The issue of women and leadership in the church is a perennial one that rears its head in local churches, global denominations and, these days, in online discourse. Missio Alliance has always held the position that both women and men lead the church, following the Holy Spirit’s guidance, into participation in God’s mission. Missio Alliance has always held the position that both women and men lead the church, following the Holy Spirit's guidance, into participation in God's mission. Click To Tweet
Your church may feel called to reconsider the role of women in your congregation. If so, you may find yourselves in need of resources to help you navigate this change. Here are 17 resources that can provide you with inspiration, instruction, and ideas regarding this issue that you can use in your own discernment and leadership processes.
In Defense of Women in Pastoral Ministry
- A Biblical, Historical, and Pastoral Defense of Women in Ministry
Seminary Dropout 157—Tish Harrison Warren and Jonathan Warren
In one of the most popular episodes of Seminary Dropout, author and Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren and her husband Jonathan detail their journey to embracing the calling of women to ordination.
- What to Do When You Hear “Doesn’t the Bible Teach Against Women Pastors?”
“A couple who had been coming to my church for a number of months and was now very involved in serving told me the story of their first Sunday. They had walked in, taken a seat, and seen that I was preaching that morning. They almost walked out, but they didn’t. They stayed. They stayed despite their previous church background and their initial discomfort. I was told by the end of the service, they felt convicted they had heard God’s Word preached in a powerful way. And they came back. And back again. And as they watched, they observed God’s call on my life and experienced fruit from my ministry. They still wrestled. But they had become open to the opportunity to ‘come and see’.”
- Changing My Mind on Women in Ministry
“I didn’t change my mind about women in ministry; I changed my mind about the Bible, which demanded that I at least be open to changing my mind on women in ministry…I do believe that Jesus is asking the church, his bride, to love one another and to be open to listening to one another. He is asking us to take serious his prayer for Christian unity (Jn 17), and that unity does not mean lack of diversity. It means we must welcome one another in the name of Jesus as we break bread together and, as all good dinner parties go, we must listen to one another.”
- Five Myths of Men and Women Leading Together
“I deeply hope that we see more women leading in all spaces in society. However, as Jesus-followers, we embrace a vision of a future new creation, where all that God created good will be made new and restored. And God gives us a new and improved version of Genesis 1 and 2 with men and women co-laboring and co-working with God. We will be walking with no shame and no desire to abuse power in the manner articulated in the Genesis 3 curse, and instead living out God’s perfect Kingdom reality.”
- Is (Healthy) Cross-Gendered Ministry Even Possible?
“The good news is that ministry shared between women and men does not have to be held captive by the presumption of inherent danger. Moving beyond this captivity looks like a positive model characterized by difference and mutuality. When ministry shared between women and men is characterized by both difference and mutuality—at the same time, not one at the expense of the other—we begin to catch a vision for the possibility of cross-gendered ministry that reflects the one, new humanity in Christ.”
- How (not) To Defend Women in Ministry
“In my tradition, we run the risk of making Scripture an idol and thus we furiously seek to tie up our beliefs with a nice little biblical bow. The problem is, we’re often reverse-engineering the process, and—albeit unconsciously—making Scripture say what we want it to say. Few disagreements that I know of are won simply by citing Scripture and throwing verses in peoples’ faces.”
- Husbands, Submit to Your Wives
Tara Beth Leach
“The cultural landscape in which Paul writes was in the midst of what Scot McKnight calls ‘a gender and sexual revolution…’ What he calls the ‘new Roman woman’ was dominating, aggressive, argumentative, strong-willed, and even provocative. So the when Paul writes, ‘wives submit to your husbands,’ it is not in an oppressive, top-down hierarchy sort of way, but it is instead a radical act of subversive love and selflessness from the wife toward the husband.”
- We Need Marys and Marthas
“Mary is often praised among evangelical feminists because we relate to her. Truth be told, most of us would rather not do dishes or bake bread. We would rather buck the system if it means we get to be part of the system. Sometimes we are quick to put down Martha, but I have known too many ‘Marthas’ to allow myself to go down that road. In my experience, the ‘Marthas’ of the world are selfless servants who have a compassionate heart for both people and God. They are the ‘mommas’ of the world—the ones us ‘Marys’ go to when we need a lap to cry on, a homemade cinnamon bun and a hot cup of tea. The truth is that Marys need Marthas and Marthas need Marys.”
- Here’s How You Can Guide Your Church through Gender Role Conversations
“Scot McKnight in his brief but brilliant work Junia is Not Alone encourages us that in addition to studying the usual passages on women’s roles, we must spend at least as much time reading the stories of what women in Scripture actually did. Tell stories of ‘Miriam, the prophetic national music director, or Esther, the dancing queen, or Phoebe, the benefactor of Paul’s missions, or Priscilla, the teacher’.”
