Women’s Issues

Why I Defend Women Preachers

My friend Abby Olufeyemi is one of my favorite pastors. She’s a Nigerian living in England, so her British/African accent makes her sermons all the more fascinating to listen to. Besides her obvious anointing as a preacher, she’s also a model of Christian integrity. She’s been tested through serious trials—including the loss of her husband, Alfred, who died in a plane crash—so she leads with grace and compassion.

Thankfully, Abby finds support from her denomination, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the largest indigenous church network in Nigeria, and one of the fastest-growing Pentecostal groups in the world. But when I tell people that I work alongside women pastors I get puzzled looks. Many Christians who love God and the Bible believe women are not allowed to serve in pastoral roles.

This is especially obvious whenever Charisma publishes an article on the topic. Three weeks ago, my column, “Six Gender Myths in the Church,” sparked a firestorm of protest. But I don’t argue with people in online forums because (1) I respect anyone’s right to his opinions, and (2) I can’t spend all my time answering critics when there are souls to be reached for Christ—and so many women who want to reach them.

But being with Abby in London made me realize that many Americans oppose women leaders because they just haven’t seen very many examples. At the risk of sounding simplistic I will list the reasons why I believe we need more women on the front lines of ministry today:

1. The Bible endorses women in leadership. Paul’s first epistle to Timothy seems to limit women’s roles in leadership (see 1 Tim. 2:12). Yet Paul also gushed with praise for the women who served with him as co-laborers—women such as Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2), Junia (Rom. 16:7) and Priscilla, who helped lay foundations in the early church (see 1 Cor. 16:19). In Phil. 4:2-3, Paul expresses solidarity with two women leaders, Euodia and Syntyche. And he refers to other women who obviously led churches, such as Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11) and Nympha (Col. 4:15), and he does not try to silence or restrict them.

Traditionalists who insist on barring women from leadership positions always refer to 1 Tim. 2:12 as an ironclad rule—yet they ignore the women who served with Paul. The obvious question is: Why did Paul tell Timothy to clamp down on the women in Ephesus when he allowed Priscilla to teach? The most sensible interpretation is that the Ephesian women were teaching heresy. They had no business teaching the Bible or leading the church, yet Paul encouraged faithful women.

2. Churches need women’s gifts and perspectives. God created both male and female, and His nature is revealed through both genders (see Gen. 1:26-28). This is why the biblical definition of a family is a father and a mother. If a child needs both parents to learn the ways of God (see Prov. 1:8-9), then surely we need instruction from both men and women in the church. If only men are allowed to function in leadership or teaching roles, the church itself will be male-dominant—and this can lead to issues of control, abuse or sexual sin (the problem of child abuse in the Catholic Church is just one obvious example).

3. We can’t address women’s problems without empowering women to address them. In the 1800s women were not allowed to go to medical school. Some men believed the female brain was smaller than a male’s (!), and that women had no business being doctors. What happened when women entered the medical profession? Suddenly there were breakthroughs in medical care, including improvements in gynecology and obstetrics. Women began addressing problems that had been ignored by a male-dominated medical establishment.

Take a look at the world today and you will see millions of girls and women suffering because of sex trafficking, forced child marriage, gang rape, genital mutilation, domestic violence, eating disorders, depression and denial of education. What might happen if we opened the doors wider to empower women in their spiritual gifts? Do women hold a key to solving these problems? I believe we could see social change on an unimaginable scale if we remove gender limitations in ministry.

4. Women leaders don’t hinder men, they help them. Many Christian men I know seem to fear women’s influence. Some gripe about the “feminization” of the church, and they threaten to ban flowers from altars to make the sanctuary look more like a man cave. That’s goofy. My Bible says God made flowers as well as antlers and rawhide. He also created women, and He made them to do more than bake cookies and nurse babies. He gave women intelligence, discernment, prophetic insight, gifts of mercy and compassion, leadership abilities and spiritual authority.

When I listen to Abby Olufeyemi preach, or when I see how she shepherds her growing congregation, I receive truth from the Holy Ghost and learn valuable lessons about leadership. She doesn’t threaten me; she encourages me. Strong men are not intimidated by gifted women. And strong, gifted women who have Christian character would never try to compete with men or undermine them.

We are all called to be partners and co-heirs in God’s kingdom. Let’s grow up and embrace biblical equality.

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The Dark Side of Submission

During a past ministry trip to Hungary, I heard a painfully familiar story. Through a translator, a tearful young woman living near Budapest explained that her Christian husband was angrily demanding her absolute submission. This included, among other things, that she clean their house according to his strict standards and that she engage in sexual acts with him that made her feel uncomfortable and dirty.

This lady was not demanding her rights or trying to be disrespectful. She was a godly, humble woman who obviously wanted to please the Lord. But she had been beaten to a pulp emotionally, and she was receiving little help from her pastor—who was either unwilling or unprepared to confront wife abuse.

I’ve heard so many sickening versions of this scenario. In Kenya, several women told me their AIDS-infected husbands often raped them—and then their pastors told them they must submit to this treatment. In some parts of India, even some pastors believe it is acceptable to beat their wives if they argue with them or show any form of disrespect. And in some conservative churches in the United States, women are told that obedience to God is measured by their wifely submission—even if their husbands are addicted to alcohol or pornography or if they are involved in adulterous affairs.

