Rock Your Role is my series examining the “go to” and hot button Scriptures that relate to and help us understand our role as women in the church. The articles have garnered a lot of great questions from readers. I’ve been extremely encouraged to hear from so many women who love the Lord and want to obey Him. So, I thought it might be handy to have all of the questions and my answers¹, in one place.
1. Is a man violating Scripture if he seeks out or voluntarily sits under the teaching or preaching of a female Bible teacher or “pastor”?
Yes. Read more about that here.
2. Is there ever a time when it’s OK for a man to be in the room while a woman is teaching the Bible to other women?
Yes. There are some biblically legitimate reasons for a man to be in the room while a woman is teaching the Bible to other women. For example, if my pastor, an elder, or even my husband wanted to sit in on a Bible study I’m teaching to make sure I’m handling God’s word correctly and not teaching false doctrine to the women of the church, I would welcome that, and it would be perfectly biblical (frankly, more pastors, elders, and husbands should do just that). Likewise, it would be fine for a husband or father to sit in temporarily and check me out for his wife or daughter. Other scenarios might include a male reporter covering me or the class (I can’t imagine why anyone would, but…) or a male videographer recording the class.
3. What about Christian women bloggers and authors? Aren’t they teaching men if men read their writings?
The short answer is no. Click here for the long answer.
4. If I’m a member of a co-ed Bible study or Sunday School class led by a man, is it “teaching” the men in the class if I ask or answer a question, make a comment, or participate in the discussion?
No, assuming that this is a Q&A type of class in which discussion is encouraged (speaking out during a lecture-style class isn’t “teaching” either, its just disruptive and rude and would fall more under the 1 Corinthians 14 principle of being quiet so people can hear the pastor or teacher).
Asking and answering questions, making brief, appropriate comments, or participating in class discussion is not teaching any more than it would be if you were in a science or math class. The teacher is the one in the position of authority. He is supposed to be knowledgeable enough about what he’s teaching to guide the discussion and affirm insightful comments or correct misinformed comments. He is also in control of class logistics (for example, when to cut off discussion and return to teaching). In summary, the teacher is in charge, not you, and you are asking questions, commenting, and discussing under the umbrella of his authority and control.
If, however, a woman goes beyond simply asking or answering a question or commenting, essentially takes over the class, and begins lecturing everybody, that would be inappropriate.
5. What if I’m in a co-ed Bible study or Sunday School class taught by a man, and either the teacher or one of the male members of the class says something that’s in error, biblically? Should I speak out?
It really depends on the situation. Ideally, if a male member of the class makes an erroneous comment, the teacher should know the Bible well enough to correct him, or, at the very least, one of the other men in the class should do so. Likewise, if the teacher says something biblically off, the best case scenario would be for one of the men in the class to correct him (if you’re married, let your husband take the lead if he is with you and able to do so). If not, there are several factors to consider before jumping in with a corrective:
a) Are you sure you heard him correctly?
b) Is it possible he made a slip of the tongue and actually meant to say the right thing?
c) Does the majority of the class understand what he meant even if he accidentally chose the wrong word (for example, accidentally saying “Elisha” when the text is clearly about Elijah)?
d) Does this need to be corrected now so others won’t believe false doctrine, or is it something that you (or your husband) could talk to him about after class (think Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos)?
If the male teacher or class member says something incorrectly that’s unimportant, its best to just let it go. But if he says something completely unbiblical (and its not a slip of the tongue or a misunderstanding), nobody else is speaking up, and it can’t wait for a private discussion after class because it might lead others astray, then, yes, a correcting comment made gently, with a humble spirit, and backed up by Scripture is absolutely appropriate. A great way to seek or offer clarification in a way that’s not undermining or usurping the teacher is to ask a question rather than make a statement.
