Women in Ministry
Language is an important part of communication. But in order to communicate we must have a common understanding of word meanings. For example, “What comes to your mind when you hear the words, women in ministry? Do you automatically think of women being ordained as pastors? If so, you’re defining ministry as a position, or perhaps even as a title.
But someone else may define ministry as any kind of service for the Lord. They think of the multitude of possibilities women have to serve in the home, the church, and society. Both understandings of the phrase are valid, but one is limited to a single expression, the pulpit ministry, while the other is wide open! The difference is one of focus.
Some women are like Mother Eve; they focus on the one thing God’s Word says they’re NOT permitted to have; authority over men in the church. They could enjoy all the wonderful service opportunities God has designed for their fulfillment and enjoyment. Yet the prohibition frustrates them so much that it creates negative feelings toward God and His good gifts.
The push for women as ordained leaders in the church is only several decades old. In my childhood (40+ years ago), a women pastor was almost unheard of, except among some fringe denominations that didn’t embrace the authority of Scripture. But today, it’s a different story.
The question is “Why is this acceptable now when it wasn’t acceptable then?” Has God’s Word changed? Why has much of the church rejected the centuries old understanding and teaching of the Scripture? Have we received some new enlightenment our predecessors didn’t have? If so, where did that enlightenment come from and why was it hidden so long?
Those who know me and know about the ministry of Heralds of Hope also know that we believe God’s Word speaks clearly on this issue. The truth is not hidden from us. The language of the New Testament is very precise. The reason women were not permitted to hold the office of ordained leadership in the church for centuries is because that’s what the Word clearly states!
Our problem is – we don’t like the truth as it has been revealed. In our western culture, choice trumps everything. We do not want anyone to tell us that there are things that are off-limits to us. We reserve to ourselves the right to make those kinds of decisions. This mindset has infected many who claim to follow Christ. But really, genuine followers of Christ have surrendered their rights to make any decision outside the parameters of His Word and will.
In First Timothy chapter two and verses 9-15 Paul clearly sets forth the prohibition of women being in a position of authority over men in the church. In this teaching today it is not my intention to rehearse that prohibition. Instead, I will highlight some of the other ministries that are available to women.
Of these, we have already looked at motherhood which according to Scripture is, if not the highest, one of the highest ministries a woman can have. As I was praying and asking God how to approach this subject of “Women in Ministry” He directed my thoughts to some of the women of the New Testament, none of whom served in an ordained leadership position.
So, we will take a brief walk through the New Testament and highlight some of the ways women served the Lord Jesus and the early church. That means this will be more of a topical teaching rather than expositional, but we will be careful to make it scripturally accurate.
The Ministry of Prayer
One of the first women we encounter in the New Testament is Anna. The Scripture says about her in Luke 2:36-38, “Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fasting and prayers night and day. 38 And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”
Anna was a prayer warrior. Because of her circumstances she could devote large blocks of time to praying. I am grateful today for godly women I know, widowed, single, and married who have a ministry of prayer. After my mother died an older lady wrote to me and told me that since my mother could no longer pray for me, she would assume that responsibility. That was a great encouragement and blessing to me.
In Acts chapter one as the followers of Jesus were choosing a replacement for Judas and awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit, they were all praying in one accord. Verse 14 specifically mentions that “…the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus…” were part of this prayer meeting.
Don’t allow yourself or anyone you know to ever minimize a woman’s ministry as “just prayer.” It was John Bunyan who said it so well; “You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” You probably know women who have a ministry of prayer. Then again, you may not; it’s often done secretly as Jesus taught. The power of praying women is a force for righteousness in the family, the church, and the world.
The Ministry of Hospitality
Acts sixteen records Paul’s ministry at Philippi and introduces us to the businesswoman, Lydia. “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So, she persuaded us.”
We learn from the text that Lydia was a “seller of purple.” Purple dye was very difficult to produce. It was obtained from the shells of an ocean mollusk. So, it was reserved for very expensive cloth and clothing. Lydia was most likely a wealthy woman. It is also very possible that she was single. Notice verse fourteen refers to “her household,” not her family.
Immediately following her conversion and baptism she gives an invitation to Paul and his mission team to lodge at her house. Now it is true, especially in eastern cultures, that unbelievers demonstrate hospitality too, but not at the same level as genuine followers of Jesus. The text records that Lydia persuaded Paul’s group. She begged them to stay and accept her hospitality. Men can show hospitality too, but in my opinion, it takes a woman’s touch to do it right. We often entertain guests in our home for meals or overnight and people appreciate my wife’s ministry of hospitality. She thinks about all the little things that I’d forget.
