Do We Really Need More Women Leaders in the Church?

Awhile back, I was involved in an informal discussion about opening up the office of congregational president to women at an LCMS congregation. We were all on the same page with respect to God only calling men to the office of pastor. And care was given to make sure none of the duties of presidential office usurped any parts of the pastoral office. But with those issues addressed, surely women could take on the role, right? After all, there’s no hard and fast Biblical rule about congregational presidents. It’s an office invented by human beings for the sake of administrating the day-to-day management of a congregation. As its creators, we can also alter the office as we see fit. So in this day and age, shouldn’t that old restriction be lifted?

To be sure, congregational presidents are a matter of adiaphora–things indifferent. In other words, there is no Biblical command one way or another that we are obligated to obey, so it is indeed a matter of Christian freedom. However, as I’ve written numerous times, adiaphora doesn’t mean “do whatever you want,” but rather “do whatever is wisest.” Is the ongoing push to open more and more roles to women a wise course of action for churches to follow? We should never accept change as a foregone conclusion simply because everybody’s doing it, but rather weigh it with the wisdom God has given us.

One of the most important questions we need to ask is where does this push come from. Why do so many want to open up more and more leadership roles to women?

Well, the push certainly doesn’t come from Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible command women to take positions of leadership in the church or otherwise. On the contrary, the only times I can think where the subject comes up in Scripture are times when women taking positions of authority over men are used as images of shame. Neither does it come from Christian tradition, as the Church has always been patriarchal in its governance until recently. Neither does it come from effectiveness in any empirical sense. After all, the last generation of expanding roles for women hasn’t produced some kind of golden age of church leadership, to put it mildly.

No, the push comes from the worldly philosophy of feminism, which has spent the last century marching through our institutions and has now become part of our basic worldview. But while it may make us comfortable in a worldly sense, feminism is the last philosophy the Church should be looking to for guidance. Through its insistence on abortion, it became one of the bloodiest ideologies of the 20th century–a remarkable achievement given the competition. The sexual revolution that it demanded has brought about untold misery. The divorce revolution has destroyed countless families and undermined the most fundamental element of any human society–the very first place we all learn how to love the people God has placed in our lives. If we are to judge a tree by its fruits, then this is clearly a philosophy the church should be resisting rather than embracing.

Next, one must consider the costs and benefits of making a change of this kind. And I have to say, I have not yet heard a convincing case for a clear benefit. Why would a congregation be better off with women presidents?

I’ve heard that it would be awful for a qualified woman to be arbitrarily excluded, but not a sound reason as to why. The common line is that all her wonderful gifts would go to waste, but there are at least two big problems with that line of thinking. First and foremost, the office exists for the benefit of the congregation, not for the fulfillment of the individual occupying it. It’s not there to make the president feel useful, included, or affirmed. The second problem is that it proves too much. Most congregations I’ve been a part of have had a dozen or more people who could adequately fill the office, but only one office. Does that mean that the congregation is terribly abusing the other 11 each term by wasting their talents? Of course not! There are no shortages of work in the church, the home, and the world to which such talents can be applied. This claim speaks more to a fixation on achievement of position rather than a desire to serve.

I’ve also heard that deliberately including more women would help make up for the exclusion of women from the pastoral office–to help prove to the world that Christianity isn’t just anti-woman. This is also wrong-headed in a number of ways. For starters, that merely makes women presidents a kind of consolation prize. Nobody in the history of the world has ever received a consolation prize and exclaimed how completely satisfied it made them–‘consolation’ is right there in the name! This is the platonic ideal of the given inch that ultimately costs a mile. It does not satisfy a desire to usurp authority, it merely whets the appetite. What’s more, Christians are never instructed to deal with sin by getting as close to the line as possible without crossing, but rather to flee temptation. Most importantly, the Church has no business dressing itself up to appeal to the world. The Church is the kingdom of God, and it should be recognizably different.

So without much in the way of benefits, what shall we say about the cost? And make no mistake, there is a cost to making this change as well–one that goes beyond the effort required for change as such. God instituted both the Church and the family, and in each case, He explicitly established an element of male headship to the institution. In the Church, men shepherd God’s flocks, and in the home, the husband is head of the wife. Any social and ecclesial offices and institutions that we create should be for the sake of facilitating, assisting, and reinforcing the divine institutions. Both of these offices–pastor and husband–have been under ferocious assaults by our feminist culture for generations now. Given the choice of A) undermining the authority of husbands and pastors by making them stand more & more alone in the world as male-specific authorities and B) reinforcing the authority of husbands and pastors by making expectations of leadership by men a part of our church culture, why would we want to use our freedom to choose A?

When we live in a culture that actively tries to steal away the distinctive roles and identities of men and women, Christians should not be trying to keep its own sex-based distinctives to a minimum. On the contrary, we should be reinforcing those elements of God’s creative ordinance that Satan is trying to do away with. Offices like presidents or acolytes may be adiaphora, but the wiser use of our freedom would be to start rolling back our submission to our culture rather than extending it.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
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6 Responses to Do We Really Need More Women Leaders in the Church?

  1. Lance says:

    It’s not indifferent, women are never authorized to be in authority over men; in fact, it is disallowed. It’s not just a church thing. Is 3:12 tells you the results of this, and why it happens.

    • Matt says:

      Exegetically speaking, I don’t think you can really take that text so far. Is 3:12 is a descriptive text in a litany of curses, which can’t really be transformed into an absolute imperative. On its own, I don’t think it warrants a “it is categorically forbidden; thus sayeth the Lord.”

      That said, it’s still instructive that God is using that image as a curse. Whether or not it’s disallowed per se, it’s a sign of things going very badly for a nation.

      • Lance says:

        Yeah, I didn’t take it as an imperative, just a description that it’s a curse. The New testament points out readily that women aren’t supposed to be in authority over men. It’s how God started and established things at the Garden of Eden and he never changed that principle.

  2. L Brown says:

    A recent Issues, Etc guest, Shane Morris, used the following quote from ‘The Screwtape Letters’ during his interview to discuss ‘The Millennial Generation’s View of the Good Life’:

    “We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.”

    I think he got a few things wrong (chief among them not distinguishing between males and females in his analysis) but I nevertheless appreciated some of his thoughts and really liked the way he used the above to explain how certain Christians are bizarrely worried about folks idolizing the family. However, he incorrectly identified that as the vice we’re least in danger of. The fuss about ‘hyperpatriarchy’, the absurd number of times I’ve heard or read the name ‘Bill Gothard’, the worry that we’re being too strict with gender roles, and the sorts of concerns noted in this post about not giving women enough empowerment/opportunities or not having enough female leaders… This is the vice we’re least in danger of—being too patriarchal.

    • Matt says:

      That’s a great point. Unless the person is writing primarily in Arabic, I’m not sure how seriously I can take charges that ‘hyperpatriachy’ is a widespread problem.

  3. Tony says:

    “When we live in a culture that actively tries to steal away the distinctive roles and identities of men and women, Christians should not be trying to keep its own sex-based distinctives to a minimum.” Excellent point. The flip side of this movement is that men start to step back once women want to lead everything. This creates gaps which must then be filled in a self-fulfilling prophesy. The cultural phenomenon of the pajama boys playing video games and the warrior girls aiming for upper management intentionally tears down all the cultural latticework on which our institutional structures were built. This is the work of an anarchist who thrives on anguish and chaos.

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