Gender Roles, Women and the Church

Women and Ministry: What Have You Been Taught?




29425471_10156304631053653_6369803088737673470_nDoes this 7-minute video match up with what you’ve been taught about women and ministry? In my church background, when the topic of women came up, it was about what they were supposed to do at home, raising children, and how to treat their husband.


When it came to ministry work, there were specific jobs women were encouraged to do. Here is the typical ministry work women could do in my church experience:

  • childcare
  • help in the kitchen or cleaning
  • music ministry
  • help in the church library
  • church greeter
  • prayer chain
  • coordinate meals for people who are sick or moms with new babies
  • lead children’s Sunday school classes
  • lead women’s Bible studies

In my current church, women can be ushers and collect the offering.

What is it like at your church (or former church)? What can women do or not do?

In this video, Dr. Ben Witherington talks about new teachings Jesus brought to the table regarding women, and how it changed women’s roles on what they could and could not do. He explains it in a way that makes much better sense when you take into consideration the culture and as it corresponds with the message presented in the New Testament.


I heard Dr. Witherington speak last summer. He knows his stuff. Check out his biography:


Bible scholar Ben Witherington is Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. A graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill, he went on to receive the M.Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Durham in England. He is now considered one of the top evangelical scholars in the world, and is an elected member of the prestigious SNTS, a society dedicated to New Testament studies.

Witherington has also taught at Ashland Theological Seminary, Vanderbilt University, Duke Divinity School and Gordon-Conwell. A popular lecturer, Witherington has presented seminars for churches, colleges and biblical meetings not only in the United States but also in England, Estonia, Russia, Europe, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia. He has also led tours to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.

Witherington has written over fifty books, including The Jesus Quest and The Paul Quest, both of which were selected as top biblical studies works by Christianity Today. He also writes for many church and scholarly publications, and is a frequent contributor to the Patheos website.

Let me know what you think! ~ja



Women, Ministry, Dr. Ben Witherington

17 thoughts on “Women and Ministry: What Have You Been Taught?”

  1. Love this video! Great overview of the subject in a scholarly-yet-simple, honest handling of an ancient Text. Who knew this topic could be addressed without hyperbole, fear mongering, and validating one’s arguments by calling on camps (liberals/true believers, us/the world, different denominations)!

    Good reminder of basic hermeneutics.
    The early church (and resulting Scriptures) operated such that the original audience in the original context/culture knew precisely what the message meant.
    No nitpicking over an isolated sentence or word, arguing over “original languages,” or analysis of the pros and cons of manmade traditions as we do today in hindsight. (Wait. That DID occur; usually with the Sadducees and Pharisees attacking Jesus and each other.)

    I never heard of Dr. W. before, but what a refreshing change to hear a calm, respectful voice on this topic. And what affirmation the Gospel brought for people in ALL stations of life, married or single. So grateful for Christ’s “trajectories of change”!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. His message is refreshingly different from the emphasis of sermons on such topics that I was taught in my familial church culture. Can’t imagine most ministers shedding light on the fact that Patriarchal culture is the context. As if one might be able to consider living in and adapting scripture to a non Patriarchal culture.

    I try to imagine growing up in non Patriarchal religious homes in the 50s and 60s. I grew up with those families in school and spent time in a few of those homes. Their adult lives are much more diverse, less confined, more open to embracing all of life. Neither group is exempt from difficulties and pain, but they are experiencing life in ways that I envy.


  3. Gany T., you described what I felt as I first listened to the video. I am really tired of men handpicking single verses from various books to make ‘authoritative” statements telling who women are and what they should do. The cultural background Dr. Witherington provides, along with giving the overall theme of the New Testament makes so much sense.


  4. I don’t think he said anything paticularly controversial, if my own understanding and experience is anything to go by. The new era of the Spirit (poured out on men and women) has changed a lot. For both men and women.

    It there was a weakness in his argument, it was as usual trying to claim we can only understand Jesus and Paul if we take into account the first century ‘context’ of a patriarchal society. This assumes that such a society must be intrinsically wrongly ordered at odds with the existing biblical revelation, but more importantly overlooks the fact that the context and setting of the NT revelation is indeed the Old Testament, not the surrounding culture.