- How to Break Through the Gender and Race Stalemates: Five Methods
“What might it look like for us to discover God’s imagination for human interaction? The trouble is that when we’re in a stalemate we rarely feel like using our imaginations. We want to debate ideas, argue with strong emotions, protect ourselves and react from our hurt and anxiety. To engage imagination costs us. It takes work to set aside our anxiety and anger. It takes courage to tell a story. And it can’t be a manipulative story. It only opens new possibilities when we let ourselves be seen.”
Witness and Women in Ministry
- I Don’t Have Time to Talk About “Women’s Issues”
“Around once a week, I get an email from a woman asking me to walk with her as she figures out her calling or as she recovers from how a church or family member has sidelined her. To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t have time to answer these emails. And I don’t have time to invite them to have a phone call or coffee with me…But we take the time. Because most moments of change in the church over the centuries have been led by people working in their ‘spare’ time, for the love or the pain of it, for the sake of the mission.”
- Indispensable: Women Who Plant Churches
Carolyn Custis James
“God gave Paul a powerful vision of a man imploring him to ‘Come over to Macedonia (Greece) and help us’ (Acts 16:9). Expectations had to be riding high when Paul and his all-male church planting team arrived in Philippi. What would anyone expect after such an incredible vision? Yet instead of a stadium packed with Philippians eager to hear the gospel, Paul and his cohort found a group of praying women. I once heard a pastor describe the scene as ‘the ultimate letdown’.”
- What a Church Plant Teaches us About Women in Ministry
“In a church plant, women change the entire culture of leadership. They do not merely enter a patriarchy changing it only to include them. Women in essence overthrow the hierarchy, pushing the authority into the relational levels of every day life. In a hierarchy, authority is already recognized (via the structure) and centralized in a pyramid structure where the buck stops at the top with (usually) one man. But in, what I will call, a pneumatacracy (authority centered in the gifts) authority is pushed down (recognized among the grass roots movements of the Spirit) and out (further into everyday life in the neighborhoods). In my experience, women in leadership upset the hierarchical patterns of male leadership. Leadership moves from top down to bottom up, from coercion-based to relational-based.”
In Support of Women’s Gifts
- Want Some Leadership Advice? Lead Like a Woman.
“Paul has a vision for one New Humanity being recreated in Christ (not discrete paths into essentialized masculinity or femininity). He envisions a new body whose members, male and female, take on a cruciform identity. Christ, the head, has gathered into his body the full expression of embodied, gendered existence and redeemed those expressions for the building-up of the body in love. That is why Paul can at once use both feminine and masculine cultural imagery to describe how he is learning to embody leadership in the way of Jesus. Paul’s goal is not ultimately to lead like a ‘man,’ whatever that might have meant in his culture, but rather that he lead like the New Human, Jesus Christ.”
- Like Dogs Chasing a Fire Truck
“It’s nice to say women and men should be equal. But #YesAllWomen made it clear that things weren’t going to be that easy. There are layers of well deserved anger and mistrust that had to be addressed. Just saying you’re egalitarian, or handing a woman a mic on Sunday or having a woman elder wasn’t enough. Which is good. Because it wasn’t enough for Paul either.”
For Historical Perspective
- The Pigtails that Sparked a Revolution
Carolyn Custis James
“Much to his surprise, Martin Luther fell deeply in love with his wife. He quickly grew to treasure, admire, and respect his German bride. Although he remained a man of his time in many respects, he found her strengths were assets on which he could safely rely. Katie brought strength to their relationship and was a capable manager of their home and of their farm. Best of all, she was a spiritual ally and a source of courage in the ongoing battles he fought with opposition, death threats, and bouts of depression.”
- These Women Played An Enormous Role in Shaping Christianity—Do You Know Their Names?
Amy Davis Abdallah
“Even as adults, it’s challenging to imagine doing something that we haven’t seen done by someone who looks like us. People of color who have only seen white leaders wonder whether they have something to contribute. Women who have only experienced male pastors find it challenging to envision themselves as pastors. People who have never witnessed women and men partnering together in ministry or beheld cultural boundaries being crossed in ministry will understandably question the viability of such partnership. Yet books could be filled with stories of spiritual leadership by people of color and women and of multicultural and cross-gender partnerships for the gospel. And it is precisely because many of us have not witnessed them in our own lives that we must faithfully tell the stories.”
What Helped You?
If your church is re-evaluating how you approach women, men and leadership, you need resources. These 17 are just the tip of the iceberg. What resources have helped you on your journey? You can also check out our additional resources on Women and Men in Mutual Leadership for more ideas, encouragement, and support as you navigate this oft-challenging conversation in your own context.