The Voice of the Helper

As I work through church dysfunction in Seattle with former and current Mars Hill Church elders, deacons, and members in private Facebook groups, some hard conversations have been had, particularly about the ways the culture at Mars Hill damaged women. We have had painful but beautiful discussions. Early points of the conversation involved a lot of anger and accusation. But over time, as those who have been hurt were heard and their stories validated by the leaders involved, the conversation turned to healing and growth that reflects well on the deep meaning behind the word redeem.

One thing I am processing is why so many women over the years at Mars Hill felt silenced. I think some of it is pathological – serious mental struggles due to childhood trauma by some influential leaders that resulted in over the top reactions to women who spoke up. But I also think some of it was theological, which is why I’ve hounded again and again the issue of Genesis 3:16. One elder referred to explicit theology – that which was taught – and implicit theology – that which was believed. There was a discrepancy between the two at times. Leadership at Mars Hill occasionally spoke explicitly about women with the assumption that our first root issue was that we would want to take over control from the men in our lives. But the implicit belief outside of what was explicitly taught was there at a fundamental, pervasive level. When that is your foundational assumption, then there is nothing that a woman can say short of complete agreement and affirmation of you in every way that will not be eventually labeled gossip, manipulation, or outright usurping of authority.

As I continue to think through a 3rd way on gender, I am burdened for the voice of the helper that God gave to the man. Was Eve designed only to help with her hands or her body? Or was there something in her words that God designed to be helpful to Adam? The great passage that is used to squelch female voices is I Peter 3, on winning a disobedient husband over without a word. Paul talks of women keeping silent in the church as well, but the context there is the authoritative teaching in the position of elder. I think Peter and Paul’s instructions are good, true, and to be obeyed today. But remember that these are not the only Scripture on women speaking. While some verses on women instruct keeping silence, others affirm the use of words as a sign of wisdom and virtue, notably in the classic wisdom chapter on Image-bearing womanhood, Proverbs 31.

Proverbs 31:26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

There are many more verses on women speaking in the Bible, but I am not going to give a survey of them right now. The issue isn’t whether a woman is or is not to speak. The issue is what she should speak and how she should speak. We are as constrained by James 3:10 as the men in our churches are.

Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be.

Going forward, I offer this encouragement first to women, and then to men.

Women: I encourage you to cultivate the voice that God intended for you to use when He created you as a strong helper for the man. This means recognizing what tears down and putting that off as the old man. The Bible has strong words for negative speech for men and women, along with a few choice words for women alone. Because of our particular gifting to come alongside a man in aid, the negative words we say in a moment can deeply wound a man, like the nurse you expect to administer pain medicine who instead injects you with poison. Gossip, slander, malice … these are antithetical to the role of ezer, and we must deliberately push into who we are in Christ that we may recognize these words and put them away.

But a big mistake we make as women in conservative churches is that we put off without also putting on, especially in terms of the voice of the Helper. The put off / put on process for women and their words is not to put off gossip and put on silence. It is to put off words that tear down and put on words of life that God intended you to use. The end result of transformation in Christ is that we put on words that aid our churches, aid our families, and aid our friends. 

Men: I encourage you, like the women, to cultivate the voice of women in your life. Thabiti Anyabwile wrote a great article for The Gospel-Centered Woman on the neglect of pastors to disciple and use women in their congregations. If you have women who gossip in your church, the tendency is to preach against gossip and encourage silence instead of doing the real work of cultivating life giving speech among these women. But I add a second encouragement as well – as you encourage women toward better speech, then respect that voice when she uses it! This second step has been a missing link in a lot of homes and congregations. Listen when women speak with wisdom. Respect the role of helper, and value God’s image bearing role in women. What if husbands, pastors, and leaders in churches started valuing the voices of women who were speaking into their lives with wisdom?

