Male and female leadership and teaching roles (1) Introduction

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I’ve been serialising some of my work on the Biblical view of men and women (The complementarianism v egalitarianism debate). Here I begin to look at the implications for church leadership. These following articles are based on a discussion paper which was used in a specific church context. I’ve attempted to make it more generally applicable but appreciate that it may have a clearer link to some church contexts than to others.


This is both an important and a sensitive subject. It raises big questions about:

  1. Our understanding of what Scripture teaches and how to interpret Scripture
  2. The expectations of contemporary culture about roles.  The church is often seen as out of date, intolerant etc.

I believe that part of the problem is that

  • The church has often historically answered the question about male and female leadership in ways that in effect took legitimate, Biblical options off of the table leading to a distorted view of Biblical leadership.
  • Partly as a result of this, we see a contemporary tendency towards finding other answers. This leads to two problems. First of all, we still end up with the wrong answer and  a distorted view of leadership. Secondly, in order to get the answers we want, we have to change how we handle Scripture and that leads to a distorted view of God’s Word and opens the door to lots of other problems.

Those may be provocative statements but hopefully by the time we get to the end of this paper we’ll be able to see why I’ve made them. I also want to suggest some possibilities for a way forward in our context.

  1. The Wider context

Different churches, denominations and theological groupings have responded in different ways to these questions.  We can split them into two main groupings.

Egalitarians argue that men and women should be regarded as being both equal in nature and in role.  All that matters is gifting to perform a role.

Complementarians argue that men and women are equal in nature however, God’s design for us to complement one another.  That does mean that there will from time to time be different roles in he home and the workplace which in no way should impact on our understanding of equal nature and value.

Both views impact on our understanding of marriage but they also have implications for church life as well, particularly with regards to teaching and preaching roles.  Egalitarians would argue that there should be no distinction in church life. All roles are available to all. The Methodist Church is probably the denomination that has most consistently taken this position.  The C of E has moved in this direction whilst acknowledging that many churches an individual Anglicans remain complementarian.  Baptist Union churches reflect a mixture of approaches.  Some progressive Brethren churches have moved in this direction as well.

 Complementarians argue that there will be some differences and restrictions in terms of roles. How different Complementarians have worked things out in practice varies from group to group

For example:

Traditional Brethren: Women are expected to remain silent in church –not to participate in public prayer, leading worship, speaking etc.

Most conservative Evangelical Churches and many charismatic groupings (e.g. Grace Baptist, FIEC also New Frontiers, some Anglican):  Elders (or their equivalent) should be male, reflecting Bible teaching on headship.  Women may hold other leadership roles in the church including deacons.  Women may also teach in a range of capacities, though not normally preaching.  Various views exist  on leading worship.  Women participate in public prayer, reading Scripture etc.

Some conservative Anglican Churches:  The lead pastor/vicar should be male but other leaders and staff may be female.  Most teaching is by men but women involved occasionally in preaching and teaching.

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