Do Women Have Gifts For Ministry?
Teri Lynn Forbes
The author is a parish pastor, having served a small rural congregation in Wisconsin and a large city congregation in Washington State. She is now serving as an intentional interim pastor with small redevelopment congregations in the Southern Ohio Synod. She recently completed her S.T.M. at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio. The focus of her thesis was “Inclusiveness, accessibility and persons with disabilities in congregational life and ministry—a theology and praxis for communities of faith.” She is a long time member of the Daystar online discussion forum and comes out of an LCMS parish in Coronado, California.
This study will examine God’s people and their gifts for ministry, specifically the gifts that women may bring to various forms of ministry. It approaches the questions of inclusiveness of women in ministry from a resurrection-centered point of view and builds on a theology of hope.
When a resurrection-centered perspective of hope is introduced into a denomination or a congregation, it may transform the ways in which people interact with one another. When this resurrection-centered perspective of hope is introduced into the congregation, it may transform the ways in which people interact with one another as differing and diverse created beings.
The Scriptures are holy, and we are a holy people—that is, set apart for God’s purpose. In several places in the Gospels and Pauline letters we learn that in Christ we are a new creation because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The Law of God has been completed and transformed by the Gospel. The transformation may affect, in positive ways, relationships that persons have with one another, the ways programs are planned and followed, and the way both politics and mission in the temporal church are carried out. Through thinking theologically, new ground is broken in human awareness of the image of God and in a new awareness of Christ’s eternally present gift of grace with and for humanity. It is the resurrection freedom that Christ brings to all who believe in Him, the Risen Jesus.
Reasoning Used for the Study
The key to studying the Bible and understanding its authentic meaning is to study it in its original languages as recorded and in the form it is canonized. With that in mind and with our faith in view as human response to God’s grace, we work at and wrestle with the meanings of scripture and how study of the Bible can unfold new meanings for us. We know we are Easter people with a long history of sin, for which Christ came, ministered, died and rose. As the risen Lord, he left us with promise and hope. Indeed in Christ we are a new creation! Therefore, a resurrection-centered point of view exists and builds for the temporal church a theology of hope.
Human laws and legalism can measure up neither to God’s Law (which exists throughout the Scriptures) nor to the transforming Gospel (which was brought to us by Jesus’ incarnation as fully divine and fully human and through his life, death, and resurrection). If indeed in Christ there is no more division among us (if in Christ no more Greek or Jew, slave or free, male or female; no more strangers or aliens among us), then God’s resurrection-based love and liberty, not some form of human choice, reasoning, or denominational legalism will prevail in church matters.
The study comes with the hope that the church on earth will more fully include persons of all kinds as full participants in the life and ministry of Christian congregations. We live together in Christ as individuals and congregations with all fully included. The reward will be ministry that is both learned and shared.
A Creating God
The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary helps to define God as “Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth … known by acts, and known in fellowship.”1
God formed us all in God’s image.2 He formed us male and female. Life is a gift from God. The creation of humanity is God’s work. Thus, human beings of all kinds and sorts, beginning with male and female, are part of God’s precious creation and cannot take credit for their existence or for who they are.
Gordon J. Wenham reflects that the image of God refers to mental and spiritual faculties that humanity shares with God; it refers to the human physical resemblance that distinguishes people from other created beings. It refers only secondarily to the differences between peoples—whether race, color, gender, etc. The image of God, embodied by the male and female created ones, means that both are created to make humanity God’s spokespeople on earth.3
God and Humanity: A Gift of Relationship
As God’s created ones, people do not exist for themselves but to take care of all created things.4 There is an inter-dependence among all the things created by God.5
Within God’s creation God has created people with gifts to share in the care of the world. Humanity is to use those gifts in response to God; the response makes this gift of life recognizable and useful. As a person uses his or her gifts responsibly and usefully, God’s purpose becomes visible on earth.6 God established a full connection with God’s creation. Creation was not left on its own, outside the attention of the Creator.
