Leadership for Women in the Church

In this book, Susan Hunt and Peggy Hutcheson attempt to address the issue of female leadership within the body of Christ. They approach this sensitive topic from a very conservative position, acknowledging and even rejoicing in the biblical standard of male headship both in the home and the church. But they argue that traditional interpretations of male headship have led to churches failing to utilize all the unique gifts of women in the Body. This is really a primer for women to take leadership in ways that do not challenge male headship, so that the church will be effective in its ministry both to and by women.

At the beginning of each chapter the authors quote Psalm 34:3, which says, “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together.” And that is really the goal. This isn’t a book that rails against the men in our churches or pushes for women to have the same roles as men in church leadership.

Rather, it is a call to bring God glory and to do it together. That is the goal—not self promotion, not competition, not women’s “rights,” nothing to do with self at all. We are here to bring glory to God, to the abnegation of self. And, far from being stifling, this opens up wonderful opportunities for women to perform fulfilling and joyful service within the Body of Christ.

The authors start with a discussion of the biblical role of women and what it means to be a helper-leader. Contrary to what feminism would have us believe, being a helper (“ezer” in Hebrew) is not an inferior role—because God uses the exact same word for Himself frequently in the Bible! If God can call Himself our helper, there is no shame whatsoever in a woman being a helper. It is a necessary and valuable role. Basically it is the biblical complementarian view of manhood and womanhood: equal in value, different in function—and what that looks like in church ministry.

I loved the discussion of female leadership in the context of women in the Bible like Esther, Mary, Martha, Priscilla, and especially Hannah. Hannah’s life is a fascinating study because she exemplifies a third option to our fight-or-flight response to conflict. Hannah faced infertility (and open derision about it from the other wife in the home). She was also completely misunderstood by both her husband and the priest at the temple. But, although certainly wronged, Hannah didn’t fight for her rights or flee the situation. Instead, she took the third option: prayerful waiting. I think this concept is one of the most powerful points of the book.

One thing I didn’t love about the book was the Presbyterian flavor with all its emphasis on covenantal theology. Hunt and Hutcheson are certainly aware that they are speaking from that perspective and try to transcend it, and I think they succeed for the most part. But many of the structures they assume in church leadership look very different in my non-denominational church. Maybe this is a good thing; it prevents me from making their words into formulas.

Another thing I did not like at all is the exercise they recommend for confidence. They say that our confidence cannot be in ourselves or our abilities… but then they completely undermine that statement by saying we should go to the mirror and practice telling ourselves our good qualities, so we can have a “healthy self concept” and therefore confidence. They also recommend getting a group of women to tell us what they admire about us. It’s well and good to be aware of your strengths and gifts, but NOT in the context of learning confidence.

Our confidence is not in our abilities or how we can use a mirror to convince ourselves of how great we are. Our confidence is in Christ, not in our natural abilities (or lack thereof), and that is what makes our ministry effective. I don’t like going into this so deeply because the authors do say so many good things that I absolutely loved. I don’t want to undermine the overall message of the book by nitpicking. But they really, really failed in this particular section.

The conclusion is excellent. I’ll just quote some of it:

We challenge evangelical women to be pacesetters by leaving behind confusing rhetoric about our roles, and moving ahead to begin meeting needs. Make yourself available to serve the Lord and pray for wisdom to discern his direction. Ask God to develop within you a greater sensitivity to the needs of those he wants you to serve.

We beg you not to use anything in this book as a weapon to fight the men in your church. If you do this, you have completely misunderstood or misinterpreted us. Even if you are in a church that is not addressing the issue of employing women’s gifts, we urge you to resolutely refuse to become adversarial. Resolve to offer the winsome help that is needed.

…We urge you to focus the light of Holy Scripture on everything we have said. We are not infallible, but God’s Word is… It is your responsibility to put everything we have said through the grid of God’s Word. The Bible is the authoritative Word of God and the only rule for faith and practice.

As I seek to serve Christ by serving my local church, I will remember this book’s oft-repeated theme of God’s glory being central in all I do. This is not about me, but Him—what a wonderful truth! It frees me to serve as He designed, not as my ambition dictates. I’d recommend this book to any woman seeking to minister effectively in her church body. (****)

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