Christian women, Church, Complementarianism, Mailbag

The Mailbag: Should women give testimonies and reports, lead prayer and worship, read Scripture, in church?

I was wondering about having a female missionary giving a talk on her mission field in place of the sermon for that Sunday. Also we have had a female worship leader saying the prayer at the end of the service.

When we consider women’s roles in the church, it’s good to think about these “real church life” types of situations and how best to handle them according to Scripture. A couple of resources here at the blog that might be helpful to those thinking through these issues are my Rock Your Role series- especially, Rock Your Role FAQs.

There’s a lot to address in this reader’s question, so let’s break it down into several smaller questions.

1. Is it ever OK for another sort of presentation to take the place of the Sunday morning sermon?

Well, it’s not anathema or anything. The Bible doesn’t command a certain order of worship on Sunday mornings (for that matter, it technically doesn’t even command that we meet on Sunday mornings, but that’s a bucket of worms for another day), but as we read through the New Testament, it’s apparent that preaching and Bible teaching were the centerpiece of the New Testament church’s worship meetings. I think that’s a good example to follow.

I’m a little leery of anything taking the place of the Sunday morning sermon. If I were a pastor (which I know we’re all glad I’m not) I would probably consider scheduling special presentations such as a lengthy mission report, choir presentations, dramas, etc. during the Sunday evening service, the midweek service, or another day. If the mission report could be shortened to 10 or 15 minutes, perhaps it could take the place of other parts of the worship service, or the service could (gasp!) be lengthened a few minutes.

If the mission report has to take the place of the Sunday sermon, the optics of a woman giving the report are a little iffy, because it gives the appearance that she’s delivering the sermon. If a man could give the report, or if the pastor can at least take a teaching moment to verbally clarify to the congregation (for visitors and others who may not understand what the Bible says about women preaching) that the woman giving the report is not preaching or delivering the sermon, that would be helpful.

2. Is it OK for women to give mission reports or personal testimonies during the worship service?

(For the purposes of this question, I’m going to assume that whatever kind of mission work the woman is doing is in compliance with Scripture. Also, the reader did not ask about personal testimonies, but I’m throwing that in because the two are similar in nature.)

I don’t see why either would be a problem biblically, as long as she doesn’t veer off into preaching, exhorting, or instructing the congregation (which I have seen happen), because that’s the biblical prohibition, not that women are never to open their mouths in church. I once heard a pastor say that when someone is going to give his or her testimony in his church, he has the person write out what will be said and then goes through a “dress rehearsal” of the testimony with the person where he can offer advice or editing. This is a really good idea, not just because of women (and men) who tend to veer off into preaching, but to correct any false doctrine the pastor wasn’t aware the person held to, to keep the testimony from going too long, etc. This would work for mission reports too.

I would encourage women who give reports or testimonies to check in with your pastor well in advance and ask if he has any advice, parameters, or concerns with what you might say. Focus on the fact that you are giving a report on, or testifying to, what you have personally seen, done, experienced, or learned. It’s fine to talk about something God has taught you through His Word or read a verse you found helpful in your situation. What’s not fine is to turn things around and tell the congregation what they need to do, learn, think, or believe. I know we’re constantly driving home the point that when it come to church, the Bible, doctrine, etc., it’s not about you…it’s not about you…it’s not about you. In this case…it’s about you and your story – giving all glory to God, of course.

3. Should women lead prayers or read Scripture aloud (verbatim, no commentary or teaching) from the platform during the worship service?

(I’m throwing in Scripture reading even though the reader didn’t ask about it, because my answer is basically the same for both.)

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.

4. Should women be worship leaders (lead the congregational music)?

(Let me just take a moment to say that my husband has been a minister of music for about thirty years, so I do have some experience in this area.)

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. The secondary reason I say this is in #3, above.

Overseeing the music ministry of the church, selecting music for worship and the teaching of biblical truths, being in charge of half of the worship service, and leading the congregation in worship is not some inconsequential thing that can be shuffled off to any Tom, Dick, or Harry who happens to have a nice voice. It is a pastoral role. As the pastor shepherds the congregation through the exhortation of the preached Word, the minister of music shepherds the congregation through the worship, praise, declaration, and imploring of the words we sing. Preaching is when God speaks to us. Singing is when we speak to God. And we need a pastor to teach and lead us to do that biblically.

By biblical definition, women are not to be pastors or hold that kind of functional authority over men in the church. Therefore, women should not hold the position of minister of music or “worship leader” (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). By the same token, men who do not meet the biblical qualifications of pastor or elder should also not hold the position of minister of music. Placing biblically unqualified people in pastoral positions is not only disobedient to Scripture, it exposes the church’s low view of, and lack of reverence for the lofty act of worship.

Please read Scott Aniol’s excellent article on this subject: Who Leads Worship?

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.