How to Be a Man-Friendly Church

Roughly half the U.S. population is male, but fewer men attend church on average than women do. In the Assemblies of God, for example, the latest statistics indicate that men account for 31.5 percent of Sunday morning attendees, while women account for 40.4 percent. This gap in attendance reveals a ministry opportunity.

Earlier this year, Michael Zigarelli — professor of Leadership and Strategy at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania — conducted a qualitative survey of seven Protestant churches with greater parity in attendance between men and women. His working paper, “Churches that Attract Men,” identified transferable principles of man-friendly churches and is the springboard for today’s Influence Podcast conversation between him and me.

Topics of conversation include why attracting men is a good church-growth strategy and what man-friendly churches have in common. But Zigarelli also addresses “pushback questions”: Why are we talking about man-friendly churches in a culture that’s talking about “toxic masculinity”? Does being man-friendly trade on shopworn gender stereotypes or complementarian views of church leadership? And does attracting men create a void of ministry to women and children?

It’s an interesting, informative conversation, so make sure to listen to the entire thing!

God Forgive Us for Being Women | Book Review

In 1924, Ruth and Elizabeth Weidman — my great-aunt and grandmother, respectively — sailed from the U.S. for China. Like many Pentecostal women, they felt God had called and empowered them to share the gospel as missionaries. Other Pentecostal women felt a similar call and empowerment to minister in the United States.

This call to ministry was part and parcel of their baptism in the Holy Spirit, an empowerment for service promised by Jesus Christ in Acts 1:8 and first realized on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1–11. The apostle Peter interpreted the event of Pentecost as the fulfillment of God’s promise through the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy… Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17,18, emphasis added; cf. Joel 2:28,29).

These passages, especially alongside Galatians 3:28, seem to equalize the ministries of men and women. Yet Pentecostals also read passages from Paul’s letters — 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:11–15, especially — that appear to order hierarchically men’s and women’s ministries. (I would argue that this hierarchy is more apparent than real.)

Thus, even as hundreds of early Pentecostal women pioneered mission fields and planted churches, they often met resistance from men (typically) who felt the need to put them in their place by limiting their authority in the local church. My friend Joy Qualls explores this tension — between Pentecostal empowerment and hierarchical resistance, especially in the Assemblies of God — in her new book, God Forgive Us for Being Women.

She takes the book’s title from the exasperated complaint of Mae Eleanor Frey, an early Pentecostal evangelist affiliated with the AG. From 1914 to 1935, the Fellowship debated what level of credentials women could hold. In a 1928 letter to a national executive, Frey wrote: “At this last Council I felt like a criminal as they brought up this foolish woman question again …. One felt like asking God to forgive us for being women. There is nothing in the word of God that forbids a woman from preaching the Gospel or conducting a work.”

Qualls is a lifelong AG adherent and professor of communications at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Her book, a revision of her doctoral dissertation, explores how the Fellowship negotiated the tension between the Pentecostal rhetoric of empowerment and the hierarchical rhetoric of authority.

In 1935, the General Council settled this debate, at least in principle, by affirming that God’s call and empowerment to all levels of ministry are equal for men and women. In practice, however, as Qualls shows, there remains a gap between what we believe and how we behave. Though women can receive ordination to all ministry levels by the denomination, they often find the doors to leadership in the local church locked because of their sex.

God Forgive Us for Being Women occasionally makes for difficult reading. This is partly because of the academic tone of the writing, but mostly because it’s heartbreaking to see the challenges women have faced in their efforts to pursue God’s call on their lives. Dr. Jim Bradford, former general secretary of the Assemblies of God, recently preached a sermon that included this exhortation to women in the congregation: “You should never be in a place where men are putting you in your place.” After reading this book, I fervently hope that I never become that kind of man nor the Assemblies of God that kind of Fellowship.

