Women in Ministry

Admittedly, I admire strong women with decisive opinions and powerful personalities. 

Uncertainty isn’t a word one would use in describing the woman who raised me.

My mother, though gentle, tender, and submissive, is also firmly unintimidated. Skillfully, she knows when to stay silent, developing her thoughts for later, and when to stand boldly, declaring what must be said. Time and again she’s demonstrated the unique combination of discretion and daring found in Queen Esther.

Timidity isn’t the term that properly fits the woman I married.

My wife, though occasionally introverted and always deferential, is also extremely confident as a daughter of the King. She certainly knows her place: seated at the feet of Jesus with readiness to serve the moment requested. For two decades I’ve watched her effortlessly blend the quiet reverence of Mary and the work ethic of Martha.

Passivity isn’t the label I would assign to the women I like to have in my life

My three sisters, Charity, Faith, and Hope are scholars who’ve combined decades of daily personal study with advanced degrees in Biblical studies to become some of the greatest theological conversationalists with whom I care to speak. I partner with amazing women, three of whom stand out due to our many years of serving Jesus together. The courage of Kimberly. The bluntness of Kelly. The professionalism of Kylie. These three women have prodded me to do more for Christ than I would’ve ever done otherwise. Heather and I have several very close female friends, who shall remain nameless lest their association with this article enact undue criticism, who are mighty ministry leaders. Women, who like Mary of Magdala, have been entrusted with the good news of the resurrection and are simply unintimidated about fulfilling the mission to which their Master has called them.

No! Powerful women shouldn’t intimidate us. They should inspire us! 

My concern is that 50% of the Christian workforce is underutilized because the church is surrounded by extremists on both sides of the issue.

Extreme egalitarians apparently desire that we bow to the pressure of the contemporary corrupt culture and declare there to be no distinction between the sexes in relation to ministry. Yet, the student of the Word must still wrestle with the inspired restrictions found in First Corinthians 11:3 and First Timothy 2:12. 

Extreme complementarians apparently desire silent women in the auditorium, in the classroom, in the foyer, and even in the marketplace. A return to a culture of subjugation found in other religious cultures of our day. Yet, the student of the Word must still grapple with the inspired realities found in First Corinthians 11:5, Acts 2:17, Luke 2:36, Acts 21:9, John 4:39, Luke 24:9-10.[1]

So then, is there a balanced perspective? Is there a point of view that submits to each of these Scriptural passages and empowers 50% of the Christian workforce to take the gospel message to the end of the street and the ends of the earth?

I believe that the church must specifically address three kinds of women who happen to be in vocational ministry.[2]

1. Women Married to Men in Ministry

One of the arguments Bible college sophomores love to debate is the role of the pastor’s wife. Probably because most of us were there to pick up a degree in theology and a woman who could play the piano. Full disclosure, I got both, and she even came with a car.

“Is she called to the man or is she called to the ministry?” For hours we, the inexperienced padawan, would bicker without a thought of consulting our girlfriends. Most of us simply came to the same conclusion of our own beloved hometown pastor; and found scripture to support our view. I came down on the side of “women married to men in vocational ministry are also called to vocational ministry.” 

This was not simply your husband’s calling. This was your calling too!

This was a reasonable thought for me to conclude. My mother was a clear partner with my father in vocational ministry, and my new girlfriend boldly declared her calling to vocational ministry on our first date. Therefore, every pastor’s wife is called to fulltime vocational ministry. I was then hit with the reality of Scripture and the reality of life.

“The job description of the Pastor’s Wife is to be the wife of the Pastor.”

The first time Heather and I heard this statement we almost choked on our own certainty. We were a team, a deliberate ministerial partnership from cutting of the cake to the digging of the grave. How could anyone not view ministerial life exactly the way we did? Then we met Christian after Christian who hadn’t had the same path, nor the same calling, as we did. These dear disciples of Jesus had been hired into ministerial positions where the expectations of the flock were unreasonable and unrelenting. 

“Our previous pastor’s wife led a women’s Bible study! Why don’t you?”

“Our previous pastor’s wife played the keyboard. Why don’t you?”

“Our previous pastor’s wife wore pretty dresses, had long hair, didn’t eat gluten, could shoot skeet, coordinate casseroles, counsel drug-addicts, had a nice figure, wasn’t too attractive, sang like a bird, ate like a bird, and could give a powerful public testimony of God’s grace without appearing to preach or usurp authority. She was kinda a mix between Princess Diana, Mary-the-mother-of-God, and the way I imagine Martha Washington would’ve been.”