The main problem seems that some men can’t distinguish between women speaking with wisdom and women speaking with authority. They are so afraid of a woman telling them authoritatively what to do that they can’t hear feedback or suggestions from them without defensiveness. To be fair, women can and should work on how to say the good things they have to contribute in a way that doesn’t create hurdles for the one who needs to hear it. For both men and women, the Bible indicates the same words said in different ways can have very different results. But, men, whether a woman says it exactly right in your estimation or not, don’t let yourself be deceived into thinking her tone negates the truth of what she offers you. That particular temptation seems a tool of Satan to undermine the woman as the helper God intended.

I’ll end with a positive observation. I am seeing much more evidence of men in the Church respecting the voice of the helper in just the last 6 months or so than I have for many years previously. I appreciate The Village Church’s current sermon series on Biblical manhood and womanhood in particular. One thing that has been clear in the series is that Matt Chandler values women in his church speaking into his life. In one particular illustration he gave about his wife, he shared the wise way she pointed out a problem area in his life to him. She spoke with wisdom in a way that was easy for him to receive.

But, in the same illustration, Matt also acknowledged that he needed to listen to her input whether she said it exactly right or not. That can be a missing link for men – discounting the wisdom of what was said because a woman didn’t articulate it as softly as the man thought she should. Honestly, men, admit that sometimes you just don’t want to hear it from a woman, and there is no amount of soft terms that would make her words acceptable to you. For some men, the choice for women’s voices seems to be between the negative of gossip and nagging manipulation to the positive, in their heads, of women who don’t say anything challenging at all. In silencing, ignoring, or shaming women for speaking, those men lose a valuable gift God has given them for their flourishing.

If you want wisdom from the women around you, and you should, I encourage you to consider the voice of the helper, the ezer, as part of the help God intended her to provide.  Then respond accordingly even if it makes you temporarily uncomfortable. May we all work toward cultivating wise, helpful speech in ourselves and others, and may we listen well when the ezer speaks wise and helpful words to us personally.

16 Responses to The Voice of the Helper

  1. Debbie November 17, 2014 at 3:06 am #

    A thought provoking article that reminds us our words as women are important and should be heeded as such when said in a humble, loving manner.

  2. Anonymous November 18, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    Beautifully and thoughtfully written! And the New Testament without question affirms how the Savior valued and revered women. Women such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Phebe and Priscilla were faithful disciples. Paul's comments to Titus show that Paul valued the teaching of women (Titus 2:3,4) Interestingly, Martha taught one of the most powerful sermons in the New Testament which continues to resound around the world today, “I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” John 11:20-27) It was a female, Mary Magdalene that received the first witness of the atonement and resurrection, the culminating events of the Savior's life, and then shared the good news with the apostles. Perhaps the Lord best taught how he honored women when he lovingly assured His mother's care in the midst of His agonizing suffering on the cross.

  3. Jan Zizka November 18, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

    Why are you not posting my comments-2010 women deacons?

  4. Wendy November 18, 2014 at 6:57 pm #

    Jan, comments close on posts after 30 days. I don't have the ability to monitor and respond to more than the current posts. Thanks for reading old stuff though. It's still important. :-0

  5. Wendy November 18, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

    That was supposed to be a smiley face.

  6. Jan Zizka November 19, 2014 at 6:56 am #

    This celebrity Pastor culture and their wayward lifestyle is destroying the Church. We must stop idolizing Pastors and instead look whether they are serving the God's Church as they should.

  7. Jan Zizka November 19, 2014 at 7:43 am #

    Women are allowed to be Apostles -those who evangelize and plant churches. In Romans 16:7 Apostle Paul calls a woman called Junia a prominent apostle.In Philippians 4:3 Paul calls 2 women-Euodia and Syntyche as his coworkers in Apostolic ministry. Also in 2 John,Apostle John calls himself the elder and address the letter to “chosen woman and her children” and ends the letter by saying “children of your sister send you greetings”.These 2 women were 2 apostles and the children the churches they planted.Bible scholars say these women could be Philip's daughters.

