A Philosophy of Ministry for Women in Ministry


In this article, I want to write out clearly my understanding and application of how the Bible instructs women to be involved in church ministry. While scripture addresses gender, sexuality, masculinity, femininity, marriage, and other gender-specific themes, this article will only address my view on women serving in church ministry. I believe scripture gives women the invitation to serve the Lord and His church in the same capacity as men.

Years of study and experience have brought me to this point. Research in the following two areas have brought me to this conviction:

  1. Studying what women actually did in church ministry within the New Testament.
  2. Analyzing the texts that prohibit women from teaching or leadership roles within the church.

What women actually did in church ministry within the New Testament

Women played prominent roles in New Testament churches.
  1. Women were prophets, teaching both men and women in the church (Luke 2:36-37; Acts 2:16-18; Acts 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5).
  2. Women such as Priscilla, Nympha, and Phoebe each hosted a house church (1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 1:11; 16:19; Romans 16:1-2). Lydia, Apphia, and Chloe may have done the same (Acts 16:14-15, 40; Philemon 2; 1 Corinthians 1:11).
  3. Women prayed during corporate worship (1 Timothy 2:8–9; 1 Corinthians 11:5).
  4. Women functioned as deacons (Romans 16:1-2; 1 Timothy 3:8-13[1]).
  5. Phoebe delivered and likely read and interpreted scripture sent by Paul to the churches scattered throughout Rome (Rom 16:1-2).[2]
  6. Women assisted Jesus in proclaiming the gospel through cities and villages (Luke 8:1-3).
  7. Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persia, Pricilla, Junia, Euodia, Syntyche and others assisted the apostles as “coworkers” (Romans 16:1–16; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19; Philippians 4:1–3).
  8. Pricilla mentored the preacher Apollos (Acts 18:26).
Two of the points above need to be unpacked more: prophesying and hosting a house church. First, let’s look at the role women played in prophesying. As shown above, there is ample evidence that women prophesied in New Testament churches, even churches planted by Paul. Evangelicals tend to shy away from talks of prophecy because we assume it means spontaneous talk that comes to the speaker out of thin air or impromptu messages attributed to God. Thereby, any modern-day prophesy is met with deep skepticism. This need not be the case.[3]

Prophets during the Old Testament era cannot be compared to prophets in the New Testament era. Prophets in the New Testament did not speak with the same authority as Old Testament prophets, nor did they expect to be obeyed in the same way.[4] Furthermore, prophecy in the New Testament can mean two different kinds of speaking: (1) Sometimes it means speaking revelation received directly from God, usually foretelling the future (e.g. Revelation 1:3; Acts 21:10-11). (2) In other instances it is comparable to a modern-day sermon (1 Corinthians 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:20) or speaking encouragement over fellow believers based on biblical truth (1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Corinthians 12:10).

We know that women prophesied in both ways. They preached[5] messages that were foretelling and forth-telling.[6] They spoke words of “edification, encouragement, and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3).[7] They were involved in leading worship, prayers, confessions, reading and interpreting scripture, and exhorting the church.[8]

Paul uses several different words for speaking in the church: teaching, prophesying, teaching, admonishing, reading, exhorting, evangelism, and preaching. Each of these is a different word in Greek, indicating there is a slight difference in each (See 1 Timothy 4:13 and Romans 12:4-8). The only form Paul restricts women from is “teaching,” which I’ll return to later, and it is reasonable to assume women exercised these other gifts in the early church.[9]

Second, let’s look at the role women played in hosting house churches. Early Christians met for worship in private homes (Acts 2:46, 16:40; Romans 16:5, 14-15).[10] We know that at least three women hosted a house church in their home: Priscilla (1 Corinthians 16:19), Nympha (Colossians 4:15), and Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2). Priscilla and her husband were very involved in missions and church planting; it is likely they led at least three different house churches in Ephesus (Acts 18:18-26), Rome (Romans 16:3-5), and again in Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:19).[11] Hosting a house church meant more than baking cookies and sweeping the floor. Those who hosted a house church were responsible for what happened under their roof[12] and were considered “the de facto leaders” of the church.[13]

In addition to the three women mentioned above, there are three other women who possibly hosted a house church. Lydia (Acts 16:14-15, 40) opened up her home to Paul and his converts as a missions home base. Believers met in Mary’s home for fellowship and prayer (Acts 12:12). Apphia hosted a house church with her husband, Philemon (Philemon 2).[14] In 1 Corinthians 1:11 we hear of Chloe, and how she reported to Paul about the health of the church. Some scholars believe Chloe was merely a businessperson, perhaps not even a member of the Corinthian church. But others believe she acted as the primary leader of this congregation.[15]

Analyzing the texts that prohibit women from teaching or leadership roles within the church

Two texts stand out that give limitations to women in ministry: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Below I will very briefly sketch out my interpretation and application of these passages.

