Role of Men and Women in Church

For most of history in societies that were influenced by Judeo-Christian culture, men and women had very different roles. Men did the hard, backbreaking work in the fields, or the long hours in the mines, while women worked around the house, cooking the food, making and mending household needs like clothes and soap, and rearing children. This of course has changed dramatically in the last century or so as more women have left the home and now perform many of the same jobs as men, even serving in combat in the military. What I’ve been thinking about is whether this new way of doing things can be Biblically supported? This breaks down into two categories: the church and the home. We’ll deal with the church first.

Roles of men and women in the church are very explicitly laid out in Scripture. All official church offices are restricted specifically to men. Period. There is no allowance for women in any pastoral or elder/deacon roles. Every time those roles are referred to, or laid out, they are either filled by, or limited to, men. For example, in Acts 6 when the Apostles delegate work to a group of deacons, they chose men to fill the office. In 1 Timothy 5 when Paul explains how elders ought to be treated, he uses the masculine word “father” to describe an elder. In 1 Timothy 3, when Paul lays out the criterion for a bishop or pastor, he specifies the bishop must be the husband of one wife. Obviously only men are husbands of wives. The same criterion is used for deacons. Offices established in churches are limited to men only.

Of course, we live in a time when there are more than just deacons, elders, and pastors in a church. We have Sunday School teachers, choirs, choir directors, youth pastors, children’s church, and a host of other ministries. What role should women serve in those? I think the answer to this comes from Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 2:9-14 and 1 Cor 14:34-35. The passage in First Corinthians makes it clear women are not to teach in church. Male headship is strongly emphasized. Women are supposed to be silent, but for what purpose? The context of 1 Cor 14:34-35 when cross referenced to 1 Timothy 2 makes it clear they are not supposed to be teaching, or leading

That may sound highly patriarchal and realistically, it is. That was God’s design. Paul even says “Adam was first formed then Eve.” as a support of his argument in 1 Timothy 2. Male headship is emphasized throughout Scripture. More on that below, but it is important here as well because it applies to the leadership of a church. Women are not permitted to usurp authority over men in a church setting. That would mean no female Sunday School teachers in mixed classes, no female “worship leaders”, and so on. However, given this would not apply to women teaching young minors, or other women. In fact, the Bible specifically instructs older women to teach younger women (Titus 2:3-5). Nor would it prohibit women from singing in choirs or in special music. Singing is done unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:19) and is thus an act of worship. Prohibiting a woman from worshipping God in a manner we are expected to do, but is not limited to men explicitly (as teaching, leadership, and pastoral roles are) is simply wrong. However, explicitly leading congregational worship, through song-leading or “worship team” leadership would be sinful because it places women in a position of church leadership.

My argument is not that women should not participate in worship, but that they should not lead it. A person who leads the church in singing is leading the church in worship, because singing is worshipping God. This would also be true of leading the church in prayer. Playing a musical instrument for corporate worship or singing or playing a special are expressions of individual worship and thus are acceptable. However, leading a male/female choir, or congregation in singing is different because its more than expression of individual worship, though it is that too. It is now usurping authority that God designed to be held by men.

Based on this principle we need to also discuss limits for men. While nothing is explicitly prohibited for men when it comes to church roles, I would argue that Titus 2:3-5 would at least advise against a man teaching a woman’s Sunday School class, or counseling/teaching minor girls. Given the potential pitfalls, this probably is not something he should be doing based purely on common sense, but I think Scripturally we can make a case for it as well.

Please understand I am in no way arguing that women should be excluded from the church or that they cannot use their talents to serve God. However, there are specific, well defined ways in which they can serve. When we allow women to step outside their God-ordained roles, we not only allow them to sin, we also cause grievous harm to the church.

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  1. Some context with the rest of Scripture would be helpful here. God raised up the judge Deborah to lead his people in the Old Testament. Priscilla and Aquila, the missionary and church-leading couple, are always listed with her name first instead of his as was the usual custom (four times). They together took Apollo under their wing and taught him in their home. Acts 18:26. A woman named Junia is listed as an apostle. Women are repeated mentioned by Paul as having labored beside him in his ministry.
    Please cite Scriptural references for why worship leader = teaching. Not following this train of logic.


  2. “No basis in fact” – these characters are mentioned in the inspired Word of God and therefore their existence is factual. Characterizing this comment on heroes of the faith as an outright “objection to the Biblical position” is ludicrous. Notice I wasn’t arguing against Paul’s command against having a woman lead the congregation, just pointing out that the New Testament is full of women who hosted churches in their homes and engaged in missionary work with Paul, and that mentioning their contributions to the early church would go far in rounding out the limited list of roles for women in the church that you have begun to list here. For example, the roles of prophetess and deaconess are also listed in the New Testament.


    1. I apologize for misunderstanding your comment. I understood it as you arguing against Scriptural instructions against female pastors/church leaders. I certainly acknowledge the existence of Deborah, Priscilla etc and we address that in the forthcoming response. I do not find the role of deaconess or prophetess mentioned as roles for the church. Would you please point to Scriptural passages making that statement? Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I completely understand the reason for the misunderstanding! Deaconess is a serving position and not a teaching position, and one scholarly analysis of the New Testament passages regarding deacons is provided here. (Notice that it does not support women in the teaching position of elder.)

        The post below gives the Scriptural references for the five women prophets referred to by name in the Bible: three in the Old Testament and two in the New Testament.

        Acts 2:16-18 quotes Joel 2:28 when it says “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”

        Just as a note, the office of prophet appears to be quite rare for anyone, man or woman, throughout Scripture, and all prophesies should come under close scrutiny from the Word of God. Anyone who prophesies falsely is not from God.


      2. Thanks for the links. I freely admit there were female prophets in the Bible but, there is no office of prophet in the NT church. Further, if (as I believe) prophecy has ceased, this is completely irrelevant to the discussion. I don’t think the case for female deacons is compelling. It really depends on how you choose to read the passage in question. In context, it really sounds like Paul is referring to deacon’s wives. The word used for Phebe means servant is even used for a civil magistrate so there is no requirement that it refer to the office of deacon. But thank you for the comment, you’ve sharpened by argument.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. As we both are committed to understanding what the Biblical position is on the issue, I hardly consider it argument! Discussion and clarification are important if we’re to be committed to searching out truth instead of holding to assumptions. I completely agree; it depends on how you choose to read the passage in question.


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