Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Church cultures that include and exclude women leaders

Church cultures that include and exclude women leaders

Some have suggested that I advocate for women in ministry because I have been influenced by the secular culture of Australian society where egalitarianism is seen as the ideal. These people, however, are mistaken.

Conversely, I suspect that these same people, due to a poor understanding of how the first Christian communities (i.e. churches) fellowshipped and functioned, reject the idea that women were leaders in a few New Testament churches. It seems that their view of “church” has been influenced by a culture of large gatherings which meet in purpose-built sacred spaces, where a professional all-male clergy presides, and the Sunday sermon and, sometimes, priestly rituals are prioritized. In this kind of church culture, members who are not part of the clergy, including women, typically have little or no room for either regular or spontaneous ministry contributions during services.

New Testament church-life shares nothing in common with this culture. Instead, the first churches were usually small, often consisting of an extended household which included relatives and slaves, plus clients and a few neighbours. These churches met in ordinary homes. The householder, who could be a relatively wealthy woman (e.g. Lydia, Nympha, the Chosen Lady, etc) or man (e.g. Stephanas, etc) or couple (e.g. Priscilla and Aquila), not only hosted frequent church gatherings in their relatively spacious homes, but they had a particular responsibility for the welfare of the other members. Furthermore, in the decades after Pentecost, both men and women had the freedom to exercise their gifts during meetings, sometimes spontaneously. Men and women could also initiate ministries, or be commissioned by their church for various missions further afield (e.g. Stephanas, Priscilla and Aquila, Phoebe).

I advocate for women in ministry because I see in the New Testament that ministry and leadership was shared in the dynamic, inclusive, Spirit-led culture of the very early church, and was not restricted to men.

I advocate for women in ministry because I see that Jesus valued women, discipled them, and included them in his mission. Jesus is still commissioning women.

I advocate for women in ministry because Paul also valued women. He regarded several women as his colleagues, referring to them with identical ministry descriptions as his male colleagues (e.g. apostle, deacon, co-worker, labourer).

I advocate for women in ministry because godly women have vital contributions to make to the ministry and mission of the church today, some in the capacity of leadership.

I advocate for women in ministry because the scope and effectiveness of the ministry and mission of the church is diminished and reduced when gifted women are prevented from full participation in church-life, and are prohibited from using their God-given talents. My advocacy for women in ministry has nothing to do with the broader Australian culture.


Here are links to longer articles about the culture of church and the ministry of women in the very early church.

Women Church Leaders in the New Testament
The First Century Church and the Ministry of Women
Four Social Contexts where Women could Lead (40-200 AD)
A collection of articles on NT Women Church Leaders
The Consensus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12
Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35


This 4 minute video shows one main difference between what many of us think of as “church” and something more akin to what the first Christians experienced as “church”.

Posted October 25th, 2015 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

19 comments on “Church cultures that include and exclude women leaders

  1. judy says:

    People say “I am advocating for women in ministry because I have been influenced by the secular culture.”

    Little do they realize they are advocating against women in ministry because they have been influenced by ‘religious’ and secular culture.

    If Patriarchy were the way of the Bible then Christians would have nothing to give the world that is also strongly patriarchal. Patriarchy was never the message of the Bible and patriarchy pre-dates Christianity. In my view, it is just that patriarchy will not bend to the message of Christ.

    • Marg says:

      I know in my heart of hearts what motivates me, and it has nothing to do with the ways of broader society. It has everything to do with the message, and the kingdom values, taught and demonstrated by Jesus. It is tragic that the church has been so slow in realising Jesus’ message.

  2. Terri says:

    It is painful that people who are saying women in ministry is imported from secular culture are overlooking the fact that the early Christian church arose out of a highly patriarchal culture.

    That early church clearly didn’t adopt those values — but it did ask people to respect those values as far as they rightly could so that people of the time could hear the message.

    Those against women’s ordination have taken this stance of tolerance toward a gender-stratified secular culture and turned it into a spiritual requirement.

    This was not at all the spirit of the early church. Any gender hierarchy they practiced was for the sake of reaching a gender-stratified culture. Those against women’s ordination have literally imported “biblical roles” from secular culture and then turned around and projected this onto those who support women’s ordination.

