Women In Ministry – Introduction and Part 1
This is the first in a series on Women in Ministry. Women are filling new roles in every area of life and, of course, while there may be disagreement or barriers, there is still progress. Still, we may ask, “What Does It Mean to Minister?” Women are leaders in more areas of life than ever before and are ministers of the gospel of the good news, As we look at the roles of women in society and in churches, we will first define what ministry is and try to answer this question – What does it mean to minister?
Jesus and Women
When Jesus was on earth, society treated women as possessions. They could neither vote nor divorce. They couldn’t sit in the same room in church with their husbands and were viewed and treated as inferior – but not by Jesus. Many lacked any kind of education. Men of that time felt that women were less intelligent and that education was wasted on them. At that time you couldn’t have even asked this question – what does it mean to minister?
Then came Jesus! His treatment of women was revolutionary and offensive to the religious leaders of the time. Jesus had women who were His close followers, going from town to town with Him and the disciples. He encouraged women to sit at His feet and learn. He ate with them and shared His life with them. While He never addressed the issue of women being treated like slaves, His treatment of and attitude toward them was an offense to many because He did exactly the opposite.
It’s true that He didn’t have a woman as a disciple but it’s also true that he saved the life of the woman caught in adultery, spoke to the woman at the well, asked a woman to be the first to give the good news of His resurrection to the disciples (an unheard-of act), and spoke to male and female alike with no evidence of partiality. Jesus treated all who believed in Him the same way, setting the example for the church to come and answering the question – what does it mean to minister? He is the supreme example of what it means.
Jesus And The Woman At The Well
In John 4, we find the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus had arrived in Samaria, a town filled with people the Jews hated! He was thirsty so He went to Jacob’s well. The Samaritan woman arrived to draw water and Jesus asked her to give Him a drink. Jesus did three things – spoke to a Samaritan, spoke to a Samaritan woman, and spoke to a Samaritan woman who was of questionable moral character. One was an affront to the Jewish leaders and the next two were violations of cultural codes. Jesus made a practice of breaking the mold of the religious people of the day and angering them.
The woman herself questioned Jesus as to why He would speak to her. Here was Jesus’ reply, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” John 4:10 NKJV She goes on and has the audacity to question this man and His authority and ability to do this!
Jesus doesn’t rebuke or belittle her. He says, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst, But the water I shall give Him, will become in him a fountain of water springing up into eternal life.” John 4:13-14 NKJV Her instant response is, “Sir, give me this water that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” John 4:15 NKJV
Jesus makes another request, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman had no husband. Instead, she was living with a man and had been married 5 times previously. She answered Jesus honestly and then Jesus told her all of about herself and her life. She immediately knew that He was a prophet sent by God. By verses 25-26, she came to realize that He was also the promised Messiah.
The disciples arrived and marveled or were astonished and admiring of what Jesus had done. The woman went out into the city and told the ‘men,’ “Come see a man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Even though they may have known her and her life, the men went and many were saved. Here is the balance of the story.
“And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all I ever did.” So when the Samaritans had come to Him they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” John 4:39-42 ESV
What does it mean to minister? The Samaritan woman was a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What is the gospel? It’s good news. The Samaritan woman heard some life-changing, good news, and then she shared that same good news with many others. The good news was that mankind could be reconciled to God the Father. Jesus came to mend the broken relationship, to cover our sin with His blood, and to open the doors of the Kingdom of God to all who would believe. A woman shared her testimony and others came to Jesus. The Samaritan woman was a minister of reconciliation.
The Definition of Ministry
What does it mean to minister, be in ministry, have a ministry? Can women have a ministry? The definition of ‘minister‘ when used as a verb is – to give aid or service. The noun ‘minister‘ means – agent. Today, it refers primarily to people who are also called pastors. If you have a ‘ministry,’ it simply means you are serving or giving aid in a particular area of religious life. There are many, many ministries – prayer ministry, children’s ministry, adult ministry, women’s and men’s ministry, pastoral ministry, helps ministry, food ministry, and on and on. It’s similar to having a specialized job like a Doctor who has specialized in Oncology or some other specific niche of medical service.
Today, when we refer to someone who is a ‘minister’ we probably mean they are functioning in a church in a certain position – head pastor, children’s pastor, youth pastor, prayer pastor, etc. So, that leads to the question – what is a ‘pastor?’ Originally, it meant a ‘herdsman‘ or ‘one who feeds!” Thus, the connection to a Pastor as someone who feeds, guards and cares for his flock. Pastor now refers to someone who is a spiritual overseer.