6. Is it OK for women to teach at Christian middle schools, high schools, or colleges?
Of course. A school, even a Christian school, is not a church. The biblical prohibition is against women teaching men the Scriptures, and applies to the gathering of the church. However, I believe it is most in keeping with the spirit of Scripture for a man to teach (co-ed) Bible classes starting around the middle school level. And, since chapel is a worship service, it should be led by a biblically qualified man.
7. What about women preaching or teaching the Bible (to Christians) at a Bible study / small group in someone’s home, the workplace, a coffee shop, etc., at co-ed Christian conferences, campus ministries, youth ministries, or parachurch ministries? Is that OK since they’re not preaching and teaching “in the church”?
Here, we need to remember what the definition of “church” is. The church is not a building, it is a body of born again believers gathered for the purpose of worship, prayer, the ordinances, and/or the study of God’s word. Those things can take place in a church building, a home (as with the first century churches in Acts), in a campus or office building, outdoors, in a conference center, in a sports arena, or anywhere else. So, when a body of believers comes together for these purposes, regardless of the building in which they meet, or whether you call it “church” or not, they are the church, and the biblical parameters about women teaching and holding authority over men applies.
This includes leading or facilitating co-ed Bible study groups / small groups meeting in homes. They should be led by men, and if the regular male leader is occasionally unable to lead, another man should fill in for him. (More here, 3rd section)
There are occasions when it is perfectly appropriate for a woman to address a co-ed audience at a Christian conference. For example, a woman who’s a computer expert teaching a breakout session on software that can be helpful to the church, or a woman experienced in children’s ministry teaching a session on security screening procedures, background checks, etc., or possibly even a situation like a women’s ministry leader addressing a group of pastors to give them insight into the struggles particular to Christian women, false teachers popular among Christian women, or how pastors can help the women in their church. The speaker would merely be handing the pastors a tool they can take back to their churches and implement. It’s akin to a nurse handing a doctor a scalpel during surgery so he can use it to operate. The biblical prohibition is against women instructing men in the Scriptures and exercising authority over men, not sharing their expertise or disseminating information on non-biblical topics. So women should not be preaching or teaching Bible lessons to mixed audiences at conferences, but there are other types of conference teaching and leadership that are perfectly biblical.
All of that being said, women who teach and speak, especially in the public eye, should give strong consideration to whether or not to speak on biblically-related topics (ex: discipleship, women’s or children’s ministry, ecclesiology, etc.) to audiences containing men, even if they are not technically teaching the Bible in that particular session. For one thing, it is nearly impossible to divorce teaching biblical topics from teaching Scripture. Indeed, biblical topics should be rooted in, and saturated with Scripture in order to teach them properly. Additionally, there are so many high profile Christian celebrities who violate Scripture’s prohibition on women teaching men that women speakers should consider how much more counter-culturally impactful it could be to the church, and to setting an example for women, to refuse to teach men.
Pastor Josh Buice does a wonderful job of restricting co-ed conference teaching to male pastors and teachers, while allowing doctrinally sound women to teach women’s breakout sessions at the annual G3 Conference he founded and leads. He explains more about women teaching at conferences (and other issues related to women teaching in the church) in his excellent article Why Women Should Not Teach the Bible to Men.
8. I teach at a Christian high school. My pastor says our school is an extension of the church. Is it OK for me to give a brief devotion and prayer in home room as required by my job description?
Yes. Again, regardless of what church or denominational leaders say about a Christian school being an extension, ministry, or outreach of the church, the fact of the matter is that a Christian school is not the same entity as a church. They are two different entities with two different purposes, parameters, and audiences (I mean, your church doesn’t charge tuition, right? And your school teaches subjects other than the Bible, yes? They’re different.).
The biblical admonition pertains to the church- the body of believers gathered for worship. These students are not gathered for worship, they are gathered for school, and the majority of them are probably not even believers. Additionally, these students are not yet adults, and are under your authority as their teacher in the classroom (similar to parental authority), not as their spiritual leader in a Bible study type of situation.