Book Reviewed
Joy E. A. Qualls, God Forgive Us for Being Women: Rhetoric, Theology, and the Role of Women in the Pentecostal Tradition (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

P.P.S. This is cross-posted from with permission and will appear in the July-August 2018 print issue of Influence magazine.

The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity | Book Review

The debate about gender roles between complementarians and egalitarians is one of the most contentious among evangelical Christians. Complementarians believe that God created a hierarchical relationship between men, whose role is to lead in home and church, and women, whose role is to graciously submit to male leadership. Egalitarians believe that the hierarchical relationship between men and women is not God’s creative design but rather the result of the Fall. For egalitarians, Christ’s redemptive work reverses the curse of sin, places men and women in relationships characterized by mutual submission, and frees both men and women to lead as God calls and empowers them.

Among some of the neo-Reformed complementarians affiliated with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), it used to be acceptable to prove their position not only by appeal to specific biblical texts (e.g., Ephesians 5:21–32; 1 Corinthians 14:34–35; 1 Timothy 2:11–15), but also by appeal to the doctrine of the Trinity. After all, did not Paul write, “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3, ESV)?

Complementarian Jared Moore explained the logic of this argument in his review of Bruce Ware and John Starke’s One God in Three Persons:

If complementarians can prove that there is a hierarchy in the immanent (ontological) Trinity, then they win, for if a hierarchy exists among the Three Persons of God, and these Three Persons are equally God, then surely God can create men and women equal yet with differing roles in church and home.

Thus, complementarians found a way to maintain male-female equality even as they denied that women could be leaders in home and church.

This argument was first articulated by George F. Knight III in 1977. It received institutional expression in the Danvers Statement of 1987, the charter of the CBMW. After that, it was articulated and defended most voluminously by Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware in numerous books and articles, including Grudem’s Systematic Theology, the most widely used theology text in evangelical seminaries. According to these theologians, to deny fixed role relations between the sexes was tantamount to denying the eternal functional subordination (EFS) of the Son to the Father, thus placing the denier outside the pale of orthodoxy and on “a new path to liberalism,” as the subtitle of Grudem’s 2006 Evangelical Feminism.

I say this argument used to be acceptable among these complementarians because it is now widely recognized — even by many of them! — to be heretical, a corruption of Trinitarian doctrine as formally defined by the councils of Nicea (A.D. 325) and Constantinople (A.D. 381) in the Nicene Creed. (In January 2017, for example, after a yearlong debate about EFS in complementarian circles, CBMW took the extraordinary step of explicitly affirming the Nicene Creed’s definition of the Trinity.) Kevin Giles charts the rise and fall of the complementarian doctrine of the Trinity in his book of that title. Giles is an Australian Anglican minister who has argued against the eternal functional subordination of the Son — the name complementarians gave their Trinitarian doctrine — since the 2002 publication of his book, The Trinity and Subordinationism.

Rise and Fall is an eye-opening, theologically helpful book. Why? Not only because it traces the history of a bad idea, but because it explains how that bad idea became so prominent among some theologians in the first place. Giles points to bad theological method as the culprit.

…the complementarian theologians got the doctrine of the Trinity wrong because they had a wrong understanding of how evangelical theology is “done.” They thought that with the Bible in hand they were free to construct the doctrine of the Trinity with virtually no reference to the historical development of this doctrine or any reference to the creeds of confessions of the church. In their mind, systematic theology was simply a summary by individual theologians of what they thought the Bible teaches on any doctrine. For them, an evangelical who believed in the inerrancy of Scripture had in the Bible the answer to every theological question.

This is where Giles’ book hits close to home. As a Pentecostal, I am neither a Calvinist nor a complementarian. However, this same theological method is prevalent among my tribe. As Protestants, we affirm sola Scriptura, Latin for “by Scripture alone.” In other words, we believe that Scripture is “the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and practice,” as the Assemblies of God’s Statement of Fundamental Truths puts it. So far, so good.