    I’d laugh if it weren’t so grievous and sad.

    • Marg says:

      I agree Terri.

      Gender restrictions and stratification were not part of the spirit of the very early church, because the spirit of the church at that time was deeply and powerfully influenced by the Holy Spirit.

      It is terribly grievous what the church has done in binding the work of the Spirit and the mission of Jesus.

      • Cassandra Wright says:

        I find it interesting, too, that where women were treated differently in the NT, that it was to adhere to a culture’s idea of good conduct. Don’t let people think less of the church because the women are not acting as culture says to. Now women in the church are held back, making church look bad. Holding women back has become counter culture, yet some churches like thinking that they are being counter culture in this way! At any rate, I think Paul would be horrified to see women help back in the church with all the freedoms we have available to us in the outside.

        • Marg says:

          The way some Christians treat Titus 2:4-5 is a good example of this. The instructions in Titus 2 were written “so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:5b NIV).

          But the current obsession with gender roles, and who has and hasn’t got authority, in the church is causing many people to malign and dishonour the word of God, the very thing Paul wanted to avoid.

  3. Deborah Marie says:

    Dear Marg, I enjoy reading your articles because they are biblically sound, and historically accurate. I have been studying the Bible, and women’s roles in the Church, being called to ministry, for decades.

    God bless you for the Truth and always keep preaching and exposing the lies of Satan. And the men that are afraid to respect a woman as his equal, fearing it will take something from himself instead of being a blessing to him. A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown. Women make up most of the church it is sad to see them oppressed and treated as less than a man.

    Thank God for the men that know the Word of Truth and for the women that refuse to take a different place than the one God has called them to. God will use them, even if it is out of the building God will fulfill his call to any woman that will obey!!!

    • Marg says:

      Hi Deborah Marie,

      Thanks for your message. It’s always lovely to “meet” a reader.

      My prayer is that God will use both men and women in and outside of the “building”. 🙂

  4. John Thompson says:

    Amen, women should be in ministry positions in every church!

    The only exclusions should be those found in Scripture, which are very narrow (pastor and elder). Aside from that, women can and should be serving in all sorts of capacities!

    Let’s not go overboard in our enthusiasm, however, and pretend that the real Scriptural exclusions do not exist. We still must submit to the authority of the Bible, no matter what the surrounding culture says.

    • Marg says:

      So where in the Bible does it say that women are excluded from functioning as pastors or as elders?

      Or, where does it say that only men can be pastors or elders?

      Also your assumption that anyone here is being less than honest is misguided and disrespectful.

      • John Thompson says:

        This probably isn’t the forum for a debate on the issue, but I have little doubt you know the Scriptural evidence for that position (as it is the prevailing Evangelical interpretation). I have read several of your other articles where you interact with the verses that are problematic for your position, and while your arguments are often interesting, they are not convincing for what I assume would be unsurprising reasons.

        Anyway, my main point was not the tiny number of roles women should not have in the church, but rather the huge number they SHOULD have! Encouragement for women (and men) to be more involved in ministry is important and needed.

        • Marg says:

          Fair enough, John. 🙂 I’m very happy not to engage in another online to-and-fro on the meanings of certain verses. (Most are just a time wasting exercise that achieve nothing.) But just to be clear, I’m very honest about my writings. There is no pretense. I continually check my conscience and my logic, and I pray about what I write. I truly believe that any New Testament verses which limit women are restricting disruptive or unwholesome activities, they are not aimed at godly women such as, say, Prisca.

          Also, I’m not sure that there is a prevailing evangelical interpretation on 1 Corinthians 14:34, and there is certainly no consensus on the application of 1 Timothy 2:12 among evangelicals.

          Anyway, Thanks for your overall encouragement. I appreciate it.

  5. Well said. I will post a topic regarding women in ministry and the controversy surrounding this topic among the Christian community some time in the future. I agree with everything you said. God Bless.

  6. clive says:

    Part of the problem with male ‘leaders’ in the church is the very notion of ‘leader’. It is alien to the church. In church we have mutual ministry; so all women are ministers in one way or another, as are all men. What we’ve got to clear out is the dictatorial triumphalist view of ‘leader’ which reflects the twinning of military and (US) business concepts. Nothing to do with the life or conduct of the church at all.

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