Playing Your Stereotype Too Loud?

A Challenge to Men in Ministry

By Pastor Tom Gaddis

Copyright 2001 by Tom Gaddis

Nobody will win the war of the sexes—there is too much fraternizing with the enemy!  –Henry Kissinger

I grew up in a middle-class American home during the early 1950’s. Ours was a small community where the nearest thing to a crisis was the neighbor’s loose goat stopping traffic. We were a traditional family in a traditional community where the “men were men and the women…knew their place.” Nobody had ever heard of a stereotype. But they abounded, being more “caught” than “taught.”

Some of the gender-based stereotypes that seeped into my thinking were, “a woman’s place was in the home.” And, “a real man wouldn’t be caught dead doing women’s work!” I also remember the most dreaded word you could hear from your peers: “sissy.” It’s message—”don’t be weak like a girl!” 

In the early 60’s new unseen biases were shaped within me through sports. We were taught by coaches and dads to not “throw the ball like a girl!” And if you were injured: “don’t cry like a girl!” In those days the girls place was on the sidelines, cheering the real action out on the field. Girls didn’t play sports. Their place was in home economic classes and clubs. It was unsaid but clear: men were superior to women.

With the emergence of Hugh Hefner, free love and the new morality, the 60’s cast an image of women as mere “playthings” or “sex-objects.” Taking its cue from the spirit of the day, locker room talk schooled many a young man into the belief that girls were something to be conquered or viewed like a side of beef.

My Stereotypes Were Baptized

It was a day in 1970 when Christ powerfully changed my life. But the change in my thinking was less immediate. In church I discovered a new set of “stereotypes” complete with Bible verses marginalizing women. Immersed in this new culture I learned that Eve was deceived because she didn’t submit to her husband and that is why women fill the cults even to this day. It was thought they had neither the emotional stability nor the intellectual faculty to discern truth from error apart from male headship.

I heard: “She is only to be man’s helper according to Genesis 2:18!” Helper certainly brought to mind inferiority: Santa’s helper, Daddy’s little helper and Hamburger Helper. This verse solidly fixed a woman’s place at home with diapers, dishes, dusting and childcare duty! Didn’t it? However, it should be noted that the Hebrew term, helper, is used of God as the rescuer and lifesaver of Israel. In the New Testament it is used of the Holy Spirit, certainly nobody’s inferior!

Should a woman be allowed to teach men? This hot topic was sure to ruin any polite, social gathering. It sounded like questions asked in earlier times: should a woman be allowed to vote, be on a jury, go to college, or own property?

Many pastors publicly answered, “Yes.” But privately they were saying, “not in my church!” Others more forthright were saying, “No…. unless the following conditions are met:

  • You may teach boys up to 3rd grade or (if you are liberal) through 12th grade. (Did they find those ages documented in the Dead Sea Scrolls?)
  • You may preach and teach men but only on the mission field. (We can experiment on the heathen?)
  • You may teach only when the moon is full and Virgo is in the house of Aquarius.

Other peculiar teachings abounded in the 70’s. I remember this one—a wife, who lives to please her husband, should meet him at the front door clad only in cellophane! (Being rather rebellious, my wife never would submit to this!) Others taught the husband-wife role as a strict hierarchy with the man as the general and the wife as the subordinate. Or as one teacher illustrated it: God was the hammer, man the chisel, and underneath man was woman, the gemstone, needing to be shaped.

During the 1980’s, I sat on an all-male board for a Christian ministry. To our shame we regularly and unquestioningly paid larger salaries to male staff for the same work done by our female employees. We needed men and so felt justified in our discrimination. This just wasn’t right. All in all, I emerged from these decades believing women to be equal to men, but in my practice as a pastor it wasn’t so. 

How to Turn Down Your Stereotype

Truth sets us free from stereotypical thinking. It has moved me from thinking of my wife as “the pastor’s wife” to “my wife—the pastor,” and from a “ministry is for males” mentality to “ministry is about grace and not gender.” The journey has been slow. However, three truths in particular have helped overturn my own gender-bias and have allowed me to pass freedom on to my wife and the women in our church.

It’s About His Grace, Not Her Gender

The first truth that has convinced me to release women into every kind of leadership and ministry position is the grace of God. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Because men and women are equal in Christ, women can be the recipients of all grace and the ministers of it as well! We would never say, “No blacks or Asians will ever preach/teach in this church.” Why? Because God’s grace transcends race and it also transcends gender!