In the original model of ish and ishah, the man and the women were created to be one before God. The man was created first, and the woman from him to model the oneness that God intends for all Creation. This oneness extends to all human activity as originally intended by God.7
God intended male and female persons to serve together as one in all of God’s creation. For this reason God created community by forming first the male, then the female to complete creating living things. Creator and creation, male and female, continue in relationship, for God gave the gift of life and faith to human beings. Faith is initiated by the Creator and is a thankful response of human beings for existence. Faith is also an opportunity to use the gifts God gave those who are created human.8
The relational nature of faith calls faithful Christians together to respond to God in worship, adoration, and lives lived actively in love. Faith is thus an activity, God’s message shared in loving ways, and faith shows forth God’s ethic of love.9 If God is to be known by justice, by deeds and in fellowship,10 then God’s people are all included in accomplishing acts of justice, good deeds, and healthy fellowship—not just a subcategory or subdivision of humanity (women/men, old/young, black/white, hearing/deaf, delayed/gifted, etc.).
“Sin” is the misuse of creation, of relationships and of community, whether intentional or unintentional. “Sin” is turning away from that to which one belongs—to God, to the community and to the integrity of one’s being. “Sin” is the estrangement of relationship between God and the creature. It originates in anxiety about our mortality and results in the harm of creation, the destruction of relationships, the misuse of power and death, both figuratively and literally.11 It affects all people, men and women.
Sin can affect human beings in two general ways. Sin is armor, or defensiveness, against reality of life and death, suffering and disability. People either exalt themselves above the reality or debase their nature in response to the reality.12 Men have the tendency to exalt themselves, and women have the tendency to debase themselves, based on human cultural and social responses. Neither of these factors have to do with Christ as risen or with humanity in Christ as a new creation. This is because of sin. Human beings tend to focus on things other than God as the ultimate concern for living in order to avoid pain or responsibility. Sometimes people focus on the characteristics of other persons or on their own faultiness and on visible differences, such gender, color, racial differences and diverse ethnicity. This takes the honor away from the Triune God.
In the imperfect nature of humanity sinfulness exists in the world.13 People experience despair, alienation, meaninglessness, suffering and injustice. Is this because of how God created human beings? Many believe so. Men and women alike fail to see themselves as whole and worthy of God’s love. In this human beings avoid responsibility for faith and ministry!
Christopher Richardson, in God in Our Flesh: Body Theology and Religious Education, reflects on God and on the human body. Human bodies are part of this complex of experience, and human bodies challenge us to acknowledge disease, suffering and differences as important learning factors in life.14
The Gifts of God’s People
In the given differences of each body, mind, spirit and emotion, people have the gifts of life given by God. These gifts are to be used in love and with faith in response to God.15
Women are no different in the congregation than men in their hopes, both to receive and to give ministry. Despite visible differences between the sexes, women have gifts and talents to share—some that men have and some that men do not have—and most of them want to be fully involved with sharing their God-given time, talent and treasure in and with the body of Christ on earth.
Each person is precious. Each person is to be included fully in the life of the congregation. In spite of the particularities, each person is a gift to the body of Christ, called to use their gifts as they are able. Each tender person is God’s gift to the church, encouraging the church to fight evil and suffering with God’s good and compassion. Being a believer does not depend on the particularities of our bodies; gender, race, color and other characteristics do not impose limits on the sharing of the gifts of God. All believers are gifted to share God’s gifts without regard to the “compartments” in which they exist.
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul offers advice about the use of spiritual gifts that can help develop orderly worship that honors God and uplifts all of God’s people. The Greek word charisma is used and is a gift given freely so that the Gospel might flourish. Charisma means God’s gift to a believer, not some limited human sense of that gift given.
Women and men alike are believers. Spiritual gifts are given to both men and women and are intended to help people carry out the Lord’s work so that the Gospel might shine forth and benefit the community as a whole. The word charisma is used in several places in the Pauline letters. In Rom 12:4–8 prophecy, wisdom and knowledge, serving, encouraging, generous giving and leadership are mentioned as spiritual gifts. These are given by God, not by human beings, to meet a need in the life of the Church temporal.