This distortion of biblical teaching has plunged countless Christian women into depression and emotional trauma. I’m not sure which is worse: the harsh words they hear from their husbands or the perverse way the Bible is wielded as a leather belt to justify domestic abuse. Here are three truths we must uncover in order to solve this problem:

1. Marriage is not a hierarchy. Traditionalists assume that a Christian marriage is defined as a dominant husband who makes all family decisions while the wife graciously obeys without input. Yet Scripture actually portrays marriage as a loving partnership and refers to the wife as a “fellow heir of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7, NASB). And the apostle Paul taught that in the realm of sexuality, husbands and wives share equal authority over each other’s bodies (1 Cor. 7:4). In other words, submission in this most intimate part of a marriage covenant is mutual, and this same mutuality is the key to any happy marriage; it fosters respect, communication and an enduring bond.

2. Headship is not a license to control. Traditionalists also cite Ephesians 5:23 to remind wives that their husbands are their “heads”—and they believe this term requires some type of dictatorial control in marriage. Yet the Greek word used in this passage, kephale, does not have anything to do with heavy-handed authority, and it cannot be used to enforce male domination. Neither does it imply male superiority. The word can either mean “source” (as in the source of a river) or “one who leads into battle” (as a protector).

Neither original definition of this word gives room for abuse. Headship, in its essence, is not about who’s the boss. Rather, it refers to the Genesis account of Eve being taken from Adam’s side. The husband is the “source” of the wife because she originated from him, and she is intimately connected to him in a mystical union that is unlike any other human relationship.

3. Men who abuse their wives are out of fellowship with God. First Peter 3:7 is clear: “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so your prayers will not be hindered.” Wife abuse is no trivial sin. Any man who berates his wife, treats her as inferior or engages in abusive behavior (including hitting, kicking, raping, cursing at or threatening punishment) will jeopardize his fellowship with the Lord. He will feel frustrated and convicted until he repents.

(And in the same way, I believe pastors who silently support abusive husbands by refusing to confront the behavior—or by telling women to submit to the pain—participate in this sin and could find their own prayers hindered.)

Truly Christian marriages, according to the apostle Paul, involve a tender, servant-hearted and unselfish husband who (1) loves his wife “just as Christ also loved the church”; (2) loves her as his own body; and (3) loves her as himself (see Eph. 5:25, 28 and 33). He stands alongside his wife in faithfulness, and she joyfully respects her husband because he can be trusted. And the two become one.

If we are to uphold this golden standard, we must confront abuse, shelter its victims and provide the tough love and counseling necessary to heal troubled relationships. And we have no business telling women to stay in marriages that actually could put them or their children in danger.

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Hollywood and the Culture of Sexual Abuse

In late 2017 we learned that something really ugly lies underneath Hollywood’s sparkling glamour. Harvey Weinstein, the billionaire mogul responsible for movies including Shakespeare in Love, Chicago and The King’s Speech, was fired from his job and expelled from the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences after dozens of women accused him of rape or sexual harassment.

The women making the charges include actresses Ashley Judd, Kate Beckinsale, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mira Sorvino and Angelina Jolie. And The New York Times, which broke the story, said Weinstein paid off other women after they threatened legal action.

The whole ugly mess also showed us that film industry insiders knew of Weinstein’s behavior, yet they swept it under the infamous Hollywood red carpet. The scandal has revealed a sordid corporate culture in which women are expected to give sexual favors in exchange for career advancement.

This is not the Hollywood blockbuster that film executives were hoping for. But it might get worse, especially since more women are talking openly about the reality of sexual harassment in the movie industry. Actresses Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon and America Ferrera now have admitted they were harassed or molested at one point in their lives.

This week, actress Alyssa Milano asked women to tweet #MeToo if they had been molested, raped or harassed. Since last Sunday, the #MeToo hashtag has been used more than 1 million times on Twitter. And more than 5 million people around the world have engaged in the “Me too” conversation on Facebook.

There are also many Christians who can tweet #MeToo. Followers of Jesus are not immune to this problem. And there have been times when both women and men have been sexually abused or harassed by church leaders. Rather than pointing a judgmental finger at Hollywood, we should use this scandal to start a needed conversation at church about gender and justice.

Here are a few of the points we should cover:

  1. We must stop avoiding the topic of sexual abuse. What we avoid from the pulpit will thrive in darkness. Unless we talk about this uncomfortable topic, victims will suffer in silence in our pews. It might help if local congregations launched their own “Me too” campaigns. Christians need to feel free to admit that sexual abuse happened to them, and churches should offer the counseling and healing needed. And let’s remember that sexual abuse doesn’t happen just to women.
  1. We should create a culture of mutual respect. The apostle Paul told Timothy that he should treat older women “as mothers” and younger women “as sisters, in all purity” (see 1 Tim. 5:2). And he wrote those words at a time when women were viewed as property.

The gospel goes against cultural norms. Today, women should feel safer in church than anywhere else. Yet I have known of male preachers who used sexist, derogatory language in their sermons. I have also known of “Spirit-filled” ministers who groped women in counseling sessions or used their spiritual authority to seduce girls. All churches should provide the training and accountability needed to become abuse-free zones.

