Can a Woman Be a Pastor’s Right-Hand Man?

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??[1]

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.


Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

[1] “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.

Egalitarians Need to Locate Genesis 2 in the Grand Narrative of Scripture

Probably most egalitarians have been accused of claiming there’s no difference between men and women.[1] It’s a common response to the view that both women and men are full image-bearers of God and therefore equally participate in the fundamental human calling of leadership on this planet. 

Mine came in a private conversation with one of the speakers at a theology of marriage event at my seminary. I was surprised he assumed that everyone in attendance agreed with his belief that men lead and women follow, and he was surprised when I said I did not think this paradigm described the difference between women and men at all.

Incredulously he asked, “Are you saying there are no differences?”

Continue reading “Egalitarians Need to Locate Genesis 2 in the Grand Narrative of Scripture”

Are Men More Accountable to God than Women?

The other day I heard a Christian author say that men and women are assigned different roles in Scripture. “For example,” she said, “men are responsible for their family. That’s in the Bible and I believe the Bible.” She didn’t directly state that women are not responsible for their family, but that was the implication. Nor did she mention where in Scripture she finds this idea. 

Her comment reminded me of the many times and various ways I’ve heard people claim that although women are accountable to God in some sense, men are more accountable. God may call women to account for their personal actions and responsibilities, but men will answer for the overall picture, the larger narrative. A woman may be answerable for her “domain,” but a man is “lord of the earth,” responsible for everything that happens under the sun.[1]

Continue reading “Are Men More Accountable to God than Women?”

To Help or Not to Help, that is Not the Question: Gen. 2:18, Woman as Man’s “Helper,” and Issues in Translation

Recently I took the time to do an in-depth study of ezer, the Hebrew word describing the first woman in Gen. 2:18, 20 that is often translated “helper” in English. Though I’ve spent way too many years reading every scholar I could get my hands on, I mean every scholarly comment I could get my hands on, as so far I have not laid hands on any scholars, when I finally studied ezer in depth I could not help being more than mildly surprised. Frankly, unless someone can send me a suitable helper to help me see the light, I can’t help but question the helpfulness of “helper.”

You see, I had heard that while ezer-helpers aren’t always subordinate, they can be. Though ezer is used mostly of Yahweh in the Old Testament, the one being who is vastly superior to anyone and everyone, it is said that the word itself doesn’t tell you whether the helper is inferior or superior to the person they’re helping.[1] So, an ezer-helper could supposedly be either, though when it’s the woman it means inferior. Inferior in rank, that is, not in essence.[2] Continue reading “To Help or Not to Help, that is Not the Question: Gen. 2:18, Woman as Man’s “Helper,” and Issues in Translation”

The Double Standard, Men as Victims of Adultery, Prostitution, and Jesus: A Look at Proverbs 6:26

In reading commentaries for my post The Stereotype of the Nagging, Contentious Wife, I ran across an interpretation of Proverbs 6:26 that I’m not convinced is entirely accurate. This is the verse that seems to say it’s okay for a man to visit a prostitute, though he’d better stay away from another man’s wife. I don’t know about you, but it would not be okay with me if my husband dallied with any other woman, no matter who she was or how she made a living.[1]

For a prostitute can be had for a loaf of bread, but another man’s wife preys on your very life. (Prov. 6:26, NIV)

The comparison between the toll exacted on a man for having sex with a married woman versus a prostitute appears to imply that sleeping with the second is no big deal.[2] Even though it’s not entirely clear how to translate the Hebrew (it may mean that a prostitute reduces a man to a loaf of bread), becoming a pauper is not as bad as losing your life.[3]

What’s going on here? Tremper Longman III explains it like this: Continue reading “The Double Standard, Men as Victims of Adultery, Prostitution, and Jesus: A Look at Proverbs 6:26”

The Stereotype of the Nagging, Contentious Wife: Understanding Proverbs in its Original Setting

I’ve come across a couple of sources lately that argue the book of Proverbs teaches that wives have a tendency to be complaining, contentious nags. One author believes that in this ancient book of wisdom we learn about “gender sin,” which consists of anger for men and nagging and complaining for women.

A gender sin is a wrongful action or attitude commonly displayed by one gender as opposed to the other. Gender sin may not be in the dictionary, but Proverbs attributes “anger sin” to men and “nag sin” to women. Of course, wives get angry and husbands gripe, but every time Proverbs mentions a nagging, grumbling, contentious person, it is a married woman, a wife.[1]

Others seem to think, based on the book of Proverbs, that if a woman feels like her husband is mistreating her it is most likely her own attitude that is really the problem.[2] After all, Proverbs never says it’s better to live on the corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome husband, does it? Or that dwelling in the wilderness is better than living with a contentious and angry man? No, Proverbs consistently hangs marital dysfunction on the wife.[3] Continue reading “The Stereotype of the Nagging, Contentious Wife: Understanding Proverbs in its Original Setting”

Emotion or Reason? What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Embracing a Full Humanity

I’ll admit I’ve been a bit distracted by the Coronavirus crisis. My youngest daughter is a trauma-ICU nurse in Nashville and she’s scared. They don’t have enough personal protective equipment and although her unit is not focused on COVID-19 patients, the physicians move between the emergency department and the trauma ward on a regular basis. One doctor has already tested positive and a few patients are pending. She texted me to say, “You and Dad aren’t going out, are you? You’re isolating, right?”

