As a woman with a passion for teaching the Bible to other women I’ve been repeatedly struck in recent years with what an enormous challenge it can be for women to grow a Bible teaching gift in the local church. I’m a complementarian by conviction. I think God’s design for men and women is outstanding, thoroughly beautiful. However, when it comes to exercising that conviction whilst trying to grow a teaching gift, I fear that many women regularly face an enormous barrier. Namely, there is often a big discrepancy between our doctrine and our practice in the local church.
There are of course wonderful exceptions to this for which we praise God. My church encourages the development of women’s gifts and I have no particular church in mind when I say this, but I think that, generally, the teaching gift of a woman is not practically valued as of equal worth as the teaching gift of a man.
Our doctrine says that God created us male and female. We’re not the same as one another, we have intentionally designed differences, and yet we are worth the same as one another before God. We are equal, and we are different. So how does this play out when it comes to identifying and training teachers in the church?
Due to our different roles, the identification and establishment of elders takes priority (Titus 1:5). But once this is in place, the biblical expectation is that men and women will be identified and trained to teach what is good to one another (Titus 2:1-3).
The question is then, once men have been identified as elders, are men and women being identified and trained to teach, or are the women more of an afterthought? Is the way they are identified, trained and encouraged reflective of their equality of worth? Are women being given opportunities to publicly teach the Bible to other women?
God gives gifts to his church for its edification and his great glory, and if we don’t intentionally seek out, train and fan those gifts into flame then the reality is that the witness of the church is hampered as a result, and as the church we’re not glorifying God as we should be.
This is the issue: it’s about God’s glory. It’s not about giving ‘the women their turn’ or simply trying to reflect shifts in our culture. The motivation has to be fully and only the glory of God.
With this in mind then, being complementarian, the question remains: how will a godly woman with a desire to grow a teaching gift be responded to in your church? Will what is said, or not said, communicate that her gifts are valued equally? How will she be practically trained? How will her gifts be encouraged so that the church may flourish as every member plays their part?
We have been given a great commission, and gifted as a body for this purpose. It’s not that God has inadequately gifted his church for the task. But could it be, that generally speaking we’re not fanning these gifts into flame as we could be?
I would humbly suggest that if we’re not proactively seeking out and intentionally fanning into flame the teaching gifts of women, the witness of a church is enormously hampered. Could it be that the complementarian church in the UK is trying to run on a twisted ankle?
Ephesians 4 sets a high bar for us.
‘So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
We need to consider if some of our supporting ligaments are in fact God given female teachers whose gifts need identifying and training. We want a mature church, a church growing up into Christ, discerning, loving, hardworking for his glory. I would suggest that if our practice better reflected our doctrine, if women’s gifts were equally valued and intentionally trained, it could yield a tremendous harvest of fruit for God’s glory.
I have a real burden to see this. The issue is that most of the time women with teaching gifts lack opportunity, training and feedback. We desperately want to learn, we’re hungry for our Lord, we want to grow and use our gifts for God’s glory, but we fear being met with suspicion, we fear that our attempts to grow will be heard as a desire to usurp. Please believe the best of us, we’re your sisters, please come alongside us, nurture our gifts, encourage us.
And a quick word to other women. We have a responsibility to intentionally encourage our pastors when they seek us out in this way. Let’s display a hunger for solid food, for rigorous engagement with the Scriptures. Let’s be ready and keen to step up when opportunities arise and in our hearts pursue the meeting point between humility and godly ambition in this area.
But here comes the jugular. I’m increasingly convinced that if the gap between our doctrine and practice is to disappear, the instigation of this change needs to primarily come from our male leaders. Why? Not because women can’t do it themselves but because once again our doctrine must shape our practice.
Complementarity champions male headship as the beautiful means by which God has appointed for his bride to flourish. If you’re a man in a position of leadership in your local church, your sisters need you to champion their gifts. We need men who share a vision for the whole body of Christ to be built for God’s glory, for every member ministry, to stand and encourage the gifts of women publicly so that in time the culture of our churches may gradually change and our doctrine and practice better align. There is no neutral position in this, saying nothing – says something! But oh the glory that could be ascribed to our God if our doctrine and practice were married.