03 August, 2006

Presbuteras: What difference could it make?

How would the church be different, for better and worse, if women shared in leadership?

I will not pretend to know, but the question is important, so I am going to take some guesses at it. I hope that ya'll will too!

If my last post was emotional, this one will be abrasive to some because I am going to engage in stereotyping. It's not intentional, but I have to assume there will be some difference in the church if women start taking over key roles, and that the differences are predictable. If I cannot hope for improvement from the change I am recommending, then I should not recommend it.

In my experience in the workplace, I have found women to be different types of leaders than men. The women for whom I have worked have tended to be better at follow-through, more detail focused, and more people focused. The men I have worked for have tended to initiate more changes, have a bigger-picture focus and to value overtime more.

Yes, my personal experience agrees with many stereotypes. I find that reassuring, because stereotypes are usually true. I believe it is wise to assume that boys and girls are different, and that when they exercise God-given gifts and authority in the church they will do it differently.

(Do you know what happens when you assume? You save time, and usually LOTS of it! People with whom I am competing, and who break up ass/u/me into "you", "me", and ~donkey~ make me very happy. I will finish any task while they are still re-verifying that wheels are round. The trick is to assume as much as possible, and no more.)

So, can I assume that all women will be better at follow-through, focus closely on detail, and care more about people than men in the same role? Of course not. There are exceptions to every rule. Don't bet on the exceptions, though. The race is not always to the swift, but bookies make a pretty good living by handicapping like it will be.

Given that things will change when women are in charge, that stereotypes are permissible, and that exceptions can be overlooked in this little exercise, what do I guess will change?
- There will be more hugging, remembering of little pains, and visiting
- More little things will be done more completely
- Classes will be better attended, because there will be more cookies and fun chat
- Classes will be more focused on real problems than on doctrinal preparations
- Studies will consider more counter-examples. When a doctrinal point may have knotty consequences, they will be discussed more completely as opposed to the truth merely being stated.
- Food will be a part of more church functions
- Brothers and sisters will know more about each other
- Since we will know more about each other, we will do more to care for each other
- More followup will happen. When someone has a need, it will more often be met in the long term, not just once
- Sin will be less feared, and therefore more directly addressed. Women tend to be more realistic about human weaknesses than men, so they can accept sinners more readily.
- Confession one to another just may become part of the church's common experience.

Let me drill into those last two a little bit. Men care about pecking order while women care about groupings. Men want to know whom they are above and below, while women want to know by whom they are being rejected.

If you will let me make that casual (and I honestly hope not offensive) assumption, then what does that mean to the church? Men and women live by different fears. Men fear falling beneath someone whom they do not respect. Women fear falling out with people whom they enjoy. Men will tend to let relationships slide to maintain respect, while women will tend to struggle for relationships when they should be released. Exceptions exist on both sides of the line, but I think the tendencies are pretty solidly established.

I hope it is obvious that I believe that these two sets of weaknesses and strengths are complementary to each other. In no way do I believe that women are better or worse than men, but I do believe that women are different. I believe that difference needs to be used to our advantage!

The fears of men are not worse than those of women, but have been played out on the public stage over the centuries. Take Luther and Zwingli as a famous example. These two strong brothers agreed on 13.5 of 14 points, then divided their churches from each other over that half-point. Could they have been helped through that half-point? Could they have found another way to look at the problem? Of course they could have. There is only one Lord's Supper, and they could have found a way to agree on what it is. They needed a help-meet to look at it differently with them.

This little drama has been played out by men for century upon century. You don't get 10,000 denominations by struggling to maintain relationships! If we balance out our leadership, we might just stop that bleeding.

So, I believe that we will see improvements in the church at both the person-person level and at the doctrinal/hierarchical level.



Milly said...


I agree with you it’s pretty much on the nose on these assumptions.
I was constantly told by my boss as an assistant manager “You can’t see the forest for the trees” My responses, usually in anger, went like this: That tree needs to get up and make the muffins, that tree isn’t in uniform, we are out of that tree, and the sap who delivers is late. Why does that tree think . . . .and so on. I was paid to take care of the details that he ignored.

Most women decorate the homes because you men see house: structure to keep us out of the elements. We see places to put seashells (The bathroom, give a girl a seashell and she’ll put it close to water.) We pay attention to the little things. Look around at your coworkers desks.

