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The role of women in revival

In 1983, the insurance money from a robbery gave Tony and me the opportunity to travel to the Far East.  While we were there, we spent four days at Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho’s church in Korea, at that time the largest church in the world with around 350,000 members.  We learned many lessons from our time there.  One morning, we were wandering through the administrative building, when someone approached us offering an interview with Dr. Cho.  During our 20 minutes with him, one of three things he said to us was, “You will never see revival in the West until you are willing to use your women.” 

A small group of women with whom I work closely, recently looked at revivals from the perspective of women.  One of the things that struck us was that moves of God that seem to last for decades rather than being a quick flash in the pan, use women in strategic roles.  Examples include John Wesley and Methodism, Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians, or more recently, the Pentecostal movement that started in Azusa Street.  (Other common features include a small group structure and the development of an infrastructure.)  China, of course, is the same way.   Over 80% of the churches there are started by women.

Could it be that the classic church attitude toward women here in the West is preventing God from moving in power?

The Hemiplegic Bride (part 2)

A continuing look at women in the New Testament:

Phoebe was a valued minister in the church in Cenchrae, one whom Paul commended to the church in Rome (Romans 16:1).  In fact, of the twenty-seven different named people in Rome mentioned in that chapter, eight are women.   Six of them are described as laboring in some way with Paul.  One of them, Junia (verse 7), is even singled out as being an apostle.  Her name has sometimes been changed to Junias, a man’s name, to avoid the issue of her gender.  According to British theologian, Martin Scott, in his book about women For such a Time as This, Junia was a very common woman’s name at that time.  Quoting Lampe in World Commentary Series by James Dunn, he states that there are over 250 contemporary references to Junia (a female name)—not a single one to Junias.

What about women teaching?  Priscilla and Aquila instructed Apollos in Ephesus (Acts 18:26), Priscilla’s name being mentioned first in the original Greek manuscript.  Actually, in four of the six times that Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned as a couple, Priscilla is named first—unusual in a time when women were often not even counted if the number in a crowd was being assessed.  She may well have had the more dominant role of the two of them in the church.  When Jesus chastised the church of Thyatira in Revelation 2, it was not because a woman was teaching, but because she was promoting immorality. 

I am thankful to John Walker for some additional insights on this subject:

A glaring example of this (a male bias because of church hierarchy) is found where Paul provides us with a list of the spiritual gifts which are distributed amongst the members of the Body of Christ. The NIV translated it as follows:

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:3-8)

The Greek for this passage, however, is completely gender neutral. The NIV translators have actually inserted the words “man’s” (once) and “him” (7 times) where there are no equivalent words in the Greek. The word translated “his” is a general purpose word used thousands of time and is translated in hundreds of different ways, both feminine and masculine as well as neuter. In the later version, “Today’s NIV,” this error is corrected and the passage is rendered as gender neutral. It is quite clear that in the distribution of these gifts (which include teaching, leadership and prophesy) no distinction is made between men and women. The other two passages which list spiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 12:27-31, are both gender neutral in the Greek and are so translated in the NIV.

Society is often prophetic for the church.  Think, for example, of the business trend towards a much flatter and participatory leadership style, and compare that with the simple/organic church movement that the Lord is using throughout the world.  Nowadays women function as doctors and lawyers, business executives and politicians.  Any group that prevents women from functioning in leadership because of their gender will be dismissed as archaic and irrelevant by today’s world. 

What could happen if women took their rightful place co-laboring alongside men in the Kingdom?

The Hemiplegic Bride (part 1)

Handicap sign

The body of Christ in this country is frequently hemiplegic.  Hemiplegia is a medical term used to describe a paralysis of one side of the body, as for example, after a stroke.  The voice of the female half of the army has been silenced. Obviously there are notable exceptions to this, but in general women are not allowed to develop to their full potential within the church. 

It has not always been that way.

