Gary and Fiona Millar answer 55 questions from the 2023 P&A annual conference held on 6 February 2023 that they didn’t get to on the day.
1. What does it mean to be a man and not a woman and vice versa
This is question that demands nuanced and detailed consideration, and Brett McCracken, reviewing two films that ask the question, “What is a woman?”—Eve in Exile (Merkle) and What is a Woman? (Walsh), helpfully reflects that “pushing for any definition of womanhood or manhood is so triggering that to broach the subject is considered hateful and cause for cancellation”.
I wonder if one of the questions behind this question might be who gets to say what it means to be a man and not a woman and vice versa?
As followers of Jesus, we are convinced that God, our Creator—the one who made us male and female in his image and declared his work to be very good—is the one who defines gender distinctives under his design.
This morning, we highlighted biblical differences between men and woman—in gendered roles and relationships. If we are not to become lazy complementarians, we need to keep returning to these truths, wrestling with them and delighting in them so that we live out of them.
Claire Smith answers the question with clarity and nuance in her essay, “Humanity as Male and Female”.
As we engage with our culture, where there is no assumption of God’s creative right to define us, but instead, an insistence on the autonomy of the sovereign self, agreed definitions of masculine and feminine are generally made anatomically and genetically, and even then, are not universally accepted.
2. How do we uphold complementarian conviction in a gender-segregated context, e.g. women’s/men’s Bible study?
A few things to consider:
- There should be a clear purpose for good in any gender segregation within our church family life, rather than this simply happening by default or accidentally.
- Such gender segregation should not be the only context for learning and fellowship of anyone in the body (unless there are specific issues that make that individual vulnerable and at risk from those of the opposite sex).
- Women in a segregated Bible study will still hear male voices in church—in leadership and teaching—whereas men participating in an all-male study group are at greater risk of missing out on the support, encouragement, wisdom, and breadth of perspective on human experience that women bring to body life.
- Where segregated Bible studies are part of church life, opportunities for meaningful Word-based interaction should form part of our mixed gatherings so that men and women are encouraged to share what God is teaching them from the Bible easily and naturally with anyone in their church family.
3. Can we please have the full reference to the Stout article that Fiona quotes from?
Brian Stout, “Why does patriarchy persist? (Part 3: How we dismantle it)”, 27 April 2020.
4. Often the norms aren’t challenged unless women speak up. How can we encourage men to be taking responsibility themselves for ongoing thoughtfulness?
Some things to consider as we seek to create a genuinely complementarian culture in our churches, where we are submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ:
- Male preachers having women give them feedback on sermons so that they get into the habit of thinking deliberately about a range of female responses (rather than simply that of the preacher’s wife, if he is married) and to develop an understanding of the broad range of ways that their words are heard differently on the basis of gender.
- All of us asking, “How did God’s word affect you as a man/woman?” of the other as we seek to understand and encourage one another.
- Hearing and valuing female voices so that they are integrated into the decision-making structures of our church family lives.
- Women thanking God for opportunities to raise things with male leadership, rather than complaining that they have to do it because the men can’t work it out for themselves—recognising that men often struggle to lead on a variety of fronts and can be genuinely blind to gender crass language or exclusion … and welcoming these things being brought to light.
5. In your example about college chapel, if you had female lecturers, would you be happy for them to lead chapel? Can you unpack your theological thinking on this?
A couple of things to bear in mind:
- College chapel isn’t a church, and we have a range of sincerely held views among both staff and students.
- We have lots of female teachers, but none of them are full-time.
- There are a range of opinions among faculty on what the person leading the service is doing (from “teaching” to “MC”-ing).
All this contributes to our current practice, as we seek to bear with one another in a quite different setting.
Personally, I (Gary) have quite a high view of what the leader of a church gathering is (or should be) doing, and think it is appropriate for this role to be in the hands of those who exercise spiritual authority.
What does that look like in college? It honestly depends on how spiritual leadership is understood.
6. Increasingly the label “complementarian” is being associated with genuine oppression or abuse of women. How should we respond to this?
- Where individuals have had a bad experience with a person or group that goes under the “complementarian” label, we must respond with humility and genuine sorrow over the mistreatment of any from those within the body of Christ.
- We should actively celebrate the contribution of women. As Gavin Ortlund puts it, “May we not be more afraid of affirming what is forbidden than of forbidding what is affirmed.”
Practically, should this lead us to abandon the label?
- It fulfils a useful function in providing a way of describing the biblical truth that men and women are not simply interchangeable, but rather, they complement each other in mutually enriching ways.
- Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger helpfully highlight the limitations of labels in describing a fully orbed biblical theology of manhood and womanhood: “egalitarians believe in male-female complementarity, and complementarians believe in male-female equality! Partial labels can be confusing and tell only part of the story.”
- We should avoid stereotyping gender roles. Often traditional values are inserted into complementarian theology, restricting and distorting God’s good design. In the context of marriage, Kathy Keller writes, “the basic roles—of leader and helper—are binding, but every couple must work out how that will be expressed within their marriage”.
- We want to keep pointing people back to our glorious Lord Jesus, the one whose respect for women was the standard for all men, the one whose sacrifice is the paradigm for all male leadership, and the one whose willing submission makes all of our submission a choice to follow in his footsteps.
- We want to live joined-up lives so that we display the contentment, satisfaction and security that comes from living out God’s good design. People in our church cultures should then feel genuinely welcomed, valued and safe.
7. How do we reconcile our need for ongoing thoughtfulness due to cultural change with being led by God’s good timing (or are they the same thing?).
I think that Scripture urges us to be alert, to understand the times we live in, to see points of intersection with biblical truth and rejoice. We are also to identify where culture is at odds with the “beautiful life” that God calls us to, and to ensure that we are thinking and speaking and acting out of gospel values and not those of our culture. The current move towards valuing emotional intelligence in our society—and the subsequent desire to understand our emotions and those of others—is a positive movement in that people are grappling honestly with and reflecting on the “thoughts and attitudes of their hearts” in fresh ways. However, there is a gospel rub in that society tells us we have all the answers inside ourselves and need to unlock the power within whereas God’s word directs us beyond ourselves, tilting our chins to see our identity in Him. Our concern to be culturally relevant and aware should always sharpen rather than blunt our distinctiveness, not making us brittle but those who graciously delight in belonging to a different kingdom and who desire to share its treasures with those who are blind to the beauty of our King.