There were other women in the New Testament who used their resources for the glory of God and the service of His people. Notice with me the opening verses of Luke’s gospel and chapter eight. “Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their [possessions].”
They used their resources to provide for Jesus’ physical needs. I’m sure this included hospitality. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna are mentioned by name but there were also many others involved in ministry in this way.
Women, whether single, married, or widowed can have a significant ministry and impact the lives of others through hospitality. Many persons have been won to Christ by the sincere, warm hospitality offered by a godly woman!
The Ministry of Teaching
During our previous message on “Women as Mothers” we focused on Paul’s instruction in Titus chapter 2. We spoke at some length about the importance of the older women and mothers teaching the younger women. In that teaching I mentioned how critical this need is today because so many young women are growing up without godly role models.
Another New Testament woman with a teaching ministry was Priscilla, the wife of Aquila. Acts eighteen records the coming of Apollos to the city of Ephesus. The text tells us that Apollos was “…an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures.” He had an active teaching ministry which he pursued with zeal and competence. And he taught the Scriptures about Jesus accurately even though his experience was limited to the baptism of John. He came to Ephesus and began to preach boldly in the synagogue.
After Priscilla and Aquila heard him preach, they recognized some deficiencies in his teaching. Instead of seeing Apollos as a threat, they chose to take him under their wing and explain to him the areas where he was lacking understanding. Here was a husband-wife team who were able to teach a man who may have had much more professional education than they did. After all, Apollos came from Alexandria, Egypt which was a world-renowned center for learning in that time and boasted the largest library in the world. They didn’t allow Apollos’ education to scare them off; they ministered the Word to him.
Now, notice the last two verses of Acts 18 tell us the result of Apollos’ time spent with Priscilla and Aquila. “And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.” Because Priscilla and her husband were willing to take Apollos under their wing and give him instruction, he became a much more powerful and authoritative proclaimer of the Gospel. What a powerful testimony of a godly woman and her husband.
The Ministry of Mercy
“At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her [body], they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them.”
We don’t know much about Dorcas except that she had a ministry of mercy. The verses I read make specific mention of the widows she ministered to. She had a heart of compassion for a neglected and struggling group of people. As a follower of Christ, she didn’t focus on her own lack of resources; she did what she could with the resources she had. Evidently, she had skills as a seamstress and used them to meet the basic needs of the widows God sent her way.
It is hard for us to understand the intense emotion these women experienced at Dorcas’ passing. We must remember that the poor people of that time mostly likely had only one set of clothing; if they were fortunate, perhaps two. Now Dorcas had died, and her ministry of mercy had come to an end. But as you probably know, that’s not the end of the account. Peter raised her back to life, an event that brought many in Joppa to faith in Christ.
Today, I know of women involved in crisis pregnancy centers, women reaching out to prostitutes to present the Gospel and rescue them from lives of degradation, and women involved in caring for those with developmental disabilities. The list is much longer, but that gives you an idea of some of the possibilities. Women, because of their compassionate hearts, are often used by God in ministries of mercy.
The Ministry of Witness
Many godly women through the centuries have been dynamic witnesses for Jesus. One of the outstanding ones was Mary Magdalene. Jesus appeared to her first after His resurrection and her testimony was sure even in the face of disbelief. Mark 16:9 states; “Now when Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.”
Matthew’s record of the same event tells us that Mary Magdalene and the other women excitedly ran from the tomb to share the good news of Jesus’ resurrection with the other disciples. John records the meeting Mary had with Jesus outside the empty tomb. In response to Jesus’ command, “…go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.” Mary was a faithful witness of all she had seen and heard. Jesus had spoken to her personally and she knew it was Him.
These are just a few of the great varieties of ministry available to godly women today. I believe God gives women creativity in searching out opportunities for service compatible with their spiritual gifts and their natural abilities. For those who accept God’s design and His structures of authority there is great freedom, joy, and fulfillment. Those who pursue what God has forbidden will experience frustration, disillusionment, and a lack of fulfillment.
I salute with gratitude all godly women who are faithfully serving the Lord in the ministry He has given them. In closing “I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all of them which are sanctified.” God bless you and may your number increase!