The Bible and Women in Church Leadership: A Young Actress’s Perspective, Part 3

Part 3: Christianity’s Radically Counter-Cultural View of Gentiles, Slaves, and Women (Read Part 1 here.)

Could the logic of Paul’s argument eventually lead to a day when women with ministry gifts can finally take their Spirit-intended place of leadership in the body of Christ?

By Esther Junia [1]

One of the “signs” of the radical transformation of the age of the Spirit is the inclusion of women in anointed leadership. (‘Pentecost,’ Jean Restout)

Just because there are weaknesses in the case against women in ministry doesn’t automatically imply that every church in the world should suddenly promote women into teaching and leadership roles. However, it does point to at least the possibility of an alternative biblical perspective. Here is my rather feeble attempt to articulate one.

Rather than starting with Paul’s rules for two specific (and problematic) settings, perhaps it is more helpful to start with some of the more universal principles expressed throughout Scripture, including Paul’s own writings.

First, despite the male dominated leadership structures in the ancient world, the Old Testament prophets foretold the dawning of a day marked by a radically counter-cultural view of women in ministry. In Joel 2:298-29, the prophet predicts that the new age of the Holy Spirit would be bring anointing to all God’s people (not just a few prophets, kings, and judges). One of the “signs” of the radical transformation of the age of the Spirit is that anointed leadership will extend not only to men, but to women as well. In fact, Joel mentions women twice!

Second, Peter chooses this particular prophecy as the text for the first sermon ever preached in the newborn church (Acts 2:16-17).  His primary reasoning for choosing this particular Old Testament reference is certainly that Joel’s prophecy explains the coming of the Holy Spirit. Yet he could have chosen a number of other verses to make that point. What he needed was a verse that explained an element of Pentecost that was truly remarkable from a cultural perspective: women were part of the post-resurrection community upon whom the Holy Spirit had been poured out (Acts 1:14).

Third, this radically countercultural view of women was inaugurated by Jesus himself.  Our savior brought a dignity to every woman he encountered that was virtually unheard of in the ancient world. Whether or not all Pharisees regularly prayed, ““I thank Thee, God, that I am a Jew, not a Gentile; a man, not a woman; and a freeman, and not a slave” is a matter of scholarly debate, but it certainly fits Jewish men’s general attitude toward women in the first-century. And Roman men were much worse. With the exception of (rich) noble women, wives were little more than property: valued only for their ability to bear children. Unmarried women were worse off than slaves and valued primarily for sex. The suicide rate of Roman women was astronomical.[2]

Jesus brought an unprecedented dignity to every woman he met.  (‘Christ appears to Mary Magdalen,’ Giulio Romano.)

Jesus and the writers of the gospels turn this cruelty inside out. Matthew opens the New Testament with an account of the lineage of the Messiah that includes two gentile women and a female adulterer (Matthew 1:1-16). Luke celebrates Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna as the first hero’s of faith. The Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:25-30), the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), the woman with an issue of blood (Matthew 9:20-22), the Samaritan woman (John 4), the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-10) each receive honor and comfort unknown in the ancient world. Susanna, Joanna, and a number of other women are invited to be Jesus’ traveling companions and become his primary benefactors (Luke 8:3).  Women who follow Jesus are commended for their faith more often than his twelve ‘disciples’. Mary (sister of Lazarus), and Mary Magdalene enjoy personal relationships with Jesus that surpass any of the twelve disciples, except perhaps Peter and John.

Fourth, Paul himself takes this radically counter-cultural view of women, and connects it to the other universally accepted “equalities” of redeemed humanity. In Galatians Paul declares: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28).  In Colossians Paul connects this universal “leveling” principle to God’s plan to restore redeemed humanity into the full image of God in Christ.  This is “a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:9-10).  This seems to be a universal principle intended for all times and cultures and not a “rule” designed to solve a particular problem in a local congregation.

A Tentative Conclusion

I have come to believe that it is against this dynamically counter-cultural view of women that all true Christian understandings of ministry leadership must be judged.  If the cross obliterated all cultural (and even OT) divisions between Jews and Greeks, the racial divisions of Barbarians and Scythians, as well as the cultural distinctions and practice of slavery, then why do women with ministry gifts still have to sit at the back of the bus? While the realities of the profoundly male-dominated and hierarchical ancient cultures prevented full-scale implementation of an early church where women could fully express their ministry gifts, that does not mean that scripture does not point us in this direction.

Christianity exalted Gentiles to their rightful place of equality in value, status, and, yes, leadership in the body of Christ within the church’s first century. In same way, Christianity’s fairness and even kindness towards slaves eventually led to the church leading the charge for the abolition of slavery, despite tremendous cultural forces preventing it (including interpretations of New Testament passages that seem to condone it.) Isn’t it just as likely that the logic of Paul’s argument coupled with the incredible value Christianity places on women will eventually lead to a day when women with ministry gifts can finally take their Spirit-intended place of leadership in the body of Christ?  

In fact, I believe that unshackling the full potential of over half of the members of the body of Christ worldwide might overcome one of the last great obstacles to the gospel being preached in every nation and the church becoming the unified bride of Christ that causes the world to know that Jesus is our savior (John 17). [There I go being dramatic again.]

A Costly Journey

For such a time as this. (‘Esther Goes before Xerxes Unbidden,’ Paolo Veronese.)

No one is saying this journey will be easy. Exalting Gentiles to equal standing with Jews in the first century came at the cost of tremendous cultural conflict and demanded remarkable  courage and conviction from Jewish Christian leaders (Acts 15) . The abolition of slavery in the 19th-century required no less cost against no less cultural pressure. While I harbor no animosity toward men, women and churches who feel constrained by their interpretation of Paul’s two problematic statements, my conscience is captive to what I believe to be the word of God.