As a Father or Mother, you are pastors. You are feeding and giving spiritual oversight to your children. A minister or a pastor is a position in which you help others and give them spiritual guidance. The woman at the well was a minister and pastor. A pastor doesn’t have to be ordained in order to function as a pastor. You don’t need a degree to have a ministry. Neither of the words are gender specific. They refer to a function. A minister is a servant of Christ who watches out for the spiritual well-being of the people of God. What does it mean to minister? A pastor or minister shares the good news.
What Does the Bible Say About Women in Ministry?
The Bible contains many references to women in ministry or women ministering in various areas of life. In the Bible, women are prophets, judges, deacons, leaders of churches in their homes, and more. The New Testament names 13 women who functioned in a variety of ministries in the early church.
Just to be clear, there are two verses in the Bible which appear to prevent women from speaking or teaching in the church, and from giving any appearance of exercising authority over men. These are in 1 Timothy 2:11-12.
Women are told to be ‘silent’ or ‘quiet’ in the church and not to exercise authority over men. Verse 15 says that women will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with self-control. It is a strange verse with no explanation as to meaning since women, like men, are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and, in Christ, there is neither male nor female. It is thought that Paul was referring to a woman giving birth to the Savior who brought salvation to the world.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says that women must have long hair, cover their heads when they pray, and that it is a disgrace for men to have long hair. In 1 Timothy 2, women are told not to have braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing and to learn in silence (also translated as quietness of spirit). The majority of the church today treats these verses as culturally based instructions and few maintain these requirements with one exception – women as pastors or having authority over men. Yet, some churches today are led by female pastors and have women in various positions of pastoral ministries.
I’m not going to address these scriptures any further. Instead, I leave it to you to study and decide what you believe about the level of involvement women should have in the church and what these verses mean. I will refer to an article published by Fuller Theological Seminary which is a thorough study of the subject. Fuller Theological Seminary – Women In Ministry Equally Called. From there you can also download the PDF of the entire teaching written by David M. Scholer. This will also help answer the question, what does it mean to minister?
Women In Ministry
Having said all that, every woman is certainly a minister and/or pastor in multiple areas of her life. Whether as a Mother, nurse, a Senior Executive, military personnel, at shelters, on the mission field, at Senior Centers, Daycare workers, truck drivers, or any other occupation you can think of. Christian women minister to others every day, everywhere they are. What does it mean to minister? The definition of minister or ministry has no physical limitations and we see women who serve and give aid to others (definition of minister) everywhere. Because of that, we will focus on the beauty of the ministries women fulfill constantly.
What It Means to Minister
Women all over the world can and should share the good news by speaking and teaching others. Jesus directly taught women – a practice that was forbidden at the time. Also, the great commission which was given to the 11 disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, instructs them to ‘go into all the world.’ It was a command for the ages and was not limited to just those 11 men since it would have been impossible for them to do. They were the beginning. All believers who came after have the same charge and women are seen sharing the gospel both then and now.
In Galatians 3:26-29 NIRV, Paul tells the people of Galatia this, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God by believing in Christ. This is because all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. You have put him on as if he were your clothes. There is no Jew or Gentile. There is no slave or free person. There is no male or female. That’s because you are all one in Christ Jesus. You who belong to Christ are Abraham’s seed. So you will receive what God has promised.“
Paul did not eliminate all differences. Instead, he pointed out that if you are in Christ, you receive all the same things as everyone who belongs to Him. You have the same Holy Spirit, the same power, the same mind of Christ, the same gifts, and the same faith because, regardless of gender or any other difference, we are one in Christ, His work, redemption, and gifts.
Many things in this world cause separation – race, religion, gender, world view, culture, preferences, likes and dislikes, convictions, and more. Yet, in Christ, we are one and treated with total equality because none of these separating factors exist in the Kingdom of God. Thus, every member of the Body of Christ has equal access to all God has to offer and we all have the same basic assignment – love. What does it mean to minister? It means to love.
Jesus fulfilled the law, upheld the ten commandments and gave us one new commandment in John 13:34-35 NIRV, ““I give you a new command. Love one another. You must love one another, just as I have loved you. If you love one another, everyone will know you are my disciples.” At first, we might think this is just a repeat of the golden rule – do unto others as you would have others do unto you. It’s not. There are 6 important words that sum up our service (ministry) here on earth and they are “just as I have loved you,” which is what it means to minister.
All ministry (service) must be based on this kind of love. Furthermore, it must be based in the idea of loving others in the same way Christ loved you and all of us. What does it mean to minister? It means to the point of death. It means laying aside everything for sake of bringing another person into relationship with God the Father.
What Is Christian Ministry?
- Christian ministry is giving yourself fully to Christ and allowing that love to overflow onto those around you.
- It is living like Jesus.
- It isn’t perfection or title or recognition.
- It is showing others Christ before you tell them about Him.
