Church cultures that include and exclude women leaders

Some have suggested that I advocate for women in ministry because I have been influenced by the secular culture of Australian society where egalitarianism is seen as the ideal. These people are mistaken.

Conversely, I suspect that these same people reject the idea that women were leaders in a few New Testament churches because of a poor understanding of how the first Christian communities (i.e. churches) fellowshipped and functioned. Their view of “church” has been influenced by a culture of large gatherings that meet in purpose-built sacred spaces, where a professional all-male clergy presides, and where the Sunday sermon or priestly rituals are prioritized. In this kind of church culture, members who are not part of the clergy, including women, typically have little or no room for either regular or spontaneous ministry contributions during services.

New Testament church-life shares nothing in common with this culture. Instead, the first churches were usually small, often consisting of an extended household that included relatives and slaves, as well as a few neighbours. These churches met in homes. The householder, who could be a relatively wealthy woman (e.g., Lydia, Nympha, the Chosen Lady, etc) or man (e.g., Stephanas, etc) or couple (e.g. Priscilla and Aquila), not only hosted frequent church gatherings in their relatively spacious homes, but they had a particular responsibility for the welfare of the other members.

Furthermore, in the decades after Pentecost, both men and women had the freedom to exercise their gifts during most church meetings, sometimes spontaneously (1 Cor. 14:26 CSB; Col. 3:16 CSB). Men and women could also initiate ministries or be commissioned by their church for various missions further afield (e.g., Stephanas, Andronicus and Junia, Priscilla and Aquila, Phoebe).

I advocate for women in ministry because I see in the New Testament that ministry and leadership were shared in the dynamic, inclusive, Spirit-led culture of the very early church, and was not restricted to men.

I advocate for women in ministry because I see that Jesus valued women, discipled them, and included them in his mission. Jesus is still commissioning women.

I advocate for women in ministry because Paul also valued women. He regarded several women as his colleagues, referring to them with identical ministry descriptions as his male colleagues (e.g. apostle, deacon, co-worker, labourer).

I advocate for women in ministry because godly women have vital contributions to make to the ministry and mission of the church today, some in the capacity of leadership.

I advocate for women in ministry because the scope and effectiveness of the ministry and mission of the church are diminished and reduced when gifted women are prevented from full participation in church-life and are prohibited from using their God-given talents. My advocacy for women in ministry has little to do with being influenced by the broader Australian culture.

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This 4-minute video shows one main difference between what many of us think of as “church” and something more akin to what the first Christians experienced as “church”.