SHOULD WOMEN SERVE IN THE MINISTRY? IF SO, HOW?
by Shawn Brasseaux
What role, if any, should women play in the Christian ministry? Should women be pastors, evangelists, or Bible teachers? What about the prophetesses in the Bible? Does that mean there are female prophets today in the Body of Christ? Is the Spirit of God leading women today to head churches and ministries?
While this is a very delicate and often controversial topic, we have no interest whatsoever in supporting any denominational viewpoint! If we are Bible believers, then we must be Bible students. We cannot believe something we have neither read nor studied. We need to be honest with ourselves and the Bible text. If we are merely interested in maintaining a church tradition, we are not Bible believers, but “tradition believers.” Dear friends, let us search the Scriptures to see how God used and uses Christian women to accomplish His will. Brethren, that is the sure way to be Bible believers!
ARE GOD AND THE APOSTLE PAUL MISOGYNISTIC?
Before we begin, it is important to note that the Apostle Paul has often been accused of misogyny. His epistles are commonly viewed as hateful toward women. I do not doubt that people in Paul’s day called him a “woman hater.” After all, they do it today! Let it be clearly understood here. God does not hate women, Paul did not hate women, and I do not hate women. Anyone who says God hates women has not read their Bible. Considering the treatment of women in Bible days, especially in non-Christian cultures, Christianity was influential in liberating and honoring women. Anyone who says Paul hated women obviously glossed over what the Apostle wrote in Romans 16:1-6, Ephesians 5:25-33, Colossians 3:19, and 2 Timothy 1:5. Anyone who says that I hate women is someone who really knows nothing about what I have written about them.
GOD’S DESIGN IN CREATION REGARDING ORDER
While God does not hate women, He has established an order in creation. Let it be clearly understood here that there is a divine order regarding sexes. If we rebel against the way the Creator God designed human life to function, we will doubtless have unanswerable confusion and endless trouble. Our marriages will be ruined and our family lives will be wrecked. Immediately after the Fall of man into sin, God said to Eve, “…thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16). This is not—I repeat, NOT—instructing husbands to bully their wives and/or treat them as slaves. The verse is talking about a spiritual headship. God has established an order in creation. We would do well if we just followed what God decreed, rather than abusing the order (male chauvinism) or disregarding it entirely (feminism).
The Creator God has divinely appointed men to be spiritual leaders. This applies to both the home setting and the local church setting. The Bible says in Ephesians 5:22-24: “ Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.  Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” Again, the husband is to be his wife’s covering (protection). A husband is to guard his wife against Satan’s attacks by guiding her in sound Bible doctrine (God’s Word). Adam failed to do this, and look at what happened to the human race! Notice 1 Corinthians 14:34-35: “ Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law [referring to Genesis 3:16 above].  And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” Again, husbands are to teach God’s Word to their wives. Women were not to exercise the gift of speaking in tongues (the context of 1 Corinthians chapter 14).
Ephesians 6:4 says that it is primarily the father’s responsibility to teach his children God’s Word: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” A bishop is one “that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Timothy 3:4-5). Could the Bible be any clearer? This is plain, simple English my dear readers. We would do well if we just believed and obeyed the passage, rather than tossing aside these verses for sake of doing our own thing.
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, in part: “ But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.  For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.  For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.  Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.  For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.  Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.  For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” This is not just in the marriage relationship. The context of 1 Corinthians is the local assembly of Christians, the local church. Once more, God’s design in creation is that men be the spiritual leaders. Period.
The Bible could not be clearer in 1 Timothy chapter 2, when it talks about the local church operations: “ Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was first formed, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.  Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” This passage needs no exposition. It says exactly what it means and it means exactly what it says. Whether in church or at home, men are to be the spiritual leaders.