  1. We must stop blaming victims when sexual harassment happens. Men have been blaming women for the world’s problems ever since Eve listened to the serpent. When a Christian woman is raped or abused, the conversation often turns to how she was dressed. I’ve even heard believers blame a woman who was abused by accusing her of having a “seducing spirit.” That is hyper-spiritual hogwash.

Let’s make it perfectly clear: Abusers, not victims, are guilty of abuse. I don’t care if a woman is wearing a skimpy tank top or hot pants—a man does not have to exert his power over her just because her skin is showing. He can walk away. Just as Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife, men can control their actions.

It’s sad that many Christian women won’t come forward to talk about their rape or molestation experience because they know a tribunal of Pharisees will point a bony finger at them. I also know a man who was criticized for not fighting back when he admitted to being sexually molested by another man. Why do we kick people when they are down? We need a crash course in godly compassion.

  1. We must launch a revolution in Christian men’s ministry. In many evangelical churches today, men’s ministry often focuses on how to be strong husbands, fathers and leaders. That is commendable, but in our effort to restore “godly manhood” we focus too much on power and not enough on humility. We don’t realize that one of the reasons Christian women suffer so much is that their husbands or boyfriends are so focused on wielding male power that they become brash, domineering, insensitive and even abusive.

Pornography has taught men for decades to look at women as inferior objects to be used and abused. Our corporate culture has taught us that women can be manipulated, seduced and played to our advantage. Locker rooms have taught us to be sexist and vulgar. No wonder we have an epidemic of abuse and sexual harassment.

But we don’t have to be like the world. When a man comes to Christ, he should renounce the culture of exploitation and learn how to respect women and treat them as equals. If we men will take a long look in the mirror, we might see Harvey Weinstein looking back at us. Let’s get honest and repent. Let’s get all sexual abuse and harassment out of the church now.

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Jesus and the Scandal of Sexual Harassment

Allegations of sexual harassment pile higher every day in Washington. In late 2017, Senator Al Franken, the Democrat from Minnesota, resigned after being accused of groping women, while Michigan congressman John Conyers stepped down from the House Judiciary Committee because he paid $27,000 to a woman who accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior.

And then there’s Roy Moore, the feisty Alabama judge who has been accused of having a sexual relationship with a woman when she was underage. When combined with the serious accusations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, the Anthony Weiner fiasco, the Bill Cosby trial and the sexual harassment scandals affecting companies such as Uber, the impact is beyond embarrassing. We’ve been hit by a tsunami of shame.

The rug has been pulled back, and now we see the disgusting truth—American women have been mistreated, abused, coerced, disrespected, catcalled and harassed in offices, boardrooms, courtrooms, gyms, film studios and the chambers of the U.S. Senate.

At this point it’s comforting to remember that Jesus Christ had a perfect track record regarding women. Though He lived in a patriarchal culture that viewed women as property, He always respected and elevated them—and He never once did anything inappropriate with a woman, ever, during His time on this earth.

While professing believers in Jesus are not always perfect in this regard, let’s remember how Jesus treated women and make Him our example:

Jesus protected women from harassment. Women in ancient Israel could be accused of adultery even if they were simply caught alone with a man. When the Pharisees brought one accused woman to Jesus, they said they had caught her “in the very act” of adultery (John 8:4), even though they conveniently forgot to bring the man she was with. Jesus refused to condemn her, and no stones were thrown. Jesus doesn’t tip the scales of justice to protect the powerful; He defends the vulnerable.

Jesus looked beyond a woman’s sexuality and restored her dignity. When a prostitute heard that Jesus was dining at a Pharisee’s house, she came there and poured anointing oil on His feet. The Pharisee was shocked that Jesus let her touch Him, but Jesus looked past her sin to see her need for forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus never undressed a woman with His eyes, yet in total purity He could look inside her and see her heart’s yearning.

Jesus gave marginalized women a voice. Jewish rabbis in ancient Israel didn’t have female followers. Yet Jesus called several women to travel with Him, and they became some of his most loyal disciples (see Luke 8:1-3). Mary Magdalene, in fact, had the privilege of announcing His resurrection to Jesus’ male followers.

Jesus restored the equal value of women.When Jesus came to the house of Mary and Martha, He welcomed Mary to kneel at His feet and take the posture of a disciple—even though women traditionally were not allowed in such settings. When He told Martha that Mary had “chosen the good part” at His feet (Luke 10:42b), He issued an invitation—calling all women to find their identity in Him.

Jesus defended women from discrimination. Jesus went out of His way to speak to the Samaritan woman in John 4. She had been divorced by five husbands—perhaps because she was barren or because of her behavior. Yet Jesus canceled every mark on her record and used her to convince an entire village to believe in Him. In one day, He turned an outcast into a heroine.

Jesus redefined the worth of a girl. Girls were considered inferior in ancient Israel, yet when the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus died, Jesus raised her to life (Mark 5:21-24, 35-42; Luke 8:40-42, 49-56). That miracle reminds us that God doesn’t devalue girls or ignore their problems.

Jesus acknowledged the contributions of women. When a poor widow put two coins worth very little in the collection box, Jesus shined His spotlight on her and told the Pharisees that her gift was bigger than theirs because of her poverty (see Luke 21:1-4). This would have been the verbal equivalent of cold water in the face to the proud Jewish leaders, who considered themselves superior to women. Yet Jesus is not afraid to confront heartless macho pride.

