Women Worship Leaders? Yes.

There have been well-written posts recently by people who love God and seek to obey the bible — and I’m about to disagree with them.  But I may be wrong (it would NOT be the first time).  And they may be wrong.

So, here’s my position:

  1. The Bible right.  It “is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms: obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.”  I believe in the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture.
  2. The Bible reserves the role of “elder” for men. Theologically, I am a Complementarian.
  3. The New Testament uses the terms “bishop”, “elder” and “pastor” interchangeably.
  4. Qualified women should serve in any leadership position that is not forbidden in the Scriptures. (See that argument here.)
  5. A “worship leader” is NOT an office of the church in the New Testament.
  6. “Worship Songs” are actually either “sung prayers” or “sung exhortations.” (Argued here, and here.)
  7. Every “worship leader” should serve under the elders generally, and the teaching elder specifically.  These elders should take a very active role in overseeing the lyrics and doctrine that will be reflected in the worship gatherings.
  8. Women are allowed to pray and prophesy in public, under the leadership of their elders.
  9. Therefore, qualified women can (and should) serve as worship leaders in a local church.

So, I’d lovingly disagree with The Resurgence when they write:

While the task of leading people in worship is outlined in varying ways, the implementation and function of the modern “worship leader” isn’t found anywhere in the New Testament. What we do find is that pastors or elders are mandated with the job of leading the people in worship. For example, 2 Chronicles 7:6 describes priests leading David and Israel in worship. This tells us that the primary function of a worship leader should be pastor, not just artist.

In broad terms, I resonate deeply with this concern.  Certainly there is an over-emphasis on musical excellence in today’s “worship culture,” with much theological confusion as a part of that.

However, to limit the worship leader role to ELDERS, and therefore MEN, is unwarranted. And appealing to Old Testament priests as patterns for today is confusing the issue.  It mitigates the work of Jesus Christ who has made all believers into a royal priesthood.

Christ is the only one who has offered perfect worship to the Father, and we draw near to God through Christ’s finished work.  Not through the musical qualifications of the person upfront.  Not the artistic/cultural-relativity qualifications of the person up front.  And not through the theological knowledge qualifications of the person upfront.

Yes, Pastor/Elders are to lead the church.  How that plays out can look like a lot of different things.  Having a female worship leader should never be considered “unbiblical,” even from a complementarian viewpoint.

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18 thoughts on “Women Worship Leaders? Yes.

  1. i find a lot to like in what you have written here.

    I think that without meaning to the conclusion of the resurgence is essentially pandering to what coined the ‘tim taylor manly manliness of man type man stuff’ obsession of the New Calvinism.

    while it is a given that we must be biblically faithful it is also true that we must not demean, limit, or otherwise push down the fantastic contributions women can make.

    1. Gee wizz, that almost makes us seem like being somewhat underneath you as men? l do believe l understand what you mean. Contributions women can make?

  2. Great post.

    It’s also interesting to me that while the resurgence mentions that “pastors or elders are mandated with the job of leading worship” in the New Testament, they then use and Old Testament verse to back their argument. Good point by you about the priesthood of all believers.

  3. Our church would actually encourage this. I agree with your points. As long as it’s clear that she is under the authority of the elders, it’s all good. We are trying to figure out creative ways to get more women involved in our services.

  4. I don’t think I have a strong opinion on this either way. While I think it would be hard to make an airtight case from Scripture against women leading worship, I would want to be careful about not breaking the “spirit of the law” when it comes to biblical ideal of male leadership. The more pastoral a worship leader functions in the life of a given church (e.g., giving little sermons between songs, exhorting the congregation to godly living, providing doctrinal instruction within the context of the worship set, etc.) the more I would be hesitant about it. Not because women aren’t capable of doing this, but because this is the function of the elders/pastors of the church. In fact, I wouldn’t want any non-pastoral/elder worship leader (male or female) to aggressively assume this role. But the way we’ve done it at Harvest in the past has been handled sensitively to that issue, and I think our practice falls within the spirit of the NT ideal.