Being led by God’s good timing suggests prayerful submission to his will as revealed in his word and He always calls us to stand firm in our forever family identity while graciously and winsomely holding out our beautiful Lord Jesus to those around us. This is an active, earnest seeking God and this needs to shape our desire to understand our culture so that we do not rely on our own wisdom to interpret our world but ask God for eyes to see.
We want to be people who are in step with the Spirit, who work hard to understand the changing landscape of cultural thinking and who are moved by compassion to show and share Jesus with people in whatever cultural context God places us.
As convinced complementarians, we want to joyfully live out of the security of our created identity (neither apologetic nor superior) and seek to understand, love, sit with, listen to and care for those who are struggling with gender identity in our communities.
8. Can you explain further why it is important to be joyful about complementarianism? Do we need to be particularly joyful about this issue compared to others?
- God expresses his delight in his gendered creation of man and woman as “very good”.
- Living out our created identity under God’s good rule is at odds with society’s perception of us as oppressed women, domineering men. The humility and other centeredness of mutual willing submission and acceptance of roles that are God appointed rather than self-ordained is contrary to cultural norms and the beauty of Jesus will be seen in our delight in living His way.
- Unfortunately, our reputation tends not to be that of a people who positively embody their theology but as “miserable”, “embarrassed”, “up tight”, “narrow”, “repressed” and “hard-line”. We want to glorify God as we model our hand-crafted equality and difference that displays his image.
9. Would you say that the church has been lazy in our complementarianism throughout its history up until now?
- Has the church of the Lord Jesus always been in danger of being lazy? Yes
- Has the church throughout history taken seriously the equality of men and women and the differentness of men and women and allowed this to shape relationships and structures? No.
- The label “complementarian” is a relatively recent one, currently used to describe a position on the biblical theology of humanity and a pattern of male/female relationships in the church and the home which follow from that conviction.
- One of the battles fought in the life of every believer and every church through all of time is to live out—to model—the very good design for which God made us, as sinful human beings. Our Genesis 3 propensity is to battle for power rather than work together in harmony, and while we are being transformed by the renewing of our minds, the gap between assenting intellectually to biblical truth and being driven to live in obedience to that truth each day.
- It’s also shamefully true that the history of the church has been tarnished by the abuse, mistreatment and silencing of women throughout the ages and has, at many points, simply reflected society’s treatment of and attitude to women rather than the glorious dignity and respect we see in Christ’s interaction with them.
10. Lazy complementarianism seems to be a negative view of what we do by default. But couldn’t there be some positives in our gospel-trained defaults?
I’m not sure that holiness is ever our default; we strive, we press on, and in our war against sin, we are to be vigilant, cling to Jesus and stay alert. Assuming we treat one another well in the body of Christ because we are “gospel-trained” is to ignore that struggle with the sin that remains part of our experience until Christ’s return. We do want to positively celebrate male servant leadership in the home and in the church where that is happening, that is radically counter-cultural and that brings glory to Jesus in its humble dependence on him.
11. It can be easy to say, “You are never going to please everyone”. Can we be in danger of using this as an excuse not to listen to the lived experiences of women?
Yes, thank you for asking this question! I think this is a real danger, and I’ve witnessed pastors and staff teams and groups of women organising events in our churches spending a lot of time trying to please the wrong people while ignoring (not necessarily intentionally) the voices of those who are really struggling or in pain.
- There is the danger of simply ignoring women’s voices altogether.
- There is the danger that the loudest/most articulate voices are taken as representing all women, and their perceptions or complaints shape future plans.
- There is the danger of leaders/organisers pursuing the approval of powerful voices, instead of actively seeking to hear the voices of those who are most vulnerable, those on the fringes, older women, and those who will be supportive no matter what.
- There is the danger that when women are invited to speak up, all the pent-up frustration with everything they have remained silent about for a long time is raised, and the feedback is all criticism and no encouragement, which tends to discourage further engagement and leaves those leading discouraged and bruised.
- There is the danger that women feel they are being “managed” if the listening process doesn’t lead to obvious action and that women end up feeling more powerless.
- There is the danger of leaders/organisers trying to please everyone, and that this becomes the primary focus.
Complementarianism will always involve seeking the good of the other, and in particular, protecting the most vulnerable, for the overall flourishing of the body. This may involve encouraging some to put aside personal preferences to allow those who would otherwise be excluded to feel safe and share in fellowship. Playing to an audience of one will never make us indifferent to the needs or suffering of others, but more tender-hearted, more eager to see others drawn in and included, honoured, and treasured in God’s upside-down kingdom.
12. Complementarianism requires thoughtfulness. If a woman asks to service lead, how do you respond in one conversation? Do you need many sessions to discuss it?
It’s hard to answer that in the abstract. It depends on two things: the value and significance you place in leading the service (is it modelling, teaching and/or expressing spiritual leadership or simply telling people what’s coming next!), and also on the character and competence of the person (whatever our view on service leading is theologically).
Our commitment to loving people in the local church does mean that we have to be prepared to invest significant, appropriate time in helping them to understand why we do what we do and to help them to feel valued, listened to and cared for pastorally in that process. It is helpful to have policy statements to walk people through as an aid to such discussions and a willingness to engage further, provide additional resources and potentially to involve other people (including other women) if the personal issues brought to the discussion prove to be complex.
13. What does it look like to apply complementarianism in a way that doesn’t unintentionally default to socially or culturally defined stereotypes?
Another great question. This is going to look different in every marriage and every church family. Some initial thoughts:
- We live in acknowledged weakness: our leaders do not grab or hoard or flaunt power, but are awed and humbled by its responsibility, and the rest of us love, pray for, respect, and support our leaders, knowing that they bear a heavy burden—and a beautiful interdependence grows. This is so radically different to our culture’s leadership. For while in our culture, men are being attacked for bullying behaviour, the term “Girl Boss” in golden, and women are encouraged to grab all the power they can get.
- We are marked by prayer together: together, we cry out to the God who delights to give wisdom to those who ask. This submission to his will and his ways in our lives together in the local church paves the way for submission to one another.
