Do Functionally Hierarchical Churches Stifle Ministry?

I have been sharing in conversations with a few people over the last few weeks regarding how to best get individuals to plug in to and invest in their local church’s ministries. There have been a number of suggestions, and obviously there are a number of ways to position people to serve. After all, a big part of my job as a member of a church staff is to create opportunities for Christians to serve the Body and the community. Throughout these conversations, and even before to be honest, one thing really keeps nagging me. Wouldn’t our churches benefit from having a broad and diverse representation (particularly women) serving on Sundays, leading in worship roles, and so on?

Before I go any further, let me take a moment and say I am not using this post to speak about designated church leadership roles, such as elders, pastors, or even deacons. Those are worthwhile debates, but none I want to address here. I am simply talking about the unintentional culture of ministry we create in an effort to avoid some of those danger zones (Baptists are historically infamous for this: i.e. “Baptists and Dancing”). I believe there is absolutely a right and a wrong way to do ministry in a church setting. I believe that there are structures and principles set out by the Scriptures for orderly worship and church leadership. However, I also believe we are doing ourselves a great disservice when our corporate worship doesn’t reflect the rich diversity of our family. For instance, let’s take public Scripture reading, public prayer, and taking up the offering. Three normative acts of worship involving volunteers. All historically male led in every Southern Baptist Church I have been in. Why? I don’t want to believe that it is out of an explicit desire to push women out of those ministry roles (although it might be?). I also don’t believe it’s just because no woman has ever wanted or asked to read Scripture or pray publicly. But whether it is deliberate or not, our evangelical ministry culture, being prominently male driven, has bred an a-biblical distinction of what women and men can and should do in corporate worship.

I realize that even by asking the question, a few will assume I am tiptoeing toward the broad road of egalitarian destruction, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth asking. Should we force the issue of equality in all areas of ministry just for equality’s sake, regardless of where people feel gifted and called? No. That would also be doing a disservice to our corporate worship. Southern Baptists, however, seem to err on the side of pigeonholing on the basis of gender in ministry roles, so it’s this we must address.

What do you think? Do you see this pattern in church worship? How do we respond?

*this article was originally posted at  on March 03, 2013


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