A few years ago I went back to school and earned an MA in Biblical Studies from Denver Seminary. I had been doing a bit of reading on what it means to be human, what it means to be male or female, and what it means to be a leader. It became apparent that I needed to study biblical Greek and Hebrew if I hoped to make any sense of so many conflicting views, all purportedly proven by the meaning of one or another biblical text in the original language. So off to school I went. I was pretty certain how it would all come out, since by then I had been following Jesus for a really long time and knew what the Bible said. It’s obvious, right? I knew what God expected of me and my family and the church and probably even you, if you had asked for my input on your personal life. (My children will tell you this is true.) Continue reading
In the first segment of this three-part series, I wrote about two of the most important qualities I would look for in a senior pastor if I were in the market which, by the way, I’m not.
Sorry about that.
But if you aspire to the pastorate, hoping to be someone’s pastor somewhere some day, today’s discussion may be the most helpful to you personally. Applying what you read here may make the difference between surviving for the long haul versus crashing and burning before your time.
Don’t think you can skip part three, however, since it plays into everything I talk about today. And don’t think I didn’t know you were thinking that, because I did. I’m a mom and have super-human powers of discernment.
Here we go.
A Pastor Who Understands the Importance of Emotional Strength
Since my husband and I like to find a church and then stay put, my first-hand experience of senior pastors is fairly limited. But we have moved enough times in our lives that I have known a few. The curious thing is how many of them imploded or exploded in one form or another.
Of the nine senior pastors I have worshiped under during my adult life (not counting our current pastor), two had regular patterns of blowing up at church members, one had an affair with a woman in the church, one got involved in drugs and homosexual activity, one was voted out for unspecified reasons, one left the church because “it just wasn’t working,” one stepped down due to a debilitating illness, one is still plugging along and one, I’m happy to say, was amazing.
I would be very surprised to learn that any of them intended to fall into negative patterns when they went into the ministry. Of course not; they went into this demanding profession because they wanted to serve God. There was so much good in each of them: devotion to God, a sincere desire to help people, love of God’s word, passion for prayer.
Which is what breaks my heart.
It might be easier to take if, lo and behold, it turned out these men were all dirty, rotten scoundrels. But they weren’t. Not one of them. And somehow that makes it harder.
Why did so many of them spiral downward?
Being a pastor, especially a senior pastor, is a tough job. The never-ending demands, constant criticism and second guessing of the ministry life are a lot to take. Harmful feelings and attitudes can build up in our hearts if we remain unaware of the true condition of our souls or lack the tools to process the negative sides of both our ministries and ourselves.
When deep emotional issues linger unresolved, we learn that we can meet them, or at least calm them for a moment, through unhealthy, sinful patterns. It seems to me that the attempt to satisfy emotional needs is one of the major reasons any of us wanders from what we know we should do to what we know we should not.
Why else would we willingly decide to turn our backs on our own standards?
We all do it, yet it feels worse when it’s a pastor who is doing the wandering. The fallout, the impact on others’ lives, is compounded.
What can a pastor do to protect herself?
Recognize the power and importance of emotion in his life.
Pastor and author Peter Scazzero has done a lot of work on the importance of emotional health for Christians. I love the subtitle of his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality:
“It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”
Scazzero explains it like this:
Like most Christians today, I was taught that feelings are unreliable and not to be trusted. They go up and down and are the last thing we should be attending to in our spiritual lives. But that’s an incorrect view….When we deny our pain, losses, and feelings year after year, we become less and less human. We transform slowly into empty shells with smiley faces painted on them….The problem for many of us comes when we have a “difficult” feeling like anger or sadness. Unconsciously we have a “rule” against those feelings. We feel defective because we ought not to be feeling the “wrong” things. We then lie to ourselves, sometimes convincing ourselves that we aren’t feeling anything because we don’t think we should be feeling it.
Until we recognize the power of emotion in our life, the way it drives us and impacts every aspect of our lives, we live at the mercy of its whims.
When I went through the MA in Biblical Studies program at Denver Seminary, one of the requirements consisted of working through personal issues with a mentor. That might seem like a surprising element of an academic degree designed to prepare you to pursue a doctorate. The seminary understood, however, that Christian leaders need more than intellectual know-how. We need the strength to live a life that lines up with our beliefs. So the personal mentoring requirement was part of every degree program.
