4 Ways Churches Can Support Women in Leadership

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I often talk to women and men in leadership positions in the Church concerned for a third way of talking about gender. The issue is that each side seems to co-opt half the verses on gender for themselves, using the ones they consider theirs to write off the ones they don't. The liberal microphone gets "submit to one another."

The conservative one gets "wives submit." The liberal one gets Euodia and Syntyche who labored beside Paul in gospel ministry. The conservative one gets Paul's instructions for women keeping silent in the church. The liberal mike likes Phoebe and Junia. The conservative one 1 Peter 3 and 1 Timothy 2. Liberals get the women prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11. Conservatives get the instructions for women to learn in silence in 1 Corinthians 14.  

Deborah judged in the Old Testament. Junia was well known among the apostles. Priscilla discipled church leaders. Phoebe was a deacon who likely carried the book of Romans to the Roman church. Euodia and Syntyche labored beside Paul in gospel ministry. Which side of the microphone do these women fall? The liberal microphone wants these women. The conservative microphone seems to ignore them altogether. But what if all the verses on women actually work together in conjunction? And what if they work in conjunction with everything else in Scripture as well?

There is a third way on gender, and I'd argue it's actually the Biblical way—the way that keeps all the verses, reading them all in light of the redemption story. It starts with creation, men and women as image bearers of God. It understands the fall and the impact of sin on both genders. And it capitalizes on redemption, Jesus' atonement for our sin that equips us to once again be image bearers of God. I envision a third way that centers around redemptive image bearing.

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As a woman, I've thought long and hard about what God created me to be, and what particular giftings I have as a woman that reflect His character. Before the fall, God called the first woman an ezer, which is a word with deep meaning. We should all understand the meaning of this word and value it as we should the first mention of anything in Scripture. My heart swells to think of what it would do for women's discipleship and general gospel ministry in the church if pastors and lay leaders grasped the beauty of what God puts forward when He calls the first woman ezer.

I've expounded on ezer many times over the years, so I'm rehashing old stuff, but here goes:

The Hebrew word ezer means to help, nourish, sustain or strengthen. Ezer is used 21 times in the Old Testament, 16 of which are descriptions of God himself, reflecting the fact that the woman was created to bear the image of God. Consider the use of ezer in Deuteronomy 33: 29. 

Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places. NIV

God himself is called our helper, our ezer, the same word used of the first woman in Genesis 2:18. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is also called our Helper, Counselor, and Comforter (depending on which translation of the Bible you use. These are all translations of the Holy Spirit's role of paraklete, or one who comes alongside in aid). God is our Help. The Holy Spirit is our Helper. When we understand God's role as ezer, it gives us needed perspective. God, Sovereign Lord of the Universe, is our helper, and we, as women, are created in His image. 

Hebrews 13:6 So we can confidently say, "The Lord is my helper;   I will not fear; what can man do to me?"

Consider God's example on this issue of help. In Exodus 18: 4, God our help "delivered ... from the sword," defending His own in contrast to attacking or ignoring the fight altogether. In Psalm 10:14, God our help sees and cares for the oppressed. Rather than being indifferent or unconcerned, He is the "helper of the fatherless." In Psalm 20:2 and 33:20, God our help supports, shields and protects.

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