    Whenever the ‘roles’ of husband or wife or who does what in the church are discussed in Paul (and Peter for that matter) the NT relies on the original OT revelation. Quotes it or alludes to it. I don’t think there are any exceptions to this. There is a continuity with the OT, even if the gift of the Spirit allows for some discontinuity as well in that all of the people of God may participate in ministry in one form or another in ways that were previously more restricted.

    There is a very real danger of Christians in every generation succumbing to the temptation to accommodate their faith to the surrounding culture they find themselves in, and ours is no exception to this.

    So there you go. You did ask us to let you know what you think …. 🙂


  5. What is it like at your church (or former church)? What can women do or not do?

    There are zero limits on women in my church. Deacon, Elder, Minister, all committees…

    You do still find women disproportionately working with small children, but I think there are a lot of reasons for that.


  6. There is a radical difference between the OT and the NT. We eat pork, we don’t sacrifice animals. We have one new commandment: to love. The NT has freedom and grace.

    It makes perfect sense that roles and rules regarding ministry also changed. Look at the women who traveled with Jesus. That sure was new. Jesus dealing with the woman at the well was new. God choosing women to tell the disciples Jesus resurrection was new. If anything, we see a radical newness in ministry surrounding Jesus. We do not see a continuity of OT with Jesus.


  7. Being Pentecostal, women could do just about anything in our churches. They could not only preach, but serve as lead pastor, plant churches, evangelism, missions, teach men etc. The only thing women could not do was serve on the church board (a rule that was eventually dropped).
    Women’s roles in ministry were far more prominent in the early 20th century, but the last 30 years has seen a resurgence.
    If anyone balked at being under the authority of a woman, they were sharply rebuked. Women were expected to be in submission to their husbands at home, but if that same woman was a pastor in a church, her husband was not considered to be her superior unless he himself was a pastor.


  8. What is it like at your church (or former church)? What can women do or not do?

    What they can do:
    Lectors, Cantors, Eucharistic Lay Ministers (distributing Communion), altar servers, committee chairs, monastics, pretty much everything except actual Holy Orders/Ordainment. (This is a millenia-old tradition, but I expect the revival of Permanent DeaconESS within a generation or two.)


  9. I used to be a member of an IFB church, and women were pretty much limited to the roles you mentioned. Also, there was a lot of harping on submission. Men and women were both allowed to share prayer requests and testimonies at designated times, and to participate in group discussion in Sunday school, but men dominated these discussions.

    Also, there was a shift after the pastor attended a leadership conference in California. After that, whenever men shared testimonies, the pastor would publicly praise them for “taking the lead the lead as MEN.” After a while, the women became more hesitant to share, because it was obvious that the input of men was more valued. It almost would have been better if we had not been allowed to share at all.

    Also women were not allowed to teach or to lead in corporate prayer when men were present. Women could sing in the choir, or sing solos, but could not lead the choir or congregation in singing.

    After we left the IFB, we began attending a contemporary non-denominational evangelical church. Women are allowed to lead in worship/singing, and take an active role in small group Bible study discussions. They don’t harp on submission. But, women do not preach, teach, or serve as elders. This is bothersome to me, and it’s hard for me to feel safe in a place that doesn’t treat women as full equals.

    I’m hoping to start looking soon at other churches, but it just seems so exhausting to try to find a new church.


  10. Also, there was a shift after the pastor attended a leadership conference in California.

    The wary witness, I am really wondering how much damage these pastoring and ‘leadership’ conferences are doing to local churches…It seems some have deciding treating women poorly is ‘in’ and are becoming worse than they would have if left to their own devices.

    I think men, and sometimes even women, can miss how truly damaging this treatment can be to our psyche. A woman at my church shared about a previous church that wouldn’t even let women speak, and how it affected her child to the point of almost losing her faith. This is NOT god. This is man.

    I am so happy to be at place that does none of this. The peace that comes from it.


  11. FYI, I think the leadership conference that my former pastor attended was at Lancaster Baptist Church in California, a huge IFB church and that has its own “Bible college.”

    Lea, I can see how a girl or young woman could be pushed away from the faith entirely by the misogyny in some of these churches.


  12. At my church, we have a deacon board of men, and another ministry of “deaconnesses” who are women. All our pastors are male. Otherwise, any ministry roles are good for either gender.


  13. At the church I grew up in, women can do anything men can do. They haven’t had a female lead pastor yet(?), though


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