- We champion complementarian theology in everyday conversation and relationships. We don’t simply focus on issues of leadership, but recognise that male/female interaction enriches church learning and growing together. Experience and celebrate that.
- We intentionally plan so that lots of different kinds of men and women’s voices are heard, and faces are visible in the context of our church gatherings, sharing how Jesus is at work in their lives, encouraging us to sign up for things…
- We actively seek to hear women’s voices and include women in planning.
- We are prepared to do less or to wait for gender balance, rather than just use whoever is available so that our “better together” convictions are played out in the shape of our church activities.
- We articulate our countercultural way of relating consistently (“In God’s upside-down kingdom we…; as followers of the Servant King Jesus, we…”), and model and celebrate the beauty of complementarianism in pointing out radically different values. We don’t do this smugly to a world that is lost without Jesus, but humbly and as recipients of his mercy, and not just to explain ourselves to those outside the church family, but to remind one another within the body and to stir one another up to love and good works. We do this in a way that goes beyond celebrating male headship in marriage.
- We ensure that family language used in church is not simply referring to the nuclear family, but includes everyone. Church activities are not structured in such a way that makes anyone feel left out, unwanted, at the edge, and we take measures to place at the centre those who may feel sidelined by our culture’s construct of family.
14. Is there a danger that this is so cerebral that we just turn off 70-80 per cent of the congregation when really what we are calling people to is practical godliness?
Yes, absolutely. Taking our carefully thought-out and nuanced theological statements and allowing God to use them to transform us into his likeness seems to be where we get lazy. For if we believe what we say we do, we should be the humblest, most tender-hearted, most gracious, and gentlest of people, championing the vulnerable and oppressed, begging to be accountable, honouring the voices of those who are hesitant to speak up. We should be rejoicing in our better together, equal-but-different design—a godliness that is not merely practical, but deeply relational because this is what we were created for.
15. Is there a tension between diligent complementarianism and an expositional teaching ministry? How would you navigate this?
If diligent complementarianism is committed to a radical outworking of a positional conviction concerning the biblical theology of manhood and womanhood, then God’s Word will address and encourage and rebuke men and women in our church families each week. That a male preacher may struggle to communicate effectively to women and to men who are wired differently to him in contextualising and applying the text can be addressed by his diligently asking for their help, seeking to understand their perspectives, and by using them to provide illustrations—to share experiences and to model gender difference either within the body of the sermon or through interviews, spotlights on people’s lives or shared responses to the Bible talk. These formal expression of complementarian interaction with God’s word take discipline and forward planning, and the amount of effort involved to make this happen in a significant and meaningful way seems to be the major deterrent to this practice occurring regularly in our churches. More informal ways of ensuring that expositional Bible teaching is applied to the lives of the whole church family have been adopted by many of our churches where there are Q&A sessions after the formal teaching time; small group reflection and prayer in response to the talk; a church culture that encourages everyone to share what they have learned (what’s you one thing?) after the meeting concludes with those they speak to. Some church staff teams go over next Sunday’s talk in their team meeting where, together, men and women offer feedback and help to shape the message in a complementarian way.
16. Can we have a copy of your notes and talks to share with our church leaders?
Please see the Priscilla & Aquila website for the recordings of our talks when they are published.
17. Coming from a Presbyterian polity, could you comment on how the regulative principle of worship has been influenced working out a robust complementarianism?
That’s a hard one to answer. The Regulative Principle has been understood and worked out in such a variety of ways in the Reformed Tradition. You may find these articles helpful:
- Derek Thomas, “The Regulative Principle of Worship”
- Stephen Kneale, “Complementarianism, the Regulative Principle holding for all of life and how we undermine our own principle”
18. Why do we say equal “but” different rather than equal “and” different?
Grammatically, “but” contrasts, where “and” equates. You highlight the danger of “but” negating what comes before it, and it has been suggested that “but also” would avoid that. The sense, I think, is that of equal, but not the same, equal but not interchangeable. The gender distinctive is beautiful and enriching, so the use of “and” would blur that distinctiveness. Using “and” makes difference an additional feature, rather than a qualifying one, and as such, would undermine the mutual interdependence—“It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him”—for which we were created.
19. If we are interdependent as men and women, what are we actually dependent on each other for? E.g. what’s missing when there is no female voice on the staff team?
20. Is there a danger for complementarian churches in not having women on their staff teams?
- Breadth of perspective
- Gendered representation in the organisation and planning of church family life
- Lived understanding of the issues that are unique to women and impact the way they hear the Bible taught, the way they interact with church leadership
- An advocate for women in the life of the body, appropriate pastoral care supervision
- Individual women to participate in discussion airing their personal views for the flourishing of all in the body, not just to give opinions on “women’s stuff”, but to be actively involved in thinking through all areas of church life and witness
Where it is financially impossible for churches with more than one paid leader to employ a woman in a ministry role, we can honour the biblical interdependence we claim by inviting female lay members of the church family to participate in staff meetings in appropriate ways; we can create forums for women to express their views; male staff members need to be available to hear women’s perspectives and ready to engage and to adapt and change plans as a result of such engagement.
21. How do we talk about complementarian leadership in the home without bringing in secular leadership ideas or “decision making”?
Some initial thoughts: authority and love are natural partners “as Christ loved the church”:
- Authority is given to accomplish a good end for the person under authority.
- The person with authority is the servant in the relationship.
- Seeking the good of the other person, and being their servant, are both things that require love.
- The person under authority is the one who benefits.
- The person with authority pays the higher price.
- Authority does not always require the leader to boss or order.
Some helpful reading material on this as it is a huge issue and requires a more detailed response than this forum allows for.
- The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller)
- Ligonier: “The Model of Christ’s Love”
- Jason Meyer, “A Complementarian Manifesto Against Domestic Abuse”, The Gospel Coalition
- Kendra Dahl, “The Lesson That Saved My Marriage”, The Gospel Coalition
22. What does it mean to mutually submit? How is this submission different to the submission wives are called to in their marriage?
The call to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ in Ephesians 5 is contrasted with the person who is intoxicated with alcohol, pursuing selfish indulgence. We are called not to self-indulgence, but to be filled by the Spirit, concerned for the building up of others.
