Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Women in the Church

Leslie Basham: The New Testament says in Christ there is no male or female. Does that mean men and women are to fulfill the same roles in the church? Here’s Mary Kassian.

Mary Kassian: What Galatians is not talking about is our roles as men and women. It’s not directly addressing the structure of the church. It’s not directly addressing how we interact as men and women. It’s just addressing how we approach God. It’s a great passage. It’s a very important verse for us to understand because of the freedom that it gives everyone to approach God on a very personal, individual basis. But it does not address questions of church leadership, church structure or church authority.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It’s Wednesday, June 4. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We’ve been talking all this week about what it means to be a woman and a woman of God. Our guest has been Mary Kassian, who is an author, a speaker. She’s a wife. She’s a mom of three teenage sons. She’s been helping us understand from the Word of God what it means to live as women of God.

Mary, welcome back to Revive Our Hearts.

Mary: Thanks, Nancy.

Nancy: Now, we focused most of our discussion this week on living out womanhood in the home, as wives, as moms, as women. Let me say, by the way, that what we’ve been saying applies in many ways to those of us who are single women as well. It’s been a great challenge and blessing for me as a single woman to seek to live out my womanhood in the context of my relationships with family, with friends, in the workplace to ask the Lord, “How can I be a womanly woman, a godly woman and have an influence of femininity on those around me?”

We’ve talked about what it means to be a responder, to be willing to step back and not always jump in to take the initiative, lifting up and affirming the men around us. These are such important points, particularly as it relates to our families.

Now today I want us to take just a few moments and focus on another family that we’re a part of, and that is the family of God, the household of faith, as the Scripture calls it. We’re talking about the church. You know, Mary, you’ve written on this subject, and you’ve helped me understand this better. There is raging in the evangelical world today, an enormous battle for the soul of the church and much of it centers around this matter of male and female roles within the church.

Now we’re not going to ask all those questions. We’re certainly not going to solve all those questions. But let’s step back from our role as women in our families and talk about the distinctions, the differences between men and women in the church. What should that look like and how can we live out our roles as women in the church?

Mary: I think what you mentioned was an important point in calling the church the family of God because so often we just approach church like it’s an institution or it’s like another business. So in a business, you look for the most competent leader. You look for the leader who is perhaps the most gifted or most representative of the constituency that that leader is leading.

So if you approach the church with that in mind, you’re thinking, “Well, why can’t women lead the institution of the church?” Understanding church as family changes that perception somewhat. If you go, “Well, the church is the family of God.” We’re not talking about who is the most competent or who is the most gifted. That’s the wrong question to ask.

Nancy: Who’s the best Bible teacher?

Mary: Who’s the best Bible teacher? Who’s the most entertaining speaker? That’s the wrong question to ask because the leadership is not based on qualifications. It’s based on assignment where God appoints leaders. In the home He has appointed the male to be the spiritual leader of the home and the woman to support and respect that leadership.

In the same way, God has appointed the elders, the spiritual leaders of the church, to provide leadership for that family. Now they not be the best speakers. There may be a woman who is a better speaker or a better teacher or a woman who is a better Hebrew scholar or Greek scholar, but that’s not the point. That’s the wrong question.

When it comes right down to it, it’s not about us. It’s about God and honoring Him, honoring His image and reflecting His image. The way that we interact as male and female honors the image of God, honors who God is. We carry that over from the home into the church. As women, we want to affirm godly leadership of our church families and we want to support that, communicate and participate on an ongoing basis to the greatest extent of our ability and calling but not to go outside of the structure and boundaries that God has ordained.

Nancy: Now you talk about God ordaining structure and boundaries. We know that we’re talking about the authority of the Scripture that gives the direction that God has ordained (ordered) that the primary responsibility for leading and feeding the family, flock of God, rests in the hands of men. To me that’s something that is unmistakably clear throughout the Scripture from Old through New Testament.

Yet within evangelicalism today, there are some very strong voices—people who say, “I believe in the authority of Scripture”—saying that’s not what the Scripture means. That was just a cultural distinctive in that day, but it doesn’t apply to today.

