Women in Ministry

Some people see women in ministry leadership as compromising God’s standard found in the Bible, but is that true? Is it heretical for women to accept the call of God to preach or pastor a church? For some people, they would even say that God cannot call a women to preach since that would violate his revealed Word, but is that true?

There are authors who have researched and written extensively on the topic so I will simply share some of my own observations and thoughts on what I have discovered in the Bible.

J. Lee Grady writes this in his book, “Ten Lies the Church Tells Women” about our current environment regarding women in ministry:

This was most obvious in June 2000, when the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, passed a policy that states: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” One Baptist leader who opposed the measure, Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, Tennessee, told a reporter in Orlando, Florida, that the fifteen-million-member SBC “has pulled up the drawbridge to the 21st century and locked its members into a 19th-century cultural castle.” Why is it that the church always seems to be fifty or one hundred years behind the times when it comes to making social progress? Why must we drag our feet so clumsily when the Holy Spirit is urging us to break free from religious traditions that hinder His work? In the 1950s and 1960s, when American society was coming to terms with the ugliness of racial discrimination, the white evangelical church should have led the way in calling for justice for our African American brethren. But instead, many white churches opposed desegregation and even used the Bible to fight it. The same is true today regarding the issue of women in ministry. We live in a culture in which qualified women serve as governors, senators, mayors, university deans, corporate presidents, ambassadors, and even military commanders. Women have achieved remarkable status in diverse fields including space exploration, medicine, business, and athletics. Yet a majority of evangelical churches remain closed to the notion of a woman assuming the role of senior pastor. As a result the world views the church as ignorant, insensitive, and irrelevant. Sadly, we deserve that label.

I intend to post many of the issues and observations I find in the Bible (and Grady’s book and others) in my Women in Ministry series.

My Most Notable Observation for Today: it appears to me that while the BF&M 2000 statement on women in ministry prohibits women pastors, the Bible does not forbid it. Nowhere does the text say that pastors are to be men only, or women are never to serve as senior pastors. Theology and biblical interpretation would be easier if it was specifically addressed, but many in the church today read into the text with their male pastoral bias. I submit to you that we should not interpret the PATTERN of male pastors in the New Testament as a PROHIBITION against women being pastors.

A Woman is Preaching?

Do you know the Bible story of Huldah?

Many people have attended Sunday school and church for their entire lives, yet they have never even heard of her. Even those who went to a Christian grade school or college might be thinking, “Umm, in the Bible? Are you sure? Wasn’t that Hagar the Horrible’s wife’s name?” (Nope, that’s Helga). Many of you have spent thirty, forty, or eighty years in the church and still, you’ve never heard of Huldah. I have asked Christians who have all of the above credentials (and more) and generally, they have never heard her name or story.

She almost never shows up in children’s Bible story books. She does not appear in the majority of Sunday school curriculum. Huldah’s story is absent. I have attended church my whole life, all thirty-six years. I have listened to pastors preaching online, on the radio, in different churches, in different denominations, in this country, and overseas. And I have never once heard a pastor tell the story of Huldah or teach on the significance of her life.

And why not? She was arguably the most respected and influential prophet during the reign of King Josiah. Most of us know the story of King Josiah, a godly leader who was crowned as a young boy. So then, why have we not heard about Huldah, an important female prophet from the same period?

It is hard to say that her story is obscure, except that we have made it so by ignoring it. God used Huldah’s prophecy in a powerful way. Her work was followed by the most thorough religious renewal in the entire history of Judah. There were a few Southern kingdom monarchs who had turned away from idolatry in Judah’s history. But it was only under King Josiah in response to Huldah’s prophecy that every visible trace of idol worship was wiped out. Stone idols were even smashed and ground to powder so that no one could salvage a crumb and worship it. Of course, as soon as Josiah died, idolatry popped right up again. But under Josiah’s and Huldah’s leadership, it was completely forbidden.

So why is it that we have overlooked the story of Huldah—a story recorded twice in Scripture (2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34)? Why do most people not know her name? Why is she not remembered with other Bible women such as Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, and Esther?

Quite simply, Huldah’s story does not fit with the prevailing theology on women in ministry that is held by most evangelicals in America. There is really nothing to her story except that she preaches the word of God, quite authoritatively, to a group of men who happened to be the highest civic and religious leaders in the country. Even the high priest was there.

Imagining Huldah: this linoleum block and watercolor print was inspired by women depicted in ancient art from Egypt and the Aegean Sea people.

We cannot pull the focus of her story toward co-operative military leadership as we can with Deborah. We cannot put a magnifying glass over her childhood story, her musical talents, or her mistakes as we often do with Miriam. We cannot make her into a beauty contest winner as we can with Esther. Huldah really does only one thing. She preaches a sermon. And it was not sharing time at women’s ministry night. Her audience was men. In the Bible, that is really all that Huldah did. She held a respected position of spiritual leadership, and she clearly taught the word of God to men.

But you thought “ladies” weren’t supposed to do that! Huldah’s story raises difficult questions about why women today are not allowed to be spiritual leaders and religious teachers in the church.

In Jerusalem at the time of Huldah’s ministry, there were some very dark practices going on. There were prostitutes whose services were available right inside the temple of Yahweh. People thought that in order to keep the gods happy, the crops healthy, and the invading armies away, they needed to throw their children into the open jaws of the evil god, Molech. Their children were burned alive as human sacrifices. But all of that ended after King Josiah encountered the word of God. God spoke to the king in two ways, through the Book of the Law found in the temple (probably Deuteronomy) and through the preaching of a woman.

So, here’s my question today:

Would you like to see the church purified from its modern day idols? Would you like to see our “Molech” ground to dust?

Then let the women preach! Do not put up roadblocks of doubt and shame about what a woman can do for God’s people. Tell your daughters about Huldah. Encourage women who want to learn and teach God’s word. Invite them to share what God has taught them to women and men. In the humble footsteps of Josiah, seek out the wisdom of godly women in your church. Be prepared for God to speak in an unexpected way with an unexpected voice.

And remember:

“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)

[ this article is by Sara Ronnevik, October 14, 2015 ]