- Christian ministry is using your life just as it is to point the way to a higher way of living – toward the Kingdom of God.
If you ask yourself – can I be a woman in ministry; or, can women minister; or, can women be pastors – the answer to all three is yes. You can have a ministry of love, prayer, sharing, caring, and giving. A woman can minister the love of Christ to others anytime and anywhere. A woman can be a pastor – one who feeds those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. A woman can be in ministry, be a minister, and be a pastor. Where? In your daily life.
What does it mean to minister? You don’t have to be in a church to minister or to pastor. You don’t need the title, you just need to function in the way we are meant to – as ministers of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 TPT, “Now, if anyone is enfolded into Christ, he has become an entirely new creation. All that is related to the old order has vanished. Behold, everything is fresh and new. And God has made all things new, and reconciled us to himself, and given us the ministry of reconciling others to God.
In other words, it was through the Anointed One that God was shepherding the world, not even keeping records of their transgressions, and he has entrusted to us the ministry of opening the door of reconciliation to God. We are ambassadors of the Anointed One who carry the message of Christ to the world, as though God were tenderly pleading with them directly through our lips.
So we tenderly plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Turn back to God and be reconciled to him.” For God made the only one who did not know sin to become sin for us, so that we who did not know righteousness might become the righteousness of God through our union with him.“
So there is your ‘ministry!’ What does it mean to minister? It means that God has entrusted to every person who belongs to Christ the ministry of opening the door to reconciliation with God. There are no barriers, no questions about your ability or authority to do this. From the first moment of mankind’s separation from God’s presence, the plan for reconciliation was put in place. It was then completed in Christ’s death and resurrection. Reconciliation was always God’s greatest desire and the driving force that sent Jesus to the cross – God’s overwhelming love for us and desire to have us present with Him again.
I want to encourage you to find freedom in this. You have a ministry – the ministry of reconciliation. The real question we have is how that will happen and what it will look like. How that is carried out will look different from person-to-person. As you submit yourself to God, He will show you how to carry out this ministry. If you deliver mail, maybe you’ll be praying for the people on your route. You’ll certainly have the opportunity to show Jesus’ love to your co-workers and to share your testimony – your most important tool of reconciliation.
What does it mean to minister? It means telling someone else how you were reconciled to God and it’s very powerful. How did you make it through the trials in your life? How did you find hope in what seemed hopeless? How do have this kind of joy? Those are all questions we can answer because they are part of our journey of reconciliation and healing.
- If you’re a checker at a grocery store, no one can stop you from smiling and spreading hope to those you serve.
- If you repair cars, you can pray for those who may have been in an accident or who are stressed over the cost of the repairs and you can share peace and hope with them.
- Maybe you work at a job where you have very little interaction with co-workers or the public. You can still be a minister of reconciliation when you are not working.
- Nothing can be more important than how you minister to your own family, no matter how difficult they may be. You might be the only one praying for the Aunt who is hooked on drugs, or the sister who suffers from depression, or the child who is lonely and afraid. What does it mean to minister? This is ministry.
The Ministry of Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa was famous for her selfless love and care for the poor. She herself lived a life we regard as one of poverty. She didn’t seek recognition but gained it by giving away love to the least of these. I am going to include a few quotes from Mother Teresa because her words show what true ministry and pastoral care are really based on. Few of us will ever be in her circumstances but all of us can give the love she gave – her ministry was love. If you had asked Mother Teresa,”what does it mean to minister?” I think some of these would be part of her answer.
- “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”
- “Even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call their own.”
- “Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action.”
- “Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action.”
- “There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in – that we do it to God, to Christ, and that’s why we try to do it as beautifully as possible.”
- “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”
- One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.”
- “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”
- “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
- “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”
- “May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.”
I could give you a long, long list of ministries and ministry ideas but the key is not to copy someone else’s ministry. Instead, through prayer and fasting, ask God. He will show you or tell you. And, if you don’t feel He has done that, you can still start where you are with a smile, an act of kindness, and an open heart that allows God to direct your steps. Share the source of your hope with someone who is struggling.
Even though I reviewed Scriptures that may seem to limit you, please understand that God does not. A ministry is not about a title or position. If you want to minister in a church, start serving! That’s what ministry really is. If you believe God has asked you to do something, then get started today by serving. Leave the rest of it in His hands. What does it mean to minister? Ask God and then be ready for Him to show you!
There is nothing that can keep you from loving others into the Kingdom of God!
I would love to hear from you about your ministry. Maybe you just now realized that you have one! Please be sure to tell me about it by emailing me – firstname.lastname@example.org.
**WM uses verses from different Bible translations. To see more information about the copyright for each one,
please visit this page – Scripture Citations.
You might also enjoy reading – 10 Powerful Qualities of Servant Leadership In The Bible