Each semester we had to identify an area that could trip us up once we got heavily into ministry, like unresolved wounds that have resulted in bitterness; an inability to process criticism appropriately; a tendency to spiral into self-indulgence when faced with disappointment; a compulsive need to appear successful; an uncontrolled desire for unhealthy sexual activity; an inability to keep our head on straight in the face of success and fame; a paralyzing fear of rejection.
In other words, anything that would cause us to compromise under pressure.
Once we isolated an issue, we set a goal for personal development along with a detailed plan for attaining it. We learned classic spiritual disciplines to employ in this process such as silence, solitude, journaling, a Rule of Life, and the Prayer of Examen. To receive a passing grade, we were required to spend an allotted number of hours per week in activities connected to our goal.
I’ll admit the exercise felt forced at times. However, it provided something very important: tools for bringing heart issues to the surface, along with the time to process them with a trusted mentor. One of my takeaways was a healthy way to work through the emotional and spiritual challenges we all face as we make our way through life.
I also gained a very deep friendship with the woman who served as my mentor, one that continues to this day in a more balanced form. When I finished my required semesters of character mentoring, we expanded our relationship to include mutual accountability. Now, when we connect, we make a point to share our struggles. And we expect the other to speak the truth in love to us in return.
I can always count on her to speak the truth in love. Sometimes it stings a bit, but if it never stings it’s probably not the truth, at least not the whole truth.
No one can give you an exact formula for processing your emotional state; you will have to figure that out for yourself. For me it includes a few important relationships, worship music, quiet time alone with God, journaling, and the Psalms. I love the gritty realism of the Psalms in dealing with every type of human experience and emotion. It’s where I camp when I’m processing difficult circumstances.
If you don’t know where to begin, I would recommend one of Peter Scazzero’s books on the subject. You will gain an overview of the issue and numerous practical steps you can apply to your life. I hope you decide to prioritize emotional health as you move forward in your pastoral calling. I believe it will serve you well.
Whatever you do, however, don’t leave it to chance. We all know where that ends.
 Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to be Spiritually Mature While Remaining Emotionally Immature” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 69, 70, 72.
 Scazzero, ibid., explains how to adopt the Rule of Life and Prayer of Examen as part of your spiritual disciplines, 195-212. If you want a more thorough description of classic disciplines, consider Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005).
Don’t have a heart attack. I have no plans to leave my church. But life throws its curve balls now and then and I have learned to be flexible. So if, for some unforeseen reason, I happened to be in the market for a new church or even just a new pastor, here are a couple of things I would look for in the person chosen to lead the flock. In my next two posts I will talk about two more.
A Pastor Who Teaches All of Scripture
I grew up in a sleepy little suburb of Riverside, California, about halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Church was one of those dull obligations many people felt compelled to fulfill. At Rubidoux United Methodist we sang painfully slow, doing our best not to leave the volunteer piano player in the dust. Every Sunday a small crowd met in a cavernous hall, relic of someone’s overly ambitious dream, snoozing their way through the interminable sermon.
And then, out of nowhere, the Jesus movement hit Riverside running.
Word spread that there was a new game in town. Sunday night church like no church you had ever seen before, taking place every week at All Saints Episcopal, a short drive away across the dry Santa Ana riverbed.
So my brother Jim and I joined Bruce and a couple of others, crossed to the better side of the tracks, and checked out Calvary Chapel Riverside.
The year was 1973.
Hundreds of young people, high school kids like us and hippie holdovers a few years older, jammed tightly into that stone and mortar space, standing and clapping and singing wildly and acapella, “When I get to heaven gonna walk with Jesus, when I get to heaven gonna see his face….”
They sang and sang.
Then came the band. In the early days it was Children of the Day and Debbie Kerner. Later on it was Keith Green and Chuck Girard and Sweet Comfort, the Riverside house band.
Finally Greg Laurie started to preach. Verse by verse, chapter by chapter, right through a whole book of the Bible. Who knew all that interesting, practical, funny stuff was in that dusty old volume? It certainly didn’t seem like the same Bible we got at the Methodist church.
Two hours later it was over. Eyes and ears and hearts wide open, we knew we would never think of church like we used to. Church could be good.
Even the sermon.