9. If I’m listening to a female Bible teacher and my husband walks through the room, should I turn off the program so he isn’t “taught” by the woman I’m listening to?
No, that’s not necessary. A man who overhears a female Bible teacher you’re listening to as he’s walking through the room is no more being “taught” than someone who gets a pie in the face is “eating.” He’s likely not even paying attention to it.
10. If I’m teaching a women’s Bible study and a man comes in wanting to join the class, should I stop teaching and ask him to leave? Should I put a sign on the door that says “women only”?
If you feel that a sign on the door would be helpful, then, by all means, post a sign. Usually if you advertise (on fliers, in announcements, etc.) the class as a “women’s Bible study” ahead of time, men get the picture and don’t show up.
If a man comes to your women’s Bible study and he isn’t there for another legitimate reason (such as the ones I mentioned earlier) but has come to the class seeking to be taught the Bible for himself, it would absolutely be appropriate for a female teacher to gently say something when he comes in like, “I’m sorry, but this is a women’s only class. Maybe you were looking for Joe Blow’s class down the hall?” Be kind. These days a lot of men don’t even know it’s unbiblical for a woman to teach men.
11. What about evangelism? Can women share the gospel with men at work, among friends and family, at the store, through an outreach ministry?
Women not only can share the gospel at every opportunity, the Great Commission mandates it for every Christian. However, it is important for godly women to use caution and wisdom when interacting with men in any situation, especially one that can turn out to be very personal and emotionally intimate, as with witnessing.
My counsel would be that you’re generally OK if you’re in a public place and it’s a one time encounter (for example, witnessing to a stranger at the store). However, if we’re talking about multiple encounters – for example, a male friend or co-worker who wants to continue meeting with you over time to talk about the gospel – it might be best to meet with him a couple of times (in a public area) and then “hand him off” to your husband, pastor, elder, brother, friend, etc., for further discussion.
There are several reasons for this.
It protects your reputation. If people see you meeting with a man on an ongoing basis (especially if one or both of you are married) they can jump to the wrong conclusion, and your reputation, and Christ’s, can be sullied.
It protects your virtue. Unfortunately, some men, who have no interest in the gospel, might see your eagerness to meet with them as an opportunity to take advantage of you.
It protects both of you from temptation. A personal relationship with Christ is exactly that- personal. Discussing sin, conviction, and other matters related to salvation can lead to emotional intimacy, which can then lead to physical intimacy. You don’t want what started as a witnessing encounter to end up as sin.
When it comes to outreach ministries (for example, a meal for the homeless, followed by a group gospel presentation or Bible lesson), it’s best for a man to lead co-ed (or male only) adult groups in anything that could be construed as preaching or teaching the Bible. Not because this is in the church setting and the situation falls directly under the parameters of 1 Timothy 2:12, but because…
…there are a lot of highly visible female preachers (Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Gloria Copeland, Christine Caine, etc.) out there, all of whom are in disobedience to 1 Timothy 2:12 and teach false doctrine (usually Word of Faith/New Apostolic Reformation).
The Bible says we’re to avoid even the appearance of evil, and you don’t want to appear to be one of those women if it’s avoidable. Having a man lead the teaching helps distance you and your church from those types of sinful women and their bad theology, and sets a godly example for the people you’re ministering to.
…the Great Commission is clear that we’re not just to make converts, we’re to make disciples. That means the ultimate goal of evangelism is to get the newly saved person plugged in to a local, biblical church. Why confuse a new Christian by having women lead out “in the field” when it’s not going to be that way in the church?
…there are very few examples in the world of what it really means to be a man. Men are constantly emasculated on TV and in society and receive all kinds of conflicting messages regarding what real manhood is. What an impact on lost men (and women) to see an example of a godly, masculine man who leads well, fulfills his duties and responsibilities, and is totally sold out to Christ. If you have someone like that, why wouldn’t you want him to lead?