Make no mistake, dear readers. This does not—I repeat, NOT—mean that Christian women have no role in the Christian ministry. Paul had many female companions in the ministry. He actually took the time to commend them and name some of them. There was Phebe (Romans 16:1-2), Priscilla (and her husband Aquila; Acts 18:2,18,26; Romans 16:3-4; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19), Mary in Rome (Romans 16:6), Lydia in Philippi (Acts 16:14-15,40), Euodias and Syntyche in Philippi (Philippians 4:2), and “other women” (Philippians 4:3). These precious Christian ladies did not have leadership roles, but they still served in vital capacities in the Christian ministry. It is believed that Phebe may have personally delivered the epistle of Romans to Rome! Priscilla, working with her husband Aquila, taught God’s Word rightly divided to well-versed, but confused, Apollos. Mary in Rome was a very hard worker in the ministry, helping Paul much. Lydia housed Paul and his companions in her home—probably cooking for them, nursing their wounds, and caring for them as a mother would her children. Had Paul been a woman hater, surely he would not have commended them.
Even today, women in the local church can host ladies’ fellowships at their own homes. They can cook in, clean, and decorate the local church. They can sing in the choir or teach children’s Sunday School. They can prepare meals for the local assembly, plan and organize weddings and baby showers at the church building, and so on. The twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians talks about how all Christians have their own roles, and all of these roles enhance and build up the Body of Christ in some way.
Older women should teach younger women in the local church. Women in the local assembly chiefly have a ministry towards other, and younger, women: “ The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;  That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,…” (Titus 2:3-4). Women, because of their “maternal and nurturing” nature, can also teach pre-teen children of both sexes. By the time of 10 or 12, however, boys need to have a male Bible teacher. (By the way, for some 10 years, my mom served as a children’s Sunday School teacher and Vacation Bible School teacher. She said that she enjoyed it very much. Mom served the Lord greatly in that capacity, but she knew that her role was not to lead the local church.)
Women can also become missionaries and serve the Lord in foreign lands, if they so desire. If they are married, they can accompany their husbands in sharing the Gospel of the Grace of God with other people. This is very much like what Priscilla did with Aquila. He was the leader and she was the follower, his support. Make special note how it was a husband leading his wife, not a wife leading her husband.
WHAT ABOUT THE PROPHETESSES IN THE BIBLE?
I can just about hear this objection in reply to our previous paragraphs, so I will delay no further in answering it. In an effort to encourage and defend women preachers, some have resorted to the Bible verses that describe the ministries of prophetesses. Prophetesses were the exception—not the norm—in Scripture. Let me repeat. It was abnormal to have prophetesses in the Bible. Please let me explain how we know this.
The overwhelming testimony of Scripture is that men were spiritual leaders. Not one woman is known to have written any portion of the Bible. Moses, Isaiah, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Ezekiel, Micah, Hosea, Jeremiah, Daniel, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Samuel, Joshua, Ezra, Nehemiah, Job, David, Solomon, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zechariah, Haggai, Malachi, et cetera were all men. Only male relatives of Aaron were to be priests in Israel. There were no priestesses whatsoever in the Mosaic Law system. Look at the apostles. None were women. Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Nathanael, Simon, Judas, Paul, Barnabas, et cetera. Acts 13:1 mentions prophets and teachers at Antioch—Barnabas, Simeon/Niger, Lucius, Manaen, Saul/Paul. Again, they were all men. Think about Timothy and Titus. Men. Women were not to exercise the gift of speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:33-34). Only Christian men spoke in tongues. In the future, the 144,000 Jewish preachers during the Tribulation. The 144,000 are men, “not defiled with women” (Revelation 14:1-4)!
Notice that the bishops and deacons in this the Dispensation of the Grace of God were to be “husbands of one wife.” This qualification precludes (prohibits) female bishops and deaconesses (see 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9). One of the main troubles in Corinth was that boisterous women were usurping the roles of leadership in the local church. The first half of 1 Corinthians chapter 11 dealt with this issue of female submission in the local church. (For more info, see our study at the end of this article titled, “Should Christian women wear head coverings?”) When talking about spiritual gifts given to leaders in the Church the Body of Christ, Paul in Ephesians 4:11 only lists “prophets.” There is no reference whatsoever to the feminine form. There is no reference whatsoever to prophetesses in this the Dispensation of Grace. There is no reference whatsoever to prophetesses functioning in the Church the Body of Christ. Dear friends, we need not run to Israel’s program and force those “prophetess” verses into our program. There have never been legitimate prophetesses in the Body of Christ and there never will be legitimate prophetesses in the Body of Christ.
