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 

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.

Is Jesus Still Surrounded by Too Many Men? By Cathleen Falsani

Why is Margaret Feinberg the most influential young woman leader in evangelicalism you’ve never heard of?

Cathleen Falsani and Margaret Feinberg are two of my favorite authors and bloggers. Last week they tag-teamed for a thought-provoking article on the future of female leadership in evangelicalism. I came away more determined than ever to seek to be part of the solution not the problem. Why?  I’ve seen too much waste of God-given gifts and talents in the church.

Today we interviewed a faculty candidate to teach communication in ministry for our department. The candidate was a gifted teacher who not only possesses all the requisite communication and theological degrees, they’re also an award-winning speaker, as well as a former TV anchor and talk show host.

The only thing lacking on their CV was extensive preaching experience. Why? Her local church will only allow her to do the announcements!

We recommended her for the job anyway. We don’t want our students to miss the privilege of being instructed by such a gifted and anointed teacher–a privilege the congregants in her own church may never know. Personally, I think that’s a crime against the kingdom of God.

You may disagree, but I highly recommend that you wrestle with the issue as Cathleen and Margaret explore it their interview.

May their tribe increase!


Jesus is Still Surrounded By Too Many Men

By in the Huffington Post.

Pop quiz: Name three women leaders in evangelical Christianity.

Not including women known primarily as partner to their better-known husbands. And just to make it interesting, let’s say they have to be under age 60.

Stumped? Don’t feel too badly. You’re not alone.

Back in 2005 when Time magazine published its list of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals,” only four women made the cut — and just two without their husbands. Of the two solo women, Diane Knippers and Joyce Meyer, only Meyer is involved in actual church leadership.

But Meyer turned 68 earlier this month, and Knippers (then president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy), died of cancer shortly after the Time designation.

From the outside, the evangelical Christian world, insomuch as it is identified by its “celebrities,” looks like Jesus’ good ol’ boys club: decidedly male and predominantly white.

In the words of the R&B group 702, “Where my girls at?”

Enter Margaret Feinberg

Since she began her writing career in 2001, Margaret Feinberg, 37, has written more than two dozen books, including the critically acclaimed “The Organic God,” “The Sacred Echo” and “Scouting the Divine.” She is a sought-after speaker for gatherings of young evangelicals including Catalyst, Thrive and Creation Festival.

In 2005, Charisma magazine listed her among the 30 Christian leaders under 40 who represent “the future of the American church.”

She’s probably the most influential young woman leader in evangelicalism you’ve never heard of…

Continue Reading

Female Filmmakers Need Not Apply: USC Study Reveals Staggering Hollywood Gender Gap – Response by Screenwriter Cheryl McKay Price

Industry Lip Service to Equality Pales in Comparison to Actual Ratios

“Nobody knows a woman like a woman. We should get to write, direct and produce for ourselves more than we apparently do. Where do I sign up to help make a change?” -Cheryl McKay

by Two Handed Warriors Editors

n 2010 Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for Directing in over 80 years of filmmaking (The Hurt Locker). Given the odds against women in the industry, is it any wonder that it took so long?
In 2010 Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for Directing in over 80 years of filmmaking (The Hurt Locker). Given the odds against women in the industry, is it any wonder that it took so long?

A recent study by USC’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism reveals the tremendous odds Kathryn Bigelow overcame to become the first woman to win the 2010 Oscar for Best Director (The Hurt Locker).

USC researchers focused on the 100 top box office hits of 2008, evaluating the 4,370 speaking characters and 1,227 above-­the-­line personnel in these films. The study revealed that, despite Hollywood lip service to the contrary, the industry is still characterized by staggering gender inequality. In the 5,000 most influential roles of 2008, men outnumbered women nearly five-to-one.

Cheryl McKay Price, screenwriter for The Ultimate Gift (2006) and the upcoming Never the Bride and The Ultimate Life comments: “The results of the USC study are quite abysmal.

Onscreen, only 32.8 percent of speaking characters in the top 2008 films were female. Rather than a one-year anomaly, researchers determined that 2008’s two-to-one ratio was actually the “highest percentage of females in film we have witnessed across multiple studies.”

The situation behind the camera was even worse. Astonishingly, only “8% of directors, 13.6% of writers, and 19.1% of producers are female.”  (See chart below).

McKay notes: “Given that both men and women are talented and have a voice in this world, I’d like to see those ratios even out in the film industry.”

Lack of Leadership Leads to Lack of Female Roles and Opportunities

The study also indicated a significant relationship between these two levels of inequality. Lack of female leadership positions behind the screen contributes to the lack of women onscreen (as well as the overt sexualization of those who do appear). Conversely, increased female creative leadership leads to increased female roles. “(T)he percentage of female characters jumps 14.3% when one or more female screenwriters were involved in penning the script.”

The USC Annenberg researchers Stacy Smith and Marc Choueiti concluded: “Our findings reveal that motion picture content is sending… consistent and troubling messages… that females are of lesser value than are males. This is evidenced by their on screen presence and the lack of employment opportunities behind-­the‐camera.”