This sort of emotional response may seem like overkill to some. A longtime friend complained on Facebook about Colorado’s stay at home order, arguing it is unnecessary in such a sparsely populated state. This perspective may come from the fact that at the same time our governor is telling us to stay home, he is also trying to reassure us that only about 10% of cases need hospitalization and only 5% of those are critical. And when Time magazine reports a worldwide case fatality rate of 4% but a U.S. rate of 1.7%, no wonder people are complaining.

Yet those numbers belie the truth. Continue reading “Emotion or Reason? What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Embracing a Full Humanity”

“Does Gender Matter?” My Latest Podcast Interview with Dr. Juli Slattery

It feels strange to post about ordinary things – like the meaning of masculinity and femininity – in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Life has been put on hold in so many ways here in Colorado with school, restaurant, retail, resort, and government office closings. Applications for unemployment insurance have skyrocketed in the state over the past week, as thousands of people are suddenly out of work.

And yet I wanted to let you know about my latest podcast with Dr. Juli Slattery of Authentic Intimacy, if for no other reason than that the Java With Juli podcasts are only available to the general public for six months. After that you have to subscribe to listen.

Here are a few comments about the interview: Continue reading ““Does Gender Matter?” My Latest Podcast Interview with Dr. Juli Slattery”

Who is Struggling More (Men or Women) is the Wrong Question

In my last post I mentioned a conversation I had with a speaker at a recent theology of marriage conference. I have since learned that he is a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which may explain why our conversation was like two trains passing each other in the night.[1]

Anyway, this man joined my table during lunch, asking what we would have said if we had been part of the panel discussion that had just completed. Since the topic was one of my interests – gender differences – I jumped in and said I don’t believe the difference between men and women is a matter of leading and following, as had been implied by the panel. Ruling authority is granted to all human beings equally in Genesis, and since leadership and authority go hand in hand, it does not seem that there is any basis for claiming men were created to lead and women were created to follow. Continue reading “Who is Struggling More (Men or Women) is the Wrong Question”

What I Learned from the “Perfect” Wife: Sarah, Abraham and 1 Peter 3:1-6

I’ve mentioned this here before, but my marriage went through a radical transformation a number of years ago. For a long time my husband and I tried to work out our relationship according to traditional “biblical marriage” teachings, with him “leading” and me “submitting.”

We were committed to this path since we thought it was the only “biblical” way, even though we ended up far more frustrated than happy. Then about ten years ago we went through a crisis that brought all of our unhealthy relational patterns to the surface. At that point we either had to figure out how to change or face the possibility of losing everything we had worked toward for so long.

After a couple of years of struggle we did end up successfully changing not only our marital dynamics but also our fundamental conception of what a Christian marriage ought to look like. A big part of this process entailed my realizing how I had listened to the wrong voices and embraced the wrong ideas. I found it difficult to change, but in the end it was more than worth it. My life, my marriage, and my heart have been transformed in a beautiful way.

Just not in the way you might assume. Continue reading “What I Learned from the “Perfect” Wife: Sarah, Abraham and 1 Peter 3:1-6″

Five Reasons I Don’t See Male Authority in Genesis 1-3

I recently recorded another podcast with Dr. Juli Slattery, cofounder of Authentic Intimacy and author of Rethinking Sexuality. This time the discussion was about husbands and wives who control their spouses. The other guest that day was Dr. Ron Welch, a counseling professor at Denver Seminary and author of The Controlling Husband.

Our topic was prompted by this response to an earlier podcast Juli had done with the Welches about how Ron had overcome his tendency to be a controlling husband.

Juli, I would love to hear you discuss this topic, with the added element of spiritual abuse. My husband sounds so much like Dr. Welch, except he also acts as the voice of God in my life. He accuses me of resisting God, of being unsaved and not the kind of woman God esteems, etc. I’m in counseling and have had a pastor friend reach out to him, but he refuses to consider marriage counseling or meeting with a pastor. He says I’m unempowered by God because I’m seeking outside help.[1]

Continue reading “Five Reasons I Don’t See Male Authority in Genesis 1-3”

Adam and Eve Didn’t Reverse Roles

Some of you who read my post A Bad Decision and the Fallacy of the Role Reversal Argument had questions about the whole idea of a role reversal. What I want to do today is explain how Genesis 3 is interpreted to get the idea and how this position misses the point.

