One of the things the church gets wrong when interacting with feminism is to do so in a self-preoccupied way. The discussion too often quickly becomes focussed upon internal church issues such as ordination and gender roles within the church. We don’t want to repeat this mistake. All of our Bible Talks for this series have been written with newcomers (especially unbelievers) firmly in mind. Indeed this concern for the newcomer is true of any Sunday at Creek Road, but something we’re particularly sensitive to in this series, not least today’s Bible Talk on Feminism. It’s true that some newcomers will be interested in a discussion about gender roles within the church. It’s true that some have found it to be a stumbling block. However we believe that the core issues raised by feminism are of a much more far-reaching nature than such internal church concerns, and we’d get it badly wrong if the Bible Talk failed to reflect this truth.
All that said, I understand that questions might arise within our Growth Groups about gender roles within the church. Even in this context it will be unhelpful for such questions to dominate discussion. Yet I also appreciate that some input in this space might be welcome. What I have to say here (and Andrea Pryde’s reflections further below) is by no means a comprehensive treatment of the subject, nor an ‘official Creek Road’ position paper… although I do hope we’ll work on something like that in coming months. Rather, this is a brief personal reflection on how the church has also got things wrong in this space… and how I believe a focus on Jesus can help us to get things right.
- Discussion of gender roles within the church has often gone wrong through failing to focus on what matters most for both men and women: salvation. The most important issue in this world for men and women alike is how to be saved from sin before a holy God. And the answer for men and women alike is that salvation comes through faith in Jesus: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith… there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28). Jesus is making things right at Creek Road when we focus on salvation of men and women alike.
- Discussion of gender roles within the church has often gone wrong precisely through framing the primary question as roles. The Bible has a lot more to say about character than roles. It has a lot more to say about all of us – male and female alike – growing the servant character of Jesus – than the particular roles we express that through. Salvation is the primary issue, and then, as you live out your salvation, character is much more in biblical focus than role. The Bible has some important paragraphs here and there about roles within the church. It has great stretches of text everywhere about character. Most especially servant character is emphasised. When James and John approach Jesus asking to be on his left and right side in authority, Jesus tells them that whoever wants to rule should be servant of all (Mark 10:43-45). He turns leadership discussions upside down, focussing on service rather than power. This is incredibly dignifying to service in families, workplaces, communities and the church… for men and women. Jesus is making things right at Creek Road when we focus on men and women alike growing their servant hearts.
- As we focus on salvation first then character… then roles, discussion of gender roles within the church has often gone wrong through focussing on the negative: what women can’t do. The New Testament, in fact, presents men and women serving Jesus alongside each other in all ministries of the church including leadership, preaching and teaching (see the end of Paul’s letters for wonderful real life snapshots of such ministry). Where the Scriptures do present a limitation upon women, such as authorative teaching roles in the mixed gathering (1 Timothy 2:12) it also presents limitations upon men. So, interestingly but often ignored, even within that same passage from 1 Timothy 2, men are challenged: “I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.” (1 Timothy 2:8). The church needs a few more papers/blog posts on men raising hands in prayer rather than anger! We need more discussion of what men, alongside women, should be doing more of in a rich picture of servant leadership within families and the church. More men and women are needed across all our ministries, whether serving kids, youth or adults. Jesus is making things right at Creek Road when we explore ministry roles richly and positively while also heeding and exploring the different exhortations given to men and women in that light.
- Even as we explore these various roles for men and women, the church has often got things wrong by starting with the wrong questions: “Who should be ordained? Who can preach? Who can lead services?” It is strange, in fact, to read strident views whatever their angle within such debates, given that all of these roles are to some extent a construct of contemporary denominational practice rather than timeless biblical roles. Just as church has often discussed marriage in a way that makes an idol of marriage, we have also often discussed ordination in an idolatrous way. Indeed, the Bible has a lot more to say about the “priesthood of all believers” (e.g. 1 Peter 2:5-9, Revelation 1:6) than any special “ordained” class of people (so Presbyterian practice of only ordaining men as ‘Ministers/Elders’ is one legitimate expression of passages such as 1 Timothy 2-3 but is not the only way these principles could be expressed). Further, a contemporary role such as “service leader” is nowhere directly found in the Bible, so we are presently rethinking this role within Creek Road services to better involve both men and women, especially in roles of prayer and prophesying (application of the gospel) as envisaged in 1 Corinthians 11. The involvement of women in Manager roles on our Creek Road Board seems to also helpfully reflect the ‘men and women as co-workers in Christ’ focus of the ends of Paul’s letters, as does the involvement of male and female Growth Group leaders in pastoral care ministry; and further, the input from both men and women in the collaborative process of our Team Preaching model.
