Women Called to Ministry

I have been blogging about women in church leadership positions for a couple of weeks now, and would like to do one more before moving on to some other topics.

Female preacherEphesians 4:11 is a key text when it comes to church leadership, and it has unfortunately been mistranslated and generally misinterpreted and misused for many years. The older NIV (1984) is a good example of this mistranslation:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets,
some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers …

Let me offer a more literal translation that I believe reflects Paul’s intent here:

He himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers …

There is no “to be” in the original Greek text. This mistake makes it sound like apostleship or prophetship or evangelistship or pastor/teachership is a gift that is bestowed upon certain folks chosen by Christ (or God). The intended meaning is that Christ provided these various sorts of leaders for his church. The emphasis is upon the gifting for the church, not the individual.

What does this have to do with women as church leaders? Lots. Let me tell a story to illustrate.

When I was doing my Ph.D. work at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I was fortunate to take a seminar on church leadership from Wayne Grudem. For those of you that know the players of the egalitarian/complementarian debate, you will recognize this name as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the complementarian side. Grudem believes in male leadership primacy in the family and the church. In this seminar, it quickly became clear that I was the only voice for egalitarianism, which made me the punching bag for Grudem and the others in the class. (One of the students told me he had never met a “real live egalitarian” before, apparently thinking this position was a hypothetical straw man created by conservatives.) Don’t feel sorry for me, I did just fine in this environment and it gave me plenty of opportunities to reexamine and refine my positions.

There was one other aspect to this class that made it interesting: we had one woman student. She was Korean-American and did not have great confidence in her English skills, so she did not participate much in our lively class discussions. I learned outside of class that she was the Pastor of a large Assemblies of God church in Chicagoland, a bigger church than any of the other students had ever pastored (including me). There did come a day when Grudem and the gang were piling on me pretty mercilessly, and they had me truly exasperated. They were attacking the very idea of women as church leaders beyond teachers of children or leaders of women’s Bible studies. In desperation, I reached out and said, “I would like to hear what Mrs. Lee has to say about this. She is the Pastor of a large church. I wonder how she justifies this?”

Her answer caught even Dr. Grudem by surprise. She said, basically, “In my denomination we become Pastors not by training or church vote. We are called by God and that call is confirmed by other Pastors. That is what happened to me.” This left the class is a momentarily stunned silence. Grudem, because of his work with the Vineyard Church, could not swat this argument away so easily. If God had called Mrs. Lee to be a Pastor, did we have any authority to challenge this?

I think that is what we are dealing with in Ephesians 4:11. We participate in training church leaders, that is what most of my life’s work has been about. But it is God who calls them. It is God who provides appropriate leaders for his church. So what if God calls a woman to ministry? Who are we to say “no” to God? When I talk to the young women at my college, some of them have felt a call by God to preach or be church planters. Am I supposed to say, “No, that can’t be true. God would not do that.” I’m not willing or wanting to say that. God will call whom he chooses to call, and he does not seek or need my approval. Let me conclude with a quote from Romans, only slightly out of context:

Romans 9:20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

Amen.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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