A shepherd who only feeds the male sheep in his flock?

I was surfing YouTube one lazy evening recently and came across this video where well-known pastor John Piper interviews Matt Chandler. I’d heard Matt Chandler’s name a few times but had no idea who he was.

The video runs for 50 minutes and I watched the whole thing. I listened to the first half hour with interest. Who doesn’t like a success story? Under Matt’s leadership a congregation of 100 people grew to 6000 people in just six years.

At the 35 minute mark, the conversation turned to complementarianism. Complementarianism (or hierarchical complementarianism) is the ideology that God has designed all men to be leaders and spiritual authorities, and that God has designed women to be submissive to the leadership and authority of men. John Piper briefly summarises the complementarian position at the 36.30 mark on the video.

Only Male Elders?

At 35.00 John Piper says that it is “good news” that church elders should be godly men and that women can’t be elders, and he asks Matt why this rule feels “life-giving” to his congregation. Matt answers the question by saying that God’s Word teaches us about how God designed the universe, and that when we obey God’s Word we will be “in rhythm” (presumably with God and the universe.) I agree with Matt on this principle. I agree that we should obey God and his Word, and I believe that God’s will is good and life-giving; however, the Bible simply doesn’t state that church elders must only be men. Nor does it state that God designed all men as leaders and all women as followers of men. These beliefs are inferred from a few biblical texts, some of which have been misinterpreted, misunderstood and misapplied. Moreover, I believe the whole complementarian way of looking at authority and hierarchy goes against what Jesus teaches us in regards to ministry and relationships in the body of Christ, for example, “the first will be last.”

Only Male Sheep?

The statement that concerned me most is what Matt said at 37:33-48. Here Matt states unequivocally, “I teach to men . . . I teach to men . . . I go after the men.” And he goes on to say that this is how he understands the scriptures. Matt focuses his ministry on teaching men how to be godly men. Why doesn’t he focus on teaching men and women how to be godly human beings?

Is there a big difference between teaching God’s Word to men than to women? Did Jesus have one set of teaching for men and another for women? No. Men and women have some differences, but we have many more things in common. Complementarianism, however, polarises the two sexes rather than promoting unity, affinity, and mutuality between men and women.

Several thousand women belong to Matt’s church. He says that the women love it when he goes after the men. I have questions about Matts statement:

Are there really thousands of Christian women who are content to be passive and are happy to relinquish life’s major decisions, responsibilities, and challenges to the men in their lives? Is this healthy or helpful to family life?

Do some Christian women believe they are incapable of being assertive and decisive? Or that these qualities are somehow ungodly or unfeminine?

And what message are these women accepting from Matt’s pulpit: That men matter more than women?

The Good Shepherd

I disagree with Matt’s interpretation of scripture. I do not see that the Bible says that pastors should prioritise their ministry to men by going after the men and targeting men in their teaching. Jesus welcomed and included women as his followers and disciples (e.g. Matt. 12:49-50; Luke 10:39, etc). Jesus had many female followers. Moreover, he taught that the good shepherd (i.e. the good pastor) goes after the lost sheep, and rejoices when it is found. Gender is just not an issue here (Luke 15:3-7). When Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep”, he did not qualify the instruction by adding, “especially the men” (John 21:15-17).

The apostle Paul did not “go after the men” (Acts 16:13ff). Paul valued the ministry of his female fellow-workers, several of whom were enterprising and courageous, and far from passive. Repeatedly in the New Testament we see that the New Covenant is wonderfully inclusive of all people who truly turn to Jesus. There should be no physical or spiritual hierarchies, castes, or ranks in the body of Christ, but mutuality and unity.

Unlike what Matt Chandler and John Piper assert, spiritual authority in the body of Christ is not vested primarily in the men. The authorisation and empowerment to function in any ministry comes from God through the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit bestows his ministry gifts – including the gifts or leadership and teaching – without apparent regard to gender (Acts 2:18; Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:11, etc).

A Chauvinistic Shepherd

At 39:45 John Piper smilingly calls Matt Chandler a chauvinist. A chauvinist is a person who holds to a “prejudiced belief in the superiority of one’s own gender, group, or kind.” (Source)  While I understand that John Piper used the word tongue-in-cheek, it is an apt description of both John and Matt, one they seem happy to own. They truly believe that God has ordained men, and not women, to be the leaders in the church and in the home. John also believes women must not lead men in broader society also. The teachings of Jesus and the apostles concerning the New Covenant and the New Creation, and what it means for the body of Christ, are very different to the teaching of male primacy that Matt and John promote. Jesus championed, elevated, and commissioned women.

I am thankful that Jesus went after me when I was a lost little girl, and that he continues to go after me, drawing me to himself and moulding me into his image. I am thankful that Jesus is the good shepherd and in no way a chauvinistic shepherd.

A shepherd who only feeds the male sheep in his flock?


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