Looking back, what made the teaching so great week after week was Calvary Chapel’s fearless determination to teach through the whole Bible. Instead of endless reruns of everyone’s favorite Bible stories and people, David and Daniel and Peter and Paul and the Sermon on the Mount, we were introduced to a wealth of Scripture in a very relevant way. And working through it chapter by chapter gave important context and insight into the passage at hand.
As a Bible teacher I know how scary it is to contemplate preaching through Leviticus or Revelation or 2 Chronicles or Ezekiel. I know it’s hard; it takes training and discipline and study to teach the more challenging parts of Scripture. But the meat, the sustenance, of the Bible is found in its entirety. When we pick and choose only what we think is applicable today, we feed our listeners a limited diet. However nourishing vegetables may be for us, we also need other types of sustenance.
In the same way, we need to be taught from the wealth of God’s word, which is so rich and full and overflowing with insights into the heart of God. Churches regularly encourage people to read the whole Bible, but do we truly help them understand what they read?
So if I were in the market for a new pastor, I would look for someone who will ensure that all of Scripture is taught, who is willing, enthusiastic, and competent to do so himself, or will put together a team who will.
A Pastor Who Sees the Women, Minorities and Singles in the Room
Jim and I lived in Europe for a while early in our marriage. Church shopping was tricky in a different culture with a different language, where you knew no one and all you had to go on was the phone book. No internet help in sizing up your worship experience prospects. Cold turkey in the door based on a line in the yellow pages was about it.
Not interested in the official state churches, we decided to try the independents.
So off we went.
Inside the door of the first church we encountered an underwhelming crowd of seven, all seemingly nearing the end of their lives here on planet earth. Way beyond middle age, the group before us appeared to consist of the truly old. We sang a bit – I mean they sang a bit – and then it was sermon time.
Since my German was mediocre at best and Jim’s was virtually nonexistent, we didn’t follow every word. But I did manage to catch the drift of the message which, surprisingly, was all about lust.
Not that I’m in favor of lust. It’s just that the heavy emphasis, the repeated hammering of the evils of lust, seemed out of place considering the audience. Could lust really be that big a problem with this crowd?
I can’t say for certain, of course. Maybe lust is as big a challenge at 85 as it is at 25. But I doubt it. Jim and I came away feeling like the pastor never saw his audience, that he had his agenda yet never truly saw the people in front of him enough to connect with who they were.
We never went back.
In my world most pastors are white men. Almost all of the preaching I’ve heard has come from white men, most of the pastoring I’ve received has come through white men, most of the church decisions that have affected me have been made by white men, and my future pastor will likely be a white man.
I haven’t been convinced they always see the rest of us.
This is mostly for them.
Or for you, if the shoe fits.
I know you can look out and see the minorities and women and singles in the audience, and you’re probably glad we’re there. I’m aware of that. But I’m not sure you truly “see” us.
Sometimes this shows up in simple ways, like when pastors don’t think to employ illustrations that include various perspectives. Assumptions and illustrations about how life works from a white male married position do not necessarily translate into the experiences of our Latino or Native American or female or Asian or African American or single or Arab American listeners.
Or like when it never occurs to the preacher to talk about a great woman athlete when he needs a sports illustration. It’s usually Tom Brady and LeBron James and Lionel Messi, not Serena Williams or Abby Wambach or Misty May-Treanor.
But a bigger reason I’m not sure you see us is that I don’t hear you talk about the questions we struggle with when we read the Bible.
Like why the heck slavery is treated like it’s normal, why we seem to find ethnic prejudice and war all over the place, why women are overlooked in so many passages and abused in so many others, why marriage is the assumed norm when Paul said being single was preferable.
When you coast past the glaring issues in the text to focus on some spiritual application to our individual lives, you lose us. Not that we don’t need to apply the passage to our spiritual lives. Of course we do. But we need to know that the words are worth listening to before we are ready to embrace them. We can only do this when we are shown the justice and mercy of God that lies behind the injustice and evil found within the text.
The biggest reason I doubt you see us, however, is that you don’t hire us. Well, maybe you do for all those admin roles, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about leadership positions. Until you put us into those on a regular basis, we will doubt your sincerity in wanting us to be an integral part of your church.
A few years ago I was part of a church plant that explicitly stated its desire to be a church for all people, rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, single and married, young and old, black and white and brown and educated and uneducated and everything else. It was mostly a dream, however, until we began embracing all those types of people in leadership positions – on the worship team, the staff, the preaching team, the board, the executive team.
