Holding Up Half the Sky
A Biblical Case for Women Leading and Teaching in the Church
By Graham Joseph Hill
Published by Wipf and Stock, 2020, 129 pages.
My friend Graham Hill* recently launched his new book, Holding Up Half the Sky, where he presents a compelling case for women ministers in the church. In the opening sentences of section 1, Graham explains his aim.
In this book I outline the biblical case for male and female equality in Christ and in ministry. I do not pretend to advance anything original here. And this is not an exhaustive treatment of the texts or the arguments. All I offer is an introductory biblical case for women teaching and leading in the church… Many people have asked me for a summary of the case for biblical equality, so that’s what I present here.
The book is divided in three main sections or chapters. In the first section entitled “Setting the Scene for Biblical Equality,” Graham discusses a few of the challenges surrounding the sometimes heated discussions on what women can do in churches. He acknowledges that there may be anxieties and he asks his readers, especially the men, to quietly listen. Graham points out that “Women are, and always have been, the heartbeat of living faith.”
Part two is entitled “Presenting the Scriptural Case for Biblical Equality.” In this section, which is the longest of the three, Graham looks at how Jesus interacted with women, he takes us back to Genesis 1-3, he discusses some women involved in Paul’s missions, he wrestles with key Bible passages that have been used to exclude women from full participation in ministry, and he considers the issue of subordination in the Trinity. Plus more.
In part three, “Embracing the Practices of Biblical Equality,” Graham presents a picture of ministry that may be foreign to some. He describes ministry as servantship and explains, “Christian ministry is about love and service not power and hierarchy.”
On page 89, this concept is elaborated on.
Jesus drives us from control to service, from competition to love, from a scarcity mind-set to a generous spirit, from pride to humility, from ambition to self-denial, from drivenness to servanthood, from ego strength to interdependent vigor, and from identification with the powerful to servantship.
How we understand ministry has a bearing on who we choose as our ministers.
At the end of part three, Graham discusses 15 actions that churches can take to amplify the voices of women and honour their gifts. The 15th action, “Make honoring women and girls a lifestyle and an institutional value,” is a list of over three dozen actions, many of which are simple and can be readily achieved if we are serious about honouring women and about equality.
As well as the three main sections, there is an introduction, a closing prayer, and an appendix. The appendix, “A Biblical Egalitarian Manifesto,” is Graham’s personal declaration of what he sees taught in the Bible: “mutual submission, complementarity without hierarchy, and full participation of women and men in all areas of service and leadership in the church.” Plus, the book contains two forewords and an afterword.
I had the honour of writing this foreword to Graham’s book.
Women are involved in all kinds of responsible and demanding work in many countries. Women are doctors, pilots, lawyers, teachers, scientists, journalists, broadcasters, bankers, businesswomen, and they are involved at every level of management. But in many churches, they are excluded from certain ministries and leadership positions.
Some Christians believe the Bible teaches that women are prohibited from leadership in the church. Other equally sincere Christians believe that the Bible does not limit capable and called women. Rev. Dr. Graham Joseph Hill discusses this dilemma in his book.
Graham is a husband and father, a lecturer in a theological college in Australia, and someone vitally interested in the global church, and he knows that what we think about the place or the roles of women in the church is not just theoretical. It profoundly affects how both men and women see themselves and each other. It influences relationships between the sexes and how women and girls are treated. It impacts how men and women function in the body of Christ and impacts on the effectiveness of the church’s mission. There is a lot at stake here.
In part two of Holding Up Half the Sky, Graham examines Bible verses that are often brought up in gender discussions and he provides context to help explain these verses. He notes, for example, that the backdrop of 1 Pet 3:1–6 is “persecution, patriarchy, and unbelieving spouses.” Too often, the verses that are used to limit women are not read in context, and so the original intent of the biblical authors and the parameters of their instructions are not factored into interpretation and application. Furthermore, Graham shows that there is a trajectory in Scripture. He writes, “As the pages of the Bible unfold, women’s freedoms, dignity, and ministries increase and expand.”
