The beginning of the answer to this question is found in the creation of Adam and Eve. “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’ . . . Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman and He brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:18, 22).
The Apostle Paul applies this historical fact to congregational life when he writes to the pastor, Timothy: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:11-13 ESV).
God is a God of order (I Corinthians 14:40), and as such, He has created an orderly structure for both the home (Ephesians 5:22ff) and the Christian congregation (I Timothy 2:11). In both spheres God’s desire is that the man provides the leadership. This order is based upon God’s creation.
It is helpful to consider that God’s direction regarding leadership does not speak to one’s status as a child of God. The Apostle Paul clearly states by inspiration that when it comes to salvation and one’s status as a child of God, there is no difference from one redeemed sinner to the next:
“. . . you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
The responsibility for leadership in the church does not imply a woman’s lack of gifts or ability, nor any kind of male superiority over women. Jesus came to be our slave and to serve (Philippians 2:7, Matthew 20:28), and yet that position of service does not suggest that Jesus is inferior to us. It does present His role as our Savior.
When Paul speaks of spiritual gifts, there is no mention of differences male to female; rather, gifts are given to every child of God in various types and measure for the profit of all (see I Corinthians 12, Romans 12). Paul greets a number of Roman women who were actively serving in the work of the Gospel: “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea . . . . Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus . . . . Greet Mary, who labored much for us” (Romans 16:1ff).
If we consider some of the most typical objections to God’s design for leadership, it is helpful to go back to the Garden of Eden, this time to the devil’s temptation. You will recall that God gave Adam and Eve the blessing to eat freely from all the trees of the garden—except one. God said, “‘Of every tree . . . you may freely eat . . .’” (Genesis 2:16), just avoid one—and only one—to show love to Me.
God’s blessing focused on all that Adam and Eve could eat. When the devil tempted Eve, he turned the focus to what she could not do: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) God did, in effect, say that, but do you see the shift? It was only one tree out of so many from which they could not eat—a small matter with a large opportunity to show love to God; but the devil tempted Eve into despairing over what she could not do, instead of rejoicing in what she could do.
This temptation of the devil is still alive and well today. It is possible quickly to become unhappy, discontent, unthankful, resentful, bitter, and more if we focus on what we don’t have and what we can’t do, instead of all that we do have and can do. The same is true in connection with the leadership roles of the church. God has reserved the leadership for men, and He directs women not to exercise authority over men in that context. There is a wide variety of ways and opportunities for women to serve in the work of God’s Kingdom without compromising God’s design. A woman could ask herself, “Is my focus on what I can’t do, or on all of the opportunities in which I can serve?”
God’s desire regarding leadership is applied to the office of a pastor because a pastor is called to be the spiritual shepherd of everyone in a congregation—men, women, and children; young, old, healthy, sick. The leadership principal is applied to voters because they are providing the leadership of the congregation—making decisions for the congregation’s work and providing spiritual leadership together with the pastor. God has entrusted the spiritual leadership of a congregation to the men—they need to step up and faithfully serve in their God-given role.
It is also true that a leader who does not listen to those whom he is leading is foolish. Wise leaders will seek to communicate effectively with all whom they lead to work together in serving the Lord with gladness. Such a leadership and mutual effort is effective in doing the work of the Gospel and opportunities will abound for all to use their gifts to the glory of the Savior whom we serve.
God’s Word has more to offer on this topic. Your pastor is called as your spiritual shepherd and will be happy to study and apply Scripture with you in these matters.
Wayne Eichstadt is associate pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Mankato, Minnesota.