When Jan and I first came to Medford, Oregon 20 years ago, to pastor what would become Living Waters Church, we were met by a strange phenomenon. Our valley was a stronghold for male-dominated church leadership. A woman behind a pulpit preaching was anathema to many who lived under the dominion of a patriarchal leadership structure.
About 15 years ago, I taught from Scripture the examples of women preachers, teachers, and prophets and how valuable their contribution has been to the unfolding mission of the Church on Earth. I also taught the contextual reality of what some have misinterpreted as a prohibition against women exercising a teaching gift. A simple study of the historical context sheds much-needed light on this misunderstood topic. A woman who had previously been part of a fellowship in our valley that did not believe women should be teachers came up to me after the Sunday service when I finished preaching about the gift of women. With tears in her eyes, she said, “I finally feel good about being a woman.” I was shocked and angry.
About the same time, a young couple visited our church on a Wednesday night. After service, they introduced themselves to Jan and me. They carried big leather-bound Bibles and appeared to be devout note-takers. After about 5 minutes of conversation, I realized they were from a local church that did not allow women to teach men. They asked about our “position” on the topic. I turned and looked at Jan, and from the expression on her face, I knew she was the one to address the issue.
Jan asked, “Did the church you came from have missionaries?” “Yes,” was their answer. “Were any of those missionaries women?” Again, “Yes.” Jan pressed it farther, “Did they teach the men in the cities and tribal areas where you sent them?” At this point, I could see the dismantling of thought was taking place. A concerned look crossed over the face of the couple, and one more time, they answered in the affirmative.
Finally, Jan said, “So, you are willing to let a woman go to another country as a missionary to teach both men and women, but you restrict that same gift once she returns to the United States?” The false teaching this young couple had been indoctrinated with was so deep they could not fully process the reality and cultural discrimination of its error. They left and never returned. And neither did a pastor from the same school of thought who visited my office one day when the topic of women in leadership arose. He stood up and marched out of my office, declaring, “Allowing a woman to teach a man is akin to denying Christ.” When my office door was slammed shut in my face, I felt deep grief for the pastor.
Imprisoning women in the shackles of limitation not only affects the women under its cruel dominion, but it also cripples the men who propagate the message. These men will walk through life spiritually stumbling in this area because they only see a limited view of God’s Kingdom through a narrow lens of spiritual discrimination that was never present in the Early Church, and most importantly, in the heart of Jesus Christ.