Then we began to search for the job description of the “pastor’s wife” in the Bible. It wasn’t there. Odd, right? Because some would even see Paul giving the deacon’s wife a list of requirements in his first letter to Timothy. It’s almost as if the Holy Spirit knew there would be some ministry leaders who happen to marry a disciple who isn’t also called into vocational ministry.

For this dear sister in Christ, the one who simply fell in love and married a pastor, the church should loudly declare in unison…

“The job description of the Pastor’s Wife is to be the wife of the Pastor.”

2. Women who are Called into Ministry

Must I recount the great heroines of the Bible? Deborah the judge, Jael with a nail, Philip’s four daughter’s who prophesied, Lydia who started a church in her house, or Phoebe the deaconess/servant, depending on your preferred translation.

Clearly, these were all incredible disciples who rose to the occasion of God’s calling despite living in domineering societies that viewed women as mere property. This is one of the most revolutionary things about Christ’s ministry. He called a vast number of women and enlisted them into his army. He elevated women to the SAME level as men in his teaching. And His followers continued to see women differently than their predecessors and the surrounding Roman culture.

Yet many in the contemporary church still fail to validate the call of women into ministry.

Here’s the problem. Too many conflate vocational ministry with preaching on Sunday morning.

  • Not everyone called into vocational ministry is supposed to preach the sermon every Sunday.
  • Some who are called into vocational ministry will never preach the sermon on Sunday.
  • Everyone called into vocational ministry should “preach” the gospel to every creature, every chance they get.
  • Everyone not called into vocational ministry should “preach” the gospel to every creature, every chance they get.

Could it be that we have so elevated the weekly homily preached by one of the pastors that we have demoted the daily homily that ought to be preached by every Christian? 

So then, if someone’s call to ministry isn’t always directly equivalent to a weekly Sunday morning sermon delivery, no one (Biblically speaking) should have a problem with the concept of women who are called into vocational ministry.  Though tradition and cultural context may lead many to feel more comfortable using normative terminology like secretary, director, or assistant; we should all be willing to encourage those who our Lord Jesus has called to work alongside us in the harvest field.

Kylie Dulo is a great example of a disciple of Jesus who happens to be called into vocational ministry while her husband continues to successfully serve Christ in the business world. Kylie, serving as the Vice President of Operations for the Idea Network, joins the great tradition of women throughout history who’ve led in ministry as their vocational work. 

  • Lottie Moon (For you Southern Baptists)
  • Amy Carmichael (For you C.E.F. folk)
  • Priscilla Shirer (For you Bible Students)
  • Beth Moore (Just to tick off some people)[3]
  • Fanny Crosby (For you Musicians)
  • Mother Theresa (For my 2 Catholic readers)
  • Gail Riplinger (You know who you are)

For this dear sister in Christ, the one who heard and answered the call, the church should loudly declare in unison…

“Welcome to the effort! We’re honored to have you on our side.”

3. Women who are Called AND Married into Ministry

Some reading this happen to be tied in doubly to vocational ministry. Your spouse is a God-Called, Divinely-Ordained, and Uniquely-Gifted minister of Jesus Christ. And so are you. You’ve both had the distinct privilege of being called into full-time ministry. Into this category my dear Heather has been placed by our mutual Master.

Apparently, so were Priscilla & Aquilla. Never do you see these two names separated from each other. Sometimes, we read his name before hers, more often it’s her name before his. But they’re always together.  For some reason the Lord occasionally decides to do this – and when it happens, you’ll notice the pressures are doubled, the burdens are doubled, and the spiritual warfare is doubled. Yet, so are the blessings, joys, and opportunities of vocational ministry. 

Where the Pastor’s Wife is often overburdened with unreasonable expectations and the Female Ministry Leader is often ignored by their male counterparts, this wonderful servant of Christ is often overshadowed by the celebrated accomplishments of her husband. Though her role may not necessarily be out front every Sunday it is vital to the success of the entire operation – otherwise Christ would’ve never called her to this service. 

These women have learned to be multitalented, ready to step into any area of service that might be lacking. You’ll find them in the choir, behind the lectern, on the floor in the nursery, turning knobs in the sound booth, mopping bathrooms between services, designing graphics, and editing their husband’s sermons. They’ve dedicated their entire lives to the work of Christ and have included their children and honored their husbands every step along the way. Some assume they long for the lights of the stage when truly they only desire to help people understand the Bible. And they are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish that purpose…their calling.