The Diversity of Spiritual Gifts
Humanity exists in diversity. Spiritual gifts and the strength of the church temporal are necessary. The enemy tries daily to tear apart the church and subdue it to human terms. In response, the Christian needs to be nonviolent, compassionate and loving.16 Believers in Christ are called to let God be God, not superimpose human will on God and not allow divisions to overcome the temporal church.17
Edward Schillebeeckx writes, in Church: The Human Story of God, that “although God comes in power, divine power knows no use of force, not even against people who are crucifying his Christ.”18 Women and men alike have the gifts of prophecy, wisdom and knowledge, serving, encouraging, generous giving, speech of various kinds and leadership, and in particular—in general—women may excel in the quality of sensitivity. A sensitive congregational leader will work alongside people so that all are fully included in the life of the congregation, so that the Good News becomes embodied.
What is reality for us all is God’s love centered in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This is because all who believe and who suffer together are “joint heirs with Christ if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”19 Yes, we are a new creation, and because we are, the barriers are down. This has been so since the resurrection of Jesus. With this Gospel-centered model, women can lead, speak, teach, discern and care; women can be pastors.
John 13 unfolds for us the story of Passover celebrated by the disciples and Jesus. It continues to unfold with the mandatum of Maundy Thursday. Jesus stoops at the feet of his disciples to wash their feet and in the washing to exemplify serving.20 He continues by giving the disciples the mandate to do likewise, serving others in exceptional ways.21 In amazement the disciples learn their mandate to love and care about others. The Gospel mandate in John 13 guides Christians to a new discovery: because of Christ and his mandate, we need to participate as the body of Christ in compassion, serving all. The mandatum given by Jesus undergirds a theology of hope for full inclusiveness in leadership of the church temporal at all levels according to the spiritual gifts given to the person.
Gifts in Service: Transcendent Love
A transcendent love is service to others and includes all. The corporate body of Christ is called to serve, men and women alike, fully including all. All believers are adopted as children of God.22 Including all as the children of God implies the redemptive nature of the family of God. Inclusion renews and redeems the cosmos.23 Women and men can exemplify this kind of transcendent love in leadership positions of the church, including the pastoral ministry.
The mandate is further demonstrated in Romans 5:1–11 by illustrating all of humanity’s weakness in contrast with God’s grace,24 expanded to include all persons—all as created by God in God’s image—as redeemed through the gift of his death on the cross.25 All are thus gathered into Christ’s love and are reconciled through the death of his Son Jesus on the cross.26
Arland Hultgren reveals in his article “Suffering together with Christ” that the Gospel work is to grow by being in solidarity with those who suffer, working to speak out for what is for good and for God in order to make a difference.27 The fight against the evil one takes place for Christians daily in life in the community and in the world. All are worthy of God’s grace, states Hultgren.28 God exists in solidarity with humanity in the midst of deathly and traumatizing circumstances. Women and men both exist in solidarity as believers.
Women know how to speak out and, if working for God, can speak out with wisdom and grace. Women are known for their understanding of relationship and human dynamics. Women are good at serving, encouraging and generous giving throughout the Gospel material! Women are thus gifted for ministry in the church temporal, all forms of ministry included.
Jesus came as servant leader. He transformed suffering, evil and pain with the power of God’s love.29 Jesus’ story, the Gospel, is thus the hopeful news for all!30 Jesus was the human gift of God to human beings, created so that all people could understand who God is and find a sense of unity in the body of Christ and by believing.31 Jesus came so that all people could see the face, the eyes of God as real, and be able to relate to God as God intended.32 Jesus provides a forward glimpse to the future, an advent from the future into the present, an ongoing hope in the midst of all of life and of its experiences.33 Women are good at serving, and leadership requires good servanthood and appropriate speech and persuasion.
Women and men can sin while serving, leading, speaking and persuading. People are not to engage the illicit use of power. This is sin and can lead, with erroneous thinking, to fundamentalism, legalism and evil purposes. If a leader does not serve his or her people in the church temporal, a leader does not exemplify Christ. A wise Christian leader will exemplify the fruit of the Holy Spirit.34
The Broader Community: Transcendent Love in Action
Hultgren comments that there is a particular manner of suffering that those who believe in Jesus embody with and for each other: it is suffering with Christ.35
How then is the mandate identified for the church? The mandate is to love. The loving heart includes all. Hultgren illustrates that those who suffer and those who identify with those who suffer are one.36 The presence of the Crucified One walks in humanity and is hidden in the faces of those who suffer.37 Women in ministry can exemplify the mandate: to love as Christ loves.