    Elder/Pastor should be only one person per every local Church, that is why Elder is addressed in singular and deacons addressed in plural in 1 Timothy 3.There should be no authority over the local church ,except for the authority of Lord Jesus Christ.

  8. Jan Zizka November 19, 2014 at 8:28 am #

    Women are allowed to be deacons in 1 Timothy 3:11-original greek text has “women” rather than “deacon's wives which is a later mistranslation by ignorant/selfish interest groups.
    In 1 Timothy 3:12,13 male deacons are instructed to rule their households and children well and those who do their job well will get better standing in Christian faith-that is they can be Elder/Pastor for the same instruction is given to Elder/Pastor to rule their children and household in 1 Timothy 3:4,5.While women are asked to obey their husbands in Ephesians 5:22-24,1 Timothy 2:11-15,1 Corinthians 14:34.Thus women are not allowed to be Pastors/Elders.

    Also head covering issue is another important thing with spiritual implications.Bible is clear that God given long hair is the head covering in place of veil(pagan custom)-1 Corinthians 11:15.And those who unveil themselves by cutting their long hair should go to the whole extend cut off(shorn) or shave off all their head hair,because long hair is the God given covering- 1 Corinthians 11:5,6.This is particularly important when women do public prayer or prophesy (ministry),because if they are not covered they are projecting man's glory.Covering is to block this man's glory that women's body project in the presence of God's glory.
    If for some reason women has no long hair(as in chemo patients) then she can wear a veil/cap while doing public prayer and prophesy(ministry).

  9. Jan Zizka November 19, 2014 at 8:34 am #

    May God bless all to see the truth and reality of God's word-Bible and God bless you, Wendy.

  10. alyce molinari November 20, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    Thanks Wendy! This reminds me of something that I recently stumbled upon.

    I love the metaphor the apostle Paul uses in scripture referring to the church as a body because the human body is a wonderfully complex creation of God. I often wonder how many correlations there are within his metaphor in comparing the human body and the Body of Christ. Recently while meditating on these verses in scripture and thinking about the state of the Church, particularly in regards to women within the Body, I came up with a diagnosis. The Body of Christ suffers from an Autoimmune Disease. Autoimmune Disease is when the immune system which is supposed to protect the body from foreign invaders for unknown reasons starts attacking healthy cells and tissue. Autoimmune Disease affects multiple organs and systems within the body rendering it sick, unhealthy, and ineffective.
    Something to think about….

  11. Rachel Stanton November 21, 2014 at 5:32 am #

    This article about Anne Graham Lotz's book “Wounded by God's People” offers wisdom for all of us as we continue to heal and forgive after this painful chapter at Mars Hill. Wendy, I believe Anne's words are an excellent example of the honest, helpful speech by mature, godly women that you are advocating.

    http://www.christiantoday.com/article/anne.graham.lotz.on.mars.hill.it.might.have.been.better.if.theyd.had.millstones.tied.round.their.necks.and.been.thrown.into.the.sea/43160.htm

  12. Jan Zizka November 21, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

    Ya ,that was an exellent and timely article by Ann Graham,daughter of Billy Graham.God bless you Rachel…

  13. acha648 December 2, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    somehow I do not think women being silenced is a problem in the western church!!

    It is more that men are silencing themselves- and look at the mess that has lead too in our culture.

    Women also need to cultivate and actively encourage Godly male leadership, yes it works both ways, men cannot just become Good leaders etc on their own- Like Matt Chandler said.

    Actually with regards to Matt Chandler, it is sad I suppose this happens as churches go bigger, the entire series ( except the part on Single women in ” woman's purpose” that was wonderful and necessary !) was AWFUL and so much non biblical stuff.

    Where does it say men are not supposed to be the providers?
    Where does it say women have no unique priority in the home? his example was he can't do everything so his wife cuddles the other kids- really? that is the ONLY difference? cuddling!!