Is that being too dramatic? I don’t think so.  I want to stand on the side of history I believe Jesus (and Paul) inaugurated and join a church that fully supports the gifted women of my generation in their quest to fulfill the call of God upon their lives. I want to emulate Esther’s courage by asking the men in charge of the kingdom to protect our sisters from the Haman’s who would seek to prevent them from fulfilling their God-given callings. I believe my generation was born for such a time as this and is willing to pay the price to help our gifted sisters in Christ bless the church with all that He has entrusted to them.

And if we perish, we perish.


[1] Due to the complexities of a Hollywood career, “Esther” decided to write under an alias.

[2] S. Ruden, Paul Among the People, 11-20, 72-96.


The Bible and Women in Church Leadership: A Young Actress’s Perspective, Part 2

Part 2: The Case Against Women in Church Leadership-Exclusion Based Upon Created Order  (Read Part 1 here.)

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that–whether by Creation or the Fall–women are more gullible than men and therefore unworthy of teaching or leading the church.

By Esther Junia [1]

It is hard to argue with the authority of Paul. (‘Saint Paul in Athens,’ Januarius Zick.)

Some of my friends argue that women have no place in church leadership (and, no, it is not just the men.) They want to be true to word of God and it is hard to argue with the authority of Saint Paul. They just can’t get around the force of the apostle’s specific instructions to two congregations in particular. First, Paul tells the Corinthians that it is “disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:35). Second, he tells the Ephesians (through Timothy), “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:12). What’s worse, Paul appears to say that the basis for his admonition is that women are secondary to men, because women were made after men as well as the first to be deceived (2 Timothy 2:13-14).

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Paul is claiming that all women are created more gullible than all men and are therefore unworthy of teaching or leading the church. Taken in isolation these passages make it appear as if the last word in Biblical authority is that no woman should ever serve in church leadership and/or teaching. That’s the position I learned growing up, and since I wanted to be a good Bible believing Christian (and still do), I never questioned it. At least not until I began to see holes in what appears to be such an iron clad argument.

Problems with the Case Against Women in Leadership

First, it is actually rather hard to argue that Paul’s statement “it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church” actually refers to ministry leadership.  If it does, then it directly contradicts what he just said several chapters earlier where he actually encourages women to speak in church by prophesying and praying (1 Corinthians 11:5). Having learned more of how the early church functioned—men sitting on one side of the church and men on the other—it seems more likely that Paul is simply prohibiting women from talking among themselves and yelling across the aisle to their husbands. And it certainly fits Paul’s general concern in his letter to the Corinthians to maintain order in worship (1 Corinthians 14:4).

If Paul is trying to establish a universal principle he seems oddly out of step with the general pattern of Scripture. (Antoine Coypel, ‘The Swooning of Esther.’)
If Paul is trying to establish a universal principle he seems oddly out of step with the general pattern of Scripture. (‘The Swooning of Esther,’ Antoine Coypel.)

Second, if Paul is trying to make a universal principle in his statement, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent,” then he seems oddly out of step with the general pattern of Scripture.  Not only would he be contradicting Paul’s own instructions for women prophesying in church, he would be completely setting aside the examples of women leaders throughout the Bible.

In the Old Testament Huldah the prophetess instructs king Josiah (2Kings 22:14ff), and Deborah leads all of Israel (Judges 4-5).  In the New Testament Priscilla (with her husband) instructs Apollos (Acts 18:24ff), the seven daughters of Phillip are renowned for their ability to prophesy (Acts 21:8), and Paul himself calls Junia, “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7).

Perhaps these women are simply “exceptions” to the general rule of woman remaining silent and subservient. But isn’t it more likely that they are pointing toward a different interpretation of these seemingly harsh statements of Paul?  Thankfully, such an interpretation exists.  Oddly enough, it is found in what seem to be the harshest element of Paul’s harshest statement—his claim that his instruction was based upon man being created before woman.

If Paul was really trying to say that he does not permit any woman to teach or assume authority over any man then it would make much more sense for him to say, “for man (ἀνδρός) was formed first, then woman (γυναικὶ),” rather than, “Adam (Ἀδὰμ) was formed first, then Eve (Εὕα).”  If he has intentionally kept his OT allusion within the context of marriage (and there is significant scholarly debate on this), his example better supports an argument for how a husband and wife are to relate to one another in church rather than how men and women are to relate. This would make it an extension of Paul’s argument that the segregated women shouldn’t shout across the aisle to their husbands; only in this case it is not their questions that they are shouting, but their answers. And that is where it gets really interesting.

A Cultural Clue?

Gnostic mythology of Paul’s day that glorified Eve. (‘The Expulsion of Adam and Eve,’ Masaccio.)

Bolstering this viewpoint is our current understanding of the Gnostic mythology of Paul’s day that glorified Eve!  In most Gnostic accounts the creation of Eve preceded Adam so that she represents the higher more spiritual aspect of humankind. When Eve listened to the serpent, she gained “knowledge” (γνῶσις) and then enlightened her husband with it (often with highly sexual overtones). Paul appears to be specifically refuting this idea by pointing out that Adam was actually formed first and the serpent did not ‘enlighten’ Eve; he deceived her. This seems to better square with Paul’s odd statement that “she shall be saved through childbearing” (1 Timothy 2:15), which seems to be aimed at refuting the Gnostic idea that women save their husbands through sex. [2]

So… maybe, just maybe, the case against woman in ministry isn’t as iron clad as it first appears.  But then, is there a good case for an alternative viewpoint?

NEXT:  The Case For Women in Ministry Leadership


[1] Due to the complexities of a Hollywood career, “Esther Junia” writes under an alias.

[2] C.C. Kroeger, I Suffer Not A Woman, 117-125, 171-177.

The Bible and Women in Church Leadership: A Young Actress’s Perspective, Part 1

Part 1: Confronting the Bewildering Extremes

Is it a matter of biblical integrity to exclude women from Sunday morning teaching and senior level leadership, or is it a matter of biblical integrity to resist their exclusion? You can’t have it both ways.