Jesus does not look upon us according to the flesh or our gender. He doesn’t say, “I’ll use them because they’re old, male and Jewish!” No, He has new and liberating criteria. “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it (Luke 8:21).” And in these last days He is pouring out His Spirit on all races, all ages, and even “on my servants, both men and women” (Acts 2:18).  

It’s About the Gifts Not the Wrapping

Second, I am convinced that the gifts and riches of God come equally to His church in male and female packaging. Wouldn’t it be foolish to say at your birthday party, “No, I won’t accept this gift. I don’t like the packaging?”

When women are sidelined intentionally (by errant scriptural interpretation) or unintentionally (by unexamined, culturally induced biases) we are the poorer for it. It has been my observation that where women are under a lid (sometimes mistakenly called a covering) the charismatic gifts of the Spirit cease operating. In too many cases, gifts didn’t cease with the last Apostle, but with the last Attila-the-Hun-type leader.

Historically, when the Holy Spirit has moved in revival through cities, churches, and peoples, He has swept away not only sins but also stereotypes. The following church movements are examples that when the Holy Spirit visits in power there is the simultaneous release of women into every kind of ministry:

  • The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana)
  • The Church of the Nazarene (Where one-third of their clergy in the late 1930’s were female.)
  • Free Methodist (Who were licensing women preachers as early as 1873)
  • The Salvation Army
  • Christian and Missionary Alliance
  • International Church of the Foursquare Gospel

And in more recent days:

  • In China–It is estimated that 40,000 of the 50,000 house churches in Mainland China are led by women leaders.
  • In Korea–The largest church in the world in Seoul Korea has 700 women pastors and another 52,000 cell groups led by women.

It’s About Equality not Superiority 

The final truth convincing me to release women into every kind of ministry concerns the image of God. In Genesis 1:27 God makes Adam, which is a gender-neutral term for humankind, in His own image and then differentiates Adam into male and female (ish and ishshah). In the act of making woman God neither subtracts from nor adds to His image, but rather halves it (Genesis 2:21-22). Therefore, it takes both man and woman to see a full portrait of God. Some attributes of God are best seen in men while others are best displayed in women.

The point is this: a male-dominated leadership in a church is only half there. Being only half there, are they making poor decisions? (I’ve always wondered if some of the world wars would have been avoided if women had been included in government policy-making? Come to think of it has a woman ever started a war?)

Finally, there can be no glorious church displaying the fullness of God to society when it is filled with racial prejudice, age discrimination or gender bias. Such an unhealthy organization smudges the image of God seen in men and women and dims the vision of what the Kingdom of God is to look like. In the New Testament we see men and women equally ministering in God’s church:

  • Priscilla as a powerful teacher (Acts 18:26)
  • Philip’s four daughters who were prophets (Acts 21:9)
  • Phoebe as a “prostates,” or one who is set over others (Romans 16:2)
  • Junias as a noted apostle (Romans 16:7)
  • Euodia and Syntyche as deacons and ministers (Philippians 4:2)
  • The Elect Lady who led a house church (2 John 2:10-11)

So how can we effectively release God anointed women into leadership and ministry within our local congregations?

Attitudes Must Be Changed

The place to start is always with our own attitude. A few key questions can help start the journey of investigating one’s own, private prejudices regarding women. (Not a few of us have had to make public apology to women and repent before God after such a heart search.) Here’s a test to see how much you may suffer from gender bias:

(Score 0 points for each “yes” answer and 1 point for each “no” answer. Circle yes or no then total your score and go to the bottom of the test for test results.)

Test:   How much do you suffer from gender-bias?

  1. I regularly let women preach in our weekend services. (Yes / No)
  2. I can remember the last time a woman preached in one of our weekend services. (Yes / No)
  3. There are women currently in the elder and council leadership role within this church. (Yes / No)
  4. The women on the church staff are paid at the same rate as their male counter-parts. (Yes / No)
  5. I have no unresolved issues with a woman or women in my past, i.e. my mother, wife, ex-girlfriend, or a sister-in-Christ that hurt me. (Yes / No)
  6. I am comfortable working with gifted and capable women. (Yes / No)
  7. I have no fear of what others may think if I give full place to women in ministry in this church. (Yes / No)
  8. Our church has, on a regular basis, acted on the good counsel offered to us by a woman. (Yes / No)
  9. I have a number of women, including my wife, whom I view as peers in ministry. (Yes / No)      
  10. I have submitted many times to my wife. (Yes / No)
  11. I have read a number of articles and books on the subject of “gender equality.” (Yes / No)
  12. Changing a diaper, vacuuming, and washing dishes are as much a woman’s job as they are a man’s! (Yes / No)

Test Results:

Score of 12 points: A perfect score…for Neanderthal Man.

