The current conversations about using women in public worship are timely for sure. I personally do not think this is overdue, for I believe that any alteration in long-held practices is best rolled out slowly in the interest of unity so everyone can have time to assess their own convictions or opinions and shift, if need be. I might only consider haste imperative if the roles specified in the Bible could not be accomplished without women functioning in those roles. For hundreds of years now male leadership has kept us obedient to specified commands of God. Certainly, that is not an argument for the status quo, but it is a plea for caution in moving forward.
To be clear, I’d love to see women more visible in public worship, and I’m grateful for the careful research being done to that end. A concern has been raised that by delaying a change, we are not being “all things to all people.” Honestly, that shouldn’t be a deterrent to anyone seeking redemption and a relationship with Jesus, though it might deter some if they are looking secular-culture compatibility – a concern Jesus never entertained.
My great desire as we move into greater public use of women, whether in praying, teaching or song leading, is that women exhibit a “gentle and quiet spirit.” It is easy to come across as strident when one’s voice is raised with emotion or when one tries to be heard in a crowd. It will take some input and practice for some women to accomplish a bearing of humility in these more visible roles.
I am concerned that the same loud cultural voices demanding more public visibility for women in leadership in churches (not just our own) may reside in tandem with perspectives that shy away from having a humble learner’s spirit – a problem common among many millennials today. (Of course, this does not apply to every proponent of women’s leadership, nor to every millennial.)
But I have a greater concern still. Within the fellowships with which I have experience, I have not found many younger women seeking to sit at the feet of older women. Perhaps Paul’s instruction to Titus put the onus on older women to teach, but what responsibility lies with the younger women?
“Likewise, teach the older women to teach what is good….Then they can teach the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” (Titus 2:3-5)
Yes, older women need to be willing and available and this passage primarily addresses domesticity, but there are attributes like self-control, purity, and kindness that apply no matter the marital status. These are attributes best taught by someone who embodies them and who through life-experience has fought off the natural temptations to be otherwise.
God values life-experience when it is combined with an effort to conform to the nature of God. Older women, therefore, must apply their minds to a thoughtful replaying of memories regarding success and failure in scriptural application in order to pass along lessons that can help younger women. God affirms his value of life-experience in referring to the needs of infants requiring milk versus the mature who need solid food.
“In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use [of spiritual food] have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14)
In the concern for women’s gifts to be more fully used in our churches, it shouldn’t be about visibility or positions of leadership, but about respect earned by a godly life plus God-given gifts of leadership (Romans 12:6-8). It is certainly not about advanced years. Regardless of age, Jesus changed the way women were respected – dramatically and beautifully – and we should follow his example. But we must value what he values. A clue to this is given to Timothy when being instructed which widows were to be honored with financial support in the churches.
“…and [she] is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.” (I Timothy 5:10)
I believe that our churches teach respect of older men and women, but it is rarely evidenced in seeing the younger using their elders as “life coaches.” Perhaps as an act of benevolence our young visit with the older, but is it in order to learn from them? I simply do not see many younger women actively seeking to sit at the feet of older women.
It seems odd to me that in an era when hiring a secular life-coach is a popular trend, the money-free offer of spiritual life-coaching (aka, discipling) is neglected. It saddens me to see wise older women having little or no influence in the lives of younger women. We should be so proud to be part of a church where women mentoring women is a hallmark of our fellowship – not just teaching at a midweek devotional, but in one-on-one relationships where wisdom is prized!
I think we must be careful to discern the difference in the world’s definition of wisdom and God’s. Men and women alike can be persuasive, articulate, and talented, but that does not make them qualified to lead. It can make them appear wise, but it does not make them wise. God defines wisdom by qualities of character.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is…pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:13-18)
Again, I am not against women serving in more public ways and I applaud the papers being written and the conversations being had, but it makes me wonder, whether, if we restored more basic New Testament practices to our current church culture, we might ramp down the urgency and controversy. I also wonder whether we might shine a brighter light by exhibiting the character and spirit God values in women than by placing them in roles that may be desirable, but not mandatory.