Women Preachers In Our Churches

The Quiet Rage

As I sat in church one Sunday morning, I began to ponder whether my city will survive. As I listened to familiar hymns, somewhere in Knoxville, a female was assuming her ministerial role. Socially, women’s progress is no more evident then as seen in the 2008 presidential campaign race. Meanwhile, spiritual women such as Paula White, Juanita Bynum, and Joyce Meyers are prominent figures in our homes aptly addressing the emotional stings of life. Yet, women preaching in our community is a different story.

How are local churches addressing the evolving role of women in leadership? It’s ironic since men lead most churches with a congregation of mostly women. Why is this so taboo? We have one extreme that is seen as liberating women while the other is seen as keeping women in their traditional place as second class citizens. My focus isn’t on the debate itself, but on how to graciously address this potentially volatile issue. Let’s analyze this matter closer.

The Issue at Hand

Clearly, the role of women in the church is evolving. According to the Association of Theological Schools, up until the 1990s, men dominated seminary schools. Today, women make up nearly half of some seminaries. More women are preaching and serving clergy leadership in religious institutions. However, women comprise more than 60% of the religious congregation but only 12% of the clergy in the 15 largest Protestant denominations. In fact, the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Southern Baptists, Mormons, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews do not ordain women. The subject of female clergy is filled with emotion and controversy. In 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted “The Baptist Faith and Message” that decreed that only men should be pastors. There are other religious organizations with similar creeds. The church debate over the role of women has been brewing for centuries. Initially, the role of a women’s leadership wasn’t an issue.

For centuries, the clergy were exclusively men. The dispute over women’s ministry is fairly complicated. Most people can agree the central issues surround the Apostle Paul’s statements, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence (1 Timothy 2:12),” and “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak (1 Corinthians 14:34).” Debates concerning this passage often accompany discussion of the ordination of women. Some see Paul’s statements as a matter of biblical declaration while some proponents of women serving as preachers see the issue as a matter of tradition. Personally, I feel you should be able to deliberate this matter without being labeled a feminist or sexist. Can any issue be resolved through bickering? Nonetheless, this issue quietly rages on, from pulpits to prestigious seminaries.

The Final Story

Clearly, if a church fails to act corporately, bad things can happen. In 2000, a church split over women preaching in the pulpit at the Bangwe Seventh-day Adventist Church in Malawi, Africa. The local congregation “degenerated into rivalry between the pastor and the members.” Do you believe that it cannot happen in Knoxville? It can happen. Therefore, it’s important for churches to be pro-active. Church leaders need to openly disclose their beliefs. People should be educated. Then, it becomes a matter of personal faith– people will either embrace the church’s ideology or not. Some ministers are very leery of this approach since their congregation is mostly women. Others fear running off men. Traditionally, the church has answered the call of social change. Therefore, we all must learn to deal with our disagreements. The flame is no longer quietly raging.