Jesus never used demeaning language with women. When Jesus healed a crippled woman in the synagogue, He called her to the front of the congregation (a definite taboo in those days) and then referred to her as “a daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13:16), an endearing term that no rabbi would have used for a female. Jesus changed the vocabulary. He didn’t engage in demeaning locker-room talk about women—He esteemed them and gave them spiritual dignity.

Today, even men who occupy the highest offices in the land have proven to be sexual predators. It’s obvious we need a new role model when it comes to how to treat women. I nominate Jesus.

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How to Find the Right Mate

Thirty-three years ago I stood at a church altar in Gainesville, Fla., and pledged my life to Deborah Delk. We didn’t have a lot of money since I was working for a Christian campus ministry, but Deborah didn’t care that all our worldly possessions could fit easily in my 1980 Honda Civic. She loved me, I loved her, and we knew Jesus had brought us together. That’s really all we needed to start life together.

Our marriage has never been perfect (we had our first argument after we got back from our honeymoon), but we learned to keep Jesus in the center of our relationship. He is the reason our marriage has been able to withstand 30 years of storms and challenges. And when my younger friends ask me for advice on how to find the right mate, I share from my experience.

Here are 10 things you should do if you want to find the right person to marry:

1. Keep Jesus first in your life. Some Christians want marriage so bad, they make it an idol. You must yield your desires to God. I waited until I was 25 to marry Deborah, and I told God many times that I would remain single if that’s what He planned for me. I wanted to get married, but I knew Jesus must be my priority. I held on to Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (NASB). That verse ended up on the cover of our wedding invitation.

2. Expect God to bless you with a wonderful mate. Some people worry that if they submit to God’s choice for them, He will make them marry a person they are not attracted to. That’s crazy! Your Father wants to bless you. The person He brings into your life will not be perfect (neither are you!), but you will be content if you wait on His choice for you.

3. Be led by the Holy Spirit. I don’t believe there’s only one way to find a mate. Some people meet each other at church; others meet online through services like eHarmony or Match.com. I even know men in India whose marriages were arranged by their parents! But the key is to allow the Holy Spirit to lead you in the process. As a young man, I was inspired by the story of Isaac and Rebekah in the Bible, and I expected God to show me who my wife would be. He ended up doing just that. I knew Deborah would be my wife before we went on our first date.

4. Wait on God’s timing. I know guys who made the mistake of falling in love before they realized they were with the wrong girl. Slow down! Marriage is the most important decision you’ll ever make. Look at all your options and apply discernment. If you are impatient in the area of marriage, you will seriously regret it later.

5. Look for a person who is spiritually compatible with you. Hopefully you already know you shouldn’t marry an unbeliever. But you can’t just marry any Christian! There are plenty of people with questionable morals and shaky faith sitting in church pews and trolling Christian dating sites. Beware of imposters, and run as fast as you can from Satan’s decoys. Keep your standards high. If you settle for less by marrying a lukewarm Christian, you will end up dragging them around for the rest of your life. Marry someone who will challenge you to stay hot for God!

6. Look for confirmation. After dating for a while, you may feel you have found the right person, but don’t make a snap decision. Ask God to confirm your choice. You can also ask mentors and pastors to pray with you for guidance. If you have found the right person, the Lord will give you a green light. But if spiritual people who love you are warning you to avoid the person you are dating, don’t reject their advice. God may be trying to spare you from a relationship disaster.

7. Make sure you are ready for marriage. Even after you have found the right person, don’t assume it’s time to call a wedding planner. Count the cost first. Do you have some unresolved anger issues? Get some counseling. Can the two of you afford to be married and pay your bills on your combined salaries? Do you need to pay off some debts first? Be practical. Love is great, but it does not pay the rent.

8. When the time is right, turn on the charm. God created romance. When you know you are in love with the right person, the two of you can celebrate with that special moment of engagement. Whether it involves roses, chocolates, fancy dinners or walks on the beach, you can make a memory that the two of you can share for decades. Romance will strengthen the bond you share.

9. Keep your clothes on and your feet on the floor until the wedding. The worst way to spoil an engagement is to get involved in premarital sex. As soon as you are engaged, discuss with your future spouse how you are going to respect sexual boundaries until you say your vows to each other. My wife and I stayed pure throughout our engagement, so when we stood at the altar to seal our union, we did it with a clear conscience. Don’t let lust rob you of that blessing. People who have sex before their weddings don’t trust each other afterward.

10. Enroll in a premarital counseling class. Many ministers will not marry a couple unless they agree to premarital counseling. Find out if your church offers a marriage preparation class or if an older couple you trust can meet with you regularly to discuss issues such as communication, finances, sex, family planning and basic marriage principles. Don’t assume you know how to be married. You need all the advice you can get!

Remember: A successful marriage is not just two people. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” The most enduring marriages are made of a husband, a wife … and Jesus. If you invite Him to hold your marriage together from the beginning, I believe it will endure.

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7 Ways to Keep Your Marriage Hot

When I married my wife, Deborah, 30 years ago I had a tiny salary and no money in the bank, so our honeymoon was a budget affair: four nights in Miami Beach, four nights in Orlando, and then back to work. Deborah didn’t complain at all, but I always wanted to make it up to her. So this week we are enjoying an anniversary trip to Hawaii—and thinking a lot about God’s faithfulness.