Before then it felt as though we were saying:
“We want you to come, but we won’t let you lead.”
You’re welcome. Or unwelcome, as the case may be.
People will believe they can be an integral part of a church when they see people like themselves who already are. Until they do we can say what we want but it will only go so far. The proof is in the doing.
So if I were looking for a new pastor, I would look for someone who is intentional about using varied illustrations like Jesus, the guy who coupled the woman with the lost coin with the father with the lost son (Luke 15), the ten female bridesmaids with the three male servants (Matt. 25), the one praying woman with the two praying men (Luke 18). When it comes to sermon applications and illustrations, I want a pastor who asks himself, “What would Jesus do?”
But most of all I would look for someone who is aware of his or her gender and ethnicity and background based shortcomings and is willing to do something about them. Who goes out of his way to read unmarried and minority and women Bible scholars and writers when he preps a sermon, so that he can address the questions that otherwise might never occur to him. Who gets people on the team who bring a different perspective and then takes the time to listen to them, like Paul, the single Jewish guy who worked alongside the Asian and women and Middle Eastern and married and European and African believers of his day.
That about does it for today. Except that I want to say I believe in you. I mean I believe you’re out there and if, by some unexpected turn of events, I am pastor-less one day, I will find you. Until then I leave you to ponder what kind of pastor you will choose to be.
 These categories do not necessarily correspond to ours today, since Paul probably would not have encountered people from Northern Europe, East Asia, non-Mediterranean parts of Africa, or the Americas. But Paul recruited male and female coworkers wherever he went, including modern-day Asia Minor (Turkey) and Southern Europe. His Jewish cohorts, of course, were from the Middle East. Apollos, an influential contemporary of Paul, was from Alexandria, on the north coast of Africa. For Paul’s female coworkers, see especially Romans 16 and note the way he commends their work to a greater extent than he does that of his male coworkers there. We need to remember that to the extent possible at the time, Paul embraced leaders of both genders, all ethnicities, and various walks of life.
Circuit preacher for a day. That’s how I felt a couple of weeks ago, when I filled in for a friend at his two churches. Except that I used a car, not a horse, and it was only two churches, not a circuit.
Two country towns, two small churches, two lovely groups of people. It was a fun experience.
I learned something that day: Methodists (how I was raised) have trespasses, but Presbyterians (where I was filling in) have debts. Which would have been a non-issue if they hadn’t expected me to lead the Lord’s Prayer.
So why did I do it? Why did I agree to preach if it’s disgraceful for a woman to speak in church?
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Cor. 14:34-35)
I used to think this meant women shouldn’t preach. That’s what I was taught. Everyone I knew assumed the speaking Paul prohibited here was preaching, mostly because of how the verse had been translated into English. When we ask, “Who spoke today?” about a church service, everyone including your mother’s uncle knows we mean, “Who preached?”
So we answer “Pastor Joe” or “Brother Earl.” No one gets all goofed up thinking we want to know who talked at church, because that was probably everyone.
Yet that’s exactly what the Greek word used here (laleō) means: “talk.” Just good old-fashioned putting audible sounds to thoughts.
A more literal translation of Paul’s words might be:
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to talk…
Oh, great. Thanks a lot, Sarah. Now we can’t say anything.
I’ve heard that some people take it that way, passing out little red flags for women to wave at their husbands when they have a question or comment, so they can talk without talking since women can’t talk in church.
But that might be an urban legend for all I know. Most people seem to understand that Paul is not disallowing all woman-talking. That would be weird.
And not what Paul intended.
No, not at all.
Paul assumed that women would speak up at church, that they would pray and prophesy. And praying and prophesying in church includes talking. That’s usually how that works. Paul didn’t want women to be bareheaded when they spoke up, but he did assume as a matter of course that they would, well, talk.
We might even call it speak.
But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head. (1 Cor. 11:5)
I had always focused on the limitations in this verse, on the bit about wearing a veil or a ball cap or an Easter bonnet, but the underlying assumption, that women of course would speak up at church, went right over my head covering.
So does this green light on praying and prophesying at church mean it’s okay for a woman to preach?
Well, we need to understand two ideas: what preaching consisted of in the early church, and how prophecy fit into that. Intuitively we understand what preaching is: it’s that (hopefully) inspiring talking we get at church that instructs us, strengthens us, and builds us up. It’s what takes the word of God found in the Bible and, by the Holy Spirit, tells us what God wants us to hear from it today.