  5. @ Zach: isn’t it interesting that some churches, people are trying to get MEN involved, (http://www.amazon.com/Why-Men-Hate-Going-Church/dp/0785260382) and others are “trying to figure out creative ways to get more women involved in our services.”

    @ Gerald. I agree. And Bob Kauflin’s article is written very similarly.

    You’ve got my favorite quote so far: “I wouldn’t want any non-pastoral/elder worship leader (male or female) to aggressively assume this role.”

  6. Without debating the semantics of word usage, aren’t we implying pastoral function when we refer to leadership of people in a congregational setting? My good old Mac widget dictionary defines the word “leader” as: “the person who commands a group, organization, or country. Call the function what you will, but we ought to have higher expectations for the “worship leader” than simply some person singing songs. Worship Leaders are, in essence, leading through example and exhortation, the congregation to the Throne of God. In my mind it’s difficult to say that’s not pastoral in nature.

    Great post and discussion!

  7. I lead the worship in our church because no man wants to. Pf course I’m trying to submit to the Lord in reverently carrying out this act of service.

  8. @ Keith: No one is debating that worship leader should not be more “than some person singing songs.” As my previous posts argue, they are leading the congregation in sung prayers and sung exhortations. But a worship leader doesn’t bring people to the Throne of God, only the blood of Christ and the work of the Spirit do that.

    The word “lead” is too slippery to provide clarity in this discussion. Is a crossing guard a “leader”? In one sense, that’s true — they are leading school children across the street. However, they are carrying out an assigned function given by the school and traffic authorities. What about the worship described in Matthew 5:16 where someone’s good deeds are leading others to glorify God in heaven. Surely, that could be a woman.

    1 Corinthians 14 describes a worship service where *everyone* is bringing songs to sing. A couple of different people prophesy (including women: 1 Cor. 11:5) and others weigh what is said. It sounds like “others” are elders, because Paul specifies that they should be men.

    My understanding of this text in today’s context is that the elders should weigh what is said before it is presented to the congregation by approving songs, participants, exhortations, and prophetic speaking. If something is said that is amiss, they should “weigh in” and correct it.

  9. @Matthew: I appreciate the correction on my lax use of the term “leading to the throne of God”. I think I “church-ease’d” my way into that term usage. You are absolutely correct in saying that it is the Holy Spirit and Christ that gives us that access…no argument there.

    In reality, I have no issue with women leading worship provided that it doesn’t become a leadership over men issue, and conflict with Timothy. The question is, do you flirt with that issue at all given what Genesis 3:16 (and later in chapter 4) has to say about a woman’s tendency to seek rule over man?

    My initial response was really asking the question, is the modern day worship leader a “po-mo” way of referring to what has historically been a Worship Pastor position and thus considered to be a pastoral position. If it is, it’s out of bounds for a woman. If it’s not a pastoral function, and we’ve made it to be a person that leads the congregation in the singing of worship songs, period…it’s not an issue.

    1. @ Keith: Again, the 1 Timothy 2:12 verse needs to be read in context. Paul is beginning his discussion of elders. Compare the “silent treatment” of women with 1 Cor. 11 and 14:33ff, also in the context of elder roles.

      Historically, it’s a hodgepodge of different practices. I’d be in over my head to discuss what different cultures do in this area. It seems in the NT that everybody was bringing songs to sing, but only 2 or 3 were allowed to prophesy (but that included women as well — 1 Cor. 11:5) and male elders weighed what was said and gave the final word during the service.

      And if we eliminate public ministry for women because of the curse, we should probably eliminate meals for guys, since 3:17 says “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.”

