How do the Spirit-empowered women manifest their giftings and how should they juggle ministry and family? Dr Jacqueline Grey shares her views in this interview.
An ordained pastor in the Australian Christian Churches and a professor of Biblical Studies, Dr Jacqueline Grey specialises in hermeneutics, Old Testament and Hebrew Bible, and Pentecostal theology. She is also a sought after speaker who has appeared on various national TV and radio programmes in Australia, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation programme Q+A.
Dr Grey is committed to ensuring quality education within the theological sector, providing teaching and assistance to Pentecostal colleges in developing contexts to further their institutional goals. Her commitment to the unity of the church and the work of ecumenism sees her involved in various ecumenical dialogues.
At the Global Pentecostal Summit, Dr Grey presented her paper on “Spirit Empowered Women: Why and How the Full Participation of Women in Spirit-Empowered Ministry Strengthens Global Christianity”. She addressed issues faced by women in leadership positions in the church and how the participation of women has been a transformative force in Christianity, one which has fostered an inclusive and diverse perspective.
City News sat down with her for a chat on how the men and women can work together for the kingdom of God.
In a society where women might not be given leadership roles or valued in positions of top leadership, how should a woman navigate within society’s restrictions to fulfil her calling in God?
There’s a lady, Susan Smith, who has done some research in the Muslim world. She interviewed women in public ministry, where women are not normally accepted in public roles. One of the things that she found was a common theme of women emphasising the importance of their reputation when they told her how they navigated restrictions on women’s behaviour and assumed a leadership position. They had a good reputation, and they were honourable women. That got me thinking about this idea of a strong reputation.
When I looked into the biblical text, I saw it too. Paul emphasised the honourable character of the women he encouraged and promoted in the New Testament. For both men and women leaders, there’s a strong emphasis on having a good reputation in the community.
I think one thing that can help women navigate heavy restrictions against them, in terms of opportunity for ministry, is to obviously seek the empowerment of the Spirit. But it can also help if they emphasise their reputation—that also gets reinforced by the church community. For women in the Pentecostal world, being empowered by the Spirit, being gifted by the Spirit, obviously is important. But sometimes, that can be overlooked. It can be really obvious that a woman is gifted by the Holy Spirit, but she still does not get an opportunity for leadership. And so, it can be frustrating for women to know that they’re called, that the Spirit has gifted them but when that is not recognised, what can they do? I would encourage them to pray for open doors but also to continue to be faithful and hardworking, to be a woman of good reputation, which can then help ease the doors open a little bit more.
There has long been resistance (from both men and women) to women taking the pulpit or being a full-time minister, particularly if their husbands are not ministers. The husband may accept that his wife is a minister, but he would still want to be the head of the house. Should that be the case in a household?
Essentially, it’s the issue of headship and highlighting the inconsistencies. We, as Pentecostals, have sometimes said, “Women, you can be a senior pastor, you can be the boss, you have the top job in a church, you are the visionary. But when you go home, you submit to the husband and he is the head of the house.” Assuming the husband also attends the same church, one of the dilemmas we see is, what do we do there if he’s the head of the wife, but she’s the senior pastor? There is this disconnection and that raises a problem.
But again, when we look at the biblical text, it encourages what we call mutual submission. In Ephesians 5:22-33, the household code that we often read, and we’ll go, “Oh look, it says, ‘Wives submit to your husbands’. But in that verse in Greek, the word ‘submission’ is not there. The word ‘submission’ comes from the verse before, when it says, ‘submit to one another’.
How do you “submit to one another”? Wives, submit to your husband, and husbands love your wife—that’s the practical outworking of how we submit to one another. The emphasis is not seen as women only submitting to their husbands, but by men loving their wives, they’re submitting to them as well. We see that in the biblical text, there’s a mutual submission that is going on there. The biblical writers are encouraging men and women to honour one another and submit to one another. In that sense, they are equals within the marriage partnership; they make decisions together.
Often, a comment we hear is, “Who has the last word?” Why does it have to be that someone has the last word? Can you work that out together? There are different ways different couples work things out. In a practical way, for example, if we can’t agree, then we just keep praying until we agree. But if it’s an important decision, and then some would say, “Well, if we’re unsure or if we disagree on something, then the one who has the most knowledge and experience in that area, should be the one to make decisions.” Even then, why does it have to be that someone must have the last word when it might be better for you to keep working together for the benefit of the situation?
One of the common arguments against women assuming church leadership is that it “emasculates” men, and this is part of the “war on men”. What theological explanation can we use to counter this attitude and thinking?
I think that a really important theological explanation is God’s original intent for creation, which was for men and women to work together. It’s not men working in a way that diminishes women or women working in a way that diminishes men—it’s working together.
We see that both women and men are made in the image of God, and as the image bearers of God, working together best displays the nature and the character of God. God is triune, relational, united. Therefore, it’s not a gender war. It’s not about women’s rights or men’s rights. It’s about working together.