We have the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer regarding ministry when he writes that it is only transcending love that frees people and saves them from isolation, destruction and despair.38 We live in an age of grace because of the transforming power of the cross of Christ.39 Because of this transcending love, people of all kinds are able to exist in conversation with each other and develop meaning together.40
In Christ there is no longer male or female, Greek or Jew, etc.. It is in fact Jesus’ self-revelation of God’s love in the cross that gives human beings a deep and active understanding of transcending love in relationship to the world and a hope that humanity serves the creation God has made in loving ways.41
Burtness reflects that the God-initiated relationship of love, with human beings and the characteristics of who they are, has the potential to glorify God in who one is42 and to serve God in what one does and how one does it:43 it is how one uses the gifts God gave humanity that makes a visible sign of the command of God. Burtness writes, “… that visible sign of the command of God brings the Christian into a multitude of relationships which make up the nexus of ethical responsibility. We live both with one another (relationality) and for one another (responsibility).”44
The person (male and female alike) is then launched from self and its characteristics into the broader community to respond to others and with others by faith active in love. When Christian faith is part of the broader community, the community shares faith in and outside of it in the name of Jesus. Because we believe in God and believe together, the body, both individual and collective, is set apart for God: made holy. Men and women alike, as believers, are set apart for holy purposes. The church in action in the world frees and transforms both the person and the collective person in Christ by relationship implied by the divine person of Christ.45
Scripture as Factor in Denominational Legalism
The interpretation of scripture is often at fault for its language regarding ministry. These scriptures have been misinterpreted selectively in theology, for in the Gospel and in Paul’s writings women and men alike served God. Social customs of the past indicate women and men had different roles and that women were the weaker sex, so to speak, and therefore unable to function in ministry. Biblically, some have sought to support that position with scripture—specifically that women were created from the rib of the man (taken from Genesis 2:18–23) and thus are subservient; and that women should keep silence in the congregation (taken from 1 Timothy 2:9–15).
Let us return to the premise that the key to studying the Bible and understanding its meaning is to study it in its original languages as recorded. If one takes this premise to be true and studies scripture according to that premise, then one does not rely on the English language alone. Male and female believers alike who have faith can respond to God’s grace and therefore may work at and wrestle with the meanings of scripture and its implications. The position that women are unable to serve in ministry is faulty based on the above two passages of scripture, for in study of the original languages of the Bible, the original scriptures themselves—not the socio-cultural or historical milieu—reveal the errors of a gender-based conclusion:
Referring to Genesis 2:18–23, in the Hebrew language verses 23 and 24 give the reason for the woman being taken from the rib of the man, not from the dust of the earth. The reason is God’s oneness, not domination.
Referring to 1 Timothy 2:9–15, in the Greek language, while dominion and leadership in church is Paul’s intention, domination and exclusivity are often the translated meanings by fundamentalists and legalists.
One might retort: “Well, women are the weaker sex. They can’t bear the stresses and strains of ministry.” That is unproven by scripture. Any references in the scripture regarding weakness have to do not with humanity but with Christ. “Perfection in weakness” is Christ embodied. Weakness and perfection are not human traits but characteristics of Jesus on the cross, where Christ relates to humanity. Humility is the obedience of Jesus in suffering on the cross concurrent with his divine perfection, not something humans are capable of. Weakness and humility thus pertain to all humanity’s weakness in light of the theology of the cross, revealing the humble perfection of Christ Jesus.46
The Church Community in Action
One does not have to have any specific characteristics to participate in the life of the church, any particular gender, nor mental, emotional or physical perfection to participate. When Jesus rose from the dead, he was not physically perfect; he had nail scars in his hands and side and other scars and markings from his Holy Week experiences.47 Jesus builds hope by, with, in and through the community of all believers. Within Eiesland’s comment, “In his ministry, Jesus builds community and experiences human solidarity with those who are disabled, socially stigmatized, and denied their full human dignity and capacity,”48 is the core of hope for the church and for the individual in the church.