For this dear sister in Christ, the church should loudly declare in unison…

“We see you! We recognize your calling as equal to that of your spouse.”

Final Thought:

I have notice how intimidated these three different types of women are of one another.

The 1st often looks at the 2nd and the 3rd and feels inadequate in the local church. She feels as if she brings no value because she compares her calling or vocation to that of the gifted Bible teacher, biblical counselor, or sacred musician. Too often her church, and even her husband, can add to this pressure by demanding from her something the Master has never called or gifted her to do.

This injustice must stop. Allow these women to be who God created and called them to be.

The 2nd often looks at the 1st and the 3rd and feels undervalued in the broader church community. She is often relegated to entry-level positions and finds it difficult to expand her influence even into non-preaching ministerial positions. She might even see marriage as the accepted path into “real” ministry and tragically pursue a man to whom they aren’t called. She might be tempted to reevaluate her doctrinal position and even change denominations to satisfy God’s calling, even at the expense of biblical truth. Yet, most will simply serve where they can while the unbiblical traditions of the church stifle some of the most talented Jesus-Followers they have in the congregation.

This foolishness must stop. Allow these women to be who God created and called them to be.

The 3rd often looks at the 1st and the 2nd and feels inadequate in the home, in the office, and in the library. “Look at her home, it looks as if she’s personal friends with Chip and Joanna. Wow! Did you see her thanksgiving pictures? It looked like a spread in Martha Stewart’s magazine.” She stands out in her male-dominated workplace, like Margaret Thatcher in those infamous parliamentary photos: solitary, strong, but also lonely. The pressure mounts as she is expected to understand theological concepts rarely offered to women in college studies. Always playing catchup, her nightstand is a mix of theological journals, housekeeping magazines, and leadership books.

This pressure must stop. Give these women space grow into their calling and opportunity to be what God created and called them to be.

How the Devil might win:

Unfortunately, these insecurities can quickly turn into criticisms. As humans, we often move from doubting ourselves to doubting others.

“Perhaps that woman should be at home as often as I’m at home.”

“Perhaps that woman should start serving the church as much as I serve the church.”

“She clearly doesn’t have the relationship with a husband like I do.”

She clearly doesn’t have the relationship with God like I do.”

Insecurities can easily become unjust criticisms.

How we WILL win:

1 – Express your Conviction with Grace

Theologically, I’m a complementarian. This means I believe the Bible teaches that men and women hold equal value, yet have been assigned specific gender roles in marriage, family, and ministry that are complementary to one another. Each fully reflect the image of God yet do so in unique and distinct ways that complement one another. 

This doesn’t mean that I believe those with an egalitarian view are heretical haters of God. No! We simply see this issue and interpret a few Scriptures differently. 

Miracles happen when followers of Christ can graciously disagree with each other. First, we can give the world an example of how to hold opposing positions while maintaining love and respect. Second, we protect ourselves from overreacting and drifting into realm of extremism. Third, and most importantly, we bring joy to the heart of the Savior who prayed earnestly for the unity of His followers in John 17.

2 – Encourage Men AND Women to enter Vocational Ministry

Regardless of your theological position, we all win as more workers enter the harvest field. The world needs more preachers and teachers, pastors and missionaries, administrators and worship leaders, and those who unashamedly identify and servants of Jesus Christ. Cheer on young men and women who are gifted for the work of ministry and feel the urge to totally surrender themselves to a life in fulltime ministry.

3 – Pause and Pray before Roasting any Servant of Jesus 

David had the right idea. 

Saul was clearly deranged. His obsession with David, stemming from an insecurity over losing national influence, had become violent. Yet David refused to attack Saul lest he find himself in opposition to God Himself. I wish I’d always been more careful about raising my voice against the Lord’s anointed. But I’ve played the fool privately and publicly. I’m learning to stay focused on my ministry and my calling, letting other servants of Christ answer exclusively to the Master.

As it relates to “WOMEN IN MINISTRY”, I’ve decided that I want to be a blessing to each one of my sisters. I want to celebrate their victories and validate their accomplishments. So, whether you’re simply connected through marriage or have experienced a personal call to vocational ministry, we are excited about having you on the team! 

The time is short. The enemy is organized.

However, the Lord is gathering a force of talented men and women like the world has never yet seen. This is our moment! Let’s reach this world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, what do you think?

I’d love to hear your perspective on this controversial topic.

Please comment in the comment section below and share on social media for discussion.

