4 Ways Churches Can Support Women in Leadership

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In Psalm 70:5, God our help delivers from distress. In Psalm 72:12-14, God our help rescues the poor, weak, and needy. All of these verses use the same word God used of the first woman! God Himself is our example on what it means for a woman to be a helper suitable to the needs of her male counterpart. God designed us to reflect His compassion, support, protection, comfort, and deliverance of those in His care from distress. We are called to be conduits of God's grace in our homes, churches, and communities. We are called to be like Christ.

Now think of the names I listed earlier – Phoebe, Priscilla, Eudodia, Syntyche ....  In light of this exposition of ezer, their work in the early church makes sense to me. Each gives a brief glimpse of early church ezers, redeemed to be image bearers of God once more. Helping Paul, discipling Apollos, serving the Roman church.

I am complementarian, and I am particularly burdened for those listening to the conservative end of the microphone because that is my tribe. I believe that the office of elder in a church is limited to men. I believe that there is order in God's authority structure, and wives are to submit to their husbands (who should submit to their authorities as well). I believe that God created the genders with different but overlapping roles. In light of where I find myself, I will offer these suggestions to those on the conservative end:

1. Avoid referring negatively to discussion on how we involve women in gospel ministry as a slippery slope. Even if there is a slope, not all slippery slopes land in liberalism. Perhaps this one slides down into Biblical obedience! Until we can point to the Phoebes, Euodias, Syntyches, and Priscillas that we have discipled into gospel ministry in our own congregations, we are likely not reflecting a New Testament model of women in our churches, in which case, there is something worth slipping toward.

2. Support women deacons. If you have a Biblical model of plurality of elders (see Alexander Strauch's Biblical Eldership), there should be no problem putting women in official roles as deacons in the church.  In fact, it should deeply grieve you anytime you see women denied this role that was available to them in the New Testament and throughout the history of the Church.  See this post for a more thorough treatment of the subject.

3. Value women as helpers, and not just in the "running the nursery" sense of the word. Put away suspicion of women leaders in the church and cultivate their voices. Invite them to offer their opinion and value their feedback. My church is building a women's advisory session to come alongside the elder session to give important feedback from a woman's perspective. Why? Because they VALUE women's voices rather than being suspicious of them.

4. Disciple women to come alongside leaders in gospel ministry. What does this look like? Well, I can't tell you exactly, but it's worth trying to figure out! Read through the account of Priscilla. Think about Junia and Phoebe. Consider Paul's brief description of Euodia and Syntyche. Then prayerfully consider how we can cultivate female co-laborors with us in gospel ministry as Paul did. 

Here's the key to all of this—putting away knee jerk suspicions of women that have often characterized our tribe. Are some women gossips? Yes. But redemption gives us hope for discipling women to confess and forsake gossip and instead use their voices to speak truth in helpful ways for flourishing gospel ministry in our churches.

I hope pastors and lay leaders will look at the women in their churches and ask, "Do I actually value their help? Do I respect what God created them to be in my life, strong ezers reflecting God's own help of His children?" Leaders, are you perplexed by gossips in your church? Have you considered discipling them to use their voice in better ways and then given them a way to do it?

I hope these questions are helpful points of reflections as we think of how redemption equips us to reclaim the power of ezers in gospel ministry and the life of the Church. 

Adapted from Wendy Alsup's blog, theologyforwomen.org. Wendy has authored three books including By His Wounds You are Healed: How the Message of Ephesians Transforms a Woman's Identity. She is also a wife, mom and college math teacher who loves ministering to women.

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