The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Corinthians 14:34–35, ESV)

Out of context, this text written by Paul appears to forbid women from speaking during church worship services. But this must be a specific kind of silencing, because earlier in this letter women were encouraged to speak and participate in worship, and even to prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:5).

The negative command is to keep silent in submission. The positive command is for the women “to learn” by asking their husbands at home. Two cultural issues worth noting are happening here. First, it was normal in this society to interject questions while someone was teaching.[16] Second, women are singled out because they were far less likely than men to be educated. In that society, women learned in the home, often tutored by their husbands who learned in the public square.[17] Women in many early churches were tending to be noisy in these intimate house environments, asking questions that could be answered later after the worship service was over.[18] Nothing here restricts women from teaching the Bible.[19]

If this view is correct, which I find most plausible, this silencing in the church is temporary. Once the women have learned, and speakers are able to present their message without frequent interruptions, the worship services can have proper order (1 Corinthians 14:40). Complementarian scholars argue that this passage means women are allowed to prophesy, pray, and participate in worship services, but are to be silent when a prophecy is being weighed.[20] This doesn’t seem plausible to me: why would a woman be permitted to prophesy but not discern another person’s prophecy?

In summary, this text is addressed to women in the early church who were generally uneducated and tended to be disruptive during house church teaching. Until they were educated and able to participate in a less disruptive manner, Paul instructed them to remain silent and learn with their husbands outside of the meeting time. The application today is for all believers to be respectful and submissive during teaching, prioritizing their own learning and spiritual formation.

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Timothy 2:11–14, ESV)

As with the earlier passage, a straightforward reading of this text demands that women are banned from teaching or leading. I believe a closer look at the cultural background and the context of the letter shapes a different application.[21]

Paul is writing about a certain kind of woman here. A feminist revolution was underway in Rome[22] and Paul is very specific about addressing modest dress and a godly demeanor in the Ephesian women.[23] Therefore, the author is trying to redirect domineering women in the churches (v.12), as well as angry and quarrelsome men (v.8).

These women are told to “learn quietly with all submissiveness.” Until that is accomplished, they are given two prohibitions: they may not teach or lead. As for teaching, we know that correcting “sound doctrine” is the key reason Paul wrote this letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3).[24] Many were “desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Timothy 1:7). The women in these churches were being particularly divisive with their teaching (see 1 Timothy 2:10-15; 5:3-16) which is why they were singled out. Women were not being forbidden indefinitely from any Bible teaching; other New Testament passages show them teaching men and women both privately (e.g. Acts 18:26) and publicly (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:5; 1 Timothy 2:8-9). The solution was to “let a woman learn” (v.11).[25]

The same applies to "exercising authority” in this verse. The problem was not leadership; the problem was a domineering attitude, particularly over the men in the church.[26] Women were not being prohibited indefinitely from church leadership. As shown above, women played key roles in mission work, church planting, and church leadership (e.g. Luke 8:1-3; Romans 16:1-16; Philippians 4:1-3; etc.).

Complementarians interpret these verses as barring women from teaching or leading men in church ministry based on Paul’s basis in the creation story. Women who seek a man’s role in the church will fall prey to deception and lead their church into the kind of disaster that Eve caused.[27] If this interpretation is correct, male hierarchy should apply in every area of life, not only in the church.[28]

A better way to interpret Paul’s mention of Adam and Eve is through his instruction for these women “to learn.” Eve was deceived because she had not heard instructions directly from God; only Adam had.[29] Adam wasn’t deceived; he just plain sinned! Once she is better educated in sound doctrine, she may teach as other women in house churches were doing. Likewise, when Paul states that “Adam was formed first, then Eve” he is not establishing a heirarchy. This is cause and effect - Eve was created as Adam’s helper, not his ruler (See also 2 Corinthians 11:3).[30]


Interpretations of women serving in ministry vary widely. Much ink has been spilt, and books are often lobbed at one another from different positions. Men and women much smarter than myself have written extensively on this topic; therefore, I do not pretend to know with full certainty the answer. Yet this is my philosophy for women in ministry.

I see very little evidence in Scripture that forbids women from teaching or preaching, in either a church or seminary setting. Furthermore, women throughout the New Testament were active in pastoral ministry. Therefore, I believe with confidence that women may adopt titles such as pastor, minister, and rector.

The issue of church governance is a harder question to answer. May a woman serve as an elder (or deacon in churches with deacon-rule governance) or lead pastor? My personal conviction is that women may serve in any of these capacities, and ought to be enthusiastically invited to do so! However, a legitimate argument can be made that elder-level leadership is reserved for men.


