The following is a personal review on the book: Women & Leadership By: Malcolm Webber (Strategic Press, Bentham, Indiana, 2007 ). The following views are my own taking into consideration Webber’s writing and referencing him often. I have not been commissioned by Webber to write a review or to post any blog on his material; so any recommendation on my part is completely voluntary.
Well, I never thought this would happen, but I have finally found a book about male headship in ministry that I thoroughly agree with, appreciate, and embrace. Malcolm Webber is actually the senior pastor at the church I attended for young adults when I was a seminary student in Indiana. I only met with him once, but I remember he gave me his book, “Women & Leadership”, when he heard I was studying to be a pastor…and for whatever reason I never opened it until just now (I was probably scared of it pointing me away from my studies). Now that I’ve read it, I realize that it doesn’t invalidate my studies at all, it just proves more and more why we need more women to study the Scriptures, but also why we need more men to take up their God-given and God-ordained position as leaders within the church. Webber’s style is both highly theological and practical. He’s given consideration to all of the major Biblical texts about women in leadership (both from the Old and New Testament) and he’s arrived at a fair conclusion that I think we can all agree with.
Here are a few points I have taken from this excellent, easy-to-read, and yet well researched book:
- Men and women are created different yet equal. A man’s role as head of the family and of the church is suggested to us throughout Scripture. This does not have anything to do with inferiority, but rather with a proper structure that best employs stability. When a husband or male pastor is doing his Godly work, it is a joy for a woman to submit, not a burden.
- That being said, women should minister and lead to the fullest extent of their divine callings.
What exactly does this mean? Well, it can mean a few different things depending on what God has called the woman to do:
- Scripture (both in the Old and New Testament) affirms women in all sorts of various roles. While it is uncommon for a woman to be in a top position of power (one example of this being the judge Deborah), women have served in a variety of other capacities including as counsellors, guides, teachers, and deacons. Occasionally, in the Scriptures and in early church history, women have taken the lead but this is almost always the exception, not the norm. Furthermore, even in a case like Deborah, the socio-historical context of the day shows us that this was not the ideal. Deborah stepped in to serve because men were not taking their proper authority and rule – it was not the best case scenario, but she followed God’s will because it was either having a female leader or having no leader. Deborah actually encouraged Barak to step up to his God ordained role, but unfortunately, he seemed to be unwilling to do so fully (by the way there are several interpretations of this. I actually wrote a seminary paper on this story, so I know at least 4 or 5 interpretations ranging from very liberal and feminist to very conservative and male headship orientated).
- The idea that a woman can only lead other women or children, is often taken out of context. Most Biblical passages do not suggest this (except for a few classic examples of proof-texts). Rather, women are affirmed in many areas of leadership except for top-level leadership.
How Do We Find the Balance?
The women in leadership issue is a diverse and extremely tricky one within the life of the church, and one often fuelled with passion and emotion on either side of the debate. We meet “liberal” churches that discourage a distinction between men and women stating that we are all equal; some even suggesting that churches that follow male-headship are hierarchical, patriarchal, and even oppressive. These churches may even suggest that a woman must be liberated from the command to submit to her husband perhaps even stating that this design was simply brought about because of sin and was not God’s original intention: rather God created men and women as equal and thus we are all permitted to do the same things. Conversely, we meet “conservative” churches that proof-text 1 Timothy 2:11-15 stating that a woman has no right to preach or lead in any capacity except to women and kids. So who’s right?
Well, Webber has some good logic:
Churches which promote egalitarianism may rob men of the opportunity to lead the family and the church as they should and may push a woman into a leadership position she is unprepared or unqualified for…BUT churches that see only males as “worthy” of leadership can often lead down the slippery slope of male domination, authoritarianism, and female passivity. When this happens women can easily become bitter and enraged and thus be robbed of using their God ordained skills and interests for the higher good of the church and the Kingdom (Webber, 16). Later on, Webber follows this statement up with another helpful comment: “The Bible contains both teachings and examples of women ministering and leading to the fullest extent of their callings in God. A church that denies women the opportunity to minister has robbed itself of at least one-half of the gifts and callings God has provided.” (32)
All this to say: we should guard against either extreme. A church too focused on the differences misses out on all the wonderful ways women can enrich worship and church life (whether or not she is preaching). A church too focused on the similarities, forgets that God created men and women different but equal and that diversity can be our strength rather than an oppressive driving force.
What does this mean practically?
- Men should be encouraged to step up and lead. Rather than denying a woman the opportunity to lead, we should seek to urge men to “fill the vacuum that had previously been left by men not fulfilling their God-given leadership roles.” (Webber, 54).
- Rather than solely focussing on what the role of a woman in the church is, we should ask what the role of both genders is and how both men and women can fill the needs of the church. Webber states, “Instead of worrying about ‘what I can or cannot do,’ our concern should be ‘what has God called me to do?” (51)
- Webber asks the question: But what if a woman is called to a top-level leadership position? His response: Well then, she better go do it! (51) He then adds a follow-up question: what if the woman is wrong and she is not actually called to pastor? His response: Men are just as liable to hear their calling incorrectly as women and we should apply the same standards in either case: to lovingly nurture and correct this person, gently guiding them back to the Truth and helping them find ways of discerning their actual calling. After all, we cannot place God in a vacuum (although His original and ultimate design is for men to lead with authority and love, we cannot deny that for whatever reason in God’s good purposes He has sometimes made exceptions to further His plan within a given context).
Malcom Webber’s book is one example of a thoughtful, tactful, Scripturally and theologically sound resource; however it is only one book and one interpretation. I’ve stated my own views on numerous blogs, but my views are constantly being formed and shaped as I become more informed and aware of the vast literature available on this topic. I’ve recently compiled a list of books on this topic from either perspective and will likely be blogging reviews as I unfold each one. In all things, my hope is that whether you are male or female, you are seeking to serve Christ to the best of your abilities, being faithful to His calling and guidance on your life, and ultimately asking yourself how you can best minister and evangelize to bring many other lost souls into His grace and mercy and for His good Kingdom purposes.