Here’s the thing about the nurturing. Our men’s retreats seem to have more learning to them, they seem to have substance. We women are love and hugs and relax. I retreated to my room last time and won’t be going this time. Women have drama. . . . we do. Someone has some sort of moment that disrupts everything. We also share important moments we bond and talk we laugh and cry.

Codepoke can look back a comments and see that Andreia and I have at times been rather nurturing to him. It’s in us. That’s not saying that men aren’t emotional bankrupt, you guys have big hearts. It’s just different.

codepoke said...

Thanks, Milly. We'll see whether anyone else agrees with the basic concept.

What do you think a COC would look like with women included in the plurality of elders?

Milly said...

What do you think a COC would look like with women included in the plurality of elders?

Something to think on. It's not like we aren't as wives whispering in the ears.

Oloryn said...

Just to add something different into the mix:

Re the risk of stereotyping: My own take on this is that neither masculinity nor femininity are single, monolithic things. They're each a melange of a large number of ingredients, each of which might be emphasized or de-emphasized in a particular individual. Complicating the whole thing is that one's masculinity/femininity isn't by any means the whole of one's personality, and some of the ingredients may appear in a person, not as part of their masculinity/femininity, but just as part of that person's general personality. The result is pretty much what we see, that you can pretty well draw some generalizations on the differences between the sexes, but you're always going to find exceptions.

I generally tend complementarian rather than egalitarian (if I understand how those terms are being used), but I was for a couple of decades comfortable as a member of a small, independent Charismatic Church lead by a couple where, for all practical purposes, the woman was the senior pastor. So I can seem some place for women in leadership.

And you could definitely tell that coming from a woman's perspective affected her pastoring style and teaching. I at one point summed up her teaching over the years as "Making the Love of Jesus Practical". She brought a woman's practicality about relationships into her teaching, with very positive results.

But I'm becoming increasingly concerned that the complementarian/egalitarian conflict is becoming something of a red herring - that argument is masking the real cause of some of the problems they argue about: a general blithe ignorance of bibical concepts about handling authority. We're called to follow One of whom it is said that He "didn't consider equality with God a thing to be grasped", yet we tend to hold on for dear life to all of the perks and comforts provided by what drabs of authority we're delegated here. Jesus taught servant leadership, and said the greatest among us would be our slave, yet how often do we merely mimic the world's attitudes about authority?

I'm not saying this is easy. Putting into practice the exercise of our legitimate authority in a servant way without merely turning servanthood into abdication of authority is difficult. I'm just wondering if in general we're even asking the question. I've seen lots of teaching about submission. Where is the teaching about exercising leadership in a Godly, non-arrogant, servant way that doesn't just water down authority? It's not like only a few really need it. Just about every Christian will be in some position of authority during his/her lifetime (if nothing else, most will end up as parents). Teaching on how to exercise that authority in the way Jesus intended is something we all need.

At times I'm afraid that we don't teach it because we don't know it. I've even more afraid that we don't know it because we don't see it as something worth study.

How much would this change even a complementarian perspective? I've long felt that too many men take the concept of male headship as though it was a sop to the male ego. Given the biblical pattern of God giving leadership not to those who in the natural are most capable, but to those who are least (because that makes them dependent on God), it's questionable how justifiable that is.

codepoke said...


I know you are at least half-kidding about pillow-talk equaling shared leadership, but boy is that inferior to me. First, it excludes those who are not married to elders. Second, no matter how much an elder likes his wife's ideas, he can only bring them to the other elders second hand, at a second meeting, and filtered through his brain. (My mind is like a steel trap - it mangles everything it catches.)

Sorry, could not resist saying that.

codepoke said...

Nice to meet you, Oloryn.

Good thoughts, all. Thank you.

In my mind, I am trying to base this female eldership series on a leadership series I just finished. In that series I touched on a number of the points you made about servant leadership. The leadership series preceeded the presbuteras series because, like you, I believe true leadership is a higher priority than feminine leadership. Though, in my mind, it is only slightly higher.

And you could definitely tell that coming from a woman's perspective affected her pastoring style and teaching.

Thank you for this.