But preaching functioned a little differently in the first century. Sandwiched between Paul’s assumption that women would prophesy in church (1 Cor. 11:3) and the infamous ban on women speaking in church (1 Cor. 14:34-35) lies a lot of important information about early church preaching. Things weren’t formalized as they are now, where we tend to put all the preaching responsibility on one person who has made that their life work.
All the same things happened: the instructing, the strengthening, the building up. But it worked a bit differently.
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (1 Cor. 14:26)
The “preaching” part of their church service came through more than one person, in the form of a Spirit-directed conglomeration of various types of “words.” It wasn’t one person standing up there every week telling everyone else how to live the Christian life. It was more like tag-team preaching. Some churches today have recognized the drawbacks of relying on one person to know it all and do it all, and hence have embraced the value of spreading out the preaching among a team.
Very twenty-first century.
Or first century.
All this early church preaching-speaking needed to be done in an orderly and, most importantly, understandable manner. Which is why Paul argued that prophecy was more important than tongues-speaking in church.
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. (1 Cor. 14:1-4)
The type of church-speaking Paul assumed women would be part of, prophecy, was the important kind.
One of the problems I had with interpreting Paul’s directions about women prophesying was that I had no idea what prophecy was. At least no first-hand experience, since as far as I knew nobody did that anymore. Prophecy was like Acts 21 where Agabus told Paul he would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles. That sort of foretelling of the future simply didn’t happen today, as far as I could tell.
So I blew it off.
I didn’t know that prophecy is simply a message inspired by the Holy Spirit for the audience at hand, and that prophetic preaching is the best preaching. If somebody gets up and preaches, sharing their thoughts on this and their thoughts on that, throwing in a bit of historical background and word studies here and there, that’s fine.
But that kind of preaching is nothing compared to the person who hears and then communicates what God wants to say through a specific passage of Scripture to a specific group of people at a specific point in time. All those Old Testament sermons by those crazy prophets were so compelling because it was clear that Almighty God had spoken.
That’s prophetic preaching. The best preaching.
And Paul assumed women would be part of it. Even, apparently, to the point of instructing their listeners.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. (1 Cor. 14:29-31)
“So that everyone may be instructed.” Oh. Instruction can come through prophecy. Encouragement too, and strengthening and comfort and edification. But don’t forget instruction.
Is this saying women can instruct the church? You tell me.
If it’s not preaching, if it’s not instruction, then what does the ban have to do with, what is this disgraceful church-talking women must avoid?
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something…. (1 Cor. 14:34-35)
If they want to inquire about something… The prohibited speaking had to do with asking questions about what had been said. Maybe they didn’t understand, maybe they didn’t agree, maybe they had so many questions it was all getting out of hand. But the main thing is that it was disgraceful in that culture for a woman to address questions to others with her husband sitting right next to her.
That shamed him.
The solution was to address her questions to her husband after they got home.
If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Cor. 14:35)
First century culture, where the man was the legal authority and leader of his wife, simply could not handle a woman going around her husband. Twenty-first century culture, in contrast, simply cannot handle the public questioning and evaluating of the messages heard in church that the early church practiced.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. (1 Cor. 14:29)
When was the last time your church service included a public discussion of the Sunday message, questioning and evaluating and deciding if it was truly of the Spirit, with the preacher sitting right there?
My guess is it’s been awhile.
Because it’s culturally inappropriate. We save that kind of dialogue for the Monday email tidal wave your pastor loves to hate.
And you thought you hated Mondays.
What’s appropriate in one culture may be inappropriate in another. We don’t have to rigidly apply first century cultural norms to the way we do church today. We don’t have to force a very uncomfortable public evaluation of the Sunday message, ripping righteous Reverend Richard’s heart to shreds as we do. We can accomplish the same goal of maintaining the biblical and Spirit-directed accuracy of what is spoken through other means. We don’t have to commit cultural suicide to apply the Bible today.
And we don’t have to silence women. We don’t have to make them hold their horses or their questions until they get home. We don’t live in a culture that makes the husband responsible for the wife’s education; we think she is responsible for that herself.
Inquiring about something does not embarrass a husband anymore. Well, if she has an attitude it might. But simply asking a question is no longer taboo.
That’s why I did it. That’s why I agreed to preach in those two churches recently. I wouldn’t have done it if I thought it was wrong, if I believed it was against the Bible.
