2022 | THE MARCH ISSUE WOMEN IN THE CHURCH: BREAKING THROUGH THE STAINED GLASS CEILING
"The Lord gives the word [of power]; the women who bear and publish [the news] are a great host." Psalm 68:11, AMP
This month I want to talk about women ... in leadership ... in the church! #ohmy
Perhaps you are a woman who has felt the call of God and yet you've been met with an "unwelcome mat" when it comes to using your leadership gifts in the church. Or, maybe you are the husband of a wife with a leadership gift, or the father of a daughter with a passion for the Lord -- how could/should you encourage them?
While things have gotten better for women in the church, there is still a long way to go on both sides of the coin. It starts with knowledge and understanding. How do we square religious tradition, various Scripture passages and the experience Jesus and the apostle Paul had with women leaders? How do men embrace the role of women in the church in a healthy and biblical way? How do women avoid becoming "she-men" who dominate in an unhealthy way? Let's talk about it!
Unfortunately, there is still a "stained-glass ceiling" in many churches. However, because the women who feel a call to serve God often also possess a godly grace and humility -- they don't make waves. Sadly, many of these strong, gifted women are forced to walk away from their greater calling to lead in churches and ministries where they are not welcomed to serve in leadership roles elsewhere in the culture where they are welcomed. This is a great loss for the Body of Christ.
The Church needs all hands on deck! This is no time to eliminate 50% of the gospel workforce! Isn't it time to gain new awareness by taking a fresh look at the Scriptures on this topic? This month, let's tackle the "basics" of women in ministry -- particularly, when it comes to leading in the church. This is something I have experienced up close and personally for 30 years -- and something I have written about many times.
In this MARCH MONTHLY DEVO, I am sharing excerpts from my book, "Breaking Through the Stained Glass Ceiling: Women in Leadership in the Church" with the hope that you are encouraged and with the request that you'll share this Devo to encourage the women in your life!
Note: One of the things that prompted me to tackle this topic this month was this social media post (below) showing the former Miss Universe Ukraine and her boldness to fight for her country. She's a great example of a new wave of women rising up to fight for things that matter! May the Esthers arise!
EXCERPTS FROM... BREAKING THROUGH THE STAINED GLASS CEILING!
“I just want you to know; we’re leaving the church.” She said it as such a matter of fact.
I was stunned and said, “Really? Why?”
At the time in 1992, my husband Jeff and I had been pioneering Kalamazoo Valley Family Church (now Valley Family Church) for about ten months when this young lady who had been faithfully serving as a lead teacher in our children’s ministry, told me she and her husband were leaving the church.
“It’s because of you,” she said.
“Me? What did I do?” I asked, as I prepared to hear what I had done to force them out.
“My husband doesn’t believe in women preachers,” and with that, she turned and walked away.
I was surprised and hurt. It was a sock in the stomach. Her remarks that day were the first of many such opinions I would hear over the years. Little did I know how controversial this topic could be!
DOES THE BIBLE SAY WOMEN CAN’T?
I was raised as a Roman Catholic; our church leaders were priests and nuns––and the option of being a nun was never on my radar. When I became a born-again Christian, and felt God’s call to the ministry, I didn’t know what that would mean since I didn’t have much experience with the evangelical world or the “controversy” over women preachers or leaders. I was in for a rude awakening.
I quickly learned some familiar phrases that I’d come to dread: “I don’t believe in women preachers; so, how can you teach the Bible?” “Why does your husband let you teach the congregation? Doesn’t the Bible say that women should be quiet in the church?” “You can teach the Bible, but only to other women—not to men—because you are supposed to be submissive and not have any authority over men.” “My friends won’t come to our church because we let women have leadership roles.” “This conference is for the pastors (men)––the wives are going shopping.”
A few comments stand out. Years ago, one man was trying to give me a compliment––I think. After I had spoken on a Sunday morning, he walked right up to me and said, “Personally, I don’t care for women preachers, but my wife watches you on TV and she loves you." I was almost encouraged.