In the ministry of Jesus, women played an important part.  Some women traveled with him and helped to support His ministry (Mark 15:41; Luke 8:1-3).  A woman anointed him for burial (Matthew 26:12).  The women did not desert him at His crucifixion (Matthew 27:55).  After his resurrection, the first people Jesus revealed Himself to were not the disciples, but a group of women; He entrusted the message of His resurrection to them (Luke 24:1-11). 

Jesus did not treat women as second-class citizens.  Some of his most strategic conversations were with women.  These were not dumbed-down monologues.  They were deep, theological discussions.  Think, for example, of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4, or his dialog about the resurrection with Martha in John 11.  Jesus treated women as valued equals—in a day when most people regarded them as mere possessions.

Women were included in the gathering in the upper room after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:14).  Joel’s prophecy in that context specifically mentions that the Holy Spirit will be poured out on both men and women and they will all prophesy (Acts 2:17-18).  Phillip’s four daughters were examples of this (Acts 21:9).

A phone call to remember (part 2)

In many churches, women are limited in what they are allowed to do.  They can make the coffee, (actually a specifically male role as exemplified by the book of He Brews) and teach a children’s Sunday school class.  But it is what women are NOT allowed to do that is the problem.  In many situations, women are not allowed any role that carries “authority.”  For example, I have a close friend who has been trained to teach a disciple-making course.  But sometimes, when a church hears that one of the presenters of the course is going to be a woman, they refuse to allow her to come.

God has given me (and many other women) certain desires and gifts that have always led me to be a strategic thinker.  I love listening to God, particularly in the context of a group that is seeking His face for what He is doing within the Kingdom.  As a physician, I was capable of making life-and-death decisions, but for years I was not allowed to take any kind of leadership role in church because of my gender.  This was a huge source of sadness for me.

Thankfully the Holy Spirit is beginning to change all of this.  There is an increasing understanding that the Scriptures do not prohibit women from leadership roles.  God is using women all over the world to extend His Kingdom.  Women have started over 80 percent of the house churches in China.  A similar situation exists in Dr Yonggi Cho’s church in Korea where again women lead over 80 percent of the cell groups of the largest church in the world.  Think of Heidi Baker, who with her husband, Rolland, is responsible for more than 10,000 churches in Mozambique and other African countries.  In India, recently, I met a middle-aged housewife who, with the team she has trained, has started more than 6,000 churches.

What can God do with a woman who is yielded to Him? 

A phone call to remember (part 1)

Tony and I were enjoying a weekend lie in when
his cell phone rang.  It soon
became apparent from his end of the conversation that the person the other end
was interested in publishing a book called An
Army of Ordinary People
that I wrote some time ago.

“Put it on speaker,” I whispered to Tony, eager to hear what
was being offered.

The conversation continued.  Then the person the other end said, “Of course, we’ll put
both your names on the front cover. 
This book is far too important to have been written by a woman!”

It was at this point that I lost my sanctification.  It wasn’t that I minded Tony’s name on
the book—we’ve written together before. 
It was the insinuation that a woman could not write anything of
significance that frustrated me.

(Thankfully, An Army
of Ordinary People
has been rewritten and updated and is being republished
by Tyndale House Publishers on May 3rd .)

Sadly, even in these days when our society generally
recognizes women as equals, the attitude towards women in the church is often
medieval.  Over the years, I
remember being told:

        A woman can lead—she just does it through her

        A woman is equal to a man.  It’s just that her role is different and,
by implication, not as     important. 
Kind of like George Orwell’s “All animals are created equal but some            animals are more equal than others (Animal Farm).

              God will use a woman—but only when there is no
man available to do the job (my                          personal favorite!)

has long been patriarchal in nature. 
For the most part, I don’t believe this is deliberate misogyny.  A patriarchal interpretation of the
Scriptures has led to the belief that women cannot hold any position of
strategic leadership within the body of Christ.  For some women (as for some men), this does not matter to
them.  However, God has placed in
the hearts of many of us women a longing to hear His voice, to think
strategically and to lead out—not in any lording it over sense, but in humble
service to His body—to be of significance.

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