By Monica Hall
Often, there is much underlying fear when it comes to deciding how women can and should lead in the church.
Women in complementarian churches who have obvious spiritual gifts of leadership may fear being squelched, being dismissed, or not permitted to lead in any capacity. Sadly, there are contexts in which this is a valid concern. Just as male headship can be distorted by sin into overbearing male dominance in the home, this can also happen in the church if the leadership is not carefully walking with the Spirit. When women are not taken seriously simply because they are women, they will stop seeking avenues to exercise their gifts, and every area of the church will be dysfunctional as a result.
This dilemma of how women should serve in the church can also cause the church as a whole to respond in fear. Scripture clearly teaches that there are indeed some limits on the ways women can serve. However, some churches may be so fearful of violating those limitations that they move the boundary line further and further in until women are not allowed to do much of anything. This is not always due to a distortion of the teaching on headship, as mentioned above, but instead could simply be from fear of inadvertently letting a woman step out of bounds. These churches may have unwritten rules that women are not permitted to pray publicly, speak in a business meeting, give testimony, or read Scripture during the worship service, etc.
When churches refuse to recognize that women are completely capable of serving outside of the nursery and the fellowship meals, they are perpetuating the argument of egalitarians and unbelievers alike that the complementarian teachings of headship and submission result in the degradation of women.
Churches that distort the teachings of gender roles in the church—whether by a sinful dismissal of the capabilities of women or by a fear of overstepping the bounds of Scripture—will be stunted, unhealthy churches. How could they be anything otherwise, when they are neglecting to exercise the gifts and abilities of half the church body?
There is yet another reason women may fear being held down in church service even in churches that value and celebrate the gifts of women. Perhaps this unfounded fear has nothing to do with church culture but goes all the way back to the Garden. After the great Fall, God said to the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). This is where the battle of the sexes began, and since that day, women have had a desire to dominate men, generally speaking. A flip side of this is that they also have a fear that men will end up dominating them.
A woman’s fear that she will be undervalued in her church may simply be a result of that fateful day in Eden. If this is the case, she needs to confess that fear to the Lord and ask Him to help to think on things that are true (Phil. 4:8), specifically that her church leadership would probably rejoice if she steps up and volunteers her abilities for the good of the church body. Then she needs to obey the prompting of the Spirit, offer her service, and serve joyfully within the appropriate boundaries of Scripture.
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