I am filled with gratitude for my Christian heritage, for being raised where God’s word was taught, prayer was genuine and grace was emphasized as essential in God’s plan. I am thankful to have grown up with the godly examples and influence of Christian men and women who taught at Harding Academy, Harding University and the College Church. I remember being told by many as I was growing up that I would have been a “great preacher if I was a man.” They told me that with my personality and gifts I could have been used for preaching, teaching and leading if I had only been born male. I can recall the conflict in my mind wondering if God had possibly made a mistake with making me a woman, with the gifts he had given me. Had he “accidentally” given me gifts that only a man could use for Him? Is there a difference in the spiritual gifts that God gives to men and women?
Here is what I have concluded from the study of His word for several decades, and, yes, I remain a member of the churches of Christ. I do believe that the Bible teaches that there are different roles given to men and women, but that the same spiritual gifts are given to both. For example, men and women can and do have the spiritual gift of leadership. In I Timothy 2, I believe the key phrase is that women should use their gifts “under authority.” In I Corinthians 11, women prayed and prophesied in the church “under authority” (head covered). In verses 11 – 12, (“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.”), we find the interconnectedness of men and women in God’s plan. Some examples of women who used their leadership gifts to God’s glory are Lydia who led the church in Philippi (Acts 16), Priscilla and Aquila who were a teaching team to Apollos (Acts 18) and described as Paul’s “co-workers” (Romans 16), and also Phoebe, called a “deacon of the church in Cenchreae.” (Romans 16:1). We must ask ourselves what these passages mean.
It seems to me that many churches have over-reacted by not using women and their gifts at all so as not to “step over” the boundaries that God has put in place. Why do we have to erect boundaries where God did not? As a result many of us have had the painful experience of losing close friends to other churches who will allow them to use their gifts of leadership. In a wider context, it is difficult to answer girls/young women at church who ask questions about why they do not see any women used in public: praying, teaching, sharing thoughts during the Communion (or even passing out the communion trays), and participating in baptisms when it is their own child or friend whom they have taught being baptized. It is also hard being part of a church that has a Vision Team making plans for the entire congregation, yet with no women as part of the team. I feel like our sons/young men/adult men miss something significant when they have not experienced the teaching or heard the prayers from some of our amazing Christian women. They are missing an important perspective – the female side.
I have found “peace” in discovering ways to use my gifts from God within the churches of Christ. I am blessed to be a preacher’s wife (which I believe to be as much a “calling” as being a minister), to have had opportunities to teach alongside my husband in adult classes and to provide leadership in certain ministry areas. I am pleased that during the past few years strides have been made where women can feel comfortable praying in small group Bible studies, sharing testimonies whether in Bible classes or worship services, etc. So am I saying that women can and should be able to do everything that men can do? Biblically, I cannot find female evangelists or elders. What I personally believe is that women should be able to use their gifts to God’s glory in His church whether that be sharing a message with the church on a Sunday, teaching a mixed adult Bible class, reading Scripture, praying, providing leadership for a ministry as long it is “under the authority” of the elders/pastors of the congregation. Once again, the same gifts are given but different roles. Can I give an exhaustive list of what women can and cannot do, or fully explain how we answer the members in our churches asking theses questions – no, I can’t. But I strongly believe ignoring the questions, not seeking God’s counsel from His word, or even considering that women can and should do more than they are presently doing is wrong. On the other hand, it also wrong to refrain from serving when there is disagreement on this issue. There is no perfect church, and to not serve at the church where God has placed me is not right even if I don’t always agree with the decisions made by those “in charge” – that I know for sure. I also know that UNITY matters to God, so in desiring to see some changes in our churches, the unity of the church is more important than my individual desires. It is about God and His will, not mine or what makes me most comfortable. My hope and prayer is that churches, preachers and elderships will truly invest the time in study of this issue with open hearts and minds, seeking only to find God’s will on the matter. Our young women should not grow up feeling like certain spiritual gifts are “off-limits” to them, or that God doesn’t see their role in His church as significant.