Scot McKnight has invited readers to respond to a letter that he received concerning women in leadership. I’m going to post the letter here and then give a brief response. Here’s the letter:
I am in the process of rethinking my views in women in the church, and my wife asked me a question last night that I couldn’t answer. Her sister has been an elder in a church at various times and always struggled with being in a leadership position and believing that her husband was to be the spiritual head of their family.
My wife’s question was, if the husband is to be the spiritual head of the family, doesn’t a wife being in leadership conflict with that? I’m coming to believe that a woman should be allowed to exercise the gifts that God has given her, but I don’t know how to deal with that question. Any help you could give would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Yours in Christ
I think that this is a fair question. There are many evangelical churches in which women take leadership roles over their own husbands, and the inconsistency is obvious. In these cases, there is a disconnect between what headship means in the church and what it means in the home. Many churches still believe that the Bible assigns husbands to be leaders of their families: “The husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23). And this headship is often understood to be a reflection of Christ’s headship over his bride. Thus these churches would hold that getting headship right is a necessity for healthy marriages.
Yet many of these same churches have drifted from a consistent application of this biblical principle to their respective ministries. Nevertheless, the scriptures teach that the leadership structure in a church derives from the leadership structure that exists in the homeâ€”a structure that is a creation ordinance (see Genesis 2; 1 Timothy 2:13). In fact, the apostle Paul says that one of the qualifications of an elder is that he must first be able to “manage his own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4-5). What this means is that male headship in the home is the necessary condition for leadership in the church. The unmistakable implication of this teaching is the norm of an all male eldership (1 Timothy 2:12). Thus it is both logical and biblical to see a connection between headship in the home and headship in a church’s leadership.
Vern Poythress has a really helpful essay on this topic titled “The Church as Family: Why Male Leadership in the Family Requires Male Leadership in the Church,” and he sums up the matter well. He writes:
“Just as husbands and fathers ought to exercise godly leadership in their human families, so wise, mature men ought to be appointed as fatherly leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:1-7). A particularly important role also belongs to more mature women (1 Timothy 5:9-16; Titus 2:3-5). Likewise mothers of the church, they are to train their spiritual daughters by example and word. But just as in the case of marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33), the respective functions of men and women are not reversible in all respects. Men-and not women-are called on to exercise the decisive fatherly leadership as elders.”
So the anonymous person who asked the question is right to feel the inconsistency of a woman being leader in the church but not at home. Biblically speaking, you can’t have one without the other.