A Complementarian Blind Spot? Some Questions for Male Church Leaders
A couple of weeks ago, I critiqued the Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference leaders for underestimating the spiritual gifts and needs of women. Some readers have asked why go there – why did I pick on T4G and their take on Christianity? Why don’t I just go to a conference that invites women to speak and teach and leave T4G alone?
Here’s why. I’m an insider. For better or for worse, my church home is in the T4G sphere of Christianity. We attend a Southern Baptist church, and our pastor is completing his master of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (their president, Al Mohler, is one of the T4G leaders). We read books by several T4G speakers in our small groups and Sunday School classes. This means that I have a vested interested in what happens in conferences like T4G and in the churches who send people there. This is my church family, and these are my friends. I see what happens and what doesn’t, and all the ripple effects in church and individual lives.
What I see really concerns me. I see a failure to value the unique perspective of women. It is a significant blind spot that if unaddressed could have devastating results. Failing to seek women’s input erodes the overall health of the church and its ability to fulfill its God-given mission.
What’s surprising is that these churches teach a theology of men and women that should lead them to prize women and their perspective, to be proactive in seeking them out. These Christians teach that men and women have different strengths and weaknesses. They believe (and I agree) that God puts us together in such a way that my strengths complement your weaknesses (hence the term “complementarian”) and vice versa. They acknowledge that we all have blind spots and that part of living together as the body of Christ made up of many parts is that each part is necessary for the health of the whole.
But this belief hasn’t permeated their concept of church leadership. It appears that because they believe God forbids women to preach or exercise authority over men, they think that means they don’t need the wisdom and input of women in their preaching and leading.
I could be wrong. I want to believe the best — that they do value and seek the perspective of women. But it isn’t visible. It isn’t something they talk about. So as far as I can tell, they don’t.
I believe these guys desire to care for both men and women, and that they try their best. Most (all?) of them encourage women to study and engage one another. But sincerity doesn’t equal success, and encouraging women’s ministries isn’t the same as seeking female counsel. Our church leaders have taken on the massive responsibility of teaching, counseling, and leading men and women in church without seeking out, talking with, listening to, and addressing the specific needs and struggles and gifts of half of them – the women.
It is a mistake to assume that men and women are the same in matters of faith. This is especially true if you believe men and women must take on separate roles. A man’s view of faith and life isn’t the only valid one. Men and women think and process life differently. They take their faith into different spheres, they work at different tasks, and they rub shoulders with different people in different contexts. Men do not instinctively know how it is to be a woman, and thus they cannot know the specific challenges and needs women have as we try to live our faith. (And the same goes for women — we do not know how it to be a man.) We need each other to fill in the gaps and complete the picture.
Where men are solely responsible for leading and teaching, they must find other ways to incorporate the counsel and input of women into their decisions. Search the Scriptures – you will find countless examples of men (Paul is a great example) doing exactly this.
We should hear church leaders referring to how they integrated the input and counsel of women into their decision-making and teaching.
We should see sessions at conferences on how to do this.
We should hear keynote speakers and national leaders challenging pastors, church leaders, and husbands to proactively seek female input into the challenges they face and the direction they go.
Why don’t we?