How do two people stay in love for 30 years? I don’t consider myself a marriage expert, but I can tell you what has worked for us—and what I always advise the younger people I mentor:

1. Pray together. Marriage is more than an emotional and sexual union. It’s a deep spiritual bond. I believe the best way a couple can nurture that connection is to pray together regularly. Set aside time each week to pray for your children, extended family members, financial challenges and life decisions. Pray even more often when you are going through difficult spiritual battles. Prayer will knit your hearts like nothing else.

2. Avoid resentment. All couples fight from time to time, but if you don’t learn how to kiss and make up, your marriage will unravel. Marriage is like a school of forgiveness. Paul’s rule to the Ephesians, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph. 4:26, NASB), is best applied by husbands and wives. When your spouse hurts you, talk about it, forgive and let it go. Don’t keep a list of offenses. If you bury your resentments without resolving them, they will explode like land mines later.

3. Treat each other as equals. Many Christian men believe they are the “head” of the marriage, and they assume this means they can boss their wives around and demand submission. This can lead to physical or verbal abuse, and it is one of the primary reasons so many Christian marriages end in divorce. The Bible actually tells husbands to treat their wives as “fellow heir[s] of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). If you view your wife as inferior, or if you order her around like she’s under your control, you are guilty of abuse. A husband’s “headship,” as defined by Ephesians 5:23, requires him to be humble, tender and sacrificial—not macho or bossy.

4. Stay involved in a church community. Many couples try to survive in isolation. Either the husband has no friends or the wife has no support network. And I know many couples that don’t have mentors to talk to when they hit rough patches in their relationship. This is dangerous! If I started going off course spiritually, I know my wife would immediately call some of our close friends—and one of them would be at my doorstep demanding my repentance. I have given my friends permission to get in my face! Accountability provides a safety net for your marriage.

5. Keep dating each other. The Bible tells guys, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Prov. 5:18) and then goes farther to say, “Be exhilarated always with her love” (v. 19). That exhilaration might be easy during your honeymoon, but what about when babies arrive, bills pile up, the workload at your job increases and the kids need braces and car insurance? The sizzle can turn to ice if you don’t spend the time necessary to regularly stoke the fire of romance. When we had four little kids at home, my wife and I always tried to go on a date every week—even when we didn’t need the extra expense of a babysitter. We still try to live by this rule now that we are empty nesters. If you invest in your marriage now, you will reap the rewards later.

6. Maintain sexual intimacy. I have counseled many married guys with sexual problems, including porn addiction and adultery. In almost every case, these men stopped having regular sex at home before their problems began. Sex is a totally natural part of marriage, and it is unhealthy for couples to deprive each other of sex or to use it as a manipulative weapon. Paul told the Corinthians, “The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and also the wife to her husband” (1 Cor. 7:3). Healthy sex is like glue that holds a marriage together.

7. Honor your vows. Many couples in the church today don’t have a clear understanding of what a marriage covenant means. We pay a lot of money for weddings, and we take a lot of expensive photos so we can remember the moment. We say our vows in front of an altar, and those vows are solemnly confirmed by a pastor holding a Bible. But many couples still don’t take their vows seriously. Marriage is a promise made in the very presence of God! If we view that vow casually, or if we don’t keep God at the center of our relationship, a marriage can go from hot to cold in a matter of months.

My wife keeps some of our framed wedding photos on the wall of our family room. Even though the 1980s hairstyles and clothes are horribly out of date, we display those pictures to remind ourselves that we made a covenant with God and with each other on April 28, 1984. We invited Him to make us one, and we know that the grace He gave us to stay married for 30 years can last a lifetime. He can do the same for you.

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7 Reasons We Don’t Empower Women for Ministry

This week the Church of England overturned centuries of tradition by voting to allow women as bishops. Anglicans already approved women priests 20 years ago, but on Monday they opened the door for women to serve in the highest office in the church.

Reaction to the landmark decision was mixed. Government leaders in England applauded the move. Others vowed to fight it. And some observers scratched their heads, wondering why it took this long. After all, Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, served as Prime Minister for almost 12 years, and Queen Elizabeth has been on the British throne since 1952.

Here in the United States, the issue of women in leadership is a hot potato. Many conservative denominations bar women from top positions, citing a biblical mandate that men must always be in charge. Meanwhile, Pentecostal and charismatic groups, while biblically conservative, allow women to function as top leaders—yet their policies are reflected more often on paper than in actual practice.

Many Spirit-filled women still feel resistance if they volunteer to lead anything other than a women’s Bible study. Why is this? During the 14 years that I have been a vocal proponent of women in ministry, I have observed these key reasons why conservative evangelicals tend to limit women in the church:

1. We misunderstand Scripture. Conservatives who bar women from leadership typically cite 1 Timothy 2:12 or 1 Corinthians 14:34 (“women are to keep silent in the churches”), and yet they ignore verses affirming women’s spiritual gifts. Deborah, who served as senior leader of ancient Israel, is ignored, and New Testament women leaders such as Priscilla, Phoebe, Euodia, Syntyche, Junia or the daughters of Philip are dismissed. We also conveniently forget that Peter announced on the day of Pentecost: “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17b). Scripture actually calls certain women to leadership rather than banning them from it.