I remember a comment card I received about a month after we moved into one of our new church buildings. It was in the middle of our Grand Opening celebration and the card had these encouraging words: "Why does she speak? She doesn’t have anything to say!" Many years ago, I received this email from a very genuine-hearted young man in our church:
I have been attending the church for a little while now. It is an amazing place to worship and I love it. But I recently invited my friend from work to come to the church with me. I told him the name and he said, ‘Oh.’ Then I asked him what was wrong with VFC. He replied with, ‘They have a woman pastor.’ I then questioned him. He told me to check out 1 Timothy 2:9-15, which talked about a woman’s conduct inside the church. Wow. I do not understand, if it says that women should not speak in the church, then why do they? I am not at all jumping on you, because I love how you are bringing lots of people to Christ. But I do not understand and I was kind of hoping you could explain it to me and help me to understand . . . I’m probably not the first one to ask you about this, but if you could take the time out of your busy schedule to answer this for me, I’d very much appreciate it. I still want to attend the church because of the beautiful and wonderful things that are going on there, but I don’t want to disobey God at all, in any way. If I can prevent myself from disobeying Him, I will. Thank you very much.
I’ve learned that when people question or make disparaging statements about women in ministry, these comments are generally not intended to be personally hurtful––even though they hurt deeply. They are often the result of personal convictions or religious upbringing and traditions learned by sincere people who love God and His Word.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
Like thousands of women over the past several centuries, I’ve had many talks and tears with the Lord about this very topic, because in my heart I just wanted to please Him. I didn’t want to disobey Him or His Word by thinking He had called me to lead and teach, when in reality He had not; nor did I want to disobey Him by not leading or teaching, when He had actually called me to do so.
To make matters more complicated, I felt strongly that the Lord wanted me to focus on leading and teaching in the church and writing books for the church. I’ve often felt conflicted about this and have asked God many times, “Why have You called me to lead and teach in the church––the very place that doesn’t believe in women like me?” I’ve even tried on numerous occasions to get the Lord to release me from being focused on the church.
Eventually, like other women before me, I embraced what I did not understand. Although it has not always made sense, God put a deep love and burden for the church––His Church––in my heart. I am convinced that serving the church is my sweet spot. It’s my lane to run in. I’m a pioneer, a shepherd and a Bible teacher at heart. (After all, my maiden name was Beth Shepard, and as a young girl, I sometimes wondered if it described my destiny! Beth means “house of God” and Shepard is a variation on “shepherd”––so, there ya go!)
IS JESUS BUILDING HIS CHURCH WITHOUT WOMEN?
The truth is, I love the church, the global Church and local churches. I love seeing what the Holy Spirit does in people’s lives through His Body, the church. I love everything the church is about: worship, evangelism, teaching, discipleship, relationships, transformation, growth, outreach, influence, creativity, healing, redemption and restoration, community, team, equipping and training!
I love the way God uses His Church to bring the gospel to entire cities and regions. I’m one of those people whose adrenaline gets pumping when we talk about church planting and church growth. Any time I see an empty building in any town around the world, my first instinct is to say, “That would be a great place for a church” and in an instant I envision a church taking up residence there. Whenever I have a creative idea for reaching people with the gospel, it is always connected to the church. When I write a book, my driving motivation is always, “How will this help the church help people?” I get happy and fired up every time I read this passage about the power of His Church:
“All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” (Ephesians 1:20-23, MSG, emphasis mine)
Over the past 30-plus years, I’ve studied the Scriptures and the various theological arguments on the subject of women in ministry, and teaching and leading in the church. I’ve spoken to other godly people about this subject. I’ve read books by Christian men I highly respected and I’ve listened to sermon messages on this topic. I’ve prayed. I’ve lived it. I’ve learned a few things.
Questions, misunderstandings and comments have led to confusion and hurt for many women who have sensed God’s hand on their lives and a strong call to serve Him with the leadership, executive, strategic, visionary and teaching gifts He’s given them. Some have given up and any dreams they’ve had have wilted and died a painful, quiet death under the stained glass. Others live in a perpetual state of disappointment knowing how much they could bring to the table in helping their husbands and their churches, if only they were given freedom to use their leadership gifts. Still others have revolted in their own version of “pastors’ wives gone wild” and have kissed the church goodbye.
IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY
For many women, the idea of leading or teaching the Word to others is in a galaxy far, far away. Maybe you don’t feel called to pastoral ministry, teaching or preaching, but you do feel that your leadership gifts and passion for the cause of Christ could serve the church in other ways—through creative arts, worship, media, communications, executive operations, connections, spiritual development, finance, kids and student ministries, outreach, technological, legal or justice initiatives or a host of other areas––if only you were given the chance.
We’ve seen it . . . and you’ve seen it. Women—who are tremendous wives and mothers, as well as spiritually mature and anointed with wisdom, faith, leadership, executive, administrative, organizational, creative, entrepreneurial and/or teaching gifts, and have paid their “faithfulness” dues—seem to be stuck in an orbit which only includes creating the bulletin, singing in the choir, playing the piano, hosting showers, doing secretarial work or making chicken divan casseroles for funerals.
