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Does Scripture Condone Female Leadership in the Church?

Vivian Bricker

Contributing Writer
Published: May 30, 2023
Does Scripture Condone Female Leadership in the Church?

The idea that women should just be seen and not heard is not biblical. God wants women and men alike to proclaim the gospel, teach others, and disciple them. 

This is a popular debate among believers in the modern day. There are two different polarized sides to this issue. There are those who believe it is perfectly fine for a woman to have a leadership role in the church; however, there are others who don’t believe it is okay for women to have leadership roles in the church. This topic can easily cause friction and arguments among believers, yet we need to remember to strive for unity. We don’t need to allow any nonessential aspects of the faith to separate us as believers. 

Nonetheless, let's look at Scripture to see what it says about female leadership in the church. 

Paul's Letters

Paul tells us directly, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). As Paul says here, he says “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” Paul is good at differentiating his words from God’s words (1 Corinthians 7). He refers to himself not permitting a woman; however, he doesn’t say this is a direct command of God. 

There is debate over the word “woman” used in this passage as well as many other passages where the word “woman” is used in connection to church leadership and teaching. This word can refer not only to “woman” but also to “wife.” In reference to the submission of a woman to learn in quietness, this could actually refer to a wife learning in quietness to her husband as compared to all women living in submission to men’s leadership and teaching. 

In this way, many might paint a negative portrait of the relationship between a husband and a wife since the wife has to submit to her husband. Many individuals have abused this command and have caused terrible harm. A husband should love his wife as Christ loves the church, which means the husband shouldn’t lead his wife incorrectly nor do anything to cause her harm. When submitting to her husband, the wife is not required to submit to anything that goes against the Lord, nor does submission allow abuse in the marriage.

Nonetheless, when the Bible refers to women, it could only be referring to wives in the context of marriage rather than denying women the right to teach or be an authority figure in the church. In fact, there are many women in the Bible who held authority roles in leadership and taught others the deep truths of the Bible. Deborah in the book of Judges was a judge and a prophetess of the Lord. She was a strong leader and led her people in many military conquests. 

Women Throughout Scripture

Deborah is often overlooked in the Bible; however, she held great power in her leadership role to the people of Israel. She faithfully followed God and obeyed His teachings. Instead of cowering away, she obeyed God and carried out His commands. Not much is talked about concerning her; however, we can see from the book of Judges that Deborah was a strong leader to the people of Israel and was more than qualified to lead. Never are we told God didn’t want her to lead His people Israel because she was a woman. 

Priscilla was another woman in the Bible who taught God's truth to others. In this way, she could be considered a female teacher of the Bible. Priscilla, along with her husband, Aquila, hosted a church in their home and taught many to come to know Christ. They discipled them and were an encouragement to their fellow believers. As we can see, Priscilla was a faithful follower of God and taught others about the Bible, and she was a female.

Never are we told Priscilla is doing wrong because she was teaching others, nor is she condemned by Paul. Rather, Priscilla is praised by her fellow believers and was well-spoken by all people. Paul refers to her as his fellow worker in the Lord (Romans 16:3). This tells us that there is nothing wrong with a woman teaching men nor is it wrong for a woman to have a leadership role in the church. 

Modern Case Study

While many would disagree on this, the Bible doesn’t directly condemn leadership roles for women in the church. I remember a certain scenario I was given in my Intercultural Communication class as part of my undergraduate degree in theology. The scenario was that there was a newly established church in a previously unreached area, and this new church had many believers come each Sunday. The only problem was there wasn’t a male to lead the service or teach the believers. The only person qualified to teach had a strong knowledge of the Bible and could speak the native language but was a woman. 

In this case, the question asked: was it permissible for the woman to teach, or should she not teach and allow the church not to be shepherded? Ever since this scenario was presented to me, it gave me a different perspective on women in leadership. Prior to this, I had gone along with what the culture said—for women to go to church, but they shouldn’t be pastors, nor should they hold any leadership role in the church. However, after being presented with this scenario, I saw the need for females to have leadership roles in the church.

Scripture's Basics

Nowhere in the Bible are we told men are smarter than women, nor are we told only men should lead a congregation. Rather, it has been cultural practices that have shaped our minds to think this way. God created men and women equal. He doesn’t have a favorite gender. Instead, God loves both men and women because they are part of His beloved creation, and we are His children. With this in mind, God has given both men and women the ability to learn about Him, come to know Him, and teach others.

Nobody should be disqualified from being in a leadership role because they are a female. This is discriminatory and downplays women in general. It is a cultural practice that needs to end because females are capable of serving in leadership roles in the church. Often, females may be more qualified to serve in a leadership role than a man because of their knowledge of the Scriptures, their ability to connect with others, and their strong relationship with God. 

Females are needed in leadership roles, and they can do wonders for building up the church. As in the case of Muslim women, only other women can speak to them. Since this is true, male believers cannot even evangelize or talk with Muslim women. But Christianity has never downplayed the value and abilities of women. Women have a unique role in church leadership, and we should not downplay the importance of women serving in the ministry. The idea that women should just be seen and not heard is not biblical. God wants women and men alike to proclaim the gospel, teach others, and disciple them. 

This is shown to us in Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus tells this to all people, including women. As the Lord tells us, females are also to partake in the Great Commission, making disciples of all nations. 

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Vivian BrickerVivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.