By Candice Lucey, Crosswalk.com
Some roles within the church appear to be occupied almost exclusively by women. Is this because women want to fill these roles, or because they believe these are women’s jobs?
Even if men adopt such roles, they are often seen as special helpers — guest stars whose willingness to participate should be particularly lauded.
Is there such a thing as “men’s work and women’s work” within the church? With biblical support, this article will explore five of the lies that women believe about their roles in the church and a little bit about how the church overall has perpetuated them.
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1. The Bible Says Men Are Superior to Women
Let’s start with the root of the lies to follow: the myth that the Bible says men are superior to women. Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer at Moody Media argues otherwise. “We are equals, as fellow heirs in Jesus Christ. This equality is bolstered through the Holy Spirit’s liberal and impartial distribution of spiritual gifts to His children.”
Paul instructs the Corinthian Christians that “God gives His gifts as He determines (1 Corinthians 12:1,11). No further distinction is made regarding their allotment.”
Lutzer goes on to examine the vitality of female participation in the early church, from leadership to martyrdom.
Following Christ’s example of involving, respecting, and even naming women who have played a critical role in church growth, Paul frequently mentions those ladies who have helped him in his ministry.
Damaris is one example, a lady who was able to follow what Paul was saying to the intellectuals of the day. “Both her freedom to be in public and her ability to follow Paul’s conversation with the leading men enabled her to understand and embrace the gospel Paul taught. She became one of the new converts to Christianity in the city of Athens.”
Phoebe, a successful businesswoman in the Roman Empire, “used her wealth and influence to grow the Christian church. She even leveraged a business trip to spread the gospel. But she didn’t just carry a man’s message. Phoebe was a church leader in her own right” (Ibid.).
Paul benefited from her wealth, status, and devotion to Jesus and, as such, Phoebe has inspired new generations of women to realize it is okay for a woman to be successful.
In fact, her worshipful use of power and money has been an inspiration to men and women in the church generally.
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2. Women Look after the Nursery
Women are often situated in the noisy and hectic baby or toddler rooms, or in the church classroom where ages four to twelve learn the Bible. Sunday school teachers frequently labor to create relatable, enjoyable lessons for their students, not knowing if three or 23 will show up that morning.
Society (and even some women) argue that women are the caretakers, and the nursery is no place for men. Samuel Emadi believes that sometimes men training to be pastors “have our sights set on only one type of service — public teaching.”
Even as they search for ways to serve in their church, men overlook or avoid the nursery and Sunday School.
Yet, Jesus reminded us that there is no work too insignificant for a servant of the Living God, including rocking babies to sleep and teaching toddlers to share, he made a point of singling out the children for respect and care.
And, in reality, this work is highly significant to establishing the love of Christ in the hearts of children as early as possible. “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). Teaching children is valuable work, but it is not exclusively women’s work.
Women seem to have the natural nurturing abilities needed to serve in the baby room: compassion, patience, and tenderness.
But Emadi argues that men, especially those aiming to serve as pastors one day, probably should teach Sunday school or look after babies. “Spending an hour with 10 two-year-olds every Sunday [...] might just be what the Lord uses to make you a more compassionate and faithful church member in the present and church leader in the future. Nursery service is a great way to grow to love the children in your church.”
Seen in this light, perhaps women need to give up the nursery sometimes precisely because the men need their chance to grow more Jesus-like by serving the littlest members of their church.
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3. Women Prepare Food
While making another point altogether, Job 31:9-10 leaves a clue that, at least in his house, women did the cooking. “If I have been attracted to my neighbor's wife, and waited, hidden, outside her door, then let my wife cook another man's food and sleep in another man's bed” (GNT).
According to Proverbs 31, “An excellent wife “rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household” (10,14).
But men also prepared and distributed food in Scripture. Christ did not cook the loaves and fish, but he multiplied and shared them.
He could have given the baskets to women, but John 6:11 says, “Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also, the fish, as much as they wanted.”
Whether he did this himself or sent his disciples out with baskets is unclear, but there is no mention of this being women’s work.
Genesis 27 describes how Isaac had his mother prepare food for Isaac, but Esau also appears to have prepared a meal for his father (Genesis 27). God fed his own people from the heavens with manna (Exodus 16).
Traditionally, men are seen as providers which is not the same as being cooks. But there is no command in the Bible that says only women serve in the kitchen. The Bible does say, however, that if there is work to be done, do it joyfully.
Women: if you like working in the church kitchen, do so as if for Christ. But if you genuinely dislike the kitchen, it is okay to step back and let the men cook or work by their side.
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4. Women Do Not Lead
There are so many opportunities to lead in a church, most of them taking place Monday to Saturday.
Whether or not you believe women can or should become pastors, you can agree that a church needs leaders all the time in various capacities. “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).
Leadership is an enormous duty. Keeping watch over souls can include discipleship, parenting, counseling, and teaching. No single individual can do it all.
Apollos began to preach in the synagogue, but his theology was not quite right. “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).
Romans 16:1-4 exposes the bravery of women in the early church. Phoebe was a “servant” and “patron” of the church, leading in the way of generosity. Prisca and Aquila were “fellow workers in Christ who risked their necks for [Paul’s] life.” They led by example and were commended for their efforts.
Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer notes that “the Bible does delineate particular roles for each gender” within the church. That includes acting as “deaconesses, directors of church ministries, and teachers of women and children.”
In other words, some women will be called to lead, and who understands the needs of women in the church better than other women?
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5. Couples and Mothers Are More Valued by Christ
Many congregations seem to expect women to get married, as though a spouse makes them whole.
Matt Hodges wrote, “Too often in church culture, we’re inclined to idolize marriage and downplay singleness. But those who enjoy and steward the gift of singleness remind us that Jesus is enough, and nothing else can truly satisfy.”
Hodges talks about the dignity of singleness — it is not necessarily an affliction nor a sign of inferiority or emotional problems.
Paul wrote, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).
When a single Christian woman believes she will sin because she is lonely, singleness feels very much like a curse.
But her singleness does not change her value to Christ; nor should it affect the way her church treats her. A single woman can still mentor other women, teach Sunday School, and participate in other areas of ministry.
The church needs to ask, “Do we include single women? Do they feel as though they belong?” Look at Bible studies and care groups: are any of them organized around women who share this marital state in common? And does the church assume single women only want to be with other unmarried women?
Many men are alert to the pitfalls of stereotyping, and they want to help change women’s experience in the church.
Women need to be sensitive to and grateful for the men who are happy to take on jobs that were always allotted to women in the past.
Part of the responsibility for changing the narrative falls on Christian women: they have to make room for men around the stew pot or on the nursery toys.
Furthermore, while giving men this opportunity, let the men take ownership without expecting them to cook or cradle as you do. If they serve like Christ, this is a beautiful result.
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