McKay Price concludes: “Nobody knows a woman like a woman. We should get to write, direct and produce for ourselves more than we apparently do. Where do I sign up to help make a change?”


See Also 

Sex Objects: USC Study Reveals Hollywood’s Role in Sexualization of Teenage Girls

2011 Annenberg update: Hollywood Hooked on Sexualizing Teenage Women and Teen Girls


Sex Objects: USC Study Reveals Hollywood’s Role in Sexualization of Teenage Girls

Winning Hollywood’s War On Girls

There are a number of ways that faith-based filmmaking could make a significant difference in the culture-making impact of Hollywood: perhaps none more than as a movement aligned with Women’s groups against the radical sexualization of women in the media.

While violent and perhaps masculinized, Saoirse Ronan's role in 'Hanna' demonstrates that Hollywood is capable of portraying strong young women without resorting to overt sexualization.

A recent study by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism (below) confirms what the American Psychological Association has asserted for years: allegedly pro-women’s rights Hollywood is guilty of waging war against the psyche of young women.

The APA’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls reports that “Virtually every media form studied provides ample evidence of the sexualization of women.In study after study, findings have indicated that women more often than men are portrayed in a sexual manner (e.g., dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness) and are objectified (e.g., used as a decorative object, or as body parts rather than a whole person). In addition, a narrow (and unrealistic) standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized. These are the models of femininity presented for young girls to study and emulate.”[1]

The impact of sexualization on teenage girls has been devastating. Frequent exposure to media images that sexualize girls and women affects how girls conceptualize femininity and sexuality and often leads to young girls placing appearance and physical attractiveness at the center of a women’s value.

Once acculturated into this sexualized way of thinking of themselves and other woman, many young women suffer with: Ongoing struggles with shame, anxiety, and even self-disgust, Failure to develop healthy and enjoyable sexuality even as adults, Inabilty to develop healthy friendships with young men OR young women, Mental health issues such as eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression Reduced vocational excellence and academic performance (especially in math, science, engineering, and technology).

Jennifer Lawrence's imperiled role in 'Winter's Bone' earned the young actress an Academy Award nomination. Will "Hunger Games" explore or exploit her gender?

Now the world’s most prestigious Film School has joined the APA’s chorus against sexualization.

Perhaps it is time for Christian filmmakers to unite with the American Psychological Association, and Women’s rights groups in helping provide a counter-balancing influence in the entertainment industry. What such efforts might look like (certainly not boycotts), I will leave for other’s imaginations. Recent films featuring strong young women in a variety of genre’s–Hanna (action-adventure), Winter’s Bone (drama), Soul Surfer (family-friendly)–all point to the possibility of profitable and even Oscar-worthy projects free from sexualization.

With women currently filling less than 15% of the content creating positions in feature film–writers, directors, producers–and Christians perhaps even less, it will not be an easy project. Still an alliance between these two groups of ‘outsiders’ could be exactly what Hollywood, and the young women of America so desperately need.

Read the USC Report below.   . .

Study reveals new data on sexiness on screen

In USC Annenberg News

A new study released by USC Annenberg researchers Stacy Smith (pictured, left) and Marc Choueiti shows that Hollywood continues to be a difficult place for women to find on- and off-screen role models, and provides some grim details about society’s sexualization of teenaged girls.
In a survey of the top 100 grossing movies from 2008, Smith and her research team found that 39.8% of female teen characters were seen in sexy clothing, and 30.1% were shown with exposed skin in the cleavage, midriff or upper thigh regions. For male teen characters, the numbers were drastically lower – 6.7% shown in sexy clothing and 10.3% showing skin…
“These findings are troubling given that repeated exposure to thin and sexy characters may contribute to negative effects in some female viewers,” Smith said. “Such portrayals solidify patterns of lookism in the entertainment industry.”
Hollywood’s emphasis on sexualizing its women continues, the study found. Across four out of six measures of sexuality – from wearing sexy clothing to being referenced as attractive – female characters were much more likely than their male counterparts to be portrayed with objectifying attributes.
Nearly one quarter of female characters were shown exposing skin in 2008’s most popular movies…

. The study’s conclusion?

Our findings reveal that motion picture content is sending… consistent and troubling messages… that females are more likely than males to be valued for their appearance. Roughly a fifth to a quarter of all female speaking characters are depicted in a hypersexualized light. These numbers jump substantially higher when only teenaged females are considered. This result is particularly troubling, given the frequency with which young males and females go to the multiplex.




Read 2010 Report

Read 2011 Report: Hollywood Hooked on Sexualizing Teenage Women and Teen Girls


[1] Quotations from The APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. See also, Gow, 1996; Grauerholz & King, 1997; Krassas, Blauwkamp,& Wesselink, 2001, 2003; Lin, 1997; Plous & Neptune, 1997; Vincent, 1989; Ward, 1995.