This is not the declaration of a perfect democracy; it does not eradicate headship in the home or leadership in the church context.
It does not mean that there are no authority structures in the church; God’s word repeatedly underscores the essential goodness of authority
23. Yes! GODLINESS is key! How do we (those in ministry) support/become aware of this in one another when we are not in each other’s churches?
- Pursue personal godliness in humble dependence on Christ who works in us by his Holy Spirit. This encourages a deep sensitivity to our own sinfulness and grace in our discernment of the sins of others.
- Live in acknowledged weakness, seek accountability. See Marshall Segal, “Beg to Be Rebuked”, DesiringGod.org.
- Pray together and share what God is teaching us personally from his Word.
- Commit to having Christ-centred conversations with ministry friends, pointing one another to Jesus and sharing delight in him rather than talking about the job and the church.
- Beware of the self-deceit of sin that blinds us to our own lack of godliness and to that of friends who share similar sin issues.
- Beware of the self-deceit of sin that magnifies the lack of godliness of others in ministry in areas we feel ourselves to be spiritually strong.
- Beware of switching off with ministry friends and becoming unguarded in our speech and behaviour in ways that do not bring glory to Jesus.
- We need to ask God for discernment in all our relationships. We should not be seeking to find fault in our fellow workers, but to encourage and support one another in the work of the Lord. Where our personal interaction with someone brings to light a serious issue of ungodliness in their life, we should prayerfully approach them and lovingly rebuke them as Scripture teaches.
24. Thank you for your modelling of team teaching. How realistic is team teaching in other ministries, especially when the team is not married?
We have both team-taught in a variety of contexts with a range of people, and our experience is that it is hard work, it demands humility and grace, it grows us to be more like Jesus, and is better for those listening. I think that a commitment to the model itself yields precious fruit in this sphere as the more we do it, the easier it becomes and the better we get at it.
When I (Fiona) am asked to speak at a children’s ministry event, I try to involve a male presenter alongside me as I am generally speaking to a mixed audience and am convinced that children’s ministry needs godly men to be involved—better together.
There is also a danger that married couples are blind to the particularities of their modelling of complementarianism and make generalised applications that are unhelpful. Sorry if we have been guilty of that.
Great to hear the voices of single women alongside married men and single men alongside married women to represent different aspects of complementarianism simultaneously.
- It demands a level of organisation and a commitment to advance preparation and to time spent in collaboration, which is costly.
- There are different ways to do it: carving out a spot for a woman’s voice to be heard (often in points of application) in a sermon series, is a less taxing exercise than co-writing talks as we did for these sessions.
- It offers a great way to train young men who can work alongside older women to team teach in contexts such as Christianity Explored groups, Sunday School teaching, youth and student group teaching, mixed Bible study groups…
- A single female staff member of a 5 Ms church heading up the membership strand with an elder who shares the teaching and takes pastoral responsibility for the men in the group.
- A female interviewer asking a male speaker at a women’s event questions about his Bible talk that help to ground it in the experience of other women in the room.
- Q and A-style teaching where male and female contributors share the platform.
25. Our churches are statistically 60 per cent women, but there seem fewer paid ministry roles for women in our spheres. Do you think this is something we need to improve?
Yes. If we are convinced that we are interdependent then employing women on staff teams should be standard practice. Some of the factors (beyond the most commonly cited “financial constraints”) that seem to steer churches away from this include:
- Pastor’s wives serving in a voluntary capacity and fulfilling the need (often in churches that simply couldn’t afford to pay someone to do the job).
- Several women working in a voluntary capacity to do a job that would otherwise require a full-time woman to be employed.
In both of these cases, it is great to see churches encourage ministry as the lifeblood of the body of Christ and not to mistakenly equate ministry roles with paid employment. BUT the possible negative consequences include:
- A two-for-one mentality in employing a male staff worker who is married
- An absence of a consistent female presence on the staff team, which can serve to dilute, rather than multiply the female voice in decision-making and theological and practical thinking about the direction of church life
- An exclusion from involvement for any woman, single or married who needs to earn a living wage
- A lack of dependence on God to provide the resources to staff the church appropriately and/or a lack of planning to raise necessary funds.
- A desire to move away from silo ministries and a consequent discomfort as to how to use a woman appropriately within a complementarian framework
- Adopting a framework for leadership within the church that, by conviction, requires male leadership in each area
- A shift from employing a children’s ministry worker to a family pastor
- Seeing the greatest staffing need to be the multiplication of preachers
- Not having a training or development pathway to give young female workers a starting position within.
We are training godly, gifted, humble women in our theological colleges who have signed up to study with limited opportunity to gain paid employment at the conclusion of their theological degrees. The fragility of their future does not stop them from undertaking study, and we need to do better at honouring this commitment and advocating for more paid ministry roles for women in our churches.
26. Gary, can you give some examples of how a full, rich, good complementarian theology plays out at QTC? (e.g. staff meetings, board, faculty decisions)
At QTC, this works out in a range of ways.
Our Board (whose role is to ensure that the “company” is well-run and financially healthy) is a mixed group.
In running the daily life of college, we try to find the balance between clarity on who has the responsibility to make any decision, and listening to everyone who has a stake in the decision—this means that most decisions involve significant input from both men and women.
In terms of general pastoral responsibility for the students, every full-time faculty member is responsible for a “chaplaincy group” and is assisted by a female member of the staff (although we make clear that we believe that it is the local church which bears the major responsibility of caring for our students).
In terms of training and equipping those students who are aiming to be involved in some kind of paid ministry role, we have a panel of men who oversee the blokes and have recently appointed a panel of women to perform the same role in the lives of our female students.
In terms of teaching, we are constantly thinking about this, and working to ensure that we do everything we can to use and encourage women. A senior woman is heavily involved in our primary pastoral care course, and a younger woman has taught Hebrew for some time. (She and I are team-teaching a unit on Jeremiah later in the year.) Our Academic Dean is a woman who has occasionally taught Greek. Our Ethics course is team taught by Andrew (our Vice Principal) and Robyn Bain. Fiona also has significant input to our fourth year “Ministry in Practice” unit, as well as teaching our children’s ministry units.