2. We are bound by religious tradition. Martin Luther was a prophetic voice to the church when he exposed religious corruption and heresy. Yet he was still so bound by his own 16th century bias against women that he believed God created females only for the purpose of childbirth. Many conservative Christians still hold antiquated ideas about female inferiority. This explains why so many churches didn’t allow women to wear pants or makeup a decade ago, and why women today are still expected to serve only as cooks or babysitters in some denominations.

3. We don’t give the Holy Spirit full control. Paul the apostle wrote: “There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28b). He understood the amazing equality of the Holy Spirit, who gives spiritual gifts to “each one” (1 Cor. 12:11)—not according to gender, class or race but simply according to God’s choice. Scripture teaches that God chooses whom He wills; He does not qualify based on human criteria. This means we must affirm the valid gifts and callings of our sisters. If God calls an Esther to lead, we should not hide the scepter from her.

4. We are afraid of “feminizing” the church. Some insecure Christian guys have complained that there are already too many women making decisions in the church. One author even demanded that flowers be removed from church altars because they are feminine! My response: The same God who created deer antlers and buckskin also made carnations and orchids. Genesis 1:26-28 says God created male and female in His image. Only when we have men and women functioning in their full capacity in the church will we see His image fully manifested. It’s silly to try to rid the church of women’s influence when God appointed both fathers and mothers to run a family. It took Abraham and Sarah to give birth to Israel; God wants both genders involved in His work.

5. We associate women leaders with a liberal agenda. In the United States many of the women who hold political office do not reflect Christian moral values. For this reason some people automatically associate women preachers or pastors with a radical feminist agenda. This is unfair. In America’s past, some of the greatest leaders of social change were women who held Christian beliefs—brave women like Harriet Tubman, Phoebe Palmer and Sojourner Truth—and they would have never advocated abortion or same-sex marriage. We need an army of women leaders who will speak as prophets on the national stage.

6. We don’t see enough positive examples of female leadership. In the early Pentecostal movement it was not uncommon to see women preachers traveling across our nation planting churches and conducting evangelistic campaigns in roadside tents. Women preachers including Aimee Semple MacPherson, Carrie Judd Montgomery and Myrtle Beall made a huge spiritual impact on their generation. Today, while there are significant numbers of women pastors and missionaries in the Assemblies of God and other Pentecostal groups, the most prominent Christian women featured in mainstream media tend to stay in their place. They are incredibly gifted, but they are viewed as Bible teachers to women only.

7. Some Christians hate women. It’s sad but true. Misogyny is alive and well, and sometimes it is even preached from pulpits. In one prominent evangelical church in a Central American country, the pastor often jokes about women and seems to trivialize adultery. It’s no wonder domestic violence thrives in that country. Until some brave men have the guts to challenge the sexism of the good ol’ boy network, abuse will remain a problem among Christians. (I am not saying that there aren’t women who hate men, or that men are never abused—but statistics show the majority of abuse cases involve women victims.)

Why am I so passionate about women in ministry? When our spiritual enemies are attacking and the hour is late, both Deborah and Barak are needed on the battlefield. This is an issue that is on the Lord’s heart. I pray we will affirm and celebrate all women who sense a call from God to lead.

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When Is It Right to Leave a Marriage?

Recently when I wrote a column titled “10 Men Christian Women Should Never Marry,” readers shared some heartbreaking stories of their marital mistakes. One woman admitted, “The man I married is six of the 10 things you listed!” Many other readers also asked this honest question: “If my husband is one of those men, can I divorce him?”

I don’t enjoy recommending divorce to anybody. God instituted marriage, so it’s sacred. It’s a holy bond that we should protect. Jesus Himself said, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6, NASB). Yet in the same passage He mentioned immorality (v. 9) as an allowable reason for divorce. In a fallen world full of sin and unfaithfulness, divorce is not always avoidable.

It’s true that many Christians are too eager to bail out of a marriage after their first big argument or when the flame of romance dims. Too many people view divorce as a convenient escape hatch. Yet this flippant disregard for covenant vows is not acceptable for a follower of Christ. Any Christian couple that stands before God to seal their union should be committed to staying together through thick and thin.

At the same time, I have counseled with both men and women who were trapped in severely dysfunctional marriages—and it was obvious some of these relationships simply could not be restored. In those cases, I had to ask them to prayerfully seek a divorce—and find support, counseling and prayer as they walked through the traumatic aftermath of a painful breakup.

Here are four situations in which divorce may be an advisable option:

1. Unrepentant adultery. If a husband or a wife is unfaithful to their partner, it’s possible to forgive and reconcile. But that’s only an option if the person who committed the adultery is willing to admit their sin and break off the illicit relationship. If the affair was a one-time experience, and the guilty spouse is broken over their sin, then healing is possible. However, a man who is constantly cheating on his wife (or vice versa) is deceived, and he is also putting his wife at risk of disease. If your spouse is having sex with someone else, you are not required by God to tolerate that behavior.

2. Domestic abuse. I never counsel a woman to stay in a physically abusive marriage. The wife needs to get herself and her children out of the house if her husband is beating her or making violent threats. It is irresponsible for any Christian minister to tell an abused woman to stay in a domestic situation that is physically dangerous. Separation is an option for a season; if the husband is willing to receive counseling, it might be possible to save the marriage. But God does not expect you to stay married to an abuser. He wants to rescue you out of that situation!

