A few weeks ago, a commenter named Marisa asked me if I would write about “women in ministry.” I understand that when people ask questions like this, they usually mean “ministry” in the sense of a professional vocation in the church, or perhaps a certain type of “office” or “position” in the church.
As I’ve studied Scripture, I haven’t seen this kind of designation. “Ministry” is simply service. When we serve people, we minister to them. The act of serving people is ministry. People who serve others are ministers.
So, of course, women are to be ministers… that is, they are to serve others.
One of the ways that we see God preparing us to serve others is through the spiritual gifts that he gives us. Consider this statements from passages of Scripture that include lists of spiritual gifts:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them… (Romans 12:6a ESV; list in Romans 12:6-8)
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV; list in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10)
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:7 ESV; list in Ephesians 4:11)
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace… (1 Peter 4:10 ESV; list in 1 Peter 4:11)
In each of these passages, the author (Paul or Peter) tells his reader that God his given spiritual gifts as he chooses to his children so that they can serve others. Neither author makes a distinction based on gender.
The lists that follow these statements are not exhaustive, but are examples of the way that God chooses to work through his children to serve others through manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Peter simply divides the giftings into speaking and serving gifts. Paul, on the other hand, lists specific gifts, such as, apostleship, prophecy, teaching, evangelism, shepherding, serving, showing kindness, helping, giving, etc. Like I said earlier, there is no distinction based on gender for any of these listings.
Now, obviously, there are passages of Scripture that deal with the distinctions between men and women. But, when it comes to spiritual gifts, those distinctions are not discussed. Instead, we see more universal and inclusive language – that is, the authors speak of all believers. For example, in Romans 12, the same people who are to “present their bodies as living sacrifices” and not “be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:1-2) are given gifts such as prophecy, serving, teaching, exhortation, contributing, and leading (Romans 12:6-8). If we continue reading, these same children of God (again, without regard to gender) are to demonstrate unhypocritical love (Romans 12:9-21). It would be difficult to differentiate any of these instructions as applying to men, but not to women.
The same would be true if we read through the passages listing spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 or Ephesians 4. If we make distinctions when we read these passages, the distinctions do not come from the pen of the authors, but from our preconceived notions of what God would or would not gift a man or woman. Now, certainly, these preconceived notions could have been formed from other passages of Scripture, but that discussion is for another time.
For now, we should realize that when it comes to spiritual gifts, when Paul and Peter listed examples of ways that God manifests himself in the lives of his children so that they could serve (minister to) others, they did not make distinctions based on gender.