27. If leadership is about pastoral oversight, is there space for women to preach under the pastoral oversight of a male senior minister?
I think the primary way in which pastoral oversight is exercised is through the regular preaching and teaching of the word (“feed my sheep”), which suggests the answer is no.
28. What is your framework when considering where a woman can teach in church? E.g. Bible studies, youth talks, and kids talks presented within the church service.
See the previous answer: there is a difference between overall pastoral responsibility (having responsibility for and care of the family as a whole) and being involved in a ministry.
When we drill down to specifics (like who can lead a Bible study), it depends on how your Bible study groups etc function, and what you understand is happening.
Kids talks are (by definition!) not the regular diet of teaching for the whole church family, so I am more than happy for women and men to be involved.
Personally, I (Gary) don’t think that what we want at youth group is simply “Sunday Lite” (i.e. another expository sermon aimed at teenagers), and so I think it is both important and valuable to have both women and men speaking the gospel into the lives of our teenagers. But it really does depend (once more) how you view the nature of your youth ministry. My expectation would be that young people are strongly encouraged to be in church and integrated with the wider church family, so that youth group is a context for discipleship and outreach.
29. Do you have any suggestions for women in leadership who are expected to independently get on with the job, who long to be led?
This is a hard situation to be in and we grieve with you that the beauty of God’s design for interdependence is not being embodied in your workplace relationships.
Your question begs several further questions:
- Was the woman aware of the staff structure before she took on her role?
(Can I make a plea here that all of us need to be aware of what kind of staff structures/relational dynamics will make it impossible for us as individuals to thrive on a team and to ask searching questions at interview to help determine if the position is one that will allow us to flourish.)
- Has a change of boss/change of model precipitated a change of direction, leadership style?
- Are male members of the leadership team treated in the same way, or does she feel that gender is the distinctive in her isolation?
If the church ministry team is working on a silo model of ministry and all staff members are expected to independently get on with the job, a woman may be able to initiate/help grow a culture of personal support and encouragement amongst team members without their needing to know all the details of the woman’s particular ministry role. She may, with the permission of her boss, be able to gather around her a support team, including a senior male with recognised structural authority within the church family, to offer her this support and encouragement in her role. She should be able to share her concerns and burdens for people who are struggling and her delight in seeing God work transformation in those who are thriving so that the team can be encouraged and prayerful. The lack of a shared space to pray for the church family as a team together is a different and more serious issue than the absence of a shared involvement in one another’s ministry portfolios.
The most obvious question to raise is has the woman in question talked to her boss about her unhappiness? BUT this is a course of action that has led to women I know on staff teams being told that they are “too needy”, that they “lack resilience”, that they are “not a good fit for the ministry model”, or, conversely, that they are “an angel” and that they can get whatever help and support they want to do their job—just not from their boss. Alternatively, women have also been sucked into a vortex of emotional blackmail where a boss shares he is so overwhelmed and only just surviving, and all that he needs is for her to keep doing what she is doing and not to cause a fuss as this would tip him over the edge. This is not a biblical model of leadership where the one with the most authority is the servant of all, bearing the burdens of those under his supervision. Further these scenarios leave women feeling vulnerable and that their position may be terminated, or contract not renewed if they persist in voicing concerns.
A further complexity arises when a single woman is on a staff team with married men who are able to talk about life and ministry with their wives and so share their load naturally, automatically. This means they can be unaware of the different relational constraint on the female who, for reasons of confidentiality, cannot easily, automatically and on a daily basis, share what is troubling her with other trusted individuals.
Owning our sin issues as women in this area may involve those of us who enjoy working independently and take pride in our self-sufficiency, enjoying the status of “strong” trusted woman on staff, asking ourselves if we are celebrating the beauty of mutual interdependence in the body in the way that we do ministry. It may involve those of us who are miserable and isolated asking for help or initiating relational connection, rather than waiting to be asked how we are going by male members of staff.
We all need to be asking the question, “Who has duty of care for staff members in our local church?” What does this look like? Is it sufficient to their thriving?
We are so thankful for the external support given to women on serving on staff teams in our local churches, but want to highlight that this does not and cannot serve as a substitute for the precious complementarian interdependence that should typify leadership teams on the ground.
30. How can we exercise complementarianism within children’s ministry, particularly crèche where parents may be uncomfortable with men around their children?
Let’s start with creche. In lots of our churches, babies go to a “crying room” with one of their parents where the service is livestreamed and responsibility lies with the parent. Where this is the case, it would be great to see parents taking turns to go to the crying room with the baby so that the gender imbalance of adults in the room would be less dramatic. It can be argued that it’s much easier for a mum to listen to the sermon and look after their little one, while it is much more stressful for the dad to do that, and so it makes sense for the woman to go with the baby. This is a valid argument that is often countered with the proposal that men will get better at doing this the more practice that they have. The husband’s responsibility for his wife’s spiritual nurture and his obedience to the command to love her sacrificially are theological principles that should precede pragmatic decision making.
It should be acknowledged that lots of families don’t have the luxury of this choice: single parents, partners serving in church (a decision that should be made recognising the sacrifice involved for the other parent at this stage of life), other siblings requiring parent’s attention… I have seen male team members and elders model this complementarity in sitting in crèche or a crying room, rather than relegating this task to their wife by default, and this visible modelling is a powerful tool in creating a culture shift in our churches.
Addressing parental discomfort with the presence of males in a crèche. Our child protection policies are a great starting point. It is relatively unusual for men within the church family to volunteer in this capacity, and both men and women who are going to care for the most vulnerable little ones need to be stringently vetted. Examples of good practice in this area include:
- Pictures of crèche volunteers on the wall of the crèche or on the church’s website, along with their roles and qualifications for the task. (A godly, servant-hearted male paediatric nurse is a great team member on the crèche roster and brings professional skill to a team.)
- Structural protocols should be in place to avoid parents—male or female—who have not undergone the appropriate training, from taking responsibility for children other than their own without the explicit permission of that child’s parent.
Providing a safe, nurturing environment for crèche-aged children in church to experience Christ’s love in action and to be cared for appropriately must be our priority. Can men contribute to this? Absolutely, but not in the pursuit of a principle at the expense of a mum whose experience has undermined her confidence in men and who will not come to church if there is a man on crèche.