So, this leads to an important question, and I will not hesitate in mentioning and answering it. If men were to be spiritual leaders, why would there be prophetesses (female prophets) in the Bible? Why Miriam (Exodus 15:20)? Why Deborah (Judges 4:4)? Why Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22)? Why Isaiah’s unnamed “prophetess” wife (Isaiah 8:3)? Why Anna (Luke 2:36)? Why Philip’s four virgin daughters “which did prophesy” (Acts 21:9)? Why these prophetesses? Pay very close attention here. There were just nine listed in the Bible’s canon that covers roughly 6,000 years.
To repeat, prophetesses were the exception rather than the norm. Why were they needed? It is a sad fact but we must say it without hesitation. Prophetesses were needed because the men were slack in their responsibility as spiritual leaders. When no man was available, God used women to speak on His behalf. A prophetess’ ministry was God’s rebuke against men. It was His way of publicly denouncing men’s spiritual carelessness. Furthermore, when neither man nor woman was available, God used a donkey as His mouthpiece (Numbers 22:28-30; 2 Peter 2:16)! How is that for a criticism?
Even today, it is common to find a household—or even a local church—where the husband-father is not the spiritual leader. He has either abandoned his family entirely, or he is physically present but spiritually absent. In these homes, the dear mother brings the kids to church, teaches them about spiritual matters, et cetera. We recall the classic Bible account of young Timothy who grew up learning the Bible from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:15). Timothy’s mother was “a Jewess, and believed” and his father, “a Greek,” was either unbelieving or deceased (Acts 16:2). Had it not been for faithful Lois and Eunice, Timothy may have never been able to serve with Paul. It is one of the saddest situations in all the world to see a father showing little to no interest in being the spiritual pillar in and guide for his own family. It is truly disastrous when there is so much deception and spiritual mischief in this world, and the individual whom God ordained in the home to be the guard is absent or “sleeping on duty.” How many numerous poor souls now in prison, could have avoided such a lifestyle and fate had they only had a stable, caring, loving and Christian father figure at home! Awful, how awful, dear friends, oh, how awful, how awful!
Remember, precious readers, Satan used Eve to attack Adam’s headship. Through Adam’s slothfulness in being the spiritual head, Satan attacked the whole human race. Through the human race, Satan attacked God’s purpose and plan for the earth. It started small and grew exponentially. Satan is a very sneaky individual. He starts off with the family lacking a strong spiritual leader (husband-father), and from the home, he targets all of society. Those who leave that disorganized home then establish their own spiritually-chaotic homes. It continues every generation until a man takes responsibility and he gets into the Bible, gets the Bible into him, and then gets the Bible into his family! If there are any Christian men reading this, take heed! Beware! Wake up! Embrace your God-given responsibility, man! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Brother, your wife needs you! Brother, your children need you! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!
When I read, hear about, or see a woman giving a sermon or Bible lesson to a crowd of men and women, I am deeply disturbed to be reminded of the homes and churches without spiritual husband-fathers. This is not the arrangement the Holy Spirit approves. No woman led by the Holy Spirit will ignore 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. No man led by the Holy Spirit will ignore those passages either. I do not care how many degrees she has, how well she speaks, or how fervent her desire. According to Almighty God, she has no business teaching men in a local church or home setting. None! Period. The woman may be well meaning and the men who appointed her may also be sincere, but the Apostle Paul could not be clearer that men are to lead the church and the home. God’s design in the marriage relationship is that the husband is the head of the wife (Ephesians 5:23), not the other way around. The husband is to lovingly and gently lead his wife into spiritual truth. In the local church setting, men are to lead, just as in the home setting. Unless we have a church tradition to keep, we will understand, believe, and follow these verses.