3. Emotional cruelty or control. I know women who have endured years of verbal abuse from husbands who claim to love God but don’t understand that their dominating attitudes are slowly killing their wives. Some husbands think they have the right to monitor and analyze their wives’ every move. Others scold their wives, scream at them or subject them to constant profanity and angry tirades. For victims, this can lead to depression, addiction and even suicide. If the abuser is not willing to repent of such toxic behavior, the spouse needs to get out before the abuse destroys what’s left of his or her self-image. This principle also applies to spouses who are involved in drug abuse, alcoholism or criminal activity.

4. Spiritual incompatibility. Many times one spouse will come to faith in Christ before the other. In the best situations, the believing spouse leads the unbelieving spouse to the Lord. But what if that spouse never embraces Christianity? Paul told the Corinthians that they can stay together but that it is not wrong to allow an unbelieving spouse to leave (1 Cor. 7:12-16).

In some conservative churches, leaders teach that divorce is never acceptable and that a person who chooses to divorce—even if they have been abused—is in sin if they leave the marriage. These hardliners will typically declare, “God hates divorce,” quoting Malachi 2:16, and then suggest that even the innocent party in a divorce will be judged by God. That’s an unfair use of Scripture. God’s mercy is bigger than that!

God certainly hates the pain, shame and family disintegration that accompanies divorce, but He also offers healing, restoration and freedom to people who have endured a marriage breakup. As we work to protect marriages and encourage strong families, let’s also leave room in our hearts—and in our theology—for people who simply cannot stay in irreparable relationships.

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10 Men Christian Women Should Never Marry

My wife and I raised four daughters—without shotguns in the house!—and three of them have already married. We love our sons-in-law, and it’s obvious God handpicked each of them to match our daughters’ temperaments and personality.

I have always believed God is in the matchmaking business. If He can do it for my daughters, He can do it for you.

Today I have several single female friends who would very much like to find the right guy. Some tell me the pickings are slim at their church, so they have ventured into the world of online dating. Others have thrown up their hands in despair, wondering if there are any decent Christian guys left anywhere. They’ve begun to wonder if they should lower their standards in order to find a mate.

My advice stands: Don’t settle for less than God’s best. Too many Christian women today have ended up with an Ishmael because impatience pushed them into an unhappy marriage. Please take my fatherly advice: You are much better off single than with the wrong guy!

Speaking of “wrong guys,” here are the top 10 men you should avoid when looking for a husband:

1. The unbeliever. Please write 2 Corinthians 6:14 on a Post-it note and tack it on your computer at work. It says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (NASB). This is not an outdated religious rule. It is the Word of God for you today.

Don’t allow a man’s charm, looks or financial success (or his willingness to go to church with you) push you to compromise what you know is right. “Missionary dating” is never a wise strategy. If the guy is not a born-again Christian, scratch him off your list. He’s not right for you. I’ve yet to meet a Christian woman who didn’t regret marrying an unbeliever.

2. The liar. If you discover that the man you are dating has lied to you about his past or that he’s always covering his tracks to hide his secrets from you, run for the nearest exit. Marriage must be built on a foundation of trust. If he can’t be truthful, break up now before he bamboozles you with an even bigger deception.

3. The playboy. I wish I could say that if you meet a nice guy at church, you can assume he’s living in sexual purity. But that’s not the case today. I’ve heard horror stories about single guys who serve on the worship team on Sunday but act like Casanovas during the week. If you marry a guy who was sleeping around before your wedding, you can be sure he will be sleeping around after your wedding.

4. The deadbeat. There are many solid Christian men who experienced marital failure years ago. Since their divorce, they have experienced the Holy Spirit’s restoration, and now they want to remarry. Second marriages can be very happy. But if you find out that the man you are dating hasn’t been caring for his children from a previous marriage, you have just exposed a fatal flaw. Any man who will not pay for his past mistakes or support children from a previous marriage is not going to treat you responsibly.

5. The addict. Churchgoing men who have addictions to alcohol or drugs have learned to hide their problems—but you don’t want to wait until your honeymoon to find out that he’s a boozer. Never marry a man who refuses to get help for his addiction. Insist that he get professional help and walk away. And don’t get into a codependent relationship in which he claims he needs you to stay sober. You can’t fix him.

6. The bum. I have a female friend who realized after she married her boyfriend that he had no plans to find steady work. He had devised a great strategy: He stayed home all day and played video games while his professional wife worked and paid all the bills. The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thess. 3:10). The same rule applies here: If a man is not willing to work, he doesn’t deserve to marry you.

7. The narcissist. I sincerely hope you can find a guy who is handsome. But be careful: If your boyfriend spends six hours a day at the gym and regularly posts closeups of his biceps on Facebook, you have a problem. Do not fall for a self-absorbed guy. He might be cute, but a man who is infatuated with his appearance and his own needs will never be able to love you sacrificially, like Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25). The man who is always looking at himself in the mirror will never notice you.

8. The abuser. Men with abusive tendencies can’t control their anger when it boils over. If the guy you are dating has a tendency to fly off the handle, either at you or others, don’t be tempted to rationalize his behavior. He has a problem, and if you marry him you will have to navigate his minefield every day to avoid triggering another outburst. Angry men hurt women—verbally and sometimes physically. Find a man who is gentle.