In children’s ministry:
- The biblical imperative to teach children in the home—talking all day every day about the beautiful life we have in Christ and what it means to live under his kingly rule—is given to fathers (Deut 6:4-8) and then to parents as they together raise their children. Involving dads in children’s ministry in church equips them to fulfil this task in the home. They are given training in how to communicate gospel truth in age-appropriate ways, encouraged to see God at work in the lives of young children, and they learn how to ask questions that apply the Bible to the hearts and lives of children. None of these skills come naturally to parents, and for this reason, some churches roster all parents with kids in their children’s program onto children’s ministry once a term as helpers.
- If our children’s ministry exists to model and prepare children to become part of the wider church family, we will be encouraging men and women to share in this ministry so that children’s foundational experience of church is aligned to ur wider church culture.
- Boys need male role models—godly teenagers who show them what living for Jesus looks like in the years ahead and who can easily relate to the life experience of the children; older men, both single and married, who can provide diverse models of biblical masculinity and who share a common love for Jesus and for the children who they teach. For boys whose experience of a father has been negative or non-existent, male leaders in children’s ministry can help correct a negative perception of God as their heavenly Father.
31. I hear what you are saying about getting men involved in children’s ministry, but I imagine a lot of women will think, “What is left for me to do?”
I’m genuinely surprised by this question (in the context of the local church) as my experience has been that women long for male co-workers who will recognise the importance of teaching children foundational truths about God and who will help to shape a gospel world view from the outset of their lives.
This question seems to imply a fear of disempowerment that is at odds with all biblical leadership where those with authority lead as servants. Sharing the burden of servant leadership in gendered plurality within children’s ministry is an expression our created interdependence, and should surely strengthen and enrich the experience of women in children’s ministry, rather than diminish or disempower them.
Secondly, the question seems to suggest that involvement in children’s ministry is one a very short list of options for women to be involved in ministry in the local church. This seems to be at odds with complementarian theology, which does not draw up a list of “access denied” ministries to women, but insists that women need to be involved in everything that goes on in church life—not having authority over it all, but significant participation.
Perhaps the questions is more about power and authority in the life of the church than about ministry and participation? A church’s understanding of what ministry is will include or disenfranchise women.
If ministry is the lifeblood of the body of Christ and the essence of personal ministry is “to joyfully turn people away from the mound of human ideas and to the man Jesus Christ” (see Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp), then surely none of us are redundant when it comes to serving in God’s upside down kingdom.
Today we have been encouraged to see complementarianism as a gendered expression of our interdependence in the body of Christ. We need each other, male and female, and are better together.
32. How do we encourage people to truly feel and believe the shared honour spoken about in the unity of the body in 1 Corinthians 12?
Great question! I think we simply have to get on with loving and supporting each other as the family of God. Easy to say, hard to do, of course, but this is who we are as the people of God!
33. Any quick words to us on complementarian principles and the life of singles in our churches?
Our focus today has been on gendered distinctiveness, and we acknowledge that complementarianism theology has often been portrayed in terms of wives submitting to husbands and what women can’t do in church, rather than a glorious picture of our created purpose, roles and inter relationships—male and female in the body of Christ. This pragmatic reductionism strips the doctrine of its beauty, and our desire was to reignite a sense of the wonder of God’s creative plan and purpose for all of us single and married in our gendered humanity.
- Singleness is purposeful and good, and enriches the life of the body of Christ. Single women are called to be strong helpers in that same way as married women—to complement their male fellow workers as we labour in the Lord together. They are called to submit to the authority of church leaders in the same way as married women, and are called to mutual submission out of reverence for Christ as all are all who follow Jesus.
- Single females on staff teams should be treated as sisters in Christ, and it is shameful when they are perceived as dangerous “usurper, temptress, child” (Kelly Givens, “Three Female Ghosts that Haunt the Church”) on the basis of gender, rather than being loved and respected and cared for, recognising that their singleness can be lonely and isolating and respecting the particular issues that they may consequently face.
- Singleness allows us to find intimacy and deep complementarian friendship within the church, our true family. Singles who live out of this reality and vocalise this conviction hugely encourage the rest of their church family. Their example corrects faulty thinking amongst brothers and sisters who are despairing over life in their nuclear family, reminding them that there is more, and that church family bonds are eternal. It exposes idolatry in the hearts of those who prize marriage or their children over church family, and gently and positively reminds them of their identity in the body of Christ.
34. Can you please give a basic definition of complementarianism? (Especially for those of us who are newer to P&A conferences!).
Sorry we didn’t make this clearer: the definition we were working on is:
Complementarianism is the conviction that God created all men and women with equal dignity and value but has also assigned specific roles (and ways of relating) to some in the context of both the family and church family.
35. All examples given by you today are related to married couples. For us old singles, complementarianism is a different concept and mostly redundant. Wouldn’t you agree?
Thank you for raising this. Many of our examples from local churches involved single men and women; we simply didn’t make any distinction between married and single men or women as our focus was on gendered distinctiveness. Your question suggests that it would have been helpful to you for us to include that detail in our illustrations, and if you felt that what was being said was not relevant or helpful to you because of this, we are really sorry!
We didn’t speak much about complementarianism in the home and in terms of church family life; complementarianism—our gendered interdependence in relationship and roles within the family of God—is all-encompassing. We are all called to submit to the authority of the under shepherds who lead us, to one another, and to work together, honouring gendered difference as precious in the roles and relational responsibilities for which God has created us.
36. How do you model complementarianism in kids ministry in practice when there are few male leaders?
Some additional suggestions:
- Encourage children to share what they have learned with adults in the wider church family over morning tea, and encourage adults to value the approach of children and to engage and listen well.
- Have male oversight (eldership or staff team member) that gets involved with the teaching teams, with children and with parents.
- Link what happens on Sundays with family devotions during the week, where dads are encouraged to take the lead.
- Involve godly teenage boys in a trainee leadership capacity and grow a culture of male leadership from that
- Have interviews with men from church as part of the children’s ministry program from time to time so that children hear about how men live for Jesus at home and at work.