    Comparison and perfectionism- Name me one MAN that does not suffer from that, these were not even Gendered sins like some other sins maybe- it sounded like a cop out to stand against women that WANT to be men the providers the protectors the leaders, that is the struggle women face that is unique to their gender- NOT comparison ( Seriously Men live on competition- competition depends on Comparison!! -who even does his research..)

    anyhow so yeah I would be careful using him now, which is sad but oh well we are so used to pastors slowly drifting away…

  14. acha648 December 2, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    to allow women deacons (unless deacons have spiritual authority over men- which they really should not anyway…) doe snot even need any complex justification. John Macarthur answered this question once and it was simply

    “Deacon means servant” that it!- the argument is pretty settled then.

    Are there really people opposed to women serving in the church? in this feminist age as well?!

  15. Anonymous December 16, 2014 at 11:08 pm #

    so true!

  16. Anonymous December 16, 2014 at 11:36 pm #

    “When that is your foundational assumption, then there is nothing that a woman can say short of complete agreement and affirmation of you in every way that will not be eventually labeled gossip, manipulation, or outright usurping of authority.”
    “Honestly, men, admit that sometimes you just don't want to hear it from a woman, and there is no amount of soft terms that would make her words acceptable to you.”
    Sometimes I think, if a man doesn't want to hear it from a woman, or doesn't want to hear it if it's not said behind closed doors, very very softly, between 10 and 10:15 am on alternate Wednesdays, it's just he doesn't want to hear it full stop. To women, he'll say it's not their job because they're women. For other men, he'll find some other way to fob them off. What worries me is this huge reluctance to take any kind of criticism.
    I've worked in both the Church and the corporate world, and I got a lot more useful feedback at the office than in my own church. When you did something wrong, something that negatively impacted others, people would let you know. Not always very nicely. They didn't let you off the hook. You were supposed to be able to take it. That's how I became much more professional. Looking back, it was all justified, less than I deserved, and I just cherish the changes that criticism has brought in me. And honestly, it didn't matter who it was that said it, or how they said it. If it was true, it was useful, and did me lasting good.
    However in the complementarian circles that have influenced my church life, the pastors seem to have this huge fear of feedback. Which really puzzles me. We're card-carrying sovereignty of God people, we feel less conservative Evangelicals are soft on the doctrine of original sin. We go on and on about how sinful we are. But if someone dares to point out some concrete way in which we have actually sinned in the space-time continuum, then it's imperiling our self-image and the whole church. I don't get it…
    I'm really glad to read you, and hear someone else expressing articulately a realisation that's been growing on me for years. It's taken me several years of discomfort with this, secular therapy and quitting my job in my church, to get to the point when I feel it's OK to tell someone they've hurt me, or have made a decision that is going to hurt others. And I don't need to be consumed with anxiety as to how this is going to shatter their self-image. That's it's actually not my responsibility to shield their ego or protect them from the discomfort that accompanies confrontation. My job is to try and sort things out, and make sure my words and actions are aligned, and sending a message that is true to the heart of God. Whether I do it clumsily is not a big deal. And most mature adults realise that.
    I was the one that did speak up, in my church circles. On the one hand, I was being recruited to be a leader (for women), generally the only woman on church leadership teams (I assume it's beacause they thought I was wise and loving and godly. Otherwise why inflict me on other women?). On the other hand, I was told I was difficult, I could see that by speaking out (and not nastily,I assure you), I was breaking some unwritten rule. I can't prove it, but I think it's one reason why I was never asked out, or considered as a possible wife by the single guys who were in leadership with me, and were big on complementarianism. Or any single guys my age, at all. I'm sure this reluctance to hear it from a woman cost me. And now i'm ok about it, because I think it's just a subset of a reluctance to hear it at all. Which, sadly, is going to cost them a lot more….but that's between them and God.