Jesus salvages humanity collectively from the garbage heap of sin: from self-abasement and self-elevation through redemptive activity in our lives to bring us together. He brings people together to transform life itself: gender differences, ethnic difference, in health and disease, joy and suffering, ability and disability. The important conclusion is the transformational part: he transforms the former and to in the midst of, thus: health in the midst of life: joy in the midst of suffering and ability in the midst of differences of all kinds.
Summary: God’s Gifts for Ministry
Women and men are reminded of the highest form of faith in action: community. Together, as men and women serve their living God—their Creator, their Savior and their Advocate—the church may grow.
God’s reminder comes: people are not all-knowing nor all-abled and in fact are naked before God, who knows humanity and its sin through and through.49 Indeed, despite any differences, abilities or disabilities the call from God is to nurture in God’s love all human bodies, minds and spirits just as God has given them to us, no matter how differently made: we are all gifted as God’s created ones.
Congregational transformation happens because men and women come together in living out the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus provides people the transformation of Easter, solidarity in hope well beyond this life. The hope comes in a cruciform life shape: it is through him and through companionship with others that Christians live, love, worship God and proclaim the eternal love.
1 The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 1963 ed., s.v. “God.”
2 Gen 1:26–27.
3 Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1–15 (Waco: Word Books, 1987), 30.
4 Gen 1:28–30.
5 Wenham, 31.
7 The Learning Bible, Contemporary English Version (New York: American Bible Society, 2000 update).
8 Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia. Faith. Internet, accessed at www.wikepedia.com on April 12, 2006.
9 Heb 2:5–9; Phil 2:5–10.
10 Referring to The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 1963 ed., s.v. “God.”
11 Ted Peters, “Sin, Scapegoating, and Justifying Faith,” in God, Evil, and Suffering: Essays in Honor of Paul R. Sponheim, ed. Terence E. Fretheim and Curt L. Thompson, Word and World (St. Paul: Luther Seminary, 2000) 4:63–64.
12 Walter Bouman, Lectures on Systematic Theology, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, 1996.
13 Gen 3:1–24.
14 Christopher K. Richardson, “God in Our Flesh: Body Theology and Religious Education,” Religious Education (Winter 2003): 82–94.
15 Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Dogmatic Theses on the Doctrine of Revelation,” in Revelation as History, ed. W. Pannenberg, trans. D. Granskou (New York: Macmillan, 1968), 125.
16 The author notes the holistic response of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to evil. If one responds with legalism or violence, the evil is compounded. Only caring love can break the power of evil and transform the situation of evil. A biblical reference to the root for this action of caring love and a paradigm for living anew in the face of evil is found in Rom 12:9–21.
17 Rom 12:20–21.
18 Edward Schillebeeckx, Church: The Human Story of God, trans. John Bowden (New York: Crossroad, 1990), 120.
19 Rom 8:17.
20 John 13:1–8.
21 John 13:12–17.
22 Rom 8:15–17.
23 Rom 8:12–17.
24 Rom 5:1–11.
25 Rom 8:8.
26 Rom 8:6–10.
27 Arland J. Hultgren, “Suffering Together with Christ: A Study of Romans 8:17,” in God, Evil, and Suffering: Essays in Honor of Paul R. Sponheim, ed. Terence E. Fretheim and Curt L. Thompson, Word and World (St. Paul: Luther Seminary, 2000), 4:123.
29 Peter J. Gomes, Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living (New York: William Morrow, 1998), 178.
30 Ibid, 179.
31 Hultgren, 122.
32 Gomes, 178.
33 Hans Schwarz, “The Biblical View of the Future” in Christian Dogmatics, ed. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989), 2:493–94.
34 Gal 5:22–23.
35 Hultgren, 124.
36 Ibid., 126. Hultgren comments that the proleptic [already but not yet] nature of living in Christ, sharing the new creation while we yet still live in the old creation, is redemptive.
37 Ibid., 125.
38 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan Company, 1965), 142–45.
39 Ibid., 145.
40 Col 2:2–7.
41 1 John 3:11–18.
42 Col 1:10–12.
43 James Burtness, Shaping the Future—The Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 51.
44 Ibid., 52.
46 Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003) 82–84.
47 John 20:19–28.
48 Nancy L. Eiesland, The Disabled God: Towards a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994) 78.
49 Gen 3:9–13.