Three years ago, I wrote a post called “Spiritually Gifted Women.” The post was part of a series of posts that I wrote on women and service (ministry) from the perspective of Scripture. Unfortunately, there’s alot of organizational and hierarchical baggage attached to some terms in Scripture, terms such as “minister” or “ministry” or “pastor” or “preacher” etc. Much of that baggage surrounds gender roles and various forms of service. I think it’s time to look again at how those terms are used in Scripture.
In a previous post – “Spiritual Gifts and Women” – I started writing about “women in ministry,” or, perhaps a better way to phrase it, “women serving others.” I pointed out that the authors of Scripture do not make a gender distinction when listing spiritual gifts. Neither Peter nor Paul lists certain gifts for men and other gifts for women. Also, they do not specify that only men have certain gifts.
So, from this conclusion, it seems that women could be gifted by the Holy Spirit with any of the gifts listed, that is, apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, teaching, shepherding, leading, serving, helping, giving, etc. Based on these gifts, and the exercise of these gifts, it would be proper to call a woman an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a teacher, a shepherd, a leader, a servant, a helper, a giver, etc.
Again, according to Scripture, God gives gifts to his children through the Holy Spirit for the purpose of serving others. (see Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Peter 4:10) We see this specifically of gifts like prophecy, which is intended to be used to edify others, not just the one with the gift of prophecy:
On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:3-4 ESV)
Thus, the woman who is a prophet should speak to others for the purpose of building them up.
Unfortunately, spiritual gifts are often associated with “offices” or “positions” in the church. Thus, because Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2 speak of elders as “shepherding,” we often associate the spiritual gift of “shepherding” with being an elder. In fact, in many contexts, elders are called “pastors” because of this associations.
Similarly, since some elders “lead” (1 Timothy 5:17), we often associate “leading” with being an elder (or other “office” or “position”, whatever we call it). However, it seems from Scripture that others lead, even if they don’t haven’t been appointed as an elder or even if they don’t have a specific “position.” (see 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Romans 12:8, Hebrews 13:7, 17)
The same could be said for teaching. In 1 Timothy 3:2 and 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul says that elders should be able to teach, and that we should honor those who work hard at teaching. But, these passages do not indicate that only elders teach. In fact, there are several passages that place teaching in the context of the entire body of Christ. (see Matthew 28:18-20, Colossians 3:16)
Thus, the stigma against women having certain spiritual gifts (especially apostleship, prophecy, teaching, evangelism, shepherding, and leading) or being called by labels related to those spiritual gifts (apostle, prophet, teacher, evangelist, shepherd, and leader) comes more from the association of those spiritual gifts (and titles) to certain “offices” or “positions” in the church, not from the spiritual gifts themselves.
Now, once again, this does not mean that women (or men, for that matter) should exercise their spiritual gifts in any context. So, for the next few posts about “women in ministry (service)”, I’ll look at some of those contexts.