12. What about teaching my sons the Bible? Should I stop when they are teenagers?
This is a little bit of a different question because now we’re talking about the home instead of the church. We’re also talking about minor children who are under your authority as a parent rather than men or youth in your church who are not under your authority. Additionally, there is no Scripture which clearly addresses a specific age at which a mother should stop formally teaching her sons the Bible.
Ideally, Dad should regularly lead the whole family in Bible study, because the Bible says he is to be the spiritual leader of the home. But if your husband is OK with you also teaching your sons the Bible at another time of day in a way that complements what he’s doing in family worship time, there’s no biblical problem with that.
My husband leads our family worship, but I also teach my teenage sons a chapter of the Bible every morning before we start school. My husband is fine with that because it goes hand in hand with what he’s doing as our spiritual leader.
My counsel would be to talk it over with your husband and decide together what would be right for your family according to the limited biblical principles we have that address this issue. My thought is that as long as long as these children are in your home under your parental authority, and your husband is OK with it, it’s fine to formally teach them the Bible.
13. What about teaching the boys in my church’s youth group?
Women should not serve as youth pastors. The Bible restricts pastoral and elder roles to men.
As to teaching the Bible to co-ed groups of minors (in Sunday School, as a youth helper, etc.), there is no hard and fast rule, but my recommendation is that a good time for women to break from teaching boys at church is around the time they start middle school. In the Bible, boys traditionally moved from childhood to adulthood at age thirteen. Jesus exhibited growth toward manhood and engaged the rabbis in the temple at age twelve. Of course, these are both anecdotal and neither means this age is the basis of any sort of law for Christian women about teaching boys, but there seems to be some wisdom there- a good rule of thumb. Once they hit their early teens, boys really need the guidance of godly men who can lead by example and teach them what it means to grow into godly manhood. When it comes to teaching adolescent boys at church, it’s much less about what women are “allowed” to do and much more about the best way to grow godly men. Only men can train boys to be men.
14. Is it OK for women to make announcements, or give mission reports or personal testimonies during the worship service?
I don’t see why these would be a problem biblically, as long as she doesn’t veer off into preaching, exhorting, or instructing the congregation… (See the remainder of my answer to this question in #2 of this article and in this article.)
15. Should women lead prayers or read Scripture aloud (verbatim, no commentary or teaching) from the platform during the worship service?
I would discourage both for a couple of reasons.
First, while neither is technically a violation of the “letter of the law,” so to speak, in the times we live in where so many women and their churches are in rebellion against the biblical role of women in the church, having a woman lead prayer or read Scripture from the pulpit or platform may send a message – to visitors and church members – that your church doesn’t want to send.
If a visitor walks in and sees a woman leading in this way she could draw the conclusion that your church is egalitarian. If she’s looking for an egalitarian church and thinks she’s found one, you’ll eventually have to disabuse her of that idea, possibly months down the road after she has already joined the church. If a visitor who’s complementarian comes in and sees women leading in this way, she could also draw the conclusion that your church is egalitarian and get up in the middle of the service and leave before you have a chance to explain the situation. The same kinds of conclusions could be drawn by the members of your church with similar results, causing unrest in your church. Why put a stumbling block in front of your visitors or members?
Second, there seems to be a tragic dearth of male leadership in the church in general. So many men are either too lazy or too afraid to lead, or they see very few examples of what leadership by a godly man looks like. I think it would be great for the pastor to sometimes ask men who need to learn leadership skills to dip a toe in the water by leading a prayer during church, and at other times ask a spiritually mature man to model leadership skills by leading prayer during worship. Sometimes, these kinds of situations aren’t about women’s roles, but men’s needs.
16. Should women serve as worship leaders? What about singing solos, singing in the choir, playing an instrument, etc.?
No, women should not serve as the worship leader. The primary reason I say this has more to do with the position of minister of music – a term I think we need to get back to – than the role of women in the church. For the secondary reason, see #15 above…Singing in the choir or on the praise team, singing solos, playing an instrument, etc., under the leadership of the minister of music, is, of course, fine… (See the remainder of my answer to this question in #4 of this article. And be sure to read Scott Aniol’s excellent article on this subject: Who Leads Worship?)
