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Christian Women's Magazine | Women in Ministry Matter

JBU Fall 2009

By Stuart Briscoe

We became quickly acquainted with the expectations that people had of the “pastor’s wife,” and Jill became quite perturbed as her role was spelled out for her. I had to intervene and assure those who were outlining her job description that they had not hired her and, if they tried to press her into a traditional mold they would probably expect her to deliver what she couldn’t deliver and possibly hinder her in accomplishing what I knew she could accomplish.

An uneasy situation quickly developed as Jill agreed to teach some local women whom she later discovered didn’t attend our church. The group began to grow very rapidly, and I felt some pressure because my primary concern was naturally the church’s ministry, but without looking, Jill had discovered responsiveness to her teaching outside the church. Some women in the church were disappointed that Jill was not more involved in their activities, and while they appreciated that women were being drawn to Christ, some were reluctant to become involved with the new ministry. So I had to wear my husband hat and my pastor hat at the same time.

When Jill asked what she should do, as her husband I encouraged her to continue what she was doing. But as her pastor, I reminded her that she should try to build bridges to the women of the church and to remember that the women coming to Christ needed to be integrated into a body of believers. The problem with the last part of that objective was that these women were all from other churches, even though many were testifying to a new experience with Christ.

I was very excited to see the response to Jill’s teaching, because people were being blessed, and her gifts were becoming more evident. She had always shown the abilities of an evangelist along with having a powerful testimony that she could tell with great  effectiveness. But I was convinced that while testimonies to God’s faithfulness touch people, they shouldn’t become substitutes for the Word of God. Jill was working with bright women, and I was delighted to see the way they were pushing her to dig deeper. I pushed too! She was losing none of her evangelistic edge, but making disciples who, in turn, were making other disciples.

Hundreds of women were attending her weekly class. Many were coming to faith or discovering new vitality in their existing commitment to Christ. Invitations began to come in for Jill to speak in different cities, and the family encouraged her to accept them. This caused a kind of role-reversal – where Jill went away and I stayed at home with the kids. My three teenagers and I had such fun during Jill’s absences. She would call home each night happy that we were doing fine, yet a little sad to be missing the fun back home.

On one of Jill’s trips Mrs. Pat Zondervan heard her speak and her husband contacted Jill, offering her the opportunity to submit a manuscript for publication. She was reluctant, but once again we prevailed upon her and There’s a Snake in My Garden hit the bookstores. The success of the book paved the way for many more opportunities to address various groups, which were not limited to women.

Now we really had to face the “issue.” Was Paul’s statement “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” or “she must be silent” (1 Tim. 2:12) a binding rule for all women at all times in all circumstances, or was it in some way limited? We read what we could and talked to those who would talk about it. One respected pastor said he felt that if the male leadership of a church invited a woman to speak, she could hardly be charged with usurping (King James) their authority. This was fine as far as the authority side of the issue went, but it didn’t address the issue of women teaching men.     

Others pointed out that in the same set of instructions Paul wanted men to raise their hands in prayer and he didn’t want the women to wear gold, pearls, and expensive clothes. Since these instructions were regarded as culturally relative, so too were the instructions concerning women, these people claimed. The problem with that position, of course, was that Paul based his argument on the creation order of Adam and Eve and the events of the Fall, both of which could hardly be regarded as purely cultural events.      

Paul’s clear appeal to the early chapters of Genesis required us to look there for help and guidance. The first chapter clearly showed that there was no difference between man and woman in their status before God. In fact, both were made in the divine image and received the divine commission. Genesis 2, however, while not specifically stating some kind of hierarchical order, certainly implied it, and Paul apparently saw it there.

The third chapter detailed the Fall. There we read that Eve was deceived and that Adam sinned with his eyes open; that the serpent was cursed, that Adam would have a hard life and eventually return to dust; and that Eve, among other things, would now have her man “rule over” her. Opinions differed as to whether this was God describing what fallen males would do to fallen females or whether God was prescribing a subordinate role to the female. It seemed to me that redemption was designed to roll back the consequences of the Fall, which included male domination of the female. It was also obvious that considerable care and attention has been given to making childbirth less traumatic, so undoing male domination could possibly fit into the same category.

I was finding myself in a position of seeing the validity of both arguments – of those who felt that the women’s role should be limited because of divine ordinances and those who saw an increasingly broader opportunity for women in ministry. I studied the word headship, seeing quite clearly that it can mean both a “source of supply” and a “figure of authority.” But I also saw that authority in the church is the authority of a servant, and Paul had stated strongly, in marked contrast to orthodox Jewish teaching, that in Christ there is neither “male nor female.” Moreover, I recognized that Jesus’ treatment of women was radically liberating given the social milieu in which He was operating, and that Paul was by no means as chauvinistic as some people made him out to be when his relations with women in ministry were properly taken into account.

While all this was going on, I received a call from an editor at Moody Monthly magazine, asking me to write an article on the subject. I agreed to do it, deciding to address the issue from a very personal point of view. I recognized that opinions vary considerably for a variety of cultural, emotional, and theological reasons. My concern was that Jesus had made it clear that He was singularly unimpressed with people who bury their talents.

I went on to explain that He didn’t speak specifically about His view of those who may bury someone else’s talents, but I suspected it would not be favorable. I wondered aloud if male church leaders were in danger of burying women’s gifts. 

I also assured my readers that this was not an academic question for me because, in addition to my position as pastor and elder of a large church which included thousands of women, I was also the husband of one gifted woman and the father of another and, quite frankly, I was afraid that I might bury their gifts. 

As I wrote, I came to the conclusion that if I was going to be wrong on this issue I was going to be wrong on the side of encouraging women to utilize their gifts, but whenever possible, to do it in such a way that their actions would not be divisive and their ministry would not be hindered. Jill agreed, and so I found myself in the position of strongly affirming that women in ministry matter and encouraging many women (not the least my wife) in their own ministries. 


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