John Piper, a popular reformed theologian was recently asked if a man could learn from Beth Moore, a popular para-church ministry leader.
His answer was an intriguing one. “It is not wrong,” he said, “but it could become wrong.”
He goes onto explain that a man learning from a woman is okay unless it is done in a ‘formal’ way, unless she holds an authoritative position in your local church. Then it’s wrong.
You may have guessed that John Piper is a complimentarian – someone who holds to the hierarchical model. But if you were to ask the same question to three other complimentarians, you won’t always get the same answer as Piper’s. In fact the answer will be different wherever you go.
So, one the one hand, women may be permitted to ‘share a testimony’ on Saturday, but not preach on Sunday, she can be a ministry leader of children, but she cannot be an elder, she can lead a nation, but she cannot lead a church, she can lead the ‘heathen’ in Africa but she cannot lead a bible study in Australia. She can prophesy with a hat on, but she cannot preach without one, she can write her teachings in a book and a curriculum, but she cannot deliver them from a pulpit, she can preach a sermon, but only if she has the ‘covering’ of a man, she can pray with her children at home but cannot be the spiritual leader, she can help her husband make decisions but she cannot be the one who makes the really important decisions.
If you knew me as an 18-year-old, you could be forgiven for thinking I’m not the same person. While I still had the same skinny legs, was still prone to perfectionism and still tended my fingernails with more diligence than they were worth, inside, I was someone else… Someone who’s greatest aspiration was perfecting a triple-layer chocolate torte and learning crochet. Someone who had no plans for a career even though she had high enough marks to be a doctor. Someone who was waiting for a husband before she could fulfil her purpose.
Then I learned to recognise God’s voice. Then I heard his call to ministry.
Of course at the time I had no idea what he was talking about. I’d been raised to believe that God didn’t allow women to be in leadership. A woman’s destiny was to get married, keep house and support her husband’s vision. She certainly couldn’t teach, preach or lead. My beliefs and those of my church were based firmly on certain passages of Scripture and no matter how I read them, they seemed perfectly clear. So what was God thinking?
Your Theology Matters
After a long and often painful journey following God’s call on my life, I’m a different person to the one I used to be. Not just in the things I do, but in the person I am. But this only came about after delving deeply into the Bible and looking at what it says about who God was calling me to be.
In May 2000 God called me to pastor a new church. I had heard his voice clearly; preparations were complete and it was all beginning to happen. It should have been a time of celebration – time to party and let the streamers fly, because this was the moment of destiny; God’s promises were finally coming to pass.
But it wasn’t. Even though God had spoken and everything was ready, I knew I couldn’t do it. I knew that what God was calling me to was impossible because I didn’t have the one thing I needed most.
And everyone knew you needed a husband to plant a church.
A Single Woman Pastor?
I knew it because I’d seen in at Pastor’s conferences. Those times when we’d be celebrating the success of a new church; when the pastor would take to the platform with his wife and talk about what God had done. He’d smile and wrap his arm around the woman beside him; “But of course I couldn’t do it without her.”
I knew it because of the weddings I’d attended. That moment in the ceremony when the minister would stand before the bride and groom and recite a Bible passage such as Ecclesiastes chapter 4; “Two are better than one. If one falls down, the other can help them up. But pity the person who has no-one to pick them up.”
It’s both exciting and confusing to be a Christian woman in the 21st Century. While God’s vision for men and women has always been as equal partners working together, the understanding and expression of this has changed rapidly in the past few decades. Christian women are confronted with a wide range of contradictory opinions about how they should behave. We hear messages from the biblical world, the secular world and the church world and we struggle to reconcile them. We wonder what does a godly, Jesus-following, Spirit-filled, 21st century woman look like?
Confusing Role Models
When I first met my Melinda, the woman who would become my mentor, I would watch her incessantly. I would take in her block-coloured suits, her bold pumps and her platinum blonde hair that she curled around her ear as she preached. I would listen to her talk about changing the world and her vision to influence one million people for Jesus in her lifetime. I would watch her direct the leaders of our church and challenge our attitudes in her sermons.
There is one word that encapsulates how I felt.
Because women aren’t supposed to be strong. They are supposed to be gentle and meek in spirit. They are not supposed to be outspoken, visionary and smart. They are quiet and demure, wear elegant dresses and bake lemon tarts. They stay at home, keep the house and support their husband’s vision. After all, “Behind every man was a good woman.”