What Leadership Roles Can Women Assume?
Put simply, women can assume any leadership position in the church that does not involve teaching men, nor exercising authority over men. The preceding discussion considered six main passages which offer insight to this statement. Genesis 3:16 shows that the consequences of sin resulted in women experiencing pain in bearing and raising children, and a desire to have authority over men. In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul exhorts women to practice self-restraint by embracing their role to bear and raise children, and to neither teach men, nor exercise authority over men. In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, it was shown that women can pray and prophecy in corporate worship. However, they are to do so in a way that demonstrates their respect and submission to male leadership, and they are not to participate in any authoritative interpretation or questioning of prophecy. It was affirmed in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Romans 16:1-2 that the office of elder is only open to men, but that the office of deacon is open to women.
In addition, as noted above, God has given spiritual gifts to every believer with no gender-specific limitations on the gifts themselves (Rom.12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:8-10, 28; Eph. 4:11-12). While there is ontological equality among men and women, there is a functional difference in their roles. In the same way, the practice of these gifts are to be used in a way that affirms male headship in the church, for the building up of the body of Christ. Many of these gifts can be used very effectively in leadership positions in the church. For example, a woman could offer leadership in a variety of areas in the church if she has gifts of teaching, administration, evangelism, or mercy. There might be committees or teams on which she could offer oversight and leadership. In order to be faithful to God’s design in the church, though, the elders must ensure that she is not assuming any role which requires her to teach men or exercise authority over men. The best case scenario for women to lead in the church is to lead other women or children. Women can also use their gifts effectively on teams where they are under the oversight of a qualified male leader.
Under the headship of Christ, there are two offices described in the early church: elders and deacons. While both elders and deacons are to exemplify mature Christian character, elders are to also possess the ability to teach and to exercise authoritative leadership. The role of elders includes six main areas of responsibility: Ministry of the Word; Leadership; Discipleship; Protection and Discipline; Prayer; and Hospitality. Deacons, both male and female, are to exemplify spiritual maturity. The main role of deacons is to serve and care for the practical needs of the church under the authority of the elders.
Since the consistent pattern in Scripture does not permit women to teach men or exercise authority over men, the office of elder is not available to women, but the office is deacon is. All women have received spiritual gifts which they are to use for the building up of the body of Christ, and have the important privilege of teaching other women and children. There are numerous ways for women to use gifts of leadership in the church, as long as they are not exercising leadership over men. Women can lead other women or children, or serve on teams that are lead by qualified men. As Piper aptly summarizes:
For men and women who have a heart to minister—to save souls and heal broken lives and resist evil and meet needs—there are fields of opportunity that are simply endless. God intends for the entire church to be mobilized in ministry, male and female. Nobody is to be at home watching soaps and ballgames while the world burns. And God intends to equip and mobilize the saints through a company of spiritual men who take primary responsibility for leadership and teaching in the church.
In conclusion, God demonstrates order in the ontological equality and functional difference both of the Trinity and of male and female at Creation. That He is a God of order is a consistent pattern throughout Scripture. It is through upholding and affirming this order in His church, that the body of Christ might bring Him the most glory.
John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 53.