Women in Ministry

Sitting in front of me were thirteen women, most of them African, expectantly looking at me to tell them about women in ministry. They were strong women with gifts and talents, a desire to serve, and living in a culture that generally speaking, does not give them many rights of their own. One of the things going for them is we were all part of the Quaker church, one of the few streams of faith that has had women in ministry since the very beginning, straight back to George Fox and Margaret Fell. It is one of the many qualities of Quakerism that attracted me the most- that women are acknowledged to be as highly functioning as men and they have the ability to fulfill any role they are called and equipped for, a decision based on God and not man. Being a part of the Quaker church, I sometimes forget how women in ministry is still a topic not widely accepted, not only in Africa, but here in America too. Many people still think women should not minister to men and other women, that we are not equal to their gifts and abilities. There are many, including women, who believe our place is the silent role. Well, for those who know me, you know I am not the silent type so today I am going to tell you what I told those African women (and then some) because I realize it needs to be heard in this quarter of the world as well as theirs.

I would first like to address what Paul says in the Bible. In researching for this post, I found an article on Bible.com, that you can read here, which puts really well my thoughts on Paul.

“With all this in mind, what then do we make of the troubling verses that command women to be silent in the churches? First of all, we must interpret those verses in light of what we have just established–that there were women in leadership positions of the church. Obviously, Paul is not writing to them. He is must be addressing another issue entirely–the women who were loud and unruly during the service, causing disorder and confusion.

When he wrote the Corinthians, he was dealing with a church that was very disorderly in their services. Much of the letter was spent correcting excesses and abuses. Some of these pertained to women in particular and some were to the entire church. Paul is not being prejudiced against women when he instructs the Corinthian women to keep silence. In the early church the seating arrangement was quite different from our modern day churches. Men were seated on one side of the church while the women and children were seated on the opposite side. This is still practiced in many cultures today.

The women of Christ’s day were generally uneducated and usually only the men were privileged with an education. Due to this situation, when the church met the women were tempted to shout across the room and ask their husbands the meaning of whatever was being taught. This disturbed the service. Paul was simply saying during the service, “Women, keep your children quiet and you be quiet, and if you have anything to ask your husbands, wait until you get home.” Because of the new equality that Christianity brought to women, it could be that some of them were taking their freedom too far, to the point of being obnoxious.

When Paul wrote to Timothy, he gave him a similar directive. Again, it is important to understand the context in which the letter was written. In I Timothy, a careful reader becomes aware that many severe heresies and false teachings that were being dealt with. We can draw a conclusion here that many of the proponents and victims of the false teachings were women. Timothy pastored in Ephesus, and it has been suggested that goddess worship might have played a large part in Paul dealing so severely with the women. Ephesus was a primary center of the worship of Diana or Artemis. The heresies being taught might have suggested that women were authoritative over men and had higher access to spiritual knowledge than men did.
Regardless of the particulars, in both cases we can see that Paul is dealing with specific incidents in specific churches for very particular reasons.

We must understand that many of Paul’s epistles dealt with local problems and his commandments are not meant to be taken as “commandments” across the board for all situations. Rather, we are to seek the Lord for the basic principal that needs to be incorporated in our churches. Because of Old Testament precedents that had already been set, apparently it never occurred to Paul to re-establish the case for women in ministry. Why would he need to? The early church took it as a matter of course that Jesus would call and ordain anyone He chose–and that settled it! As a matter of fact, the Bible mentions a prophetess who was in the Temple when Jesus was brought there as a baby. Her name was Anna (Luke 2:25-35), and she was one of two people who recognized Jesus as the Messiah because of her sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s writings are sometimes misunderstood today because we do not know all the details that led him to write as he did. We must rely on the Holy Spirit, and the rest of the testimony of Scripture to interpret how we are to apply these things to our everyday lives. Scripture should always be compared with other Scripture and the context taken into consideration. Even in Paul’s day, there were those who tried to twist the meaning his words.”