An added dilemma for high-potential, high-capacity women called to the ministry is to watch ill-equipped, immature, incompetent, and inexperienced men move up the leadership ladder in church, passing by exceptionally qualified, godly women—simply or only because they are men. Mind you -- these aren't women who want to dominate, emasculate or dismiss men -- they are women who want to use their God-given gifts to fulfill their God-given purpose.
The result of this standard operating procedure in the church is that many gifted, called, and anointed women have given-up and are using their gifts outside the church. They’ve been accepted as lawyers, brain surgeons, dentists, accountants, editors, broadcast journalists, engineers, architects, entertainers, film-makers, designers, entrepreneurs, university presidents, CEOs, governors, senators, prime ministers and presidents; but they have been banned from leadership in many churches. What a loss for the global Body of Christ and local churches everywhere.
DISMISSED, YET AGAIN!
Just when you think you might be accepted, recognized -- or at least tolerated as a woman in leadership in the church -- you are hit with rejection! Here's one of my journal entries:
“So, I am at this conference…I am the only women seated at the rich glossy black conference table in a room full of pastors––make that 24 male senior pastors. I scanned the room and made assumptions - average age 39; ministry experience 7 years. And then, there’s Jeff and me.
I could tell I wasn't invited. We were all seated snuggly at the conference and gazing in the direction of the ringleader––the church growth guru––he is handsome, strong, successful, humble and deliberate. Definitely a “who’s who” and it was obvious––this was his rodeo and we were there to learn.
I had been excited and so expectant until this moment. Suddenly, I felt all the eyes in the room focusing on me when the guru reminded everyone that this special session was just for senior pastors and he was sorry there just wasn't room for spouses. In other words, spouses should really not be in this room right now––especially the woman spouse that was living in my body. I tried not to turn red, I felt the blood moving up my neck and I tried to push it down, but there it went––my face was definitely red. I tried to maintain my, "It's all good people, really, I am supposed to be here…"
After all, I was a senior pastor...and I was a spouse. My husband wanted me to join him in this meeting. He and I had been working together as a senior pastor husband/wife team in teaching, preaching and leading––like Aquila and Priscilla in the Bible––for over two decades. Our little start up church had grown from 5 adults to thousands. We believed God authorized it. My husband validated it and I had the fruit and the scars to prove my role and this calling.
But, unfortunately by the definition of the nice guru and the other senior pastors in the room––I didn't qualify. One simple reason: I was a girl. That's the reason everything got funky in that conference room––girls can't be leaders––definitely not senior leaders in churches. Sure, girls can be CEOs, Supreme Court Justices, governors, senators, brain surgeons, prime ministers and astronauts, but girls cannot be church leaders.
I sat there feeling like any value, worth, fruit or dignity I thought I had ten minutes before I walked into that glossy conference room was being sucked right out of me. I had to sit there like some reject who was probably completely rebelling against her husband, wearing the pants and who didn't know her place in life. I hated this feeling of being dismissed, minimized, overlooked, rejected, devalued and uninvited. But, I sat there. I listened. I smiled. I pretended to take notes. Other than that, I didn't move a muscle. I went stealth. Invisible.
You’d think after years of pastoring and buckets of fruit, we’d be past these funky-town moments. Up until this time, I had been as excited about ministry as I was when we started, but, things like this had happened so many times over the years, I was getting weary with the demeaning treatment and questions. “Do you do anything around here?” “I don’t believe in women preachers, we’re leaving…” “How can you teach, when the Bible says women are to be silent?” “This conference is only for men…the ladies are going shopping.”
Why the heck is the church world so far behind? Why do they want to silence 50% of their potential human resources? How is it possible that––somewhere along the way––church leaders had taken two Bible verses out of their cultural context and overlooked dozens of others to make sure women had no role in the leadership of a local church?”
There I was in a full-blown pity party when the slack was jerked out of me and a light bulb turned on. Wait a minute?! Our struggle is not against flesh and blood! It wasn’t the church––or the men in the conference room––that wanted to minimize me and silence 50% of the population…it was the enemy!
The devil has wanted to shut down women from the beginning.
And that my sisters…fired me up with a fresh God-fidance!
Have you been overlooked or experienced rejection, setbacks and unfair treatment as a woman? Businesswomen? Congresswomen? Surgeon? Attorney? Teacher? Preacher? Broadcaster?