This is reinforced throughout the Bible. On the day of Pentecost, we see God’s original intention reinforced as the Spirit is poured out on both the men and women who were there in unity, awaiting the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit falls, both men and women are gifted with the Holy Spirit and empowered to minister to one another into the world.
When men and women work together, both will flourish.
You mentioned in your paper using men to champion and support women’s leadership, which is a top-down approach. How do we bring it down to the grassroots level within society and bring change to deeply embedded perceptions?
If a woman has a gift of leadership and is called and empowered by the Spirit to function in that way, the door to open that opportunity for them is usually held by a male, someone in a leadership position. Therefore, to move into her leadership gifting, a woman needs whoever is holding that key to open that door for them.
There are a number of things that believers can do. One is to help one another identify the unique gift they bring to the church. Women can help men see their giftings, and men can help women see their giftings—they can encourage one another. Not only can they help identify and encourage, but they can also create opportunities to use their gifts with one another as well, in every day simple activities, such as in a connect group, or other sorts of smaller expressions. There’s a lot that church members can do to encourage one another every day.
Should the role of the woman as a mother take priority over her role as a leader in the church? Being a mother is a challenge in today’s context, what more the head of a ministry. If she has 15 minutes to spare, should she tend to her child or a member who needs advice?
That’s a really challenging question. I would encourage people in that situation to seek the discernment of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, for parents, both mother and father, your children are your priority. Without knowing the situation, to me, priority will be the children by default, because they’re the vulnerable ones. They don’t have the capacity for decision-making. Whereas an adult in the church is someone who can find help, they can make their own decision.
As a parent, you’re responsible for that child. For the person who’s calling you for help or ministry, there’s likely someone else who can help them. However, it’s unlikely that someone else can help your child. I think sometimes when we’re in ministry, we can feel like we have to answer every need, and we have to respond to every request for help, as though we are the saviour or that the situation is relying on us. We want to help, but we also have to be really mindful of our families and our health and well-being as well. We are ministering to the needs of others, out of a wellspring in our own life that doesn’t take away from family.
When God created Adam and saw that it was not good for man to be alone, He created Eve. Some people see this as an afterthought, and that woman is the solution to the problem (being that man was created alone). What are your thoughts?
Well, it clearly wasn’t an afterthought, because we see reflected in Genesis 1 that it was part of God’s intention to create male and female all along. But I think that section of Genesis, it emphasises that a person needs to know that they need God’s provision—Adam needed to recognise that he needed help. He needed an equal partner to work alongside him.
It’s like God sort of let him work it out for himself, that he was alone and that he needed someone to work with him. That’s just God’s grace in the situation. If you give a gift to someone that they don’t need, or don’t know that they want it, they may not value it. But when someone has a need, and the need is met by God, then he has a lot of gratitude and cherishes the gift that God has given.
We could emphasise that Eve comes from Adam. In that sense, there’s a oneness, there’s a unity within them as well. It’s interesting, because in the passage in Genesis, he is A-dam, which comes from (the Hebrew word) Adamah, meaning from the earth—he has a relationship with the earth. But as soon as the woman is created, at that point, Adam is called ish, which means Man. Man is ish, isha is woman, emphasising the interconnection, and the importance of the unity that they have.
The woman is called a comparable helper. In the Old Testament, God is the helper of Israel. And most of the time, when the word “helper” is used in the Old Testament, it’s referring to God. If you need help you go to a superior, not an inferior. But it’s qualified by the idea of a comparable, someone who is just like him, to work alongside him to care for God’s creation.
Is there any advice you would give to the Singaporean woman who is affluent and who maybe holds the purse strings in her household?
As you say, there are very strong women in Singapore, living in a context of traditional Asian culture. There’s a sort of expectation on Singaporean women that they somehow have to straddle being polite, respectful, honouring, and also being strong and independent. They’re holding these two things in tension.
I would encourage you to seek God to know what He has called them and gifted them to do, and to run towards that gifting and calling with all your heart. Pray for discernment to know how to respond when you need to be respectful and quiet and when you need to speak up. We see throughout the Bible, women and men navigating that very thing of being people who are part of the culture, living in the expressions of their cultural values, but who are also people of faith, who are exemplifying Christian values. As believers, we see that modelled in the New Testament.
Education is really important in Singapore, and that’s something to be valued. It can help to bring confidence to both men and women in that if there’s a call in gifting that you might have, then having the education—the knowledge and the competency to do it—is really crucial. I think that sometimes in church, we just subtly emphasise the sacred-secular divide, and we don’t value the gifts and talents that people use in their secular professions. You are being used by God to bring healing and hope to the world even if you’re not working in the church. Sometimes, you have a greater impact and capacity to bring about change and healing if you’re working outside of the church.