By Esther Junia [1]

Paul seems to be saying that a woman’s posture when she comes to church should be, “Sit down. Cover your head. And shut up!” (‘The Apostle Paul,’ Rembrandt)

The role of women in church leadership is a big deal for Christ followers in my generation.  It causes division among my Christian friends, untold heartache among my girl friends with ministry gifts, and a huge black eye in my generation’s view of the church.

It is also extremely confusing. A quick reading of the New Testament shows the apostle Paul commanding Timothy to make sure that women never teach men, yet Luke (Paul’s traveling companion) records that Priscilla’s instruction of Apollos revolutionizes the ministry of one of the greatest preachers in the New Testament.

Paul tells the Corinthians that it is “disgraceful” for a woman to speak in church, right after he has given them instructions for how women should dress when they do speak, prophesy, and pray in church.

Paul leaves women completely out of the equation when he instructs Titus in how find overseers/elders in his church, yet he calls at least one Roman woman “outstanding among the apostles,” a much more significant role.

Peter declares that the meaning of Pentecost is the fulfillment of an age-old prophecy that anointing of the Holy Spirit to minister will come upon women every bit as much as men, yet the New Testament mentions only a handful of female leaders.

.Confronting the Bewildering Extremes

Priscilla’s instruction of Apollos helps to revolutionize the ministry of one of the greatest preachers in the New Testament.

If you begin with one set of scriptures you could easily presume that a woman’s posture when she comes to church should be, “Sit down. Cover your head. And shut up!”  Yet, if you begin with a different set you might conclude that God is preparing women of faith to one day overthrow male-dominated hierarchies and take their rightful place in the Body of Christ and rule the world!

How on earth is a young (and completely disempowered) woman in a 21st Century American church (in Hollywood of all places) ever going to determine which of these perspectives is “biblical” when the Scriptural contradictions on both sides of this issue are so bewildering?  As someone who strives to live my life in the light of Scripture, I have wrestled long and hard over this one, especially since the Bible seems to support the views of people on both sides of the issue.

.Ducking the Question?

In truth, it would be easier to simply duck the question, but this really isn’t a halfway proposition.  To join a church that says one thing, but practices another isn’t an option for me.  (And Hollywood churches on both sides of this issue are strangely inconsistent with their stated viewpoints.) I have to decide if want to join a church that fully embraces women in ministry, or one that doesn’t. It is either a matter of biblical integrity to exclude women from Sunday morning teaching and senior level leadership, or it is a matter of biblical integrity to resist their exclusion.

Allowing women to teach and lead men is either a ploy from the devil to destroy the God-ordained male leadership structures of the church, or the God-ordained plan to release the full potential of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the lives of over half the members of the body of Christ. (Okay, I’m being a little dramatic there. I am an actress after all.)

Through a painstaking intellectual journey I have come to a conclusion my conscience can live with.  I could be wrong, but here’s my current thinking…

.NEXT:  The Case Against Women in Ministry Leadership

[1] An aspiring young actress came to Sue and I in deep distress over the apparent lack of support for women in ministry both in her faith community and in Scripture. We pointed her toward some scholarly resources and spent hours talking her through a new way of approaching this critical issue.  She ended up writing a paper for her faith community on the subject. We thought was too good not to share. I helped her edit and strengthen it and post it here with her permission. Due to the complexities of a Hollywood career, “Esther” decided to write under an alias.

[2] C.C. Kroeger, I Suffer Not A Woman, 117-125, 171-177.

Top British University Christian Club Bans Women From Speaking at Meetings

Part 10 in series: Women of Faith in Leadership

Christian student group at top research university creates unintended firestorm

by Lucy Sherriff

Historic Bristol University students’ union will investigate whether the Christian Union broke its rules on equality. (Photograph: Sam Frost)
A university’s Christian society has banned women from speaking at events and teaching at meetings, unless they are accompanied by their husband, it has been revealed.
The Bristol University Christian Union (BUCU) had originally decided women would be allowed to teach at meetings after their international secretary resigned in protest, but the group has since changed its policy.
The Huffington Post UK has seen the email sent out by president Matt Oliver to all BUCU members which said: “It is ok for women to teach in any CU setting… However we understand that this is a difficult issue for some and so decided that women would not teach on their own at our weekly CU meetings, as the main speaker on our Bristol CU weekend away, or as our main speaker for mission weeks.
“But a husband and wife can teach together in these.”

Continue Reading


See also:

Confronting the Bewildering Extremes of Women in Church Leadership: One Actress’s Perspective

Bristol University Christian Union bars women from teaching

Christian Union Decide Women Should Be Seen Not Heard – Bristol University Student Newspaper 

Barna Group President David Kinnaman Interviews Lisa Whittle on Women in the Church

Part 8 in series: Women of Faith in Leadership

We fear being ‘outed’—that if our truth comes out, no one will love us or accept us and we will no longer be credible—when the truth is exactly the opposite.

Lisa Whittle

Having her whole world rocked—and in a very public way forced Lisa Whittle—author, speaker and Two Handed Warrior contributor–to honestly confront her own brokenness for the first time. That time of reckoning gave her a new appreciation for living in the open—and for the ways God can heal and use our weaknesses for his good.

In her new book, {w}hole, Whittle takes a look at Christian’s tendency to hide their weaknesses—from each other and from themselves. Based on her own personal and ministry experience and with research from the Barna Group, Whittle examines the stories we tell about ourselves versus the stories we are really living … and encourages Christian’s to embrace the truth about how God is using their lives—brokenness and all.

Here, David Kinnaman and Whittle discuss how women, in particular, struggle with the holes in their lives and a broken sense of identity—particularly when it comes to the roles they play.