9. The man-child. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m suspicious of a guy who still lives with his parents at age 35. If his mother is still doing his cooking, cleaning and ironing at that age, you can be sure he’s stuck in an emotional time warp. You are asking for trouble if you think you can be a wife to a guy who hasn’t grown up. Back away and, as a friend, encourage him to find a mentor who can help him mature.

10. The control freak. Some Christian guys today believe marriage is about male superiority. They may quote Scripture and sound super-spiritual, but behind the façade of husbandly authority is deep insecurity and pride that can morph into spiritual abuse. First Peter 3:7 commands husbands to treat their wives as equals. If the man you are dating talks down to you, makes demeaning comments about women or seems to squelch your spiritual gifts, back away now. He is on a power trip. Women who marry religious control freaks often end up in a nightmare of depression.

If you are a woman of God, don’t sell your spiritual birthright by marrying a guy who doesn’t deserve you. Your smartest decision in life is to wait for a man who is sold out to Jesus.

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8 Women Christian Men Should Never Marry

Last week my column “10 Men Christian Women Should Never Marry” went viral. More than 1.2 million people have shared that message so far—most likely because so many single men and women are seriously asking for guidelines on finding a compatible mate.

In response I received numerous requests to share similar guidelines for men who are looking for wives. Since I am mentoring several young men right now and have seen a few of them marry successfully during the past few years, it wasn’t difficult to draft this list. These are the women I tell my spiritual sons to avoid:

1. The unbeliever. In last week’s column, I reminded women that the Bible is absolutely clear on this point: Christians should not marry unbelievers. Second Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (NASB). Apart from your decision to follow Christ, marriage is the single most important decision you will ever make. Don’t blow it by ignoring the obvious. You need a wife who loves Jesus more than she loves you. Put spiritual maturity at the top of your list of qualities you want in a wife.

2. The material girl. One young friend of mine was engaged to a girl from a rich family. He saved up money for months to buy a ring, but when he proposed she told him he needed to go back to the jewelry store to buy a bigger diamond. She pushed her fiance to go into debt for a ring that fit her expectations. She wanted a Tiffany’s lifestyle on his Wal-Mart budget. I warned my friend that he was stepping into serious trouble. Unless you want to live in debt for the rest of your life, do not marry a girl who has dollar signs in her eyes and eight credit cards in her Gucci purse.

3. The diva. Some macho guys like to throw their weight around and pretend they are superior to women. Divas are the female version of this nightmare. They think the world revolves around them, and they don’t think twice about hurting somebody else to prove their point. Their words are harsh and their finger-snapping demands are unreasonable. Some of these women might end up in leadership positions at church, but don’t be fooled by their super-spiritual talk. Real leaders are humble. If you don’t see Christlike humility in the woman you are dating, back away from her and keep looking.

4. The Delilah. Remember Samson? He was anointed by God with superhuman strength, but he lost his power when a seductive woman figured out his secret and gave her man the world’s most famous haircut. Like Delilah, a woman who hasn’t yielded her sexuality to God will blind you with her charms, break your heart and snip your anointing off. If the “Christian” woman you met at church dresses provocatively, flirts with other guys, posts sexually inappropriate comments on Facebook or tells you she’s OK with sex before marriage, get out of that relationship before she traps you.

5. The contentious woman. A young man told me recently that he dated a girl who had serious resentment in her heart because of past hurts. “Before I would propose, I told my fiancee she had to deal with this,” he explained. “It would have been a deal-breaker, but there was a powerful breakthrough and now we are engaged.” This guy realized that unresolved bitterness can ruin a marriage. Proverbs 21:9 says, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” If the woman you are dating is seething with anger and unforgiveness, your life together will be ruined by arguing, door-slamming and endless drama. Insist that she get prayer and counseling.

6. The controller. Marriage is a 50/50 partnership, and the only way it works is when both husband and wife practice mutual submission according to Ephesians 5:21. Just as some guys think they can run a marriage like a dictatorship, some women try to manipulate decisions to get their way. This is why premarital counseling is so important! You don’t want to wait until you’ve been married for two weeks to find out that your wife doesn’t trust you and wants to call all the shots.

7. The mama’s girl. It’s normal for a new wife to call her mom regularly for advice and support. It is not normal for her to talk to her mother five times a day about every detail of her marriage, including her sex life. That’s weird. Yet I have counseled guys whose wives allowed their mothers (or fathers) total control of their marriages. Genesis 2:24 says a man is to leave his parents and cleave to his wife. Parents should stay in the background of their children’s marriages. If your girlfriend hasn’t cut the apron strings, proceed with caution.

8. The addict. So many people in the church today have not been properly discipled. Many still struggle with various types of addictions—to alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription medicines or pornography—either because we don’t confront these sins from the pulpit or we don’t offer enough compassionate support to strugglers. Jesus can completely set a person free from these habits, but you don’t want to wait until you’re married to find out your wife isn’t sober. You may still be called to be married, but it is not wise to tie the knot until your girlfriend faces her issues head-on.

Your best rule to follow in choosing a wife is found in Proverbs 31:30: “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Look past the outward qualities that the world says are important, and look at the heart.

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