- Where small groups are segregated on gender lines, ensure that girls hear boys speak about Jesus in their lives and the struggles to live for him in school and at home, and vice versa, and that the children have the opportunity to hear one another pray so that they experience the beauty and difference in one another and grow together as followers of Jesus.
37. In youth ministries, many churches break up groups along gender lines. Do you have any thoughts about how we may do youth along complementary lines?
- Ensure that there are additional regular opportunities for girls to hear boys speak about Jesus in their lives, their struggles to live for him in school and at home, and their questions about ethics, doctrine, and belief—and vice versa.
- Give them the opportunity to pray together so that they experience the beauty and difference in one another and grow together as followers of Jesus.
- Ensure that they serve in mixed groups so that they can encourage and support one another in complementary ways.
- I think it’s really important that ALL the God stuff doesn’t happen along gender-segregated lines and the “fun” stuff all together, as this undermines the convictions that Jesus is the one thing they all have in common and that we want him to central to their male/female relationships.
38. Would it be better not to have segregated events/groups along gender lines in our churches?
Some churches do not have gendered groups or events out of a settled conviction, coming from both a complementarian and egalitarian theological position. Other churches have ended up with gendered groups by default, rather than design.
I think that Titus 2 gives helpful guidelines for gendered discipleship and modelling of godliness within our churches. Where groups/events are gender-segregated, I think that as professing complementarians, we have to be able to articulate the good in that and to weigh that up against the very good of our created interdependent design. Such segregation should contribute positively to greater interdependence and appreciation, and moving towards one another in the body of Christ, strengthening one part of the body for the good of the whole. For example, discussing the Bible in a women’s study group equips me to teach it to children, to encourage men and women as I share what God has taught me with them, and to speak God’s words into my husband’s life. Rather than passing on my own wisdom, it helps me to apply what the sermon explained more fully to my life circumstances, and gives me the opportunity to pray and be prayed for in a safe and confidential environment with sisters in Christ.
The added value in gender segregation?
- It’s partially a matter of convenience as the group meets at a time that works for me.
- I get to see Titus 2 ministry in action and be part of that.
- I teach a Ministry to Women course in college and so am constantly exposed to different women’s perspectives which enriches and informs my teaching.
- I am able to help my husband understand a multiplicity of female responses to, perspective on and feelings about theological, cultural and relational issues and we approach pastoral ministry together.
For other women in the group:
- They feel more comfortable and safe, and they don’t have to pretend.
- It’s easier to share sin issues with a group of women.
- Female responses to the Bible enrich, or explain in ways they understand, the teaching that they received from a sermon on Sunday.
- They don’t feel stupid in a group with other women.
- It’s ok to be emotional and “real”.
- They can ask questions about how to do life from older women.
- They’re not scared to pray in a group of women.
- Friendships more likely to develop beyond the scope of the weekly meeting.
Segregated evangelistic events are also a feature of many of our churches: often it’s about finding an appropriate point of connection to the lives of those who don’t yet know Jesus, and helping them to feel comfortable and safe coming into a church event from the outside. Purposeful, targeted events are a strategic means of showing and sharing Jesus with others. We want to be careful that the beautiful diversity of the body of Christ in its gendered differentness is what is offered to those attending “segregated” events, and that the pathway to belonging and, ultimately, believing is an all-inclusive, interdependent one. A vulnerable woman who is seeking Jesus should be shielded from any unnecessary trauma from being forced into a mixed Christianity Explored group. We must always seek to protect the most at risk and be gospel-bendy for their good!
39. Can women be lazy complementarians when they simply just don’t want the responsibility that men have? Can women support men in that, rather than just avoid it?
Yes, we can be lazy:
- In opting out—“Not my problem; you’re the leader”; “That’s above my pay-grade”—and so deny the ezer (helper) role that God has given us to seek his wisdom for and with the men who lead us, and to speak God’s wisdom to them where appropriate.
- In being critical of their decisions or their inability to make decisions, rather than encouraging, or being supportive and helpfully suggestive where appropriate.
40. Why do we talk about complementarian PRACTICE in church meetings and yet use the word MODEL complementarianism in small groups? Is the desire to model enough?
The desire to model is a great start; the practice of daily modelling must follow. For those in authority, there is the added responsibility to structure the life of the church family in such a way that champions complementarian practice.
41. What is the surname of Veronica so that I might read her research paper?
Veronica Hoyt, “Complementarian Ministry in Australia and New Zealand”, Reformed Theological Review Vol 81 No. 1 2022.
42. Examples of how you could give voice to women in an elder-run church that isn’t simply their wives.
Elders to meet with groups of women in the church family, and ask questions and listen to their views
Elders to have responsibility for ministries involving women, and to pray for and with women in those ministries regularly.
Elders to spend time chatting to women informally at church gatherings.
Elders to treat all women in the church family as sisters in Christ.
43. Does pastoral oversight imply male oversight?
We are both convinced that the ultimate responsibility for the life of the church family should rest in the hands of properly “qualified” men (as in e.g. Titus 1). Responsibility for specific ministries may be in the hands of godly women and men, but they are to submit to and be held accountable by those men who are charged to shepherd the flock.
44. Regarding your comment RE Leadership Eldership in Queensland, how will this work practically? Also, how could this work in the Anglican context?
I can’t quite remember the comment, so I’m not quite sure how to answer. My basic conviction is that leadership in the church should never be in the hands of an individual, but a group of godly men. I think it is possible to work on that basic pattern in any system of church government, although in an Anglican setting, it may require some creativity, and can only really happen at the instigation of someone like the rector.
45. My mother always said that my father was the captain, but she was the admiral, and it was so!! Complementarianism was unheard of! Discuss please.
We submit to Jesus together, and as wives, we are then called to submit to our husbands. The Genesis 3 power struggle is played out in our marriages, and we need the Holy Spirit’s transforming power to work in us to allow us to see the beauty of God’s design and to submit to his instructions for the right ordering of family and church life. Our equal but different gendered identity was established before the Fall, and our capacity to live out of this is dependent on our willingness to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It sounds like your mum was having a little bit of subversive fun with this statement, but our propensity to take the authority that belongs to God alone is a real and present danger of all of us, and the consequences of usurping his authority are always harmful.
46. Any suggestions on how you can frame the complementarian conversation with children in asking for their thoughts on how they see men and women together in church?