- Finally, not only has the church too often explored these different roles for men and women through assuming current practice/roles as givens… but we have also neglected to ground this discussion in the big picture Bible story of creation-fall-redemption. We have failed to take Jesus’ lead on this (e.g. Matthew 21:4) as well as Paul’s (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:13). In particular, we have not placed the discussion where it belongs, in the identity and character of God – especially as Trinity – one God in three persons. God the Father, the Son and Spirit have different functions within the Godhead, yet are all utterly God, completely equal. It is in this light that we can discuss different roles for men and women within the church (and marriage) while affirming all as utterly human, completely equal. This has sometimes been expressed as ‘complementarian’ – men and women complementing each other. Yet I think that has an unfortunate (and unintended) connotation that a man and a woman “complete” each other, when only Jesus completes us. Others have spoken of an ‘egalitarian’ position – which helpfully captures salvation on equal terms in Jesus, but has sometimes been used to imply that Jesus has removed differences between men and women rather than redeeming the differences. Since the Fall we have used our differences against each other. Through Jesus’ redemption we can now once again use our differences for each other. One helpful term employed in this space has been “equal but different”. I’d prefer the nuance of “different but equal”, to land the final emphasis not on differences of role in serving Jesus, but upon equality of salvation in Jesus.
Let’s not only celebrate that God has made us, as males and females, all one in Jesus, but also celebrate our rich diversity of personalities, gifts and skills all making up one body in Jesus. Let’s especially celebrate that we are all redeemed – we are all saved – the same way: trusting in Jesus’ wonderful death for us upon the cross.
I’ve invited Andrea Pryde, our Connect-Grow-Serve Director to reflect on the journey we’ve been on at Creek Road over recent years in this important issue of men and women serving Jesus alongside each other. Andrea writes:
And so where to from here? Sometimes I see a range of emotions – from dissatisfaction and disappointment to disinterest – in the eyes of women at Creek Road when the subject of women and ministry arises. While never knowing all that fuels such responses, there are a couple of things that I can say as a woman who is “in the thick” of ministry.
- At Creek Road, there is a large and growing list of examples where women and men are working alongside each other, labouring, striving, creating for the gospel. The Board, Kids Spots Team, the Finance Team, Youth, Kids, Media, Music, Sound and Data are all such places. In fact, I am having difficulty thinking of a ministry team where women don’t play an equal, vital, decision-making role. There is still some distance to travel, but there is a genuine willingness from decision makers at every level to embrace and encourage women to fully participate in ministry.
- Women at Creek Road are listened to. More than anything else, we should be excited by what this means. In all aspects of ministry, a voice is being given to people, irrespective of their gender. So to unpack that a little, that means that women contribute all the time and not only in situations where “we need a woman’s perspective” but always when a female view point and approach will help point people to Jesus. We are aiming to avoid both condescension and marginalisation.
- There is active work on breaking down the historic, automatic assumptions that have existed in terms of ministry. Assumptions that may have resulted in male names being put forward – when questions such as “who will lead this team?” or “who can give us advice in this area?” or “who shall we train for leadership?” – are abandoned. New approaches are being embraced in situations such as “who is the best person to lead Change Management Project?”, “Who might advise us on ways to improve our Sunday talks?” and “Let’s get a balance here of male and female voices”.
- Time and again, I have seen patience from decision makers as women “chart the waters” of how best to interact, put forward an idea, or critique a suggestion. Of course, the decision makers should do nothing less. But as brothers and sisters together, we should always acknowledge that effort is being made to get something right.
Change that sticks is never fast. It never seems fast enough. Given that we are working to move away from hundreds of years of women being constrained, it may seem like it should be faster. I am convinced that slow and steady is the best approach. All of us at Creek Road – a very large group of people – need to join this journey. It takes time for big groups of people to change their thinking. This is tough on the people who have thought about something for a long time, have a passion for change and are ready now. However, we need to gently bring our brothers and sisters with us as we unlock potential, the potential in every woman, for Jesus.
So – what to do from here? Let me make three suggestions:-
- Pray for our church. Thank God for all he is doing and ask him to help us work to his agenda in all things and, specifically, regarding women and ministry.
- Pursue Jesus – every day we need to grow our servant hearts to be more like Him – read Grow Daily, go to Growth Group (even when you’re tired), sit with the friend who is hurting, and so on. We’ve learned how Jesus loves, values and relates with women. As we follow him, let’s learn to think and live more and more like him.
- Get into ministry. Serve where you will be challenged. Serve where you are needed, not where gender stereotypes keep you comfortable. I don’t say this to fill ministry spots. I say it because the growth that happens both for an individuals and the church as a whole when people serve has to be seen to be believed.
In 2003 it was remarkable that as a woman, I attended a planning meeting of ministers at Tamborine Mountain. My 6 month old daughter was there as well. To be honest, no-one was really sure how to work in this new situation – me as a Mum with a baby, and with a passion to unlock the potential of women for Jesus. It was also “different” for the men in the room, who so definitely wanted me there to listen and to talk and to help unlock the potential of women. It was a challenging situation for everyone, brought into sharp focus by the gurgles, whimpers and wails of a precious 6 month old girl.
Creek Road today builds on this work. It would no longer be remarkable for a woman to receive and accept such an invitation. Now it is pretty much standard. Women do ministry at Creek Road. Will they do more? For sure.Visit Site
The church my 12 year old daughter will serve in as an adult, whether she’s here at Creek Road or elsewhere, will be different again. She will be able to contribute in vital, life-changing, mind-blowing ways because she loves Jesus – her ministry will not be determined by her gender.
It is my prayer that I see not dissatisfaction, disappointment or disinterest in her eyes, I pray that I see determination to serve him.