Due to past eras when women were treated as second-class citizens in every arena, many assume that the biblical restrictions on the role of women in the church are part of that sexist mentality. Others assert that, since culture has erased most gender distinctions, the church should as well. Others point out that a woman may be just as gifted as—or better than—a man in public speaking and biblical insight, so she should be able to preach in the same way that men do. It is a divisive issue, and we need to look at what the Bible says.
The Bible contains God’s guidelines for gender roles within His ordered world. Those roles are different, not greater or lesser. Red and green are different colors. One is not greater than the other, but they are used for different purposes. Together, they complement each other, filling our world with brilliant color. If everything was red or everything was green, we would not appreciate the beauty of either. So it is with gender complementarianism. When men and women work together within their God-designated assignments, God’s kingdom flourishes.
Women are called to many areas of service, and they receive gifts from the Holy Spirit just as men do. They should fulfill those callings and use those gifts just as men should. Women with a gift for teaching should use that gift, but within scriptural guidelines. Those guidelines can be found in 1 Timothy 2:12. The emphasis is clear: God designates qualified men to be the leadership in the church with women and most men serving in supporting roles. This does not necessarily mean that men cannot or should not learn from women; it means that women should not have spiritual authority over men. The position of pastor or elder is a role reserved for men—who must also meet certain qualifications (see Titus 1:5–9).
A woman who is gifted in teaching or evangelizing has many avenues for using her gift in the church, as long as she is not usurping the God-given spiritual authority of men. In most complementarian churches, women teach other women and children while mixed adult classes are led by men. A woman may be an excellent communicator and a terrific preacher, but her skill does not negate the Bible’s pattern. She should not be preaching to men, as if she were their spiritual leader, regardless of her giftedness. The biblical prohibition against a woman usurping spiritual authority in the church means, at the very least, that women should not be the definers of doctrine within the church. The authoritative interpreters of Scripture—the setters of the spiritual course—are to be men.
Acts 18:24–26 relates the story of Apollos being taught by a husband-and-wife team named Priscilla and Aquila. Apollos received that teaching, learned the fullness of the gospel message, and became a more dynamic evangelist. Was Priscilla a prototype of modern “woman preachers”? No, the passage is clear that the instruction Apollos received was informal, private, and conducted by both Priscilla and her husband: “They invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (verse 26). Priscilla helped share the gospel with Apollos; she was never seen as his spiritual authority in a church setting. Paul later calls Priscilla and her husband “co-workers” with him (Romans 16:3).
Some women who are gifted communicators feel called to preach, and in many cases they could do a better job than men in the pulpit. But it is important that they approach the issue biblically and voluntarily limit themselves to those avenues God has designated. Taking on a pastoral role, deciding a church’s spiritual direction, and other ways of exercising authority over men in the church go beyond God’s plan.