If a woman usurps male authority in spiritual matters, she is becoming vulnerable to Satan’s deception and she is exposing the whole congregation to Satan’s policy of evil. Beloved, never forget it. It is exactly what happened to Eve when she did not consult Adam about what God’s Word actually said (see 1 Timothy 2:11-15, where Paul warned the local assembly, especially the women, not to repeat Eve’s mistake). Look at what happened when Eve left Adam’s headship. We are still suffering today because of that curse of sin! Men who sit under the Bible teaching of women are risking their own spiritual health. A man in the assembly needs to be a man and be the head of teaching there! (What if no man has enough Bible knowledge to teach? If he wants that assembly to survive the wiles of the Devil, if he wants his marriage to survive, he had better start reading the Bible, start studying the Bible, start learning it, start believing it, and start teaching it! God will hold him responsible for not acting in a spiritual leadership role.)
At this point, someone may voice another objection: “Brother Shawn, but what about those women preachers in Corinth?” Well, the Bible does indeed talk about women praying or prophesying with their heads uncovered: “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven” (1 Corinthians 11:5).
Firstly, I will openly admit this verse exists in the Bible. Yet, I will also admit that there is no other reference in Paul’s epistles to women preachers in the Body of Christ. As with the “spiritual” “gift” of speaking in gibberish, women preachers only appear in a carnal, worldly, spiritually immature local assembly at Corinth. To model our beliefs and practices after the Corinthians’ is downright silly! To appeal to Corinth as the standard for godly ministry and holy living is utterly absurd! It is spiritual madness to the utmost!
Secondly, the very last passage that you would want to use to defend women preachers would be 1 Corinthians chapter 11! As we commented earlier, it was in those same verses that Paul affirmed the headship of men in the local assembly. Notice that the verse mentioned women praying or prophesying with their heads uncovered. That is bad rather than good. Compared to the cultural standards of that time and place, those women were rebellious, domineering, and unfeminine. It was also in this very epistle that Paul told those “masculine” Christian ladies to be quiet and cease usurping male leadership in the local assembly at Corinth. We saw that earlier in 1 Corinthians 14:33-34. Again, for more information, you can see the study linked at the end of this article, which discusses the issue of women and head coverings.
Certainly, God wants all Christians to preach the Gospel to lost people, and God wants all Christians to share the Bible with lost people, but church leadership is reserved for men. The Bible could not be clearer in 1 Timothy chapter 2: “ Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was first formed, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.  Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” The very reason why Eve was deceived and got into trouble was because she followed Satan’s enticement to ignore Adam’s spiritual leadership (see Genesis chapter 3). Eve should have consulted Adam rather than hearkening unto the Serpent. Both at home and in church settings, Christian women will be “saved” today from Satanic deception if they just submit and follow their godly husbands as those men follow Jesus Christ!
Bishops and deacons must be a “husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2,11,12; Titus 1:6). Unless God was advocating a homosexual lifestyle, these simple verses indicate that women cannot serve as bishops (pastors) or deacons. The Holy Spirit would not cause them to disobey these verses. The only way there would be a female pastor/bishop or female deacon (deaconess) is if she defied the Holy Spirit. Women in the local church have a ministry toward other women: “ The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;  That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,…” (Titus 2:3-4). Women can also serve as missionaries in foreign countries, perhaps laboring with their husbands (if applicable). They can teach younger children in the local assembly. They can be spiritual mothers to be people in the assembly. Women can pray for their pastor-husbands, their missionary-husbands, their teacher-husbands, et cetera. These are just some of the ways Christian women can serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you are a Christian woman, my dear sister in Christ, please know that your role in the ministry is vital. Please, never, ever let someone belittle you simply because you are not functioning in a prominent, “eye-catching” capacity. While you are not in leadership, the local church could not function without your ministry. The Holy Spirit will reward your labor even in the “smallest” role. Dear sister in Christ, you just believe and follow the verses I have presented in this brief study, and God will take care of the rest. Many women have played a critical role in this very ministry website-project and various other projects we have tackled through the years. Whether opening their house to our home Bible studies, or giving to us, or praying for us, or telling others about our ministry, or encouraging us, or whatever, they all helped in some manner. How we thank God for these Christian sisters and we thank God for your fellowship in the Gospel of Grace, brother or sister! 🙂