  10. You had a “little” ground to stand on with me until you started talking about the context of Timothy. Also, when you took 1 Corinthians 11 and say that it indicates women are “called” to pray and prophesy in public you are twisting scripture to fit your argument. You are taking Paul’s explanation of head coverings and converting it to an argument for public worship and women. Nowhere does it mention the circumstances of a woman’s prayer and prophecy outside of with or without head coverings. Then you are also getting into semantics to fill a popular argument. I personally believe that scripturally it is not okay for women to fill the role of worship leader. While they are held responsible by the elders and pastor of the church are they not still in a position of authority over men? I mean in your mind set it would be okay for a woman to lead a bible study or a Sunday school class over men as long as her course materials were approved by the Elders or Pastor of the church. That is not the case, the ability to chose materials for study and or worship is not why their roles are limited scripturally, at least in my mind. I do believe it has to do with the capacities allot them by God the Father at the time of creation. I do not understand how people can take the texts so far out of context. I believe most of the people falling into acceptance of this are anti confrontational and are willing to bend to the world instead of holding fast to the scripture in fear of hurting our sisters in Christ’s feelings. Truth is, I have to agree with a previous poster in that this is not a call from God for women, but part of a curse and a desire enhanced by the “Great Deceiver” in which to bring the Church of Christ into a state of confusion. I do not understand otherwise how a woman can be unhappy in the very honorable roles God has appropriated for them.

    1. Thanks for swinging by, Michael. And I do mean “swinging.”

      Please give me the respect of reading my post. You misread me on several occasions and even clearly misquote me, or at least misuse quotation marks to the point non-meaning.

      My reading of 1 Corinthians 11 is not unusual, and follows the complementarian Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s D. A. Carson. It’s worth the read: http://www.cbmw.org/Online-Books/Recovering-Biblical-Manhood-and-Womanhood/Silent-in-the-Churches. Sure, the main issue Paul is addressing is head-coverings, but that is no reason to ignore the other things he mentions in his discussion of public worship. Or do you think Paul was telling women to cover their heads during private prayers?

      Nowhere in my post indicates my position on women leading Bible studies or Sunday school classes. The more a role involves teaching, the further it falls toward the elder role. Worship is primarily doxological, not pedagogical. Any learning that happens during corporate worship is more incidental than didactic.

      I disagree with you about “the capacities allot [sic] them by God.” To suggest that women have ontological deficiencies is offensive to Scripture. God gave the genders specific roles because of His good purposes, not their capacities. (See Ray Ortland’s essay on Equality from CBMW’s book.) Christ does not submit to the Father because of His capacity.

      Women may be “unhappy in the very honorable roles God has appropriated for them” because of thoughtless opinions, carelessly and rudely stated. (Did you actually call my view Satanic?) May we labor to have scripturally-informed opinions and policies that honor God and build his kingdom.

  11. I am afemale worship leader at a Baptist church that has a fairly large congregation.My pastor has had me leading for nearly three months along with two other volunteers. Having been a professional musician for most of my young adult life and adevout Christian, I have felt the supernatural calling of God to lead our congregation. However, my pastor would not give me a paying position or a title but instead gave it to someone eles. However, I am still a leader in the ministry. For me the question is, either it is wrong for me to lead, or it is wrong for me to have a title. Every time someone leads a group in worship whether it is through song or prayer, it is leading. As a Christian who has been obedient to God’s will I have grown to understand when Imove against my spirit. I have discernment when the spirit tells me. This is not an act of the devil. I am not confused. God uses all of us and the gift of music He gave me was never used more for God than when I began to lead in worship.

  12. Charity,

    Thank you for your comment, and for sharing your situation. It seems clear that you have been injured by what has transpired at your church–can I make a few general comments?

    1) “I have felt the supernatural call of God.” While subjective senses of individualistic calling are a part of the picture, they must not override the leadership of God’s church.

    2) Please be careful of pursuing a title. Remember Christ’s words (Luke 14:7-11) to seek the lower seat at the table. Serve faithfully and humbly. Check out Ps. 75:6-7.

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