Women in Church: A Reflective Essay

This past Sunday, our shepherds at Central announced that we are expanding the public service and participation of women in our Sunday morning assemblies. To watch a video of that announcement and to read the elders’ full statement on this matter, please click here.

I’m fond of saying I was raised in and by the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ in Dallas. My grandmother is one of the founding members. My dad and my uncle both served as elders. All my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my dad’s side of the family worshiped and served together at Pleasant Grove. And it was about as narrow and conservative as a Church of Christ ever was.

Like a lot of us, it was made clear to me early and reinforced often: Women do not speak in church. Women also don’t wear pants — but that’s another essay. I don’t remember when I was told this or how I was taught; I just know that I always knew women do not speak or lead in church. Women are to remain silent. It’s in the Bible.

This was so ingrained in me that when, as an adult, I was appointed to the search committee to hire the first Children’s Minister at the Mesquite Church of Christ, I argued that if the position were for an official church minister, we couldn’t interview a female. Only men can be ministers.

Obviously, my mind has changed. Dramatically. And I would point to my own personal experiences and a still evolving narrative understanding of Scripture as the main reasons for that shift.

As Carrie-Anne and I both began to take our faith more seriously in the early 2000s, as we began to engage the Scriptures and God’s mission more earnestly, I started teaching Bible classes, attending Bible studies, visiting the sick, and ministering wherever I was able, both in Mesquite and in Arlington. I listened as women read from the Bible. I listened as women prayed in hospital rooms, commented in class, and spoke deeply about their own faith. I remember wishing that everybody could hear Tiersa Reeves pray. I remember wishing the whole church could hear Debbie Miller read Scripture. I was moved by these faithful and gifted women. I was hearing Scripture in different ways, I was seeing things in God I had never noticed, I was experiencing Christian faith in deeper and richer language and images and emotions.

At the same time, I was reading more of my Bible and Eugene Peterson and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and C. S. Lewis. I was attending workshops and seminars, listening to Rick Atchley and Rubel Shelly and Terry Rush as they presented the Scriptures and the mission of God in a more narrative way. I started looking at contexts instead of proof-texts. With their help, I began to view the Bible as the on-going story of our God and his people and, suddenly, everything — all of it — connected more clearly and made a whole lot more sense. Jesus didn’t just die for my sins; God is doing something big and eternal in the world with all people. It started in Genesis 1, not Matthew; it’s finally accomplished, not in Acts 2, but in Revelation 22. He’s breaking down barriers, he’s reconciling all people and all things, he’s reversing the curse, he’s abolishing the consequences of the world’s sins so we can live with him and each other in perfect relationship forever.

So, the Genesis 3 stuff matters: It’s not God’s will that men dominate women, it’s a curse that Jesus came to undo forever. The 1 Corinthians 14 passage is about how both men and women are to behave in church in order to live out the Gospel and, at the same time, not bring shame on the congregation. The 1 Timothy 2 verse is in a long list of temporary cultural restrictions that none of us adheres to anymore and never did. But all of it belongs in the context of the overarching story of Scripture, the unmistakable will of God that men and women are created equally in his image, his Holy Spirit has been poured out equally on all our sons and daughters, and those gifts are to be expressed equally in private and in public to his eternal glory and for the edification of his people.

I believe sin is what has distorted God’s will in these matters, I believe sin and fallen human nature are what have solidified the disparate gender roles in our churches. I believe God’s desire is that all men and women exercise their gifts and express their faith equally in his Church. And I also believe that teaching this and leading this at Central is going to be hard. This is going to come at a cost. It’s not going to be comfortable.

But I am most proud of Central when we commit to uncomfortable things that advance the Gospel. The most important Gospel is hard, it is uncomfortable. We follow a Savior who carried a cross, you know.

I am looking forward to the reconciliation, experiencing equal dignity and recognizing equal Spirit-giftedness at Central. I’m looking forward to a truer expression of the Gospel, living into God’s will and his call together. I’m looking forward to our body growing together through the different perspectives and insights that are sure to come. I’m looking forward to cleaning up the inconsistencies in our practices so our daughters and granddaughters, our wives and sisters, are equally encouraged and affirmed. I’m excited to see the potential of what God is going to do as we remove a significant barrier to his Gospel.

And I’m really looking forward to the blessings. We’re going to hear the Word of God in ways we’ve not heard it before. We’re going to experience facets of God’s character we’ve never felt before. We’re going to pay closer attention. We’re going to be moved. When one of our Christian sisters read from Revelation 7 during a Sunday morning assembly last month, it was a strong affirmation for me that our church is going to be so blessed by God when we make this shift. Her reading brought me to tears. She displayed her heart and communicated God’s faithful will and promise to us in a way that most men just don’t. I’m looking forward to a certain sister of mine limping up to the stage with her cane and praising God in prayer through her pain. I’m looking forward to our middle school and high school girls serving my family the bread and the cup through their great joy. I’m looking forward to hearing our older female saints read the words — the Word — that dwells so deeply in their hearts.

God bless us. Together. And God bless Central. May his holy will be done in and through his people here just as it is in heaven.

Peace,

Allan

4 Comments

  1. My heart is overflowing with joy over this. We love Central so much and miss our family there.

  2. Leonard,
    Glad to read this. Here are 3 authors to add to your reading list: Nadia Bolz-Weber, Rachel Held Evans, Jamie Wright. These 3 women are pretty powerful.

    #48

  3. Allan,

    I don’t think I ever left a conversation with you in your office, at Chapp’s with a burger or from your home without the encouragement that we are charged to do hard things. I’m so glad to hear that this went well at Central. I’m praying for you, your family and the family at Central too.

    Blessings,
    PG

  4. All I am going to say is thank you , amen & love you brother!
    Celia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For spam filtering purposes, please copy the number 1180 to the field below: