Alexander R. Hay

To the women of our congregations to whose faithful ministry so much is owed.


The home is the true center of the Church’s life. The center of a congregation’s fellowship is the Lord’s Table; the center of its activity is its meeting for prayer; the center of its testimony is the home. A congregation is what its homes are. The gifts of preaching and teaching may be greatly manifested but the witness is in the home. And there is where the woman’s influence tells most. There she builds life – for the present and for the future.

The woman has her sphere at the very heart of the Church’s witness, a work of service and example, of building and establishing. But also, being a priest unto God, all the various grace-gifts of the Spirit for spiritual ministry are available to her according to the ministry in the Church which God calls her to undertake.

We say “all” the grace-gifts, because it is an error to consider that the grace-gifts of the Spirit for government or preaching or for material ministry (as required by the deacon) may not be manifested in women. The sphere of woman’s ministry does not include authoritative spiritual ministry, such as that of the elder or deacon, but the grace-gifts for government and service have other uses. For instance, she may be called to have responsibilities in a Foundation as were Amy Carmichael and ‘Sister’ Abigail. She may be entrusted with material ministry in the spreading of Christian literature through a Gospel book store or tract depot. For such work gifts for government and material ministry are required and the Holy Spirit will manifest them through women.

Certain manifestations of these gifts are for men and not for women but likewise there are some varieties of their manifestation that are for women and not for men. Just as with the man, there is no service or activity that a woman may undertake, the object of which is the bearing of spiritual fruit, that does not require to be done through the enabling of the grace-gifts of the Spirit, which the Holy Spirit manifests as He wills through every believer who is yielded to the Lord.

The Church a Body

In this matter there is a principle that must be carefully followed. As we have seen, “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Cor. 12:7). The Church is a body. The different members are not isolated units but members of Christ and members one of another, cooperating together according to their different grace-gifts, in the place God has chosen for each of them.

This is beautifully described by Paul in Eph. 4:15-16: “But we shall lovingly hold to the truth, and shall in all respects grow up into union with him who is our Head, even Christ. Dependent on him, the whole body – its various parts closely fitting and firmly adhering to one another – grows by the aid of every contributory ligament, with power proportioned to the need of each individual part, so as to build itself up in a spirit of love” (Weymouth).

In this cooperating Body there are men and women. The grace-gifts are not manifested in exactly the same form in the two, but in a manner that is complementary. As in the home the combination of the ministries of the husband and the wife, the father and the mother, is essential, the two supplying equally necessary parts, so it is also in the Church. As a home without a father or one without a mother is most seriously handicapped, so a congregation that lacks the ministry of men or one that lacks the ministry of women must be incomplete in its witness and service.

In the home, any attempt of the father or the mother to usurp, ignore or impede the responsibilities of the other brings confusion and weakness. In the congregation this is equally true.

Preaching and Teaching

As we have seen, taking the position that the difference between man’s spiritual ministry and woman’s excludes her from preaching or teaching in public is an error, and a very serious one. God does not exclude women from public preaching and teaching but, naturally, there will be a characteristic difference in the manner in which she carries out these ministries. It will be a necessary difference, causing the woman’s ministry in these respects to be complementary to the man’s. It follows that the absence of the woman’s contribution will constitute a serious loss.

There is always the possibility that privileges will be abused. In the Church in Corinth they were shamefully abused by both men and women. But, the fact that some spiritual privilege or responsibility is abused by one or two or even by many gives us no right to withdraw that privilege or responsibility from all. These privileges are God-given and no man has a right to withdraw them.

This is a serious mistake that is frequently made in other matters besides woman’s ministry. It is a recourse of spiritual weakness. Abuses, or ignorance, must be dealt with by spiritual means. They must be rebuked and forbidden that the privilege and responsibility may be exercised correctly to the bearing of the fruit which God intends. The disciplinary procedure in such cases is clearly indicated and illustrated in Scripture. To the congregation in Corinth, in whose meetings there were many abuses, Paul writes: “You can all prophesy” – two or three in a meeting, one at a time, giving place to each other, doing everything “decently and in order.” He did not prohibit what was their privilege; he regulated it.

We have found in our churches that in the public ministry of preaching and teaching in the congregation, in open-air meetings and cottage meetings, women, while active and making a valuable contribution, preach less than the men. This is natural. However, there are women who excel in this ministry. The trouble comes when a woman attempts to fill a man’s place or feels that she has to minister as a man would minister.

A Complementary Ministry

Always it should be kept in mind that the woman has her own essential contribution to make. Basically the woman’s ministry is supplementary to the man’s. In an office or a factory, for instance, a woman is superior to a man for certain types of work. There are types of detail work that she is especially fitted for. With her cooperation, the efficiency, scope and value of the man’s work is increased.

The woman’s work is neither inferior nor less essential. Just as her work would be incomplete without his, so his is incomplete without hers. For example, children’s activities run entirely by men or entirely by women would suffer a definite lack, although they could be carried on. The children need the influence and the contribution of both. So it is in every department of the church’s witness. To fulfill this ministry, the woman must be a woman, thinking as a woman, feeling as a woman, serving God in the Spirit as a woman. Then she may enter into the full satisfaction and fulfillment which God has purposed for her as a woman working in fellowship with him, and the Church will reap the full benefit from her ministry which God intended.

The spheres of Christian work in which God has used women are many. Every period of the history of the Church bears rich testimony to this, with many examples of those whom God used in definite ministries and through whom the Holy Spirit manifested himself with gracious power, bringing blessing to many and providing a testimony before the Church that has inspired God’s people and borne a witness before the world that has been to the glory of God, manifesting his might, his love and his faithfulness.