So there you have it.
 A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, ed. F. W. Danker (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2000), 582, lists two meanings for lalēo: 1) to make a sound, sound, give forth sounds, tones; 2) to utter words, talk, speak.
 In light of chapter 11 the “talking” of 14:34 cannot include prayer and prophecy. Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, First Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 724.
 Craig L. Blomberg states, “And we must recall that one of the forms of Christian prophecy was akin to what we today would call a sermon, delivered by a Spirit-filled preacher convinced he or she was passing along a message from God.” From “A Complementarian Perspective,” in Two Views on Women in Ministry, ed. James R. Beck (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 158.
 Alan F. Johnson, 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2004), 274, says “anything more than this is speculation.” Some argue that women were banned from the evaluation of prophecy, but the distance between verses 29 and 35, plus the fact that “judging” (diakrinō) and “learning” (manthanō) are two very different things, argue against this position. Ciampa & Rosner, First Corinthians, 723, agree that there is “no clear support” for such a view.
 The argument from shame indicates that the questioning was culturally inappropriate rather than inherently wrong. See Ciampa & Rosner, First Corinthians,728-9; David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 668; and Terence Paige, “The Social Matrix of Women’s Speech at Corinth: The Context and Meaning of the Command to Silence in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 12 (2002), 223.
 See Paige, “Social Matrix,” 227.
I enjoy weeding. Not that I like the leg cramps and backache that result from crouching down and poking a metal stick into the ground under the blazing Colorado sun that seems to radiate all the way through your clothing into your skin. No. It’s the feeling of satisfaction that comes from getting under the surface and pulling out the roots of all the noxious plants in my garden that I enjoy.
I feel the same way about comprehending Paul’s views on gender. If I can dig under the surface and pull out all my noxious interpretations that have taken root over the years, something beautiful may surface.
One part of Paul’s writings that was, for me, particularly overgrown with bindweed and purslane and Canada thistle is his correspondence to the Corinthians. I based my interpretation of these letters upon a few ideas I believed arose directly from the text. Now, though, I am convinced they are the tares among the wheat. Continue reading
Here’s a link to my recent podcast with Dr. Juli Slattery of Authentic Intimacy. We talk about God’s purpose in creating male and female, some of those passages of Scripture that can make women feel like they are second-rate, and how knowing the context for the Bible’s marriage teaching changes everything. Check it out if you’re interested! And while you’re over at Authentic Intimacy, look around a bit. Juli does great work helping women experience health and wholeness in one of the most challenging parts of our lives: our sexuality.
For the next few posts I’m going to focus on the overwhelming majority (96%) of what the Apostle Paul wrote that indicates he believed women and men are the same with respect to their full possession of the image of God. (If you haven’t read the first installment of this series, you may want to check it out before you read on.)
At this point in my life, I’m convinced that Paul believed women are fully and equally human, possessing the same essential human nature as men. I will explain why I believe this by walking you through the books of the New Testament that shed light on Paul’s thoughts, and when I’m finished you can decide if, as Ryan Lochte would say, I’m over-exaggerating.
Today we’ll hit Acts and Romans and in future posts we’ll cover the rest.
Though not penned by Paul, the book of Acts tells us a lot about his life. And what we learn is that before his encounter with Jesus, Paul was known for persecuting male and female Christians alike. He didn’t skip the women because he believed they were weak and posed no threat to Judaism.
No, he went after them.
When Paul got saved, he evangelized women and men. Good thing too, since a lot of powerful women opposed his work. The more women he could win to Christ, the better. Like Lydia, who became the first convert and house church leader in Europe, which seems pretty weird when we remember Paul had a vision of a man begging him to come preach the gospel in that region. We might have thought he would have waited to preach until he met a dude.
But he didn’t.
Then there was Paul’s friendship with Aquila and Priscilla, the couple who became Priscilla and Aquila in no time. So why the switch? Putting someone’s name first meant they were more influential, more prominent – or male. Yet Luke put Priscilla first, even when describing how she and Aquila taught Apollos about Jesus. As respected biblical scholar Douglas Moo notes, this couple was an ancient “wife-and-husband team.”
Sometimes the way we order names simply indicates who we met first. I might say “John and Mary” but “Elaine and Arthur,” because I met John before Mary but Elaine before Arthur. Paul met Aquila first, yet two times out of three he wrote “Priscilla and Aquila.”