Take it as a backhanded compliment! “Somebody” doesn’t want you to be an influencer. So, rather than sulking, it’s time for us to quit apologizing for being leaders, but rather with a grace-fueled confidence we need to "resist the devil" and step into our calling to lead.
And, the good news is -- the devil is defeated and the Bible is full of the “Who’s Who” of women leaders -- especially in cultures where women were considered to be nothing more than property. These women disregarded “the system” and leveraged their God-given role as leaders. Let’s take a look, I want you to see your name among this group!
GOD’S WHO’S WHO LIST OF WOMEN LEADERS
It’s interesting that the Book of Proverbs personifies Wisdom as a woman! She, wisdom, cries out, raises her voice, and calls! She is profitable, precious, pleasant and peaceful. She is a tree of life. Lady Wisdom is a leader! #belikeladywisdom
Aquila and Priscilla
Aquila and Priscilla worked together as a ministry team. They are the original pastoral “power-couple”––they are always mentioned as a couple.
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus,who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewisegreet the church that is in their house,” (Romans 16:3-5, NKJV).
Priscilla’s role was as influential as her husband’s and she is mentioned by name. It appears that they both taught the Word, pastored a church in their home, and labored with the Apostle Paul.
Greek Scholar, Wuest writes, “Paul met Prisca the wife, and Aquilla, her husband, first at Corinth. They were tentmakers, and he stayed with them and made tents for a living and at the same time preached the gospel (Acts 18:1-3). The wife’s name is given first, because she was the more prominent Christian worker.”
Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis
“Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the belovedPersis, who labored much in the Lord,” (Romans 16:12, NKJV).
Persis was a leading lady. Tryphena and Tryphosa, were known to be twin sisters who were recognized for their ministry.
Adam Clarke’s Commentary says this about these women,
“Two holy women, who it seems were assistants to the apostle in his work, probably by exhorting, visiting the sick, etc. Persis was another woman, who it seems excelled the preceding; for, of her it is said, she “laboured much in the Lord”. We learn from this, that Christian women, as well as men, laboured in the ministry of the word. . . ”
“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who have been in prison with me.They are outstanding among the apostles,and they were in Christ before I was,” (Romans 16:7, NIV).
Junia and her husband Andronicus were apostles. Matthew Henry’s commentary brings this out,
“Concerning Andronicus and Junia, v. 7. Some take them for a man and his wife, and the original will well enough bear it; and, considering the name of the latter, this is more probable than that they should be two men, as others think, and brethren. Observe . . . (3.) They were of note among the apostles, not so much perhaps because they were persons of estate and quality in the world as because they were eminent for knowledge, and gifts, and graces, which made them famous among the apostles, who were competent judges of those things, and were endued with a spirit of discerning not only the sincerity, but the eminency, of Christians . . .”
Euodia and Syntyche
“I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.And I urge you also, true companion,help these women who labored with me in the gospel,with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life,” (Philippians 4:2-3, NKJV).
These women were leaders in the church at Philippi. Their influence was significant enough that Paul addressed their strife in this letter.
“On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. Nowthis man had four virgin daughters who prophesied,” (Acts 21:8-9, NKJV).
These four girls were preachers! They spoke as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to give a message.
Adam Clarke’s Commentary says,
“Probably these were no more than teachers in the church: for we have already seen that this is a frequent meaning of the word prophesy; and this is undoubtedly one thing intended by the prophecy of Joel, quoted Joel 2:17-18. If Philip’s daughters might be prophetesses, why not teachers?”
“There was also a prophetess, Anna,the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment,she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemptionof Jerusalem,” (Luke 2:36-38, NIV).
Anna was a prophetess, a praying woman and one who proclaimed and taught others the truth about God.
Lois and Eunice
Timothy’s mother and grandmother were strong leaders and taught the Bible to Timothy.
“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also,” (2 Timothy 1:5, NIV).
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states,
“To no women did the great apostle feel himself more deeply indebted than to Lois and Eunice, grandmother and mother of Timothy, whose ‘faith unfeigned’ and ceaseless instructions from the holy Scriptures (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14-15) gave him the most ‘beloved child’ and assistant in his ministry. Their names have been conspicuous in Christian history for maternal love, spiritual devotion, and fidelity in teaching the Word of God.”
Miriam and Deborah
God called and anointed women to leadership in the Old Testament. It’s interesting to note that Miriam, a woman and prophetess, was the first person called to lead worship in the Old Testament. God set Miriam in leadership along with Moses and Aaron as we see in Micah. “For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam,” (Micah 6:4, NKJV).
