One thing that stands out in the Bible is the tremendous variety of ministries that are open to women. The prophetic ministry was always open to women. Miriam, Deborah and Hulda are given the title of prophetess in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we have Anna the prophetess who recognised Jesus as the Messiah when he was a baby in the temple. The four daughters of Philip are also described as having the gift of prophecy.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted the prophet Joel:
I will pour out my Spirit on all people;
Your sons and your daughters will prophesy
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my spirit in those days (Acts 2:17,18).

Peter saw the massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit as broadening the scope of ministry. Up till this time, only the special few had received the fullness of the Spirit. The widespread outpouring of the Holy Spirit meant that every believer could exercise a ministry. For Peter, this applied to both men and women. He expected women to exercise a prophetic ministry.

The apostolic ministry was also open to women. An apostle is a believer who is sent out in a missionary situation. A woman who fulfilled this ministry is Priscilla the wife of Aquila (Acts 18:1-5, 18-26). Paul met Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth , and when he went out to establish a new Church in Ephesus, he took them with him. He mentions Priscilla three times in his letters as a fellow worker.

Another woman involved in apostolic ministry is mentioned in Romans 16:7, where Paul writes,

Greet Andronicus and Junia. They are outstanding among the apostles.

It is almost certain that Junia is a feminine name, so Andronicus and Junia were probably husband and wife. Paul considered them both to be apostles.

In the New Testament, both the apostolic and prophetic ministries were open to women, so it follows that women can be elders. The New Testament mentions female elders in 1 Tim 5:2. The word translated as older women is "presbuteras", which is a feminine form of the Greek word for elder. It could also be translated as elder's wife, female elder, or elderess. The passage should then read: Do not rebuke an elder harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, female elders as mothers, and younger women as sisters.

This suggests that Paul is speaking of a female elder.

Authority over Men

The most commonly misunderstood passage on the issue of women elders is 1 Tim 2:11-14. It has been the subject of a great deal of debate.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived: it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

Because of misunderstandings about this passage, it must be considered in detail.

The first point made is that women should learn in quietness. The Greek word translated as quietness (hesychia) does not mean absolute silence, but calmness or peacefulness. Paul is saying that women should learn without raising objections and being contentious. To prohibit all speech by women is to go beyond the demands of this passage. Paul merely asks the women to avoid being contentious. He also expects men to pray without "anger or disputing" (1 Tim 2:8).

Paul's key point is that he does not allow a woman to teach and have authority over a man. To understand what Paul is saying, we must remember that he is not using the word teach in the modern sense. In the New Testament, all teaching took place within a relationship of authority. So when Paul speaks about "teaching" and "having authority" he is not speaking about two different things. The two go together. There cannot be teaching without authority. Paul is speaking about what we would understand by "discipling". Teaching is the formation of Christian character within a relationship of authority.

A common interpretation is that 1 Timothy 2:12 forbids preaching by women, and prevents women from giving talks to groups of men and women. This is an incorrect understanding of what Paul is saying. Modern preaching is not teaching in the New Testament sense of the word. The preacher has no authority over his listeners, so they are quite free to ignore all that he says. A preacher generally does not have a relationship of authority with those who listen. Because preaching is not "teaching with authority", Paul's words do not apply. It is quite legitimate for women to preach and give Bible messages to men.

Discipling Men

What Paul is saying is that women should not be allowed to disciple men. It would be wrong and dangerous for a woman to gather a group of men and make disciples of them. But the converse is also true. Men should not be allowed to disciple and teach women. We can see this in the ministry of Jesus. He did not choose twelve men because he considered men to be superior. He chose men because he knew it would be wrong for him to disciple women. Where men disciple women, and women disciple men, gossip and temptation follow closely behind.

Paul is saying emphatically that men should disciple men and women should disciple women. This is also seen in Titus 2:3-5 where he instructs the older women to teach the younger women. It is their responsibility to help the younger women to develop true Christian character. This is especially true in a Church with a lot of women. In a society with a lot of widowed or divorced women, it would be wrong for men to take responsibility for discipling them. Women elders should do this work.

Couples Together

In marriage, two people become one, so when a man is appointed as an elder, his wife compliments him by also exercising and eldership ministry. This can be seen with Aquila and Priscilla. Because Aquila was called to be an apostle, Priscilla also became involved in apostolic ministry. Likewise, Isaiah called his wife the prophetess, recognising that they had become one, and therefore shared the same ministry.

The New Testament pattern is that male elders disciple the men of the church. Each man would be responsible for his wife and children. The elder's wives would disciple the women, especially those that are young. Husbands and wives would work together, so that couples discipled couples.

Women and Discernment

Women should be involved in the leadership process. In 1 Timothy 2:13, Paul says that it was Eve who deceived. He is not saying that Adam did not sin, but recognising a difference between the female and male personality. Women are often more open to the supernatural than men. This meant that Eve was more easily deceived. Adam was not deceived, but disobeyed deliberately. He sinned in a different way, because his personality was different.

Women are more open to the supernatural, so they are often able to hear God more clearly. For this reason, women should be involved in the decision-making process. Eve was fulfilling a legitimate part of her complementary role in giving her advice to Adam. Her advice was wrong, but she was not wrong in giving it. Leaders of the Church will need the advice of mature women.

Deborah, the Old Testament prophetess, provides a good example of this (Judges 4). Barak was clearly the leader of the people, but he was unable to hear what God was saying. It was Deborah, a woman, who was able to hear the voice of God. She did not take control of the army, because that would be wrong for a woman. But she advised Barak what he should do.

In the church today, the eldership function is not being fulfilled by either men or women. Most Christians are not being discipled at all, so churches are stagnating. We should be seeking to restore this ministry. Rather than restricting the ministry of women, we should be encouraging them to take up the gifts that God has given them. They must be encouraged to exercise the ministries to which God has called them, and this includes discipling the women of the church.

Women should also be encouraged to exercise their discernment for the benefit of the whole church. It can only be complete when all members are using the gifts that God has given to them.

Church Leadership

A church should not be led by a woman.

A church should not be led by a man, either.

The Holy Spirit should lead the church,
working with a team of male and female elders.

Women will only find their rightful place in the church,
when we have a radical new leadership model in the church.