Male and female leadership questions (5) Implications for church life

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First of all, I think we can rule out two extremes.  We cannot take the egalitarian approach but nor can we endorse the traditional Brethren approach and a number of traditional approaches which in effect fail to recognise that women are equal in nature.  We should recognise that sadly churches have got this badly wrong with painful consequences.  

However, we said very early on that even within a complementarian approach there are different practices.  So how do we know the right way forward?  I find the FIEC position statement on this helpful (the full text of their statement is available at https://fiec.org.uk/resources/article/womenin-ministry-statement).  

The key paragraphs are:

“Reflecting upon the biblical data, we can see that the primary leaders and teachers of the church are to be suitably qualified men. 

Teaching, though, is not to be restricted to pastor/teacher/elders. All Christians are to be involved in teaching and encouraging one another. This includes women who are to teach other women (Titus 2:4) and who may well be involved in teaching in other forums. How exactly this works out in practice may well vary from church to church.”

I think such a statement provides a framework in which to operate, there are boundaries but there is also some freedom depending on local context. Most FIEC churches I’m aware of understand the statement to mean that they will not have women as preachers in their main gathering but in other contexts however,it does seem to give some flexibility and allows for some diversity.

I also want to come back at this stage to the question about whether or not the headship issue is covered by having a lead pastor/elder who is male.  This is the view of some Anglican churches.  The important thing is that this fits in with their understanding of church leadership which is much more hierarchical than ours where we have plural eldership without hierarchy. In the Anglican model, the vicar in effect becomes the true teaching elder in the church. So that option won’t work for those of us who believe in plural and equal eldership. 

 It is important that churches continue with or return to the practice of male elders.  However, we should continue and increasingly recognise the diversity of leadership roles and the value they carry.  This may mean appointing female deacons and involving women in leading particular ministries

This will also mean that primary teaching will continue to be from the male elders.  However it also should include plenty of room for women to be involved in teaching including to other women but also providing opportunities for them to share experience, expertise and insights in a way that does not compromise the principle of male elder headship. This would seem to equate to the description of prayer and prophecy in 1 Corinthians 11.    Exactly how this is worked out might differ from church to church.

We need another look at leadership teams and how they function. Too often church leadership can feel more like a business structure and less like a family. This also creates the impression of a hierarchy with the pastor as CEO, the deacons and ministry leaders as middle management. We need to get away from this. I think that we should be defining leaders by their calling not by which meeting they attend.  We should also seek to recognise and engage female leaders who are involved in spiritual discernment and pastoral care as opposed to the more practical diaconate end of things. I think there are ways of doing this within the boundaries of Scripture. It is probably wisest for each church to prayerfully apply Scripture to their context.

Conclusion

Our aims should be:

a. To seek to honour God’s Word and be faithful to it

b. To recognise that there will at times be different views on interpretation and application.  In those contexts we should aim to think charitably of each other.  We may disagree on the outcome but should trust that each of us is acting from right and loving motives.  A specific church still needs to reach a conclusion about how it will structure its leadership in a manner that honours God and is obedient to Scripture.

c. To seek to provide an environment where all can be fruitful in service using their gifts to equip and build one another up into unity.