Deborah served in a senior leader role. We see her story in Judges 4. She was a prophetess and judge and her reign gives us the first instance of a female-led government. In addition, we see Deborah giving direction and assignments to men. She appointed Barak to be the general of the armies as the chief ruler. Her husband Lapidoth appears to be supportive, but uninvolved in leadership. God anointed and blessed Deborah.
The Populist Era
The populist and progressive eras at the turn of the 1900’s recorded more Christian women leaders, preachers and teachers. Let’s look at the roster.
Susanna Wesley, mother of 10 children including––hymn-writers, John and Charles Wesley, felt God’s call to do more for the Lord. She told her husband, “It came into my mind that though I am not a man nor a minister of the Gospel, and so cannot be employed in such a worthy employment as they were, yet it my heart were sincerely devoted to God, and if I were inspired with a true zeal for His glory and did really desire the salvation of souls, I might do something more than I do.” She turned her Sunday family worship time into an evening service that 200 people attended regularly.
Catherine Booth, the wife of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army worked in tandem with her husband. In her first published article in The Connexion Magazine, she pointed out that “women were last at the Cross and first at the sepulcher.” She went on later to say, “I believe it is impossible to estimate the extent of the Church’s loss, where prejudice and custom are allowed to render the outpouring of God’s spirit upon His handmaidens null and void.” She authored half a dozen books and when she died at 61, all of England mourned and 50,000 people filed past her coffin.
Hannah Whitall Smith, was a well known Quaker and known for her devotional classic of 1875, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, which by 1950 sold over two million copies and had been translated into many languages. She and her husband Robert Pearsall Smith were prominent in founding the Keswick Movement. She preached regularly and her success was equal to her husband’s.
Charles G. Finney, the revivalist gave prominence to the place of women. As a Professor of Theology at Oberlin College he insisted that Scripture did not prohibit the speaking or praying of women in mixed assemblies.
I love what W.B. Godbey, a holiness preacher wrote a pamphlet in 1891 titled, “Woman Preacher.” He wrote, “It is a God-given right, blood-bought privilege, and bounden duty of the women, as well as the men, to preach the gospel.” Regarding the verse, “It is a shame for a woman to speak in the church,” Godbey said was given to keep order, not to keep women from preaching. He went on to say; “I don’t know a Scripture in all the Bible by whose perversion the devil has dragged more souls into hell than this.”#micdrop
Modern history and recent times are loaded with stories of both well-known and unknown women who blazed trails as they preached the Gospel, led nations, led worship, influenced people for Christ, started movements, overcame persecution and put a dent in eternity.
What about today? Yes, God is still anointing women to lead whether single or married; whether mothers, teachers, architects, governors, inventors, filmmakers, writers, pastors or ... presidents!
So, go ahead ladies -- step into your calling with a renewed God-fidence!
HANG IN THERE
Girls, what about you? (Dads, with daughters, what about your girls? Husbands, with wives -- how is she doing?) Is the cause of Christ what you are most passionate about? Is God’s Word burning in your heart like a fire shut up in your bones? Has God wired you to be a pioneer, innovator, church planter, campus pastor, teacher, preacher or leader in the church? Are you discouraged because no one has validated your call as authentic and God-given? Do you feel pregnant with a vision and about to burst? Are you a woman who’s felt God’s call to the ministry––but you’ve experienced so much disapproval, rejection or criticism, you’ve given up?
Are you only given limited opportunities to do what’s in your heart, but it’s usually the role no one else wants and there’s no budget to support it? Have you prayed for God to just “take away” your desire to proclaim His Word? Have you asked the Lord if He gave you the wrong gifts? Have you faced the frustration of closed-door-after-closed-door in your local church? Have you felt despised, overlooked or misunderstood? Have you been tolerated, but not accepted? Have you been dismayed by the critics? Have you been throwing “gutter balls” or living in a state of perpetual “reluctant leader” syndrome?
Perhaps you can relate to one or all of these questions. If you’ve had high hopes and extreme patience, I know that the deferral of your hope can make your heart sick. Hang in there! Don’t give up! God hasn’t forgotten about you. Don’t quit. Don’t give up!
If God is for you, who can be against you? Stay faithful! If no one is inviting you to their table, as the saying goes, "build your own table!" Do what you know to do. He will produce eternal fruit through your life and eventually others will recognize His hand upon you. The most important thing isn’t the approval of man, but the approval that comes from God.