I agree with you that there is no one purely masculine nor feminine, and that we are talking about tendencies more than concrete patterns. Obviously, I also agree that the different perspective a woman usually brings can change a lot of things. Now, to see whether the scripture supports it...

Thanks for joining in!

Milly said...

I have a very ugly story of destruction to a church body over the men talking to the wives and the wives talking and the wives and the men talking to others. I’ll not share it because it was ugly and hurtful. I was only half kidding, too bad it’s only half in some cases.

Tonight I might speak out.

codepoke said...

And to all my visitors from "Gifts for Men" .... Uhhhh. ???

No clue how they pick to whom they link, but I can take a joke. :-) You have dropped into the middle of a discussion about women being given authority in the Christian church. Make yourselves right at home. ;-)

codepoke said...

May the Lord grant you wisdom and loving insight, Milly.

Andreia said...

Im super bummed that I have 8 hours of LSAT work to do tonight....because I gotta say something! Oh maybe tomorrow!

codepoke said...

I'm proud of you. It's all part of keeping your initial promise. :-D

Milly said...

Tonight I was very open and honest on my views. It was received very well. Thank God.

Andreia said...

Can I be so bold as to ask you to define complementarian and egalitarian? I feel confident that we would define them in similar ways but I thought it might be helpful to the discussion.
BEE BACK soon...

codepoke said...

Praise the Lord, Milly! The Lord is good, and so are His people. :-)

codepoke said...


What, and make a subject clear and understandable? You know that's just not my way. ;-D

A Christian who believes God created males and females to be of the same nature, but of differing and symbiotic roles. Men are responsible to lead the church as they are gifted by God, and to lead their families. Women are fitted by God to perform the crucial task of supporting their churches and their husbands, but are forbidden by Him to take authority in either realm. Men's and women's roles are complementary to each other in that neither is complete without the other.

A Christian who believes God created male and female with differing strengths, but with equal roles in marriage and the body. Men and women are both given gifts by God that should be used to build up the church and the home. Men and women are both equally responsible to exercise authority in the church as God has gifted them. Most egalitarians would agree that men's and women's roles are complementary to each other in that neither is complete without the other.

The most visible disagreement between the two is over the exercise of authority in the church and home.

Andreia said...

Thanks Dear! Have a blessed Lords Day

Milly said...

I don’t like the use of titles to define us. They never actually hit it exactly on the nose. I get that it helps us to understand how you feel and where you’re coming from. I just don’t like them. So I sit on the fence as a Christian. This wasn’t to slam anyone who chooses to title themselves. I just don’t. (My last comment on titles was deleted due to the fact that it became a rant)

codepoke said...

I understand, Milly.

If it helps, I think of them as a shorthand, not as a box. I would say that I agree with most of the egalitarian positions, and disagree with many of the complementarian positions. I should probably say I am closer to the egalitarian position - much closer :-) - rather than say I am an egalitarian.

Of course, for me to try to say that I am on any fences would simply draw guffaws of laughter from the peanut gallery. ;-D

I appreciate your perch up there, and as long as you're sharing moonpies, I'm sure you'll be in good company. :-)

DugALug said...


Thanks for definine those two views, but those definitions leave too much wiggle room.

I would actually say that those two definitions can co-exist: authority as given by man, versus authority as given by God? If my daughter is in a Sunday school class and the teacher gives her direction, does it matter if the teacher is male or female?

Do you honestly think that a head pastor in a healthy marriage makes decisions concerning the church without the input of his wife?

As I have pointed out before, that I look at positions, such as eldership, as not the position of the male, but as the position of the household, represented by the male.

I have been an elder at our church and I bounced everything off my wife, and her insight, and prayer served us well. I represented us in those elder's meetings.

I go back to Genesis and the forbidden fruit. God came to Adam and said 'did you eat?' Why not Eve? Did God even address Eve? I would say he did, though many might look at the scripture and say no.

When I was single I believed the correct answer back to God was not 'look at this creature you made who tricked me' but rather, 'Yes God, I ate!'. Now, after years of marriage, I believe the correct answer is 'Yes God, WE ate!'. God went to Adam as the representative to the house of Adam and Eve. God set that precident, not man. I see no difference in positions of Eldership and a head-pastors.

God Bless

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