Seven Questions with Lisa Whittle

by David Kinnaman, President of The Barna Group

Q: According to Barna Group research, a vast majority of Christian women say they are deeply spiritual (65%) and mature in their faith (75%). What is your first reaction to those numbers?
A: They don’t surprise me, but they do give me pause. Women have been giving the correct answers for a long time, particularly Christian women who are sensitized to a churchy response, so I wonder if that’s at play here. I wonder, too, if we answer this way sometimes simply to stop the conversation from diving in any deeper—I’d love to know what it means to be “deeply spiritual” to those who consider themselves this way. (And please sign me up for that deeply spiritual class because I feel like I still have a long way to go.) I’m not trying to be a cynic, but there’s a tinge of “I’ve got this Jesus thing down” in these high numbers and I push back on that a little.
We’ve got a bazillion Bible Studies and books to read and ministries that make us feel—at least for an hour a week—that we are close to God. But do I think that guarantees the depth of relationship with God is there? No. We believers are great at mixing the two of these up, and with the other issues women deal with on a daily basis, I would wonder if we are truly close to God or if we just do a lot of Jesus things that satisfy our spiritual side enough to answer this way.
Q: On the flip side, though women are satisfied with the state of their faith, they do not put a high priority on it. Or, at least, nowhere near the level of priority they place on their family. How can the church give the message to women that their faith (an intangible, hard-to-grasp thing most days) should come before their very-present children
A: I’ll be honest, that’s a tough one for us as women. And this statistic is part of the reason I believe there is compelling evidence that what we say about a “deeply spiritual” faith is a bit contrived. But I do think it’s both instinctual and a bit of a cultural message to put our kids/family first. So how does the church help us put faith above everything we care most about that sits right in front of us? I think it keeps speaking the message of God first in the most loving way. We have to help women understand there is a great richness in our roles as wives, moms, executives, ministers, etc., when we put our faith first. When that happens, we stop asking our families, friends and jobs to be our everything and start enjoying them as a relationship without the burden of defining us. To do it this way brings a new freedom.
Q: On an individual level, what will it take for women to place faith over family? To see it as you’ve said, that a rich family is, in fact, an outgrowth of a rich faith?
A: We have to get it in our heads and hearts that roles are beautiful and we should live them with every ounce we have … but it’s risky to put our greatest love and allegiance in them because life can take them away without our permission. It’s hard to hear that, but it’s true. God doesn’t cruelly snatch away our marriages, children or jobs, but sometimes life does. We have to know who we are outside of them—that who we are is not what we do. Our relationship with God was set up in such a way that we would need him most and would be able to count on him when other things went away or failed, even things we love most and try hardest to keep.
It’s not fatalistic to remember that life here is temporary and yes, so are our roles. But faith, God, our relationship with him is a thing of the eternal. Truly, he is the source of thriving people who work at jobs, walk through life married, single, with kids or without. And thriving people make the best wives, employees, parents and people. When we practice our faith first—put in the time with God—he helps us do the things we love, that are right in front of us—and he helps us do them better. Simple as it sounds, this has to become an everyday practice.
Q: What do you think it says about our culture—our American and Christian culture—that the top “sin” women admit to is disorganization  (over more traditional sins like envy, lust, greed, anger, etc.)?
A: It says some things we probably don’t want to hear, like we are lying to ourselves. This statistic was almost laughable to me, but then it just became sad. I truly hoped we were past the point where we were hiding our truth, even from ourselves, but this statistic reveals otherwise. I hear from brave women all the time who tell me they are addicted to porn, jealous of their girlfriend with a hot husband who makes tons of money, so insecure in the way they look that they stick their finger down their throat every night after dinner to throw up so they stay skinny. I don’t believe we have an epidemic of disorganized women. I believe it is the easiest thing to admit to so we can deflect from what is really going on inside our souls. Most of us would give anything for disorganization to be at the top of our problem list. Our struggles are about so much more, and we have to own them to get better.
Q: If a woman in your life told you the “media” has little to no influence on her life—as 70 percent of respondents claimed—what would you say to her?
A: I would say to look on her bathroom counter and tell me what sits on it and ask her if a commercial told her to buy it. I would ask her what kind of jeans she wears and if she knows the words to a Carrie Underwood song. I would ask her if she plays Words With Friends in the morning with her coffee and if she has a Facebook and how often she reads the status updates and looks at the posted pictures. It is a total crock to say media does not influence us. It does, more than we even know.
Q: What do you think is the danger of—and the reason behind—this seemingly overestimated sense of security, accomplishment and satisfaction present in the women surveyed?
A: I think there could be several reasons for it: 1) we aren’t challenging ourselves to step out and do anything hard or risky that breaks our daily routine or disrupts a life we see as safe; 2) we are continuing to spin our reality so we don’t have to face our truth; 3) we mistakenly believe if we can control everything, we can determine every outcome.
There is risk in all of these. When we don’t challenge ourselves, we eventually look for more to amp up our life and often in places that hurt us. When we aren’t honest about who we are, we eventually settle into a life with secrets, with silent hopes that are never realized. We live a half-way life that isn’t really real. When we believe we control everything, we fall hard when life lets us down and we discover we don’t.
Q: In your book, you emphasize the importance of acknowledging brokenness and holes—of allowing that those imperfections exist—as a significant factor in wholeness. So how do women get there? How do women get past shame and guilt and admit (even to anonymous researchers) that there’s brokenness in our lives?
A: I think gut level honesty comes when we understand the pay-off. It’s really getting women to take the first step, which involves staring down a lot of fear. If we truly knew what our lives could become by facing our truth, owning the holes and letting God be the filler, we would stand in line to acknowledge the brokenness within.
We fear being outed—that if our truth comes out, no one will love us or accept us and we will no longer be credible—when the truth is exactly the opposite. Women are tired of the idea of perfection and don’t relate to it. There is nothing more refreshing than an honest woman who is willing to share her crap first.
The motivation for change happens when we are so tired of living with holes we are willing to do whatever it takes—even facing hard truth—if we know in the end we will be better. We need more women who have experienced this for themselves to step up and show the power of God’s wholeness in their life so more women will step forward and join them. It’s what the church should be leading out in doing, but we have to get over ourselves first to do it.