Score of 10-11 points: You believe women can be equal in the kitchen, the nursery, and at the back of the bus. Consider a new name for your Women’s Ministry: Silent Sisters of the Sidelines.

Score of 9-7 points: You are too literal in your biblical interpretation: you believe the Bible, cover to cover—from “genuine leather” to the “maps.” Consider a new Women’s Ministry project: sewing veils and head coverings!

Score of 6-5 points: What Jesus will say to you for having buried your wife’s talent and other women’s gifts: (Over a loud speaker) “Lay down your shovel and step away from the stereotype.”

Score of 4-3 points: The next time your wife calls you, “Hun,” ask her how she’s spelling it!

Concepts Must Be Corrected

Attitudes need to be changed and our thinking needs to be re-aligned by means of a careful exegesis of God’s Word. The day of using a proof text here and there to lend inner credence to outer prejudices must end. Author Randy Frame makes an insightful comment in a recent article of Christianity Today, “People want to forget that their great-great-grandparents used the Bible to endorse slavery.” [1] More to the point: are you using scripture to justify restrictive stereotypes?

Through good biblical exegesis our concepts about the place of women in today’s church can be informed and radically changed. There are many outstanding books available dealing with the subject of women functioning in teaching, leadership and pastoral positions. For a more in-depth study see our Resource Guide.

Certainly one major obstacle to those wrestling with the idea of women in ministry is the “hard passages” of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2. These passages speak of women being silent and men being in authority over women. While I don’t have the space here to address this fully, these passages need to be interpreted within three contexts.

In the Old Covenant context Deborah (Judges 4 –5) is raised up by God (Judges 2:16) and is placed in a position of civil and spiritual leadership. God here ignores the patriarchal i.e., male-dominated society of her day. Therefore, it is not a universal rule for all time that women are to be silent and exercise no leadership gifts. But it is a foretaste of New Covenant times when the Spirit will grace both male and female for every kind of ministry in Christ.

Second is the context of Paul’s own writings. Does Paul preach in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 what he fails to practice in Acts 18? Priscilla is obviously a gifted teacher instructing Apollos with Paul’s full consent. Again, does he preach silence in these chapters only to contradict what he was allowing in the church? (See 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 14:26)?

Finally, the context of first century culture must be rightly discerned. Many of Paul’s instructions are local and temporary in their application in order to combat false teachers or to respect social customs of the day. So be careful. What shall we be literal about? Shall we put these silent sisters under head coverings and strip them of their gold jewelry, fine clothing and pearls! (I discern that this may not go over well.)

Our conceptual thinking on the role of women exercising their priesthood ministry will be changed through diligent study, honest inquiry and the Holy Spirit’s help.

Structures Must Be Converted

Finally, if our practice is to be consistent with our preaching then there must be a conversion process in church infrastructures. In our fellowship, we started with the pulpit. Hearing regular teaching and preaching in our services from my wife and other gifted women began to model to women and men alike that gender is not an issue here.

The next structure we took on was eldership. With elder in its simplest definition meaning older and mature, we added both single women fitting this description, as well as wives of men already serving in this capacity. The results have been more than positive.

And finally we spiritually removed the For Men Only boundary sign, which might as well have been posted on the door of the Church Council’s meeting room. Women now have access to serve in the overseeing of church finances, properties, etc. Again the results have been blessed.

Consequently, there is emerging an understanding that says, “The gender wars are over! This is a safe place where the injured can be healed, the prisoner can be free and where people regardless of race, status, age or gender are free to pursue their place and destiny in the plans of God.” To the praise of His glory! Amen.

Bibliography

Bilgrien, Marie Viarney. “The Voice of Women in Moral Theology” America, December 16, 1995: 13-19.

Frame, Randy. “Reclaiming Feminism” Christianity Today September 6, 1999: 102

Jacobs, Cindy. Women of Destiny. Ventura, California: Regal Books, c. 1998.

Joy, Donald M. Bonding: Relationships in the Image of God. Waco, Texas: Word Books, c. 1985.

Stott, John. Decisive Issues Facing Christians Today. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, c. 1984.

Winters, Ralph. “Women and Missions” Mission Frontiers August 1999: 4.

 


[1] Randy Frame, “Reclaiming Feminism,” Christianity Today, September 6, 1999, p. 102

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s