I received this question from Tracy:
My husband has recently become a Pastor in a small Outback Queensland (Australia) church and holds a complementarian view of women in ministry. This is a very uncommon viewpoint in the church movement my husband is Pastoring under. We have had queries as to if I will lead worship which has left both my husband and I with our own questions as we can’t see a biblical precedent for women as worship leaders…What do you see as a woman’s place in worship and is it permissible for a woman to be a worship leader?
I’ve been asked this question numerous times and thought Tracy’s particular situation would give me the opportunity to address some of the nuances of this topic. I’m aware that this question applies to a number of you who read this blog. Thank you for reading, and thank you for seeking to glorify God with your life. You may already be poised to agree or disagree with what I’m about to say. So let me start with the punch line. First, what is a woman’s place in a worship service? The same as a man’s – at the foot of the cross of Christ, praising God in the power of the Spirit for the mercy he’s shown us in the Savior. Second, is it biblical for a woman to lead a worship service? Yes and no. There. That clears everything up, doesn’t it?
As Tracy mentions, besides Miriam leading the women in Exodus 15:20, there aren’t many examples of women leading worship in Scripture. It seems the Levites who led the singing at the Temple were men (1 Chron. 25). So to answer Tracy’s question, or a similar one, I’d need to find out two things.
1. What is a particular church’s biblical understanding of the roles of men and women?
Whether they’re aware of it or not, most churches fall into one of two camps regarding gender roles – egalitarian or complementarian. Both views believe the Bible teaches that men and women possess equal worth in God’s sight. Those with an egalitarian perspective go on to say that all opportunities for ministry in the church, including pastoral care, teaching, preaching, and leading worship, are open to both men and women. They highlight the way women were used in Scriptures like Acts 1:14, 18:26, 21:9; and Rom 16:1-7. In other words, if a church holds an egalitarian perspective, women leading worship isn’t an issue.
But those who hold a complementarian view believe that masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, both in the church and the family. They understand that, “redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men” (from The Danvers Statement, produced by the Çouncil on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood). This belief is based on Scriptures like 1 Cor 11:2-16; 1 Cor. 14:33-36; 1 Tim 2:11-15; and Col. 3:18-19.
Since Tracy and her husband believe, as I do, that God has designed men and women to serve others in complementary ways, that leads to a second question. (If you’d like to read more about what Scripture teaches on this topic, I’d recommend Fifty Crucial Questions, and the on-line articles offered by CBMW).
2. What is the nature of the worship leading role?
Part of the difficulty in answering this question is that the New Testament doesn’t contain a worship leader job description. What exactly does the worship leader do? That title can describe a number of functions – song leader, singer, band member, music minister, or worship pastor, to name a few. Randy Stinson offers some helpful insight in his booklet, Women in Ministry, when asked if a woman should lead worship in a church.
It would depend on how that particular church understands the degree of authority that she holds over the assembled congregation and the extent to which she provides instruction. Is her position understood as one of authority over the congregation similar to a pastor/elder? Does she provide doctrinal commentary between songs or other doctrinal instruction to the choir or congregation? Does her “leading” involve the exercising of authority over others or, rather, the providing of leadership regarding timing, tempo, music, etc.? Does she direct the church to a particular song in a hymnal and invite those assembled to praise the Lord, or does she engage in more biblical exhortation like a pastor?
In the church, the pastor is ultimately responsible for leading congregational worship. But that doesn’t mean our worship leaders have to be pastors. However, in Sovereign Grace churches, given the importance of congregational singing, our worship leaders are fulfilling a very important role. They aren’t simply leading “music”–we desire them to direct people’s hearts, minds, and wills to the truths that they’re singing. Their role includes elements that involve a degree of teaching, leading, and pastoring, which we believe the Bible says are male roles in the church. For that reason, all our worship leaders are men. But women make a significant contribution to our corporate worship through singing, playing instruments, reading Scripture, song writing, arranging, leading choirs, modeling expressive engagement, contributing prophetic impressions, and more. So in Tracy’s situation, I would encourage her husband to unapologetically lead the congregation in worship while Tracy enthusiastically supports him with her musical gifts.
Of course, it’s completely appropriate for a woman to lead worship at a women’s gathering, and to view the worship leader role in other ways. My concern isn’t to persuade anyone that this is the only way to approach this position, and my perspective doesn’t keep me from appreciating the work of those who think differently. But I do want to draw attention to the wisdom and beauty of God’s design for the unique but complementary roles men and women play in serving the church.
As you might guess, I’ve had numerous discussions with women on this topic. Some have thanked me for confirming what they believe Scripture actually teaches. Others have resented me for even implying that God didn’t tell them to lead worship.
But what I think doesn’t really matter. Scripture teaches there is a Christ-exalting beauty, strength, attraction, and joy in fulfilling our unique roles as men and women in the body of Christ. The world often only sees domineering/wimpy men or doormat/aggressive women. The Gospel produces something better – men and women, both made in the image of God, glorifying their Maker by modeling a compelling picture of biblical masculinity and femininity. In a world that is increasingly confused about the meaning of sexuality and gender, that can only be good news and something worth pursuing.
For more on this topic, download the following free messages from the Sovereign Grace site:
Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by Dr. Wayne Grudem
Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: Why it Matters by Jeff Purswell
Why Roles Matter for Small Groups by Jeff Purswell