Next Post in Series: Strategies for Women Leading Men, by Lisa Whittle

Read entire series: Women of Faith in Leadership

What Christian Women Think About Lifestyles, Priorities and Time Commitments

Part 7 in series: Women of Faith in Leadership

Women in American churches know how they want to be perceived by others: they want to be influenced by the Bible, and reject the idea of being heavily affected by the media. But is this an actuality or merely an aspiration?                                                                                                     -David Kinnaman, President, The Barna Group


by The Barna Group

If spirituality were Olympic gymnastics, most Christian women would give their personal faith top scores. Three quarters of Christian women say they are mature in their faith (73%). The good feelings continue when it comes to ongoing spiritual growth, as more than one third (36%) of churchgoing women say they are “completely” satisfied with their personal spiritual development, and an additional 42% say they are “mostly” satisfied. Only one quarter (23%) of these women admit they are less than fully satisfied with their spiritual growth.

When it comes to their personal relationship with God, only 1% confess they are “usually not too close” or feel “extremely distant from God.” The vast majority of women claim to have an “extremely close” (38%) or a “pretty close” (43%) relationship with God. An additional 17% feel more ambivalent, saying they are “sometimes close and other times not close.” Perhaps this perception of intimacy with God is driven by the fact that slightly more than half (52%) of the women surveyed say they take time every day to intentionally evaluate the quality of their relationship with God.

Family Over Faith
Though women project a calm, confident exterior when it comes to their faith, the research suggests their spiritual lives are rarely their most important source of identity. That role is taken up by the strong priority Christian women place on family.

The preeminence of family was most overt for Christian women when it came to naming the highest priority in their lives. More than half (53%) say their highest priority in life is family. By contrast, only one third as many women (16%) rate faith as their top priority, which is less than the cumulative total of women who say their health (9%), career performance (5%) or comfortable lifestyle (5%) are top on their list of life objectives.

Despite the characterization of women as intricately connected to their peers, only 3% of Christian women say their friends are their top priority, equal to those who place finances (2%) and leisure (1%) at the top.

What a Woman Calls Herself
Women’s sense of identity very closely follows their priorities, with 62% of women saying their most important role in life is as a mother or parent. Jesus came next: 13% of Christian women believe their most important role in life is as a follower of Christ. In third place is their role as wife (11%).

Any other roles women identify with came in at similarly low rankings and far below that of a parent, including that of employee or executive (3%), that of church member (2%) and that of friend or neighbor (2%). American citizen, teacher and caregiver all rank with one percent each.

Goals in Life
Perhaps not surprisingly given where they place their identity, Christian women also point to family-related objectives as their most important goal in life. Raising their children well is the highest goal for Christian women (36%). While, roughly one quarter of Christian women identify faith-oriented goals as most important (26%).

Though women consider themselves family-driven, their marriages may be suffering from a lack of intentionality: only 2% of Christian women say their most important goal in life is to enhance their relationship with their significant other. Marriage comes in below several other goals, including health (6%), career (5%), lifestyle (4%), personal growth (4%), morality (4%) and financial objectives (3%). Only goals related to personal appearance, relationships outside the home and travel come in lower than marital goals.

Women Like Their Lives
Maybe one of the reasons women often fail to mention marriage-related goals is that they are generally quite satisfied in their marriages. While Christian women claim high levels of satisfaction in many facets of their life, they are most satisfied with their marriages (59%) followed by their parenting (51%). Although these findings cannot entirely explain women’s lack of marital goals, it does suggest many Christian women find some of their deepest contentment in life from their marriage.

Satisfaction levels drop somewhat when it comes to areas of life outside the home—particularly as they relate to serving people in the community (26% are completely satisfied with this area of their life) and to using their gifts and abilities (31% are completely satisfied). Personal spiritual development, career, relationships outside the family and involvement in church are all areas of life with which women are modestly satisfied.

Major Influencers
Most people recognize they are being influenced by outside forces—and in many cases, such influence is welcome, even invited. And then, of course, there are influences people would rather not admit affect them at all. Such is the case with the women surveyed. Christian women are more than willing to admit they are influenced by their faith—particularly through reading the Bible and listening to sermons, with 75% of those surveyed saying the Bible has influenced them “a lot,” and 51% saying the same about sermons. Most women also readily admit their husbands have an impact on their actions and decisions, with 63% of married women saying their husbands influence them a lot.

However, after those top three influencers, women are much more reticent to admit they are swayed by outside voices—particularly when it comes to friends and media. Only 10% of Christian women say their friends have a lot of impact on their decision-making (though 51% say their friends do have “some” influence on them). An even lower number of women will allow that the media has any influence on them, with only 5% admitting the media influences them a lot, 25% saying the media influences them some and a striking 70% claiming the media has “little” influence over their decision making.

What it Means
The president of Barna Group, David Kinnaman, offers this commentary on the research. “Some may interpret this research as a false choice: can women be asked to choose between their role as a parent and that of their faith? They see motherhood as core to what it means to disciple and be discipled. Others may conclude this study shows too many women have created an ‘idol’ of their family, perhaps at the expense of their devotion to Christ.

“Between these extremes, perhaps these stats should help both moms and dads to consider the favorable—and potentially unfavorable—ways parenting has affected their faith journey. And church leaders, too, must wrestle with key questions: Has raising children and doing it well become central to the definition of being a good Christian? What happens to a mom who struggles in her role as a parent or to a woman who wants to but cannot become (or never becomes) a parent? Are these women somehow perceived as less Christian by fellow believers? Could a grace-based theology of faith in Christ be undermined if many Christians embrace a parallel works-based theology when it comes to their parenting? For church leaders and influencers the research underscores the complexity and importance of the God-given role of motherhood for millions of women.”