Or this one that you and I have both heard many times. Galatians 3 tells us in Christ there’s neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female. We are one in Christ. So they’re saying it is not inappropriate for women to be taking positions of pastoral, spiritual teaching, leadership in the local church today and questioning really what the Bible appears to say very clearly along those lines.

Mary: Well Galatians 3:28 is an interesting verse, and it’s a very important verse. The verse—and in fact the whole book of Galatians—deals with who can come to Christ and on what basis. So in Galatians 3:28 when it’s speaking of there being neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, it means that in terms of our access to God—accessibility to God—we can come to God all on the same basis.

You may remember in the Jewish worship structure in the temple where there was a court for women and there was a court for men, and they were separated. Then the court for the women and men, the Jewish men and women, was separated from the court from the Gentiles. The Gentiles were not allowed to go in further than that wall of division that divided the Jews from the Gentiles.

So Galatians is talking about who can come to Christ on what basis. It’s saying that there are no distinctions, that Gentiles can come—women, men. There’s no difference since the time of Christ on how we approach God.

What Galatians is not talking about is our roles as men and women. It’s not directly addressing the structure of the church. It’s not directly addressing how we interact as men and women. It’s just addressing how we approach God. It’s a great passage. It’s a very important verse for us to understand because of the freedom that it gives everyone to approach God on a very personal, individual basis, but it does not address questions of church leadership, church structure, or church authority.

Nancy: Which other passages do and make it clear that God has given to men responsibility for providing leadership, headship in the home and in the church. So where does that leave us as women? Where do we fit in? What’s our role? What’s our responsibility, and how can we live out our roles as women while affirming the roles of men?

Mary: I think that in the church we affirm male leadership in much the same way that we affirm it in the home and that is with an attitude of deference, an attitude of respect, just a heart of humility, a heart of submission, a heart that really seeks to build up and encourage and bless the leadership that we receive.

Women obviously exercise their gifts under the umbrella of that authority and under the umbrella of that leadership. You will have female leadership in the church. It’s not that there’s no female leadership, but that it’s under the protective umbrella of the head of the household in a sense where the elders of the congregation protect all the women and the men who are under their covering of authority.

So I think that we need to, as women—and indeed as all members of congregations ought to—support leaders, to bless them. I think in the same way that we spoke of affirming male leadership in the home by speaking for and not against, by being very judicious in what we say and taking our issues to the Lord first and just really respecting and affirming the authority structures that God has put in our lives through the local church.

Nancy: I think it’s so important that each of us, particularly as women, ask ourselves:

  • Am I in my attitude toward the pastor, the spiritual leadership of my church affirming his God-ordained role in headship in that local church?
  • Am I praying for those men?
  • Am I lifting them up?
  • Am I speaking encouraging words?” Think about how you talk to your children about your pastor and the leadership of your church. Are you tearing them down? Are you criticizing their decisions?

This is not say that their decisions are all good ones or all wise ones or that they are all super-spiritual men. Some of them probably are not. All of them have a lot of room to grow. But I’m finding as a woman in the context of the local church, as I encourage my pastor, as I affirm his leadership, as I express gratitude and appreciation and respect for his service and for his leadership, he is motivated. He is encouraged. He is challenged to become more of the man that God made him to be.

Then I am affirming my role as a woman as a helper, as a server, as a follower in the context of that church, and then we find that we’re not at odds with each other. We’re not striving against each other, but together we’re fulfilling the purpose of the church, which is to represent to the world the image and the glory and the wonder of who God is.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Mary Kassian have been helping us as women see how we can bring glory to God in the church. This is a very practical issue for our next guests. Nancy’s talking with pastors’ wives, Kim Wagner and Holly Elliff, and how they incorporate this message in their ministry. We’ll start with Carolyn McCulley who is on staff at Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Carolyn McCulley: Earlier in the series I did mention that I didn’t become a Christian until I was an adult, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t taken to church as a child. I was taken to church and I attended a church where I didn’t see very many men at all. It was mostly a church driven by women and the women’s committees.

I’m grateful for the fact that women were there attempting to make a difference in the church. But I always wondered, "Where are the men? Where are the men my age?" There was a remnant of older men but nobody around my age or really into middle age and beyond.