In case you haven’t heard, “role reversal” is basically the idea that Adam and Eve sinned by reversing their God-ordained gender roles. Eve wanted to be in charge and Adam didn’t.

Bingo. Roles reversed.

To help you understand this perspective first-hand, I will refer to what is probably the most thorough defense of the position, “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship: Genesis 1-3,” by Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., commenting as I go along.[1] Ortlund’s article progresses in two phases: 1) Genesis 1-3 establishes male authority over women; and 2) Adam and Eve sinned by reversing their roles.

In this post I’m going to respond to the idea of role reversal. In my next I will rebut the perspective that headship means authority. Continue reading “Adam and Eve Didn’t Reverse Roles”

A Bad Decision and the Fallacy of the Role Reversal Argument

Now and then my husband and I make a bad decision. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Sometimes it’s one we arrive at together, sometimes it’s his decision, and sometimes it’s mine.

Recently we made a killer of a bad business decision.

The painful consequences of our fecklessness prompted Jim and me to reflect on our decision-making process and how we can improve it. Our bottom line: we didn’t work together the way we should have. We need to improve our commitment to sharing our gut-level hesitations with each other, to taking more time in conversation before signing on the dotted line.

One thing that never crossed our mind, however, was that our bad decision was due to a role reversal. In other words, we don’t believe that if I would just stay out of it, Jim would make terrific decisions. Continue reading “A Bad Decision and the Fallacy of the Role Reversal Argument”

Rethinking Christian Marriage

Most people I know have an intuitive sense that men and women are equally capable and that in the best marriages they work together as a team. Yet many of these same individuals assume that it is God’s plan for the man to be in charge, based on the fact that the Bible commands wives to submit to husbands in a way that it does not require of husbands.

They believe it was God who established this patriarchal, hierarchical system of marriage.

I don’t fault my friends, though, since I thought the same thing for a very long time. I thought it, I taught it, I lived it. I wouldn’t have couched it in precisely those terms, but I was convinced that the Bible gave men the authority in marriage.

What hadn’t occurred to me was how the Bible’s instructions on marriage compare to the ones about government and employment, how we understand and apply those commands, and how that ought to instruct the way we understand the marriage teachings.

It was time for me to rethink Christian marriage.

Continue reading “Rethinking Christian Marriage”

Paul’s Theology of Gender Part 2: The First Reality

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. Continue reading “Paul’s Theology of Gender Part 2: The First Reality”

Paul’s Theology of Gender: A Dual Reality

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 “Paul’s Theology of Gender: A Dual Reality”

Cheating Wives, the Double Standard and a Bizarre Bible Passage

I don’t know why I have a fascination with strange Bible passages, but I do. They represent a challenge, a puzzle I feel obligated to solve, at least in my own mind. One of these is the ancient Israelite process used to determine whether a married woman had messed around a bit on the side, found in Numbers 5:11-31.

Maybe you’ve read it, though I don’t blame you if you haven’t. Tucked away in a less popular part of Scripture, undoubtedly getting fewer likes than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we encounter the magical test for the notorious unfaithful wife. What was a husband to do if he suspected his right-hand woman but wasn’t fortunate enough to catch her in the act? Continue reading “Cheating Wives, the Double Standard and a Bizarre Bible Passage”

Should Men Listen to Women?

Some people think it was a sin for Adam to listen to Eve, that he sinned not only by eating the forbidden fruit but also by listening to his wife. From this they seem to surmise that it is not only dangerous but also wrong for a man to listen to a woman, especially if that woman happens to be his wife.

As support for their view they cite God’s words to Adam in Genesis 3:17:

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you…”

The idea is that Adam fell into a heap of trouble for two reasons: wife-listening and fruit-eating, two equally rash and sinful behaviors. Even though Adam received no prohibition regarding the evils of wife-listening, apparently he should have known. Continue reading “Should Men Listen to Women?”

Our Escape from a Mutually Unsatisfying Marriage

We were supposed to have a happy marriage. We both loved Jesus, embraced a simple lifestyle, and took scripture seriously. I planned to submit in everything and Jim was going to be the spiritual leader. We would have a “biblical marriage,” so we were all set.

Or so we thought. Continue reading “Our Escape from a Mutually Unsatisfying Marriage”

Martin Luther King and the Back of the Church

I recall my elementary school playground as a sea of white faces and bodies, of which mine was the whitest, flying in the towering swings and slamming the tetherball until its cord wound tightly around the pole. By middle and high school things were different, integrated. We called ourselves blacks, whites and Mexicans in those days (for some reason other groups like Asians and Native Americans didn’t have their own category) and I thought we all got along pretty well.

The Civil Rights Act was history, after all. Continue reading “Martin Luther King and the Back of the Church”

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