Does anyone out there wonder why?
We know Priscilla was a tentmaker like Aquila, so she worked alongside him in the family business. But that wouldn’t make her more influential than Aquila; that would make her equal to him. Was Priscilla the one with the gift of teaching? Did she have gifts of leadership that stood out? Was she a gifted problem-solver or effective church-planter?
We don’t really know.
All we know is that something was going on that caused both Luke and Paul to put Priscilla’s name first more often than not. And that indicates a view of women that assumes parity with men.
When we move along to Romans we see that Paul depicted women as identical to men in terms of morality, spirituality, authority, and ability. When Paul wrote of our moral accountability before God, he didn’t hold men to one standard and women to another.
God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Rom. 2:6-8)
Paul wouldn’t have agreed with the teaching out there today that claims God will hold men accountable for all their actions, but women only for how they have responded to men. Paul didn’t let women off the hook like that, as though we could pass the buck before Jesus one day with the line, “I was just being submissive.”
When it comes to spirituality, Paul didn’t say males should be led by the Spirit while females should be led by males. No, he expected everyone to follow the Spirit.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. (Rom. 8:12-14)
Of course telling everyone to be led by the Spirit (rather than by some human who is in charge of what everyone else thinks) will lead to differences of opinion, since for some reason it is not possible for all of us to hear the same thing in the same way at the same time. But apparently Paul thought this was a risk worth taking, and apparently Paul believed we could handle our differences without one person claiming they heard from the Spirit for someone else.
When Paul discussed how to handle these differences of opinion, he described those with overly tender consciences as weak and those who were not troubled by disputable matters as strong. In stark contrast to a culture that assumed women were weak and men were strong, Paul never differentiated these groups along gender lines.
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. (Rom. 14:1-2)
Paul did not teach that one gender was more spiritual than the other, that one gender could hear from the Spirit better than the other. No, Paul taught that all of us should accept one another and respect each other’s decisions when it comes to differences of opinions.
Paul went so far as to say:
Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. (Rom. 14:22)
So when it comes to the authority to make decisions on how to apply spiritual principles to our lives in practical ways, we are to do our best to be led by the Spirit, make a decision, and then keep our opinions to ourselves. With respect to how we walk this out around other believers, the guiding principle is love, not submission.
If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. (Rom. 14:15)
Even though Romans turned out to be such an important treatise on the fundamentals of the Christian faith, Paul never even hinted that men deserve more honor than women, or that men can somehow sense they merit more respect than women, or anything of the sort. Rather, Paul wrote:
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Rom. 12:10)
Paul didn’t say “honor women above men” or “honor men above women.” No, honor goes both ways; we honor others above ourselves no matter their gender. I should honor my husband and my neighbor and my friend above myself, and my husband should honor me and his coworker and the pastor above himself.
When it comes to ability, Paul explained that God has given us a variety of gifts.
If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Rom. 12:6-8)
Yet Paul didn’t limit prophesy and teaching and leading to males, or serving and encouraging and showing mercy to females. Apparently all the gifts apply equally to both genders. For evidence of this, look at Romans 16, where Paul commended his female coworkers along with the males, where he called Phoebe a deacon and Junia an apostle.
I could give you more examples, but you get the drift. When it comes to the book of Romans, the overwhelming assumption is that females and males are the same with respect to the fundamental qualities that define the essence of being human: morality, spirituality, authority and ability.
And I don’t think I’m over-exaggerating.
 Acts 18:2 lists Aquila’s name first. Acts 18:18, 19 and 26 out Priscilla’s first.
 Douglas Moo, Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 919.
 Rom. 16:3 and 2 Tim. 4:19, but not 1 Cor. 16:19.
 Debi Pearl, Created to Be His Help Meet (Pleasantville, TN: No Greater Joy Ministries, 2005), is an example of someone who seems to espouse such a view.
 James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16 (Dallas: Word, 1988), 887, notes that although Paul lists more males than females in Romans 16, “Paul attributes leading roles to more women than men” there.
We know we are supposed to look for underlying principles when reading the Bible, since things don’t always pan out the same way today as they did when they were written. At times the transcultural ideas are pretty straightforward and easy to identify; at others the broader ethics can be tough to decipher.
I think the Apostle Paul’s views on gender fall into the tough-to-decipher camp. Continue reading