Gender in the Church: Step Out of Line, Ladies

Growing up as a little girl I was always encouraged that I could “do whatever I wanted to do” in life, and that my dreams and goals shouldn’t be limited based on my gender.  My generation is possibly the first where female equality celebrated from the beginning, where girls could be good at math and dream of becoming doctors and architects or whatever their hearts desired.

Giving the welcoming address at my Master's commencement. I, perhaps unfortunately, strongly bit into this notion of pursuing my dreams. Have I been duped this whole time?!

I must have been encouraged a lot, because I ended up pursuing a degree in a field traditionally dominated by men and didn’t think twice about it. Thankfully, that career was architecture, which is a field that continues to be open and encouraging to women, and not something like theology or pastoral ministry.  Because apparently, not all girls are allowed to do “whatever they want to do.”

The basic premise of complementarian theology is that men and women, although “equal”, have different, complementary roles in life, marriage, and the church.  This may sound tame enough to start, but the implications get a little complicated when one starts to draw the exact line between male and female roles.   A major example is whether or not women should “teach,” based on 1 Timothy 2:12.

So lets accept this premise briefly and ponder it a bit.  What does it mean to teach?  Many churches thus do not permit women to preach in church on Sundays, but they are allowed to teach children.  But there are also varying opinions of how old a boy must be before considered a man and therefore not to be taught by a female.   What about a classroom setting?  Most churches would allow women to teach other women.  Some would allow women to teach in a co-ed setting with another male teacher – others not.  I have also heard examples of women discouraged from participating in a Sunday school class setting – because merely participating in conversation may “accidentally” cause a man to learn something from a woman.  In an extreme example, one young woman was forbidden by a pastor to start a blog because a random man might come across it and read it and learn something!

I do not desire to debate whether or not the boundary between men and women should exist in the first place.  But no matter how you spin it, the complementarian “line that no woman shalt cross”  is so fine of a line that sometimes it’s near impossible to see at all.   Yet, women are constantly reminded that the line is there and warned not to cross, and I can assure you there is virtually zero grace when we accidentally find ourselves on the other side.

This type of theology that spends so much energy drawing the line is not one that produces holiness;  it is one that produces fear.

As a woman in a prominent leadership position (leading worship), I openly admit I am fearful of crossing the invisible fence.  I want to honor God.  But I often wonder why I’m “allowed” to be in that position at all.  Even though I love scripture, I refrain from sharing my theological musings with my worship team.  I limit my words when praying or speaking during a worship service.  I hesitate to try new things, and tend to follow the path laid out by my male counterparts.   I’ve heard the same from other female leaders: “This is what excites me and makes me feel alive – but I’m afraid to do it.”

It’s easy to begin to ask why try at all?  Am I really gifted?  Did God make a mistake?  Is my heart deceiving me? Am I really meant to choose between my conviction and my fear of the rules?

This is what I like to call a “heavy burden.”

Thankfully, Jesus’ burden is light and easy.

I don’t know all the theology.  But I know that my ministry work should be judged by it’s fruit and not by my gender. I know I have been gifted.  I know I have not been given a spirit of timidity, but one of freedom.

I know I am called to follow Jesus and that he will not lead me astray, even if it means stepping out of line.

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  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    The way I see it is, maybe in general men and women have different roles, because in general there are personality differences and whatnot. That’s fine. But as soon as someone takes something that is “generally true” and uses it to say “therefore no women can teach EVER” that’s a problem.

    Also, the part about women being not allowed to participate in a discussion because a man might accidentally learn something- that’s ridiculous.

    Yes, let’s totally read the whole bible and value it all, but if it seems to say something that TOTALLY DOES NOT MAKE SENSE then we need to reexamine the interpretation.

    And you made a good point about how thinking like this just produces fear. No one should be afraid (at church!) to say “I was reading this thing in Psalms recently and it was great and made me realize all this stuff about God…” etc etc etc.

    • http://kristinrichardson.net/blog Kristin Richardson

      Even if you accept certain gender roles in the church, the manner in which we teach them causes that fear mentality. By “manner” I mean labeling women as sinful if they overstep their bounds.

      If you put a dog with an invisible fence, eventually it will subconsciously form a ‘buffer zone’ to not cross, just to be extra careful not to cross the line they can’t see. Perhaps women really aren’t meant to pastor churches…but how many women are holding back on true spiritual giftings out of fear of accidently crossing the line?

      Instead of “don’t do this, don’t do that” we should be teaching our daughters to clearly discern the Holy Spirit and walk in confidence. If God doesn’t want women teaching then He wouldn’t lead or gift them to do so.

      • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

        Agree!

  • None of your business

    “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:” –Joel 2:28

    The Pauline letters and the book of Acts are important. Among other things, they point out the time of Saul’s conversion, the steps Christ took in order to secure him, his obedience, and the nature of that obedience. Once we become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, we are to follow His leading without hesitation. Just remember to hold everything up against one yardstick: the teachings of Jesus.