Just to clarify, I’m not talking about the pastor’s Girl Friday, who pens the letter in his name, buys the coffee at Costco, and types the announcements into the bulletin. Neither am I referring to the pastor’s Yes Man, the one who is uniformly loyal, gets behind every plan, and takes the pastor’s side in every disagreement.
What I’m thinking of is that person who can be fiercely loyal yet also possess the courage to speak the truth, who is overwhelmingly supportive yet can correct or admonish when necessary, and who does so only out of a pure and undefiled love of God. It’s the one who hears from God and can speak for God not just out of their own wisdom, however valuable that may be.
I’m talking about the person God uses as a prophetic voice in the life of the pastor.
And since, in most cases, the senior pastor is a man, I’m going to focus on whether God might ever call a female leader to serve as a male lead pastor’s right-hand, truth-speaking, prophetically-gifted “man.”
The prophet Nathan, in his relationship with King David, might be the closest biblical example of this role. We only have record of a few of his interactions with the king, but those we do shed light on how God uses someone in this position.
We encounter Nathan for the first time in 2 Samuel 7. David is at rest from his enemies and settled in his palace when he turns to Nathan, apparently one of David’s regular palace companions, and states that he would like to build a permanent home for the ark of God.
Nathan, speaking out of his wisdom, loyalty, and knowledge that God’s favor rested upon the king, encourages David to do “whatever you have in mind” (v.3). However, that night the word of the Lord comes to Nathan declaring that David is not the man for the job. Nathan has to eat humble pie and reverse himself, delivering an unhappy and unsettling message to his friend.
Yet that is exactly what is required of Nathan as a prophet of the Lord.
The next time we see Nathan he is confronting David for taking Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed in battle (2 Sam. 12). If you think telling David he was not the guy to build the Lord’s house was rough, imagine confronting the most powerful monarch in the ancient Near East about abuse of power, adultery, and murder. And then imagine that insanely powerful man’s response to your challenge.
What comes to mind is a Mark Driscoll screaming at the top of his lungs, Who the **** do you think you are??
Yet David wasn’t that man and didn’t respond to Nathan’s rebuke like that at all.
Sure, Nathan was savvy, presenting David’s sin to him in the form of a parable about a poor man and a rich man. The poor man had only one little lamb while the rich man had many, yet, in unconscionable selfishness, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and served it to his guest.
Initially David responds with outrage at the heinous deed, declaring that the man who did this ought to die. But when Nathan confronts David with the words, “You are the man!” (v. 7), David is immediately repentant, admitting, “I have sinned” (v. 13).
What do we learn from Nathan? What does this right-hand man role consist of?
At its core it is not something that can be conjured up, that results from our own wisdom and insight and knowledge. It is truly God who appoints, authorizes, validates, and verifies this ministry.
Most of the time we speak out of our understanding, which of course is valid and necessary. Yet sometimes in our understanding we are at complete loggerheads, we are blind to our sins and failings, or we have simply missed God somewhere along the way.
It is in these moments that we need an intervention, a supernatural intervention. The point is, even if we permit God to speak, which does not always happen, we don’t get to choose the vessel. We might think it should be this person or that person and not this one or that one, but it’s not up to us. We can listen all we like to the wisdom of the saints, but if God has not chosen to speak through them in a specific instance, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
Yes, discernment must be activated and whatever is said must be weighed according to the scriptures and the witness of the Holy Spirit within the broader community. No doubt there are false “words” and false messengers.
But there are also true words and faithful messengers.
All of this brings us back to our initial question:
Would God position a woman as a male pastor’s right-hand man?
How do we answer this question? By proof-texting one verse? Or do we consider how God himself used the voice of women in Scripture?
You can probably guess what I think.
The New Testament is very clear that God will speak prophetically through both men and women. Peter, quoting Joel 2, declares:
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)
In the church age, no longer would God speak prophetically through a few “professional” prophets. Now this anointing would spread wide, without the limits we are so accustomed to placing on God regarding who he may or may not use to speak his truth. Young and old, male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free all received the Spirit, and all could be used by God according to his will and his purposes (Gal. 3:28).
Paul agrees with Peter, assuming as an established practice that both women and men will prophesy in the worship service:
Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is the same as having her head shaved. (1 Cor. 11:4-5)
Yes, men and women were to abide by culturally determined dress codes, but their freedom to prophesy publicly was not restricted according to sex.
So what, precisely, do we think these women in the early church prophesied about? (Just pondering here for a moment.) Who was going to win Sunday’s chili cook-off? Or who should have kitchen duty that week? Or perhaps which babies would sleep through the church service and which would fuss for an hour?
Or do you think these first-century churchwomen prophesied like Elizabeth and Mary and Anna, who were among the first to speak forth the identity and work of the Messiah (Luke 1:42-43; 46-55; 2:38)? Or Abigail, who prophesied David’s future kingship yet warned him, very personally and very directly, not to jeopardize all that in the heat of the moment (1 Sam. 25:28-31)? Or perhaps Huldah, who interpreted Scripture, speaking the word of the Lord to the king and the nation, giving them God’s bad-news-good-news report of the day (2 Kings 22:15-20)? And then there’s Deborah prophesying to Barak, directly and personally instructing Israel’s top military commander on his role and responsibility in God’s plan for the nation (Judg. 4:6-9).
Well, how do you think God used women in the early church, and how do you think God might choose to use them today?
It’s been a few years now, but I’ve seen God use women in this role. In most cases it wasn’t planned and was never officially acknowledged; it just happened. No one was more surprised than the senior pastor himself, for it was a God-move, a God-anointing, a God-position.
So perhaps, when God moves into our pre-planned and prearranged and perfectly-ordered systems, we should simply get out of the way.
 “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast series by Christianity Today contains this audio. If I remember correctly, the quote airs on every episode and is discussed in its context on one of the later episodes.