We never want to encourage our children to be critical of our church or our leaders but, we do want them to weigh everything in life against what the Bible teaches—including what we say and how we treat them, so that their confidence is in the perfection of God’s Word and his trustworthiness, as opposed to our sinful frailty, which will inevitably disappoint them.
Children’s opinions will be formed on the basis of what they see and how they are treated by adults, and will often vary significantly from those of older people, e.g. “I like the way my Sunday School teacher smells”, “Our pastor is so cool: he kicked the ball back to me when I accidentally kicked it into the church. He’s got skills!”
Do you think there is any difference between being a leader at church and being a leader in school? Do you know what the Bible says about being a leader?
Do you think men and women have different jobs at church? What are those jobs? Why do you think that is?
What do you think Jesus means when he says, ”If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, you must be the servant of all”? What does that mean in our church family?
Who do you think the most important and people in church are?
Rosemary’s job in church is to read the Bible and pray with people who can’t get to church on Sundays. Do you think that’s a good job?
What job would you most like to have in church?
47. How should we get men involved in women’s Bible study groups?
I think we need to think about how women’s Bible studies feed back into healthy body life in the church family, and ensure wives and husbands are talking regularly about Jesus, rather than inserting men into what is a safe and treasured space for many women in ways that may be unhelpful. It is also helpful to mix up groups periodically so that women interact with a variety of women, or switch to a mixed group, and that no woman is forced to go to a women’s Bible study, as this has proven to be an equal or greater disincentive to women in our churches.
Married men should be actively encouraging their wives to share what they have learned in the Bible study groups, and should be eager to pray with them and reciprocally share their Bible study experience.
It’s great to have an all-together event for all Bible study groups where people are given the opportunity, but are not forced to share with a mixed group what God has been teaching them, and to pray together at the end of a series of studies.
Holiday time Bible study groups can provide another opportunity for women to join a mixed group that is short-term and so perhaps less threatening.
48. As the man should take care of the family spiritual well-being, what can be the encouragement to a brother experiencing domestic violence from his wife?
This is terribly sad, and hard to make any comment on without knowing the situation. In the first place, this is something to speak to the leaders of his church about.
49. What questions can we ask in the car on the way home to better understand each other’s experience and work together better? Men and women.
I think that we just need to ask each other what God is teaching us, and listen carefully for the different gendered response our spouse gives us. Where a Bible passage deals with the mistreatment of women by men, it is important to ask “How did that make you feel?”, and where men and women are being given specific guidelines on how they should interact, we should always be keen to submit to God’s word together and apply it to our lives together.
50. Egalitarians are hugely out-publishing complementarians on gender. Few complementarians review their works. How do we restore confidence here?
Our main concern in these sessions was to encourage God’s people to live out God’s plan in the context of the local church. We believe this is the most powerful commendation of complementarianism at our disposal! Of course, it’s important for some to engage in theological debate and contend for a biblical position, and we thank God for them. There is a sense, however, in which for complementarians, complementarianism shouldn’t be the main thing; the gospel should be! And it is massively encouraging about the volume of books (commentaries, books on ministry and discipleship etc) written from a complementarian perspective.
51. Christian mums are often told that teaching their children the gospel is their main ministry. Is that also a dad’s main ministry?
A wife’s first responsibility before God is to her husband and it’s really sad and damaging if this ezer (helper) role is neglected or diminished to helping my husband by doing stuff with the kids. The greatest gift I can give my husband is my personal godliness, and so pursuing Jesus will frame everything I do.
As I support and encourage him in his role as head of the household, so together we disciple our children, showing and sharing Jesus with them in all the details of life. Mothers generally spend more time with their children than fathers do—particularly in the early years—and so each couple needs to work out before God what the particular shape of their ministry to their children will be as they navigate daily routines in the family. Intentional family time in God’s word and prayer and praise gives a concrete means for dads to express their leadership, and this needs to be lived out in our moment-to-moment dependence on Jesus and interdependence on one another as parents. Together we show our children Christ.
For dads, then, their primary responsibility before God is for their wife and then their children: this is the immediate context in which a father is called to live a godly life and where his commitment to that godliness will be tested in the nowhere-to-hide intimacy of human family interaction.
52. How can we be lovingly encouraging women to relate healthily to men in church and overcome assumptions of guilt or malintent?
We want all our relationships to be soaked in grace; we live as people who have been treated better than we deserve; and the Holy Spirit gives us power to think well of others when we may be tempted to assume the worst. However, we also need to protect women from harm and to be vigilant in our efforts to ensure that church is a safe place for all whom attend.
53. Would you classify men going to therapy as a way to maintain mental and spiritual health, or an unhealthy ideal of modern society?
We praise God for the gift of Christian counselling and therapists, and for psychologists and psychiatrists who work alongside our local churches to care for all of us.
We don’t want to professionalise pastoral care in the body of Christ so that, rather than bearing one another’s burdens, prayerfully and sacrificially, walking with people through difficult stuff, we send them off to get help elsewhere. Therapy should not be a private means of dealing with difficult stuff that denies our belonging to one another as brothers and sisters in God’s forever family, but a crucial source of help for those periods when the love and support of others in the church family is not sufficient and we need additional support. For some, this is a whole-of-life support; for others, it will be triggered by a crisis or trauma. Often we need extra help with difficult relationships or mental health issues that require professional knowledge and perspective. Furthermore, we should always test therapeutic practice against Scripture so that we are not led away from dependence on Jesus and do not become blind to our sinful propensities.
54. How should women (married or single) address complementarianism in their church when the wives of the leadership aren’t concerned with it or desire to live it out?
Humbly, prayerfully and joyfully.
55. We have female archbishops, priests and deacons in the Anglican church who contribute richly to holy work modelled on Mary, Junia, Phoebe and Priscilla. True?
Praise God that he has used all kinds of women in building his church and reaching people for the gospel! We’re persuaded, however, that the New Testament teaches that those in pastoral oversight (whether we call them elders/pastors/bishops) in the local church should be godly men, appointed by God’s people. It does seem that there were female deacons like Phoebe, but their role (as in Acts 6) was a bit different, focused on specific ministry tasks, rather than pastoral oversight of the family of God.