[1] Some English translations read “their wives” in verse 11, meaning these instructions apply to the wives of male deacons, not to female deacons. Other translations (e.g. the NRSV) translated verse 11 with “women,” meaning there were male and female deacons. The two most convincing arguments for female deacons in this verse are as follows: (1) the transition word “likewise” suggests Paul is addressing different groups (elders, deacons, and deaconesses). (2) It is unlikely that deacons would have a requirement that elders would not have. See Gregg R. Allison, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church, ed. John S. Feinberg, 1st edition (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2012), 244–46.

[2] Phoebe was a “deacon” and “benefactor” for the church in Cenchreae. She was also the one whom Paul selected to deliver his letter of Romans to the Roman house churches. Scot McKnight makes a compelling argument that Phoebe also was the first to read the letter aloud in these churches and answer questions the Romans Christians may have had. See Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, 2nd Edition: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, 2nd edition (Zondervan, 2018), 234.

[3] John Dickson, Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermon, Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry (Zondervan, 2014), 22.

[4] Carson lists several reasons there is a distinction between these prophets. Most notably, New Testament prophecies are to be “evaluated, not simply accepted as totally true or totally false.” D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit, n.d., 93–95.

[5] Thiselton writes “the nearest modern parallel [to early church prophecy] is probably that of an informed pastoral sermon which proclaims grace and judgment, or requires change of life.” Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000), 1094.

[6] Thiselton, 956.

[7] See Thomas Gillespie, The First Theologians: A Study in Early Christian Prophecy (Grand Rapids (Mich.): Wm. B. Eerdmans-Lightning Source, 1994) Especially notice his explanation of 1 Corinthians 14:1-3 on page 142.

[8] Carolyn Osiek, Families in the New Testament World, 1st edition (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 162.

[9] Dickson, Hearing Her Voice, 11–12.

[10] John D. Hannah, Invitation to Church History: World (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019), 61–62.

[11] Fee describes the sequence of Pricilla and Aquila’s missionary journeys with Paul in Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987), 835–36.

[12] Linda Belleville, “Women in Ministry: An Egalitarian Perspective,” in Two Views on Women in Ministry, ed. James Beck, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 36–37.

[13] Michael F. Bird, Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 23 Bird writes that “the de facto church leaders were the recognized household heads.”

[14] Marvin Vincent, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon, International Critical Commentary (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1897), 176.

[15] Dickson, Hearing Her Voice, 22; Cynthia Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2016), 232.

[16] Craig Keener, “Learning in the Assemblies,” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 165.

[17] Keener, 171.

[18] Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ, 238–42 After providing historical background evidence, Westfall summarizes “I have drawn a convincing picture of a number of ways in which women specifically may have created confusion and disorder during an informal meal in a home through conversational styles that were (and are) characteristic of women in comparable contexts”; Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1156 Thiselton adds that this “might involve repetitive interruption with questioning; and…some form of disruptive speech...”

[19] Craig Keener, “Man and Woman,” in Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, The IVP Bible Dictionary Series (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 1993), 590.

[20] D.A. Carson, “Silent in the Churches,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 151–53.

[21] Preston Sprinkle, “Acts, the Church, and Women in Ministry: Kristen and Osvaldo Padilla,” Theology in the Raw, n.d. Osvaldo Padilla changed his interpretation from a complementarian reading to an egalitarian reading of this text, calling this “a more hermenuetically mature way” to descifer the text.

[22] Bruce W. Winters, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), Kindle location 326; Philip Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006), 191–93.

[23] Winters, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, Kindle locations 1194-1308.

[24] Belleville, “Women in Ministry: An Egalitarian Perspective,” 206.

[25] McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, 2nd Edition, 188.

[26] After a lengthy word story, Belleville concludes “* There is no first-century warrant for translating authentein as ‘to exercise authority’ and for understanding Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12 to be speaking of the carrying out of one’s official duties. Rather the sense is the Koine ‘to dominate, to get one’s way.’” Belleville, “Women in Ministry: An Egalitarian Perspective,” 216.

[27] Douglas Moo, “What Does It Mean Not to Teach of Have Authority Over Men? 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, n.d., 190.

[28] Piper tries to validate that all males possess God-given headship over all women by differentiating personal verses impersonal headship. But his argument is far from convincing. John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 50–52.

[29] Walter Kaiser, “A Principalizing Model,” in Walter C. Kaiser Jr et al., Four Views on Moving beyond the Bible to Theology, 1st edition (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Academic, 2009), 35.

[30] Belleville, “Women in Ministry: An Egalitarian Perspective,” 223–24.