In my words, “Paul is not God”. We shouldn’t take what he says, ignore the cultural context, and apply it across the board in our own interpretation of what he meant. Paul praised many women for speaking and ministering in the church. One of the first classes I took at seminary was “Women in Church History” and believe me, there are many. Why would God create all of humankind and then only let half of that group tell each other about him? Men have no special ordination above women. We are ALL created equal in the sight of God and God ordains whoever he will. Who is man and women to question what God has decided? Standing in that room in Kenya, I told passionately told them that God has given them gifts and that we are responsible to use those gifts. No matter what those gifts are, we are to wield them in power, justice, and love. God has spoken and we, no matter what gender, are to listen to God and not humans. God is to come first and even if the people around us say not to, if God says to do it, then we are under Divine orders to express and use our gifts and talents. God does not discriminate along lines of gender, neither should we. Those women in Africa have strong voices. I told them one can be silenced, and two can be silenced, but by standing beside one another and speaking out, they cannot be silenced.

During our question and answer period, one of the women asked a very relevant question. “What do you do about marriage?” I told them, along with Eden Grace’s and Pastor Jane’s added voices, that when you think about marriage, make sure the man you marry is in full support and encouragement of you in ministry, that he will partner with you and honor you as a minister of God. It is better to stay single and obeying God than married with someone non supportive of your call. But we assured them, with examples they knew of, that there were men out there who would support and help them, stand by them, and honor what God gave them.

I go to a Quaker church led by women, our pastor is a women as well as all our main officers. We did not plan it this way, it is simply who was called to fulfill those places, we make no distinction between men and women when discerning God’s call on a life. I also belong to Multwood, a group of strong Quaker women leaders who encourage each other and help each other in our ministries. God gave me the gifts of leadership, speaking, teaching, writing, and spiritual direction. I have led both men and women, taught them, spoken to them, and I know there are a wide variety of people who read what I write. I know there is power in those gifts to change lives and I have been blessed with wide support. How much power have we lost in the lives of other women who were told such gifts amidst others could not from God? How many lives could be touched if we encouraged the women (and men) in our churches that we, like the Quakers teach, are all ministers, all tools God uses to touch and love his creation?

Betty Miller, who wrote the article on Bible.com, goes on to say, “We pray that this teaching will encourage many women, who might otherwise relegate themselves to the “back burner” to instead step forward into the full calling of God upon their lives. Likewise, we pray that men who have been taught against letting women minister will see the truth of the fullness of God’s plan. No matter who we are in the Lord, we will be held responsible for how we treated others and how we either hindered or helped the cause of Christ on Earth. Those in leadership especially need to heed this warning with reverent fear. Just because we have believed something our whole life, or because our denomination or culture teaches us so, doesn’t mean it is correct. If you have a problem with seeing women in the pulpit, or in any position of leadership, we pray that you will prayerfully seek the Lord with an open heart on this issue.”

God made both men and women equal, one is not above the other either in church or in the home, they are different sides to the same equation. God has both male and female attributes, the are enriching and valuable feminine images of God as well as masculine. Both need to be honored, both need to be upheld! We lose so much of who God is and who God could be in our lives when we only uphold masculinity and put femininity in second place. THEY ARE EQUAL!!!

Women and men alike are meant to live out of their truest selves, to the image of God they are in their souls. Everyone has that responsibility and that right. We should welcome that in our midst, encourage one another, listen, and learn from both women and men. God does. She/he upholds us, gifts us, an loves us. We ought to do the same and honor that of God in everyone, male or female, Greek or Jew, slave or free. For if we do, we will hear more fully what God is saying and by honoring each other, we honor the one who made us.

I am blessed to be a part of the Quakers, people who honor, mostly, what women have to give. I know not everyone has such an easy battle. I pray the women in Africa took courage in what I said to live out what God has called them to. I pray the women reading this now will do the same just as I pray the men reading this will encourage the women around them in their ministries, help speak out for women’s equal place in ministry, and even more so, I pray we all listen and obey God’s call, encouraging one another, and that we honor God’s image inside each soul, no matter who we are for God loves us and equips us all.

2 Comments on “Women in Ministry

  1. In addition to the rhetorical question "Why would God create men and women and then only draw out gifts, talent, and ministry from half of them?," I find I am struck by the related questions–also rhetorical–about filling a world with people of all [flesh] colors but only lifting up the gifts of those of European descent…. Or filling up the world with straight and non-straight people, but repressing the spiritual gifts of those who identify as GLBTQ…

    Thanks for being faithful to what you have been given, Sarah. We need ALL of our brothers AND sisters if we are going to restore God's kin(g)dom.

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

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