17. Should women serve as deacons/deaconesses?
It could be perfectly biblical if we’re using a Scriptural understanding of a deaconess’s duties and position, not the understanding many churches currently have of the (male) office of deacon. In many churches male deacons function as, and are given the authority of elders, carrying out teaching, leadership, authority, and other duties and characteristics that would be biblically inappropriate for women… (See the remainder of my answer to this question in this article.)
18. Can women be missionaries? Is it biblical for women to carry out the Great Commission?
Yes. Absolutely. In fact, we need more women – single and married – to serve as missionaries (more men, too). The only caveat is that women who serve as missionaries need to do so in a way that is in keeping with Scriptural principles of women’s roles in the church. (For example, female missionaries should not be pastoring churches on the mission field. A missionary’s job is to share the gospel with people and then disciple them in sound doctrine, and you don’t want to be teaching false doctrine through the act of preaching to men.) But there are oodles of mission opportunities that fit the bill… (See the remainder of my answer to this question in this article.
19. Can women perform baptisms?
Although there is no biblical prohibition against it, what seems to be most in keeping with the pattern of both Scripture and church history is for pastors and elders to perform baptisms. This would preclude women, as well as most men, from performing baptisms. For more details, see my article Basic Training: Baptism.
20. I’ve heard people say it’s OK for women to preach or teach the Bible to co-ed groups as long as they are doing so under their pastor’s and/or husband’s authority. Is this true?
No. There is no Scripture that says it’s OK for pastors/husbands to extend some sort of mantel of authority to a woman to do these things. When God says “no” about something, no man has a right to say “yes.” I’ve written more about this in my article Fencing off the Forbidden Fruit Tree.
21. Is it biblical for women to serve as children’s directors or children’s pastors/ministers?
It could be, depending on the situation. (Women should not bear the title Children’s “Pastor” or “Minister”, though. Biblically, women are not pastors/ministers, so carrying that title would be dishonest and misleading.)
It is perfectly biblical for women to teach and lead children in the church setting. (And when I say “children”, I mean birth to about age 12. I’ve addressed women teaching youth/teens above in #13.) The biblical prohibition is against teaching and holding authority over men in the church. Male children are not men.
The potential 1 Timothy 2:12 issue is not with teaching and leading children or supervising other women who teach children. The issue at play is whether or not a female children’s director will be holding unbiblical authority over any men who work or volunteer in the children’s department as Sunday school teachers, Awana leaders, nursery workers, etc. And that’s something that’s got to be examined on a case by case basis. It could be completely biblical for a woman to serve as a children’s director in one church but not in another simply due to circumstances of the environment.
Does the church have only women working in the children’s department? Is there an associate pastor or elder over the female children’s director that handles any issues of authority? Would she have to train, evaluate, or correct male volunteers? What kinds of things would male volunteers need to come to her about? These and other questions all need to be carefully considered by her pastor, elders, husband, and the woman herself.
If a pastor or elder oversees the children’s director’s leadership so that she is acting under his authority and at his direction (including the pastor/elder vetting and approving any curricula and materials, guest speakers, activities, etc., she wishes to use), and she is not violating Scripture by preaching to men, teaching men Scripture, or exercising authority over men, I don’t see why it would be a problem for a woman to lead the children’s ministry. In fact, Christian women and churches who handle this properly could be a superb example and model for other Christian women and churches.
There are thousands of practical scenarios we could go through about women teaching men, but at the end of the day, we ladies have to examine our hearts honestly and ask ourselves: Is it my heart’s desire to do everything I can to obey and submit to Scripture out of love for Christ, or is it my heart’s desire to do what I want to do and either ignore Scripture or twist Scripture to make it fit what I want out of love for myself? That’s ultimately the heart of the matter.