One of the most hotly debated issues within the life of the church today is this—Are women able teach and exercise authority over men in the church? Usually, this turns into a discussion as to whether women may serve in the role of pastor. Thankfully, there have been many faithful pastors and theologians who have taken the time to study the Scriptures and have demonstrated persuasively that the Bible restricts the office of pastor to men alone (we will include a couple of the best books and resources on this topic at the end).
As a Southern Baptist Church, we affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 which states,
“While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
While the Bible is clear that the office of elder is restricted to men, prudence is needed to determine what other ministries and roles both men and women can biblically fulfill. For example, can a woman teach in a youth group setting? Or counsel a brother in Christ alongside her husband? Or serve as a deaconess?
Or, for the purpose of this article, can a woman serve as a Small Group Leader?
In this short article, we will explain why at Quinault Baptist Church we have restricted the position of Small Group Leader to men only.
An Important Note: Our goal in this article is not to answer whether every church should or should not allow a woman to serve as a small group leader, but to explain why our church, given our specific philosophy and practice of Small Group leadership, has come to this decision.
As we consider what the Bible has to say about men and women’s roles in the church, the text that arguably speaks to this most clearly is 1 Timothy 2:11-14. Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says to Timothy,
“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 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.”
Right away in verses 8-10, we see that the Bible clearly distinguishes between men and women in the church—both their unique callings within the life of the church, and their unique temptations to usurp God’s intended design. Men (as a general rule) are more likely than women to sinfully use their words and physical strength to dominate and intimidate. But as redeemed men, God calls them to instead to pray and to lift up holy hands—trusting in the Lord’s strength over their own. Likewise, women (as a general rule) are more likely than men to use their physical appearance to sinfully draw attention to themselves. But as redeemed women, God calls them to adorn themselves with modest apparel and good works.
In verse 11, Paul introduces another distinction between men and women’s roles within the church:
“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.”
When the church gathers corporately (whether for a Sunday service or a Small Group meeting), and both men and women are in attendance, and biblical instruction is given and spiritual leadership is practiced, men are to lead. And lest we think this verse 11 is simply a cultural appropriation meant for Timothy’s first century context and not ours, look at how Paul supports this command in verse 13:
“For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
The Bible’s standards for who should lead within the church cannot be simply brushed off as temporary guidelines given to a “less enlightened” first-century church. Paul roots this command in the created order. God created Adam before Eve, not due to any superiority or greater value, but because of his role—he was made to lead, love, and protect his wife. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve inverted their God-given roles. Instead of positioning himself between his wife and Satan’s deception, Adam hid behind his wife. Instead of deferring to Adam’s leadership, Eve took the lead in conversing with the serpent and was deceived. When God-given gender roles are spurned, sin and deception are not far off.
Within the life of the church, in matters of co-ed biblical instruction and spiritual leadership, godly (and qualified—see 1 Timothy 3) men are called to humbly lead, and godly women are called to joyfully submit. There is dignity and value in both.
If godly and qualified men are to lead within church gatherings where both men and women are present, and biblical instruction and spiritual leadership are practiced, how should this play out in Small Group gatherings at QBC? To answer this question, consider the two general expectations our church places on a Small Group Leader. A QBC Small Group Leader is:
There are certainly faithful, Bible-believing churches out there that hold to the same interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-14 and restrict the office of pastor to men alone, and yet, given their specific philosophy of small group ministry, would still allow for women to serve as small group leaders. However, our elders, considering the unique spiritual authority and teaching responsibilities we have invested in our Small Group Leaders, have come to the conviction that in our church this role should be restricted to men.
Yet in our restriction of the role of leader to men we are in no way wanting to diminish the role of women in our small groups. We want for women’s voices to be heard, and for women to pray, and for women to contribute during the discussion time. Our small groups will be severely hampered without the participation of our sisters in Christ!
Both men and women are made in the image of God and have inestimable dignity and value. They also have wonderfully complementary yet distinct roles to fulfill in the life of the church. In all that we do as a church, let us seek to honor God’s good design as we honor one another!