When I did become a Christian, when I finally heard the gospel and repented and put my trust in Christ, I walked into a church where all of a sudden I saw where all these men were. Here are men my age, my generation, here in the church and there were as many men as there were women. It was just mind blowing to me.

I realized that in part the men were there because of the radical call of the gospel. This was not a watered-down, touchy-feely kind of church, but a church that boldly proclaimed the gospel and boldly proclaimed male leadership and said you’ve been given a responsibility to lead your family and to participate in this church, to lead this church.

Now I came in thinking, "Well, if that’s the case, then what do women get to do because I’m used to an American consumer mentality that says if I’m not up front, if I’m not in the spotlight, then I’m not doing anything that’s of worth." I figured we paid our tithes to pay our pastors, and we got to be on cruise control.

But they taught us that Scripture says pastors and leaders are given to the church to equip the body for the works of ministry. When you see that, you realize there’s a lot for men and women to do in the church. So it became a challenge for me to learn how to encourage men in their leadership roles and not to compete with them—and that’s a long story in and of itself—but it was so encouraging to see men in the church.

Nancy: I think of a classic biblical illustration of competition for leadership in the community of faith that has an application when it comes to the contemporary church situation. It goes back to Numbers chapter 16. You remember the story where God had ordained Moses to be the leader of the people of Israel and Korah was a Levite who actually stirred up an insurrection against Moses.

Numbers 16, verses 2-3, says,

They rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together [these 250 men] against Moses and against Aaron [God’s appointed leaders] and said to them, "You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?”

So in essence they challenged Moses’ right to be the leader. They said, “We’re holy. You’re not the only one around here who’s spiritual. Why shouldn’t we be able to be in charge of the community of faith as well as you?” Then you have this narrative of how God instructed Moses to deal with it, but I think Moses’ response to Korah has just some powerful application for women today struggling and striving in relation to this thing of male leadership in the church.

Moses said to Korah, "Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the LORD and to stand before the congregation to minister to them . . .?” (Numbers 16:8-10).

In other words, you have many spiritual responsibilities, gifts and callings. He has brought you near Him. “And would you seek the priesthood also?” .

He says, “Is it not enough for you that God has let you have a relationship with Him? He has let you serve Him? He has let you minister to others in the body of Christ? Are you angry and rebellious because the one thing you can’t have or the one thing God hasn’t given you, you say I must have?” In that case it was the priesthood: “We have to be in charge.”

I think that spirit of resistance against God-ordained authority goes back to this whole spirit of Korah in his rebellion and God dealt with that rebellion very seriously. He used that situation as an example to the Israelites to say, “Look, I have appointed the ones I have appointed to be in charge.” God doesn’t have to explain to us why He does what He does, why He says it is to be this way.

God says, “Is it too small a thing for you as a woman that I have let you have a relationship with Me. I’ve let you serve in the body of Christ. I’ve given you gifts and you are free to use those gifts in many, many different ways—countless ways that you can use those gifts to serve others. Are you saying the one thing you have to have is the pastorate or to be an elder? There’s something wrong with that picture when we say, “God, we have to be the ones who are running this thing.”

Now, that makes a lot of women see red today. That’s a really politically incorrect approach. It doesn’t fit with our democratic mindset that everything should be equal say, equal rule. But the joy for me as a woman comes from stepping back and saying, “Lord, You are God and You are wise and You are good and You are loving and You love me and You love the men and You love the women and You know what is best for Your body, for the church, for the family of God. Whether I like it or not, whether I understand it or not, whether it makes sense to me or not, I bow the knee and I surrender.

I’m not saying it’s always an easy thing to do, but I have seen it be such a good thing. Carolyn, the church that you’ve been a part of since you became a believer is a church that emphasizes the importance of God-ordained male servant leadership in the church. That has given so much room to women to flourish and to exercise their gifts and then to experience the protection and the covering of that male leadership.

Carolyn: I went to a women’s conference—it was an international conference—a couple months ago. I arrived not knowing that the church that was hosting me was going through a church split. When I was there, I gave a message called Contented or Contentious? I started talking about the division that women can bring to their marriages and to their church through a contentious spirit.

