Genesis 2 tells us God created men and women equally, but differently, in his image. God called the woman an ezer kenegdo, or “another of the same kind.”
The two are not exactly the same: When God saw the man alone he said, “Not good.” If God had made a carbon copy, he would have had more people … but it wouldn’t have solved the problem. That would have just been “not good x 2.”
Each gender reveals a dimension of the image of God more completely than if one gender did it alone. The two are complementary—with special and unique qualities and roles. (That’s where the term “complementarianism” comes from.)
Sadly, there has been a false dichotomy put forward in the church: Either you believe there is no distinction of roles at all (a position called egalitarianism), or you believe women don’t ever have the capacity or calling to lead.
We need to reject that dichotomy and adopt instead what the Bible puts forward: distinctions of position and function in the body of Christ, but not distinctions of gifting, dignity, or value.
In light of this, there are three truths the church needs to present to the women in our congregations:
1. God has a calling on your life.
Your calling is not just to sit on the sidelines or to marry a man with a calling. You have a calling. Have you discerned that calling and risen up to fulfill it? We learn, for instance, from Deborah’s story in Judges that even in a culture and time when men performed nearly every public task, God used women at pivotal moments in his kingdom. God has a role for you in the kingdom today.
2. You can and should take initiative in following God.
I’ve seen a lot of women who never take initiative or spiritual responsibility for themselves. (For that matter, I’ve seen a lot of men do the same. But the reasons are not always alike.) Whenever I see women being passive in their relationship with God, I’m saddened. Somewhere along the line, these women learned that being female meant not taking too much spiritual initiative. But that’s simply not the case.
I say this not to rebuke but to affirm and release you. Women have the capability to hear and discern direction from the Holy Spirit. So when the Spirit speaks, you should move!
3. You can do all this while respecting God’s order.
Even Deborah, the wisest and most courageous person of her time, refused to take positions God had assigned to men. When Barak, the military general, wouldn’t lead the army, Deborah didn’t step up and say, “OK, fine, I’ll do it.” Deborah led the nation through her wisdom while encouraging Barak to lead the nation through his military might.
Both the Old and New Testaments teach that there are certain positions in the church and home that God has appointed for men. In the Old Testament, the priestly role was limited to certain men. In the New Testament, the role of elder is similarly limited. But these specific roles were hardly meant to limit all ministry to these positions.
We need more women in the church who, like Deborah, identify and act on their gifts and callings. We need Deborahs in the home, speaking courage into their children and husbands. We need Deborahs in ministry, guiding us with their wisdom, calling out others as they give and pray and go. We need more Deborahs in society, leading and teaching with wisdom and courage and faith.
We need more women in the church who, like Deborah, identify and act on their gifts and callings
And for those of us who work in the church, it’s worth asking if we are as committed to raising up Deborahs as we are to raising up Gideons and Samsons (we could almost certainly do with fewer Samsons).
We have to look for places to develop and utilize the teaching and leadership gifts of the women in our churches. After all, the focus of Scripture is not on what women can’t do, but on what they can and must do.
Complementarianism is not a restrictive box to be checked; it is a beautiful doctrine to be celebrated. God reveals his image through the differences between men and women.
Women have always played a crucial role in God’s kingdom, and that is proven by God’s use of Deborah, a woman filled with the Spirit of God being used in the kingdom of God. Today, the church will only be healthy when our sons and daughters thrive within it.