I have a keen interest in the biblical arguments that support an egalitarian ethos, but part three of the book is my favorite. In this section, entitled “Embracing the Principles of Biblical Equality,” Graham offers encouragement and advice geared at putting equality into practice and making it a reality. Graham’s insights here are excellent and inspiring, as is his discussion on the revolutionary nature of biblical “servantship.”
Graham has kept his book short and he has kept technical language to a minimum. What is more, it is written especially for all of us deeply involved in local churches. My hope is that this book will reach a new audience who will be assured that women are not secondary in God’s plans and that women ministers are not a modern innovation but are present in Scripture.
God did not make women only to be assistants of men. God did not intend for women to be restricted to support services within the community of his people. Men and women working in partnership, using their talents and gifts together without artificial restrictions, can only enhance the health and the mission of the church, and this mutuality brings glory to our Lord Jesus.
As well as writing this foreword, I was part of Graham’s book launch which was held online via Zoom. The launch was an hour-long discussion about women in ministry with Graham, Dr. Lynn Cohick, Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim and myself, chaired by Sarah Bacaller. It can be watched on YouTube here.
One of my favourite parts of Holding Up Half the Sky is this paragraph in the introduction.
Some in the church suggest that women don’t make effective leaders. But the latest research into leadership effectiveness, across a wide range of secular, corporate, religious, and not-for-profit organizations, shows the opposite. Not only do women lead effectively, but much of the research indicates that by many measures they lead better than men. In Scaling Research, Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams draw on decades of research into leadership effectiveness among Fortune 500 companies and government agencies. They conclude the following about female leadership, after examining the quality research and data:
“To summarize, this data suggests that women lead more effectively than men. Since we see a strong positive correlation between Leadership Effectiveness and Creative Competency scores, we conclude that women are more effective because they tend to lead more Creatively and less Reactively. Women leaders are more Creative, more effective, and tend to get better results than men. The predominance of relationship strengths in the Top 10 list suggests that women are more effective because they lead more relationally. Doing so also requires a high degree of self-awareness and authenticity.”
We need women leaders in the church, and Graham’s book shows this. There’s lots of good stuff—compelling arguments and practical advice—in this book.
Video: Graham has made a 48-minute video of a seminar that corresponds with the contents of his book. The seminar can also be watched in eight shorter videos. You can access the videos on Graham’s website here.
*Reverend Dr Graham Joseph Hill is interim Principal and Director of Research at Stirling Theological College (University of Divinity) in Melbourne, Australia. He has been in theological education for over twenty years and has planted and pastored churches. He is the author or editor of ten books including Holding Up Half the Sky. Graham also directs The Global Church Project.
More New Books
The Headship of Men and the Abuse of Women: Are They Related in Any Way?
Reverend Dr Kevin Giles, another fellow Australian and friend, recently had his latest, and probably last, book published. In this book of 140 pages, Kevin explores the connection with “male headship,” as taught in complementarian churches, with the abuse of women by their husbands. Kevin especially focusses on the situations in the Southern Baptist Convention in the USA and the Sydney Anglican diocese in Australia.
Scot McKnight has written a review of this book which can be read here. Scot states plainly, “This book belongs on a shelf in every pastor’s library. Every pastor. Agree or not, read it.”
Women Serving God: My Journey in Understanding Their Story in the Bible
John Mark Hicks is professor of theology at Lipscombe University in Nashville, Tennessee, and belongs to the churches of Christ in the USA. He has written this new book especially for his church and notes that, at present, “Within the worshipping assemblies of churches of Christ, the voices of women are typically silent and their visible leadership is absent.”
In his book of 270 pages, John Mark recounts his journey of realising that the church needs women leaders, he explores scripture, and he discusses the heritage of the churches of Christ. He asks and answers the question, “Does God invite women to fully participate through audible and visible leadership in all the assemblies of the saints where men and women are gathered to glorify God and edify each other?”
Women Serving God can be purchased through Amazon, etc.