The problem is that we Pentecostals — along with many other evangelicals — often operate as if sola Scriptura meant what Giles calls solo Scripture— “No creed but the Bible!” There’s a huge difference between saying that the Bible is the only infallible source of our theology, however, and saying that it’s the only source whatsoever. As a historical matter, that’s not what the Protestant Reformation meant by sola Scriptura. The Reformers affirmed the orthodox doctrinal tradition of the Church, even as they appealed to Scripture to critique the corrupt traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. They didn’t throw out the Nicene baby with the indulgence bathwater. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation this October, it might be helpful to keep the Reformers’ theological method in mind.

Giles wraps up The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity with a 30-page summary of how the doctrine of the Trinity developed in history. It is a good example of how tradition and reason, subordinate to infallible Scripture, produced Nicene orthodoxy. But that very orthodoxy creates a problem for complementarians. As Giles puts it: “Given that the complementarian doctrine of a hierarchically ordered Trinity has now been abandoned, even by leaders of the complementarian movement, and that they have agreed that 1 Corinthians 11:3 neither subordinates the Son nor women, the reality of a major crisis for complementarian theology cannot be denied.”

How that crisis will resolve itself is anyone’s guess, but Giles concludes the book with a quotation by complementarian Calvinist Andrew Wilson: “I’m quite optimistic about the fallout from the whole debate…. I think correctives are good. I think robust challenges to faulty formulations of doctrine will, in the end, produce health rather than decay.

To which this Arminian, egalitarian Pentecostal voices a hearty, “Amen!”


Book Reviewed
Kevin Giles, The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Biblical Egalitarianism: A Review of ‘The Message of Women’ by Derek and Dianne Tidball

The Message of Women Tidball, Derek, and Dianne Tidball. 2012. The Message of Women: Creation, Grace and Gender. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Few topics roil the evangelical waters as much as the role(s) of women. On one side are complementarians, who affirm the spiritual equality of men and women but deny that this results in the equal calling of both sexes to leadership roles in church and society. On the other side are egalitarians, who both equality of spirit and of role.

Although both sides employ social science arguments in an ancillary manner, their primary arguments are scriptural. Both sides agree that ancient near eastern culture was patriarchal and that the Bible reflects this patriarchalism. The question is whether patriarchy is a universal norm or a particular context. Complementarians argue the former. Egalitarians argue the latter. For them, biblical norms subvert patriarchy and establish a trajectory of equality between the sexes, which is still being realized in the church.

The Message of Women by husband-and-wife team Derek and Dianne Tidball offers an introductory level egalitarian biblical theology. Derek is a Baptist minister who was principal of the London School of Theology and is currently a visiting scholar at Spurgeon’s College, London. He is series editor for the volumes on biblical themes in The Bible Speaks Today series, of which The Message of Women is a part. Dianne is the regional minister (team leader) of the East Midlands Baptist Association.

The Tidballs organize their biblical theology under four headings: (1) Foundations, which outlines the status and role(s) of women in creation (ch. 1), the fall (ch. 2), and the new creation (ch. 3); (2) Women under the old covenant (chs. 4–10), which surveys how the Old Testament portrays women; (3) Women in the kingdom chs. 11–14, which examines how Jesus’ teaching about and ministry to (and with) women; and (4) Women in the new community (chs. 15–20), which examines what Paul taught about women.

The Bible Speaks Today series has “a threefold ideal”: “to expound the biblical text with accuracy,” “to relate it to contemporary life,” and “to be readable.” The Message of Women embodies these ideals. Within the limits of an introductory level text, the Tidballs’ book is comprehensive in scope, nuanced in argumentation, and clear in presentation.

The authors do not shy away from the difficult texts in Paul—such as 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, 14:26–40; Ephesians 5:21–33, and 1 Timothy 2:11–15—which loom large in the complementarian argument. Rather, the Tidballs engage these texts, taking into account their canonical and social contexts. In other words, they do not treat these texts in isolation but in correlation with the entire biblical teaching on women. And they diligently reconstruct the background social issues that called forth Paul’s response. By contextualizing these passages in these ways, the Tidballs effectively blunt the force of complementarianism and show the plausibility of egalitarianism.