When asked to explain why so few women say they are influenced by media, Kinnaman adds: “In many ways, women’s self-perception revealed in this study seems to be aspirational. Women want to be influenced by the Bible, but they reject the idea of being heavily affected by the media. So these aspirations may be reflected in the numbers. Still, the way women describe themselves reveals something: they seem to know how they want to be perceived by others. Other findings in the survey reflect this pattern: women seem to be laying claim to a life they want, even if it’s not always current reality.”


Next:  David Kinnaman Interviews Lisa Whittle on Women in the Church


About the Research 
The study on which this report is based included telephone surveys with 603 women who are ages 18 or older who describe themselves as Christians and have attended a Christian church service within the past six months (excluding holiday services or special events). These Christian women were randomly chosen from the 48 continental states. The maximum margin of sampling error for a sample of that size is estimated to be within +/- 4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. There are other forms of survey error that cannot be statistically estimated.

7 Ways Women Can Damage Their Leadership, by Margaret Feinberg

Being a great woman leader doesn’t have to mean suppressing your gender

Part 6 in series: Women of Faith in Leadership

by Margaret Feinberg

Over the years I have met many fantastic women leaders. I lean forward to hear their every word and am always grateful to spend a spare hour with them over a cup of coffee or on a walk.
I have also met some not-so-great women leaders. I try not to wince as their shrill voice cuts across an audience and am a little relieved when I can escape.
How can you ensure you fall into the first category and not the second? Watch out for these seven ways you can damage your leadership as a woman:
Continue Reading


Margaret Feinberg is a popular Bible teacher and speaker at churches and leading conferences such as Catalyst, Thrive and Extraordinary Women.

Her books and Bible studies have sold over 600,000 copies and received critical acclaim and extensive national media coverage.

Click the image to learn more.

Next post in series: What Christian Women Think About Lifestyles, Priorities and Time Commitments

David Kinnaman Interviews Scot McKnight on Women in Leadership

Part 3 in series: Women of Faith in Leadership
Scot McKnight (
Scot McKnight, an award-winning author, blogger, Two Handed Warrior contributor, and professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL, has written extensively about women in the church, discipleship and the Christian life. Several chapters of his book, Blue Parakeet, are devoted to examining the biblical support for women in leadership. Additionally, his most recent book One.Life looks at what it looks like to live a life devoted to pursuing Jesus and kingdom living.
Here, David Kinnaman and McKnight take a look at the recent Barna research on Christian women today, particularly women’s levels of satisfaction within the church. Whatever your own take on women’s roles in the Church today, Scot offers compelling perspectives on the research.


Five Questions on Women in Leadership with Scot McKnight

by David Kinnaman, President of The Barna Group

Q: You have written quite a bit in your book Blue Parakeet and in other places about women in church leadership. After you looked through some of the Barna research on What Women Think of Leadership and Their Role in the Church released last week—on how women feel about their role in church—what were one or two things that struck you most?

A: Some of us have been working hard for the church to recognize the call of God to teach for women. Our struggle for women creates friendships with fellow strugglers, nearly all women. The struggle and the friendships suggest things are not so cheery in the church as the Barna numbers of this recent study show. I have no access to satisfaction studies of women when it comes to leadership, so I admit this study led me to ponder—rather quickly, and early the day the Barna notice arrived in my e-mail—the results. My own immediate conclusion was that women being satisfied really ought not to surprise. The majority of “attenders” and even more “active participants” in a local church are women, and this must indicate women are more satisfied with church than are men. So, I embrace that number as telling an accurate story of church life today. (I would like to know what percentage of males are satisfied, too.)

But I would like to press into the number that 73% are satisfied. I wonder if this is high enough. And I also wonder if some of those 73% could be more satisfied if their church both taught about women in ministry from a more expansive viewpoint and permitted women to—and here is where the whole issue lies for me—preach from the pulpit on Sunday mornings.

Now let’s consider the number from a different angle. What percentage of males in a church are satisfied? And even more importantly: What percentage of males in a church are called into pulpit preaching and theological teaching? I don’t think that number is very high; let’s say less than 5% of males are called into public teaching. So I wonder if the 27% of females who are not satisfied means there is a larger number of dissatisfied females who think they are called to teach/preach than dissatisfied males who think they are called to teach/preach.

Q: One thing we noticed was the different reactions to the research from inside and outside the church. While many Christians reacted with “Well, those numbers aren’t bad, most women are happy in church and with the roles they have.” The outside reaction (for example, this article by Hemant Mehta and this article in Washington Post) has been more of “How do any women feel as if they can’t be leaders in the church?”). How would you respond to both of those reactions?

A: Numbers are numbers for me. If the Barna number is accurate, then it gives us some factual knowledge about women and churches. Anyone who learns to reason on the basis of evidence instead of ideology or theology should embrace the facts.

Some who criticize are deciding for others what ought to make them satisfied. In Blue Parakeet and on my blog for years I have stated that I think a mutualist view of marriage and male-female relations in the church is the most biblically-faithful way to live out the gospel and the Bible in our world. But I have plenty of friends who are complementarians, some of them Christians and some of them not at all Christian, and I do not remonstrate [argue with] with them about their wrongness (in my view). When it comes to love and relationships, and when it comes to church and women, we have to approach others respectfully.

So, in marriage, my contention is that we let people love one another the way it is best for them. When it comes to Christian marriage we strive for a love based on the example of Christ and what the Bible teaches about God’s covenant love, which counters our cultural stance(s). In the church, we have genuine differences and I will defend the right of the complementarian to win the argument in his [their] church as I will also ask them to defend the right of the mutualist to win the argument in [their] church. But I admit to tiring when I hear those most committed to civil tolerance bash and trash those who differ with them, when they ought to respect the views of others.

Q: In our research, the vast majority of women say they believe they can be leaders in any role in church (and they also believe their church thinks this), but from experience you know this isn’t true. So, where’s the disconnect? Why do you think women believe this when it isn’t always true?

