I recently spoke to a pastor who made his case for not supporting women as senior pastors. "I've asked many men this question," he said. "As a man, when you see a woman up front preaching or teaching, what's the first thing you think about? The first thing that comes into your mind is if she is attractive or not. This distraction is one of the main reasons women should not be senior pastors or preach to men."
I was somewhat shocked by this argument. Not because he believed this, but because he said it out loud and so boldly. He stated it as if it were a biblical truth. To me, his statement was more about the sexism within evangelicalism connected to the sexism within the broader society, than some well thought out theological position on women in ministry leadership.
At least he was honest and pointed to the real issue at the foundation of why many evangelical men struggle with women in ministry and pastoral leadership. Some try to cover up this truth by using the words of Paul in the New Testament. I'm not going to go into all the scriptures which support women in ministry and pastoral leadership because this has already been done.
What I will say is this: Should the words of Paul -- which could very well be situational and contextual, not universal and unconditional -- be used to argue the case for women in ministry? Shouldn't the actions of Jesus with women and the equipping of women by God speak louder than the words of Paul? To the second question, I say, "Yes."
I believe the Bible is authoritative and central for living. Within this belief, I believe the works of God, which include the works of Jesus, should speak louder than the words of Paul. I don't in anyway negate the words of Paul or them being from God, but these words of Paul are put in their proper context when put up against and compared to the works and words of Jesus. Why is this important? Because Jesus is God, and Paul is not. God speaks higher than God's servants and God speaks through God's servants simultaneously. This understanding is important in dealing with the issue of women in ministry.
What do the actions of Jesus with women in the gospels tell us about God's empowerment of women, and should this speak louder than Paul's words, which I present were situational, not universal? Jesus transforms and empowers the life of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus has a woman anoint and prepare him for the cross. Jesus answers the prayers of the Canaanite woman. Jesus heals the woman with the issue of blood. Jesus stands with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus gives life to a teenage girl left for dead. A woman is at the tomb first to acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus.
All of this is not about women in pastoral leadership, but it's about the bigger issue of God being mindful of the second-class citizenship of women and dealing with it as a kingdom agenda. Jesus challenges the place and role of women to the point that his own male disciples were annoyed every time they witnessed his empowerment of women.
When it comes to women in ministry and pastoral leadership, we should join the position of Jesus and also acknowledge our sexism.
Efrem Smith is the senior pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church, with the vision to be an urban, multi-ethnic, relevant, holistic, and Christ-centered community. He has held leadership positions in organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of America and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and is the author of numerous articles and books, including The Hip-Hop Church.