When I was finished, there was a group of women who were kind of crying and waiting for me as I got off the stage, and I thought, "What’s going to happen?" So I walked down there and I had the privilege of being there at a moment where the women who had been very contentious toward the pastor suddenly saw what they were doing and were repenting. It was such a joy to see that and to watch God at work.

These women by their contentious spirit had caused what appeared to be a godly pastor (I only met him briefly) to decide to leave the pastorate because he was so discouraged. I watched on the Sunday that I visited that every position except for the pastor preaching was filled with women.

I’m not saying that women shouldn’t serve and help, but I asked them gently, “Why is it that it’s all women leading worship and all women leading the prayer and all women doing these deaconate functions. I see young men and older men in your midst. Why don’t you encourage them instead of stepping forward?” Then they said, “But they’re so passive. How do we do that?” I said, “Make room for them. Make room for them to do it. Step aside and say, ‘Hey, would you like to do this?’”

It’s not that women aren’t capable. We have gifts. God asks us to use them to encourage and build the fruit of other women.

Holly Elliff: There’s much service that needs to be done there.

Kim Wagner: A great deal of service. Again, it goes back to that heart that we talked about earlier. It goes back to a heart that is willing to accept God’s biblical standard instead of saying, “I will create my own.”

Nancy: It’s interesting. I find so many Christian women really burdened over the lack of male leadership in the home and in the church. But I think we have to ask, “Is there a reason for this? And have we had anything to do with this?” It just seems to me as I survey the scene that when women are quick to step into a vacuum, a vacuum of leadership whether in the home or in the church, that men are not going to wrestle them for that.

They may just disappear. They may shrink back. They may fade into the woodwork. Then the women are frustrated because there is that God-created longing in our hearts to be what God created us to be and that is helpers and for men to be what God created them to be and that is to protect and to provide and to lead for the family of God.

Leslie: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss. She’ll return to pray with us in just a moment. She’s been talking with Holly Elliff, Kim Wagner, and Carolyn McCulley—all involved in ministry in their local church and all supportive of male leadership in the church.

Today’s program is part of a series called The Makings of a True Woman and it will give you a lot to think about in regard to the equal worth of men and women before God, the different roles He calls us to play and what that looks like practically at home and at church.

Order a CD of the entire series and learn more about the topic. Make sure you’re embracing all God has for you as a True Woman who wants to bring Him glory. Order the CD series by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com, or ask for it when you call 1-800-569-5959.

If you missed any of the series and now you wished you hadn’t, consider signing up for the Revive Our Hearts Daily Connection. When you do, helpful information about each program will arrive by email. Read Nancy’s key quotes for the day, and when you’re ready for more, follow the quick links to the online audio or transcript. Sign up for the Daily Connection at ReviveOurHearts.com.

We’re marking 2008 as the year of the True Woman, focusing on some series like the ones we’re just wrapping up by looking at the lives of women in the Bible, like a Jewish teenager who became a queen in a pagan land. Hear that story starting tomorrow.

Nancy’s back to close this series in prayer.

Nancy: Father, Your Word tells us in Ephesians chapter 5, that the Lord Jesus is the head of the church. He loved it and gave His life for it. We as His bride, as His body, as His church are to follow and submit to and reverence His leadership over us.

Lord, thank You for the ways that as women You have ordained that we can reflect that relationship in our families. I want to pray for wives who are listening right now and ask that You would give to each of them a heart to reflect to the world what it means to be a follower and a bride of Christ as seen evidenced in the ways that they respect and follow the leadership of their husbands.

Lord, as women in our churches, likewise, it should help us to illustrate, to demonstrate to the world the beauty of that relationship that the church has with her heavenly bridegroom, the Lord Jesus.

Lord, as women, we want to pray for the men who are in leadership in our homes, in our churches. I ask that You would make them men of wisdom and purity and that You’d make them men who follow the Lord Jesus. We lift them up. We pray for them. We honor them. We thank You for them and pray that together we might serve You and reflect Your glory to our world. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Child: Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries and my mom is a true woman.

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