A: I don’t know what to make of this. “Any role” might already be defined as “roles appropriate for women,” and my own reading of that number in the Barna study immediately led to that conclusion. I could be wrong. So, perhaps another question to ask is this: What roles in your church can women play? So on the “My Church Does Not Allow Women To…,” I’d like to see another category: “Preach from the pulpit on Sunday morning.”

And, if I may push on this one, I’m not always sure what “leader” means: One might understand that to mean “I can be the leader I want to be because I want to be the leader of women’s Bible study.”

On this one I’d like to see a follow-up survey that asks questions connected to more traditional terms in the church: Can women be “elders” or “senior pastor” or “preach from the pulpit on Sunday mornings” (on a usual basis)?

But, again, numbers are numbers. The majority of women are satisfied with what they can do in their local church. I have no desire to disrupt that satisfaction. Instead, I want to be an advocate for women who believe they are called to teach the Bible and are restricted by their local church.

Q: Where do you see the church needing to connect more intentionally—or perhaps in a more challenging way—with women?

A: In some ways I believe we are selling women short by not educating the church about the expansive ministries available to women. The call of God does not respect ethnicity, class or gender/sex. God calls whom God wants, and this is seen throughout the Bible—from Deborah and Huldah to Mary, mother of Jesus, and to Priscilla and Junia. Furthermore, there are stories of women who are rarely told—Esther and Ruth being prominent examples. Time after time I asked students in my classes at a Christian college, students who grew up in churches, who some women were in the Bible—like Phoebe—and they had never heard of them.

So I believe churches need to re-commit to the women of the Bible and to do this we need churches across the globe teaching the passages about women in the Bible.

Then we need to tell stories about women in the church, women whose stories have not been told because male preachers and teachers have naturally gravitated toward stories of males. We hear plenty about Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Wesley, Billy Graham and rarely hear about women like Mary Bethune or Phoebe Palmer. Pastors and preachers and teachers and parents need to commit to reviving the stories of women whose stories have been neglected. This does not require a mutualist posture on women in ministry; it requires only the sacred recognition that God’s women have stories that need to be told.

Q: As you’ve observed the research we put out , are you encouraged or discouraged about what it says in terms of the state of Christian women today?

A: My first response is that I’m more informed. I’m also thinking we can sharpen the tool to ask some more precise questions that might shed more light.

But the overall conclusion is that in your survey field you find the conclusion that nearly 75% of women are satisfied with their church. That’s something to celebrate; any study that shows church folks are satisfied is news for much of the media today, so I’m glad for this.

This study showed to me again how few are actually called into the “ministry” as traditionally defined—so that the one-quarter or so who are not satisfied will reflect a variety of reasons, not necessarily because they want to exercise their perceived gift of teaching and preaching. The debate in churches over who gets to preach—males or both males and females—is a debate about a small percentage of actual males and females.

What this also shows to me is that we have to commit ourselves to focusing on what matters most: God—Father, Son and Spirit. The gospel, or the Story of Jesus—lived, died, raised, exalted and coming again—as the one true saving Story. Who preaches on Sunday morning matters, but Who gets preached matters even more.


Next Post in Series: The Bible and Women in Church Leadership: One Actress’s Perspective

See Also: How Men Changed Their Mind about Women in Ministry, by Scot McKnight

What Women Think of Leadership and Their Role in the Church

Part 2 in series: Women of Faith in Leadership

“There is an enormous range of experiences for women in today’s churches, from those who are very satisfied to those who feel as if the church is one of the least welcoming places for them to be.”                                           -David Kinnaman, President, The Barna Group


by The Barna Group

Women are the backbone of U.S. Christian churches. They are more likely than men to comprise the ranks of churchgoers, volunteers and Sunday school teachers. Yet, how do women feel about occupying these roles at their church? Do they feel valued? Undervalued? Are they satisfied with their level of involvement and their opportunity for leadership?
The Barna Group recently completed research into perceptions of Christian women in America, their views of leadership, church and their place in it.   Here is the raw data from the first round of that research.


Broadly speaking, the research depicts two types of experiences among Christian women. The first represents the majority of Christian women. Most express a great deal of satisfaction with the church they attend when it comes to leadership opportunities. Three quarters say they are making the most of their gifts and potential (73%) and a similar proportion feel they are doing meaningful ministry (72%). More than half say they have substantial influence in their church (59%) and a slight majority expect their influence to increase (55%).
Yet, the study also shows another experience for many other women. These women are frustrated by their lack of opportunities at church and feel misunderstood and undervalued by their church leaders. About three out of 10 churchgoing women (31%) say they are resigned to low expectations when it comes to church. One fifth feel under-utilized (20%). One sixth say their opportunities at church are limited by their gender (16%). Roughly one out of every eight women feel under-appreciated by their church (13%) and one out of nine believe they are taken for granted (11%). Although these represent small percentages, given that about 70 million Americans qualify as churched adult women, this amounts to millions of women in the U.S. today who feel discouraged by their experiences in churches.


A common stereotype is that women are not as likely as men to be leaders. But the research shows Christian women are equally likely as Christian men to consider themselves to be leaders. One out of every three Christian women use the term “leader” to describe themselves—the same proportion as among men.
On a positive note, many women leaders believe the church is a receptive place for their leadership. Women who self-identify as leaders most often find that role fulfilled in congregational settings (52%). Others say they serve as leaders on the job (31%), at home (29%), in their community (28%), in a school setting (18%), or at a non-profit organization (13%).
It is slightly more common for women to self-identify as a servant, a label embraced by half of today’s Christian women. Self-described servants say they embody this role by praying for other people (46%), encouraging others (24%), helping the needy (24%), sharing the gospel (23%), volunteering (21%), donating money (17%), and giving time to a non-profit (9%).
Even so, most Christian women feel the pangs of guilt and are motivated to do more with their life. Three quarters of women say they feel they can and should be doing more to serve God (73%).