[1] If you’re interested in my take on Head-Coverings & Headship check out this sermon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naT5fyHp_CA&t=2087s

[2] All Christians are called to minister. I believe that a calling to salvation is also a calling to service. However, for the purpose of this article, I’m referring specifically to vocational ministry when I use the term ministry.

[3] My wife learned to study the Bible through this sister’s teaching, so I’m gonna’ be in hot water for this little joke.

  1. Matthew Tinsley says:

    Good job on the topic! We miss out on so much in the church when ladies are put as second-class citizens. I’m preaching from 1 Timothy 2 over the next couple weeks and you have given me much to ponder on.

  2. Mark Joy says:

    Wow Josh, awesome article, one of my favourites you’ve written. Thank you.

  3. Jim Ghanayem says:

    Interesting treatment of a controversial subject. I definitely admire your courage to addressing it. I think what is ambiguous for me is how the term “calling” is being used. If we understand “calling” to be tied only to a subjective sense or a providential leading, then I suppose it could apply to all disciples Christ equally. But if the term “calling” is tied to 1 Tim 3:1, which is how I ‘ve normally used it, then it would not appropriately be applied to women (not to diminish their value at all, which is equal to men but distinct in role). Also, the 1 Timothy 3:1 calling would negate the notion that men and women are equally called vocationally. Thanks again for the article!

  4. Lisa R Racine says:

    Good afternoon, I have read your article twice and discussed it with my husband, John, and decided to write to you. I would be a 3 per the 3 women you discussed in your article. I am a Bible college graduate with a degree in Christian education and I did marry a preacher as well. I am active in Women’s ministry, I teach online as well as in person to our local ladies. I also work with the youth and children as the need arises. I hear your concern in the article, and I believe you want women to use their talents and ability for the Lord. I see your statement that you are a complementarian in doctrine, but I detect that in practice you might be fine with a lady teaching the men, maybe I misunderstood. Therein is the issue. I will definitely concede that there are very talented women who might do a better job teaching the men, due to their learning and talents, yet, has God given that authority to her? That’s really the issue, not how talented a lady may be, but did God say go ahead? My husband jokes that I would probably do a better job speaking at times than himself, but the fact is I won’t. It doesn’t matter what the elders or pastors or a church says, because the Scripture said no.
    The issue really is authority. Men are to be the leaders in the home and the Church. Jesus chose 12 men apostles (Matthew 10), and if the Lord wanted women to lead the church, He certainly could have chosen some lady apostles. The fact that He didn’t, speaks volumes! The qualifications for elders and deacons show it’s talking about men (I Timothy 3, Titus 1), Husbands are the head of the home (I Corinthians 11:3). Fathers are held accountable to God for their children’s training and discipline (Hebrews 12:5-9, Ephesians 6:4)
    The issue isn’t capability, but authority. Women are commanded to teach other women and children (Titus 2), God expects it of us, we are certainly capable, but because of God’s order of authority, it needs to be done in His Way, not ours, since it is His church. In a private setting it was Priscilla and Aquila (a husband & wife working together) that taught Apollos the way of God more adequately (Acts 18:26). Please consider this quote from Daniel Wallace on this matter, because this verse gets used to justify women preachers and teachers. ” This then seems to be the line of demarcation that this text encapsulates (especially when it is compared to 1 Tim 2:12): a woman may explain the known facts of the gospel. But whether she has permission to exhort men on the basis of those facts is both outside the scope of Acts 18:26 and its context and is proscribed in 1 Tim 2:12…. When it comes to teaching the Word to men in a manner that involves interpretation and/or application/exhortation, this seems to be a violation of the prohibition in 1 Tim 2:12.” – Daniel Wallace Professor of NT Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary.
    I wanted to add a little bit from 1 Timothy 2:11,12, because it relates to this discussion: “11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”

    Hesychia the greek word means to be silent in regard to teaching not absolute silence. Women are to be silent and content in the role of learner in the church assembly. Didaskein is used here as well and it is in the present infinitive active tense which indicated being the regular ongoing teacher, and women are prohibited from doing this.

    I will close with my own personal thought as a woman who has been taught extensively, I am a capable child of God, I am perfectly happy to use my God given talents with the women and the children. I don’t need to teach the men and I think some ladies may need to learn this contentment themselves. Use your talents and abilities where God has spoken and authorized.

    In case you are wondering if you know me, I did travel to Israel with you in November of 2019. We are friends of Chip Hinderliter. Take care, Lisa

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