19, 2010 at 7:23 am


    Hope you’re planning on using this brilliant and thoughtful text as the introduction to your forthcoming book on the subject. Yeah!

  3. defygravityjournal

    April 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    I’m glad someone is talking about this…again. I’m old and I’ve been here before with congregations, friends and even family. The discussion is worth having because I believe it is connected to so many things that are a big deal like 1) core identity (are women second class or defective somehow?), 2) the mystery of Christ and His Bride (this is deep and wide revelation of which we are at the beginning of the beginning) and 3) the man/woman issues in our society (roles, callings, who’s in charge, etc.). It is a really big deal!

    My favorite theologians are unconvincing with the biblical text concerning their point of view on women in the ministry. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense and it if they had it right, why does it change every decade or so? I think a lot of interpretation is connected to the culture right now instead of true revelation of the Scripture.

    During one desperate season of my life, I had to hear from the Lord on this before I could move forward in ministry. This is what I found in the Word from John 4, “WOMAN, believe me, the hour is coming…” Then He goes on to talk about worshiping the Father and the DNA of true worship. I felt like the woman at the well, one group tells me this and another group tells me that and all of the confusion is threatening to stop me from my mission in life. This chapter brought healing to my heart and displaced the offense. The One who receives my worship and commissions me has completely released me in my primary calling – to worship Him in Spirit and Truth. Since this is true, then no one has the power to stop my secondary ministry calling either.

    I’m excited to see the secondary issues worked out here on your blog. How does a woman with an excellent spirit minister? Thanks for opening up the topic for discussion. I don’t think you are picking a fight at all. I think the Lord is wanting to reveal more of Himself through this biblical wrestling match. That’s really important to me so I’m excited to see you go for it.

    The hour is coming! – Maybe with your generation and for the sake of the little girls coming after you.

  4. Deborah

    April 25, 2010 at 6:43 pm


    I had trouble embracing this debate for myself alone. But, like you, God showed me not only the struggles in my own life (I was not surrounded by such support) but also the gender casualties lying all around me. The ache in my heart for them is so great. *Hands off His Bride* has become my cry. It is about holding doors open for the women who follow–whether they are shaping children’s sense of identity, changing society, taking the pulpit, or all of the above.

    I also think it has a profound positive impact on men in so many ways if/when they see that scripture releases the women they love to also lead. To the degree they understand this and work it through their marriages and ministries, there is phenomenal potential for returned blessings and growth. And for some men, the roles they feel they have to play are burdensome precisely b/c they do not have this piece.

    I appreciate your humility, gentleness, and big-picture framing of the discussion. Most of my friends have not been taught to read the scriptures the same way that God opened them up to me (I, too, was such a stickler for GOD telling me what was what through scripture… I distrusted theologians on both sides for quite some time before God set me at ease). Since this post reflects the posture of my heart and provides such framing, I feel I can share it with my friends.

    I would note that the “feminism” you refer to here is one secular version. The genesis of feminism was in conservative Christianity, and it is still entirely possible to be a conservative, biblical feminist even if it might have slim bearing on its secular counterpart (there, too, however, there is an increasing variety of approaches). Just a thought.

    I’ll look forward to the rest of the series.


    • Amanda Beattie

      April 27, 2010 at 2:41 am

      Original “feminism” — the suffrage movement — did have a large number of good, solid believers involved in it, and many (if not all) of them were doing it in good faith with the Bible as their foundation. Feminism now, however is loaded with enormous amounts of spiritual baggage, which is why I am plenty happy to not identify with it as a believer. I have read a fair amount of online feminist resources, and was actually surprised at how many really good points they made — but again, their good points are not worth the pro-abortion and pro-LGBT agenda I found listed on every single site I visited, without exception — not to mention the profanity pervading the vast majority of them. Modern secular feminism has a very flawed, humanistic foundation, so it inevitably ends up with a skewed sense of justice and tons of unbiblical ideas.

      I’m sure that a sincere Christian can self-identify as a feminist, rejecting the sinful aspects of it, and still be a sincere Christian who loves Jesus and respects the Bible as the Word of God. For my own sake, though, I find there is simply too much danger in the secular feminist movement to bother associating with it. Especially if there is only a slim connection to the secular counterpart, it seems like Christian efforts in this vein are vastly different enough to classify as their own, unique kind of activism. We don’t need to borrow from secular feminism’s good points. We need to know what God is like and how He thinks and feels about women, and that will be more than sufficient for our foundation.

      Being pro-woman (“feminist”) is not really the point, especially considering that women are all tragic sinners who deserve Hell apart from the Cross, just like men are. Pursuing the heart of God — who deeply loves women and wants to bring forth justice — is the point. This is the main reason I do not wish to align myself with feminism.

      Those are my thoughts on the subject. I hope the series is edifying to you!

  5. Deborah

    April 27, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    Hi Amanda,

    Thanks for the clarification. I do not often align myself with feminism either–typically only when that is the language w/ which nonbelieving friends are familiar. And even then I sometimes qualify it b/c of not wanting it to be about “power” struggles so much. However, I know lots of pro-life Bible-believing men and women who do embrace that term and who see various compelling reasons to do so. And for this reason I pointed it out as something that could slander them. When I referenced the variety among secular feminists today, my frame of reference was that while many feminists at one point were all about sexual experimentation as a form of power and a sort of androgyny, there are critical feminist movements today that see both of these as degrading to women to one degree or another and who are redefining the issues in ways that might interest evangelicals. I do appreciate your reasoning, however.

    All best,

  6. Sarah

    April 30, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    I am so glad that you are tackling this with biblical rigor and a gracious pen. A few months ago we were discussing this topic in my Moms’ group, and I emailed links to your previous posts (along with a post that Dave Sliker wrote in the old IHOP message boards) to all of the women in the group. It was very helpful to have your perspective in our conversation. As a group of moms/wives who are asking “How do I love God and my family well in this season of life?”, many of the resources we have looked at have come from a solidly complementarian perspective. I really, really appreciate being able to draw from your study, and look forward to reading more. You can count me as another “it matters to her”.


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