The research also looked at how women perceive various aspects of their leadership opportunities within churches. The study highlighted a mixed set of perceptions among Christian women:
  • While most women (84%) say their church is either totally open to or mostly open to women fulfilling their leadership potential in their church, about one quarter of women (24%) still feel the role of pastor is not open to women.
  • More than three quarters of women (78%) disagree that the Bible prohibits them from being leaders in the church.
  • Most women say they are fully supported in pursuing leadership roles by the men in their lives, including their senior pastors (68%) and their husbands (63%). They are least likely to perceive this support from other male officers in their church (54%).
  • More than one third of women (37%) say their church would have more effective ministry if women were given more opportunities to lead.
  • Only half of women (47%) say the male leaders in their church are willing to change the rules and structures to give women more leadership opportunities.
  • Reflecting some of the challenges women experience in churches, 41% of women say they have more opportunities to lead outside of their church than within their church.
  • Overall, 82% of women say they can tell by its actions that their church values the leadership of women as much as it values the leadership of men.

Initial Comments from Barna President, David Kinnaman

David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, says this study helps to give context to the ongoing debate regarding women’s roles and the Christian community. “It’s tempting to take the examples of those closest to us as representative of all Christian women today. Yet, the research shows there is an enormous range of experiences for women in today’s churches, from those who are very satisfied to those who feel as if the church is one of the least welcoming places for them to be.”
Kinnaman also cautions that the research “should not be equated to customer service research, where church leaders try to keep their most committed constituents—women—happy. Instead, the study should be an invitation to better understand how both women and men work together to form a more Christ-like community.”


David Kinnaman Interviews Scot McKnight on Women in Leadership


About the Research 
The study on which this report is based included telephone surveys with 603 women who are ages 18 or older who describe themselves as Christians and have attended a Christian church service within the past six months (excluding holiday services or special events). These Christian women were randomly chosen from the 48 continental states. The maximum margin of sampling error for a sample of that size is estimated to be within +/- 4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. There are other forms of survey error that cannot be statistically estimated.
About Barna Group
Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. It conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to moral and spiritual development, and works with a variety of organizations to facilitate the healthy moral and spiritual growth of leaders, children, families, individuals and Christian ministries.
Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each update on the latest research findings from Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website ( Other research-based resources are also available through this website.
See also other Barna research on Christian women today.
© Barna Group 2012.

Two Handed Warriors Named to CT’s ’50 Women You Should Know’

Part One in Series “Women of Faith in Leadership”

Posted by Gary David Stratton, Senior Editor

Congratulations to Two Handed Warrior contributors Margaret Feinberg and Rachel Held Evans for their inclusion in Christianity Today’s “50 Women You Should Know” (below).  In truth, many if not most of the women on CT’s list are true Two Handed Warriors, including some excellent choices from the world of higher education: Shirley Mullen of Houghton College, Dorothy Chappell of Wheaton College, Kim Phipps of Messiah College, and Kara Powell of Fuller Theological Seminary, as well as reconciliation advocate Brenda Salter McNeil.
While one could quibble with the omission of many of the most influential women of faith in Hollywood (many of whom would never wish to appear in such a public list), it is a great honor and a sign of the growing influence of women in evangelical leadership.
May their tribe increase!


50 Women You Should Know

We asked key leaders which Christian women are most profoundly shaping the evangelical church and North American society. This is who they picked. 

by Christianity Today

Christian women who want to pursue influential roles in politics, the church, and other sectors of public life in the United States and Canada have never before had more opportunities to do so. As the following profiles in our cover package show, they are taking advantage of those opportunities in spades. It’s not just a golden moment for Christian women, of course, but for the entire church, as we benefit from the fruit of their manifold gifts.
Not that long ago, this cover package would have been inconceivable. But that isn’t to say that Christian women had no influence in church and society before 2012. It was women who formed the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. Harriet Tubman, a Christian who escaped slavery, went on to lead an influential movement within the Underground Railroad.
Methodist Frances Willard led two million members worldwide in the temperance movement more than a century ago, influencing many to support women’s suffrage as a “weapon of protection to her home and tempted loved ones from the tyranny of drink.” The movement also started kindergartens, passed child labor laws, and in the 1870s created the first daycares for the children of working women.
Today evangelicalism continues to feel the effects of women’s leadership. In the 1940s and ’50s, Henrietta Mears, a dynamic Christian educator, shaped the church’s future in powerful ways, discipling a number of future evangelical leaders, including Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.
Women writers have played a particularly important role in evangelicalism. Rosalind Rinker’s Prayer: Conversing with God changed the way evangelicals prayed together. Before Rinker, many believed that prayer should be in the King’s English, spoken formally, as if addressing a monarch. The idea that Christians could talk to God as a friend, conversationally, was Rinker’s radical idea that is now commonplace.
Tensions remain—and in some ways are exacerbated—as women pursue leadership in many spheres. Denominations and particular churches continue to argue about the appropriate role of women—whether they can teach men or be ordained, for example. Others debate how to best understand Scripture’s description of the role of women in marriage. Some raise concerns that by recognizing women who find a voice in the public sphere, we may be subtly denigrating the work of stay-at-home mothers. (This would be true only if one believed that public work was intrinsically more valuable than private, which would be hard to defend if one really believes the meek are blessed.)
In some key respects, though, the distinction between public and private, between professional career and mothering, is being blurred. Many stay-at-home moms have become publicly influential as they blog from their farmhouses, tweet from grocery stores, or phone in a conference call while watching a 2-year-old.
The causes and subtleties of Christian women’s newfound public influence will have to wait—it’s a topic that deserves careful analysis. In this issue, we simply want to highlight, indeed, celebrate, the simple fact of this new development, as women’s leadership gifts are changing the life of the evangelical church and North American society in remarkable ways.

View CT’s Complete List


Next Post in Series: What Women Think of Leadership and Their Role in the Church

See also:

7 Ways Women Can Damage Their Leadership, by Margaret Feinberg

The Danger of Calling Behavior ‘Biblical,’ by Rachel Held Evans