Almost as valuable as the Tidballs’ argument is their tone, which is irenic throughout. The bibliography on pages 13–22 shows the authors’ familiarity with the relevant complementarian, egalitarian, and feminist texts. (Readers who want to pursue the issues in more detail would be wise to begin with the complementarian Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the egalitarian Discovering Biblical Equality, and the feminist In Memory of Her.) The Tidballs seek points of agreement where possibly, but never disagree disagreeably. In a church (and society at large) that is often rent by contentiousness, the Tidballs’ irenic writing style is welcome.

I highly recommend The Message of Women. I agreed with the overall force of their argument, though I disagreed with a few of their specific interpretations. (Even people on the same side of a debate can niggle about the details.) The book includes discussion questions for each chapter. Combined with its other virtues, this makes the book ideal for Sunday school classes and small-group Bible studies. I especially encourage Christian men to read this book and to follow the example of Jesus in their relationships with women generally and their wives particularly.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Different, but the Same (1 Corinthians 11:2–16)

My wife is an excellent sermon critic. She cuts through rhetorical folderol, long-winded illustrations, and abstract theologizing like a hot knife through butter. And she does it with a simple question: What do you want me to do?

I think of her question when I read 1 Corinthians 11:2–16. Commentators disagree on the details of this passage[i]. For example:

  • Paul uses the word head—Greek, kephale—metaphorically in verse 3, where he writes: “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” Does kephale denote “authority over” or “source of”?
  • Paul uses the word head literally and metaphorically in verse 4, where he writes: “Every man who prays or prophesies with his [literal] head covered dishonors his [metaphorical] head,” that is, Christ. The phrase, “with…head covered” translates the Greek phrase kata kephales, which literally means “down from the head.” Does Paul have in mind a veil of some sort, long hair, something else?

These disagreements are not irrelevant.

The debate about kephale affects the Christian understanding of male-female relationships. If kephale connotes “authority over,” then Paul is teaching a functional hierarchy between men and women. Scholars who interpret kephale this way find confirmation in Paul’s statement that women should have a “sign of authority”— Greek, exousia—on their heads (verse 10). If kephale connotes “source of,” however, then Paul is teaching the ontological interrelatedness and equality of men and women by reference to the creation story in Genesis 2:18–22 (Eve comes from Adam’s rib) and the facts of biology (all men have biological mothers). These scholars find confirmation for their interpretation in verses 8, 11, and 12.

The debate over kata kephales also shapes what men and women wear in church services. Have you ever wondered why etiquette dictates that men can’t wear hats in church but women can? Look no further than this passage.

I hear my wife’s voice asking, “What do you want me to do?” So let me cut through these debates like a hot butter knife and tell you.

First, Paul wants men to look like men and women to look like women. Looking like members of the same sex is honorable, but looking like members of the opposite sex is shameful. The debates over kephale and kata kephales are theoretical, not practical. Both sides agree that men should look like men and women like women. They disagree why they should do so. But in terms of practice, there is no debate.

Second, Paul wants men and women to pray and prophesy in church. Most of us grew up in churches where only pastors talked during the service, and the vast majority of those pastors were men. Paul assumed that spiritually gifted people—not just pastors, and not just men—would talk in the worship service, whether to God through public prayer or to the congregation through public prophecy.

Men and women are different, but their spiritual giftedness is the same.

[i] If you’re interested in reading more about the debate, read Gordon D. Fee, “Praying and Prophesying in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 11:2–16)” (scroll down to chapter 8). Fee advocates an egalitarian reading of the passage. Then read Thomas R. Schreiner’s reply; he advocates a complementarian (or hierarchical) reading of the passage.

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