Melanie Cogdill on How Complementarians and Egalitarians Share Common Ground When It Comes to Women in Lay Leadership

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As managing editor of the Christian Research Journal and a women’s ministry trainer in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Melanie Cogdill has had ample opportunity to closely observe the unique discipleship challenges faced by evangelical women. In Beyond the Roles: A Biblical Foundation for Women and Ministry, Cogdill has gathered essays from various authors who explore a theological foundation for women’s ministry and also delve into 14 practical issues often found in female-centered ministries. Christianity Today spoke with Cogdill to find out more about her burden for women’s discipleship in the church.


Why were you particularly burdened for a book that went “beyond the roles”?

Several years ago, I was in the exhibit hall for the Evangelical Theological Society, where the attendees are more than 95 percent men. The books some publishers had put out were ones for women that focused on marriage and motherhood. Literally hundreds of books come across my desk at work each year, and I have very rarely if ever seen a volume that addresses laywomen in ministry.

Sure, many books address exegetical issues regarding women’s roles in ordained leadership but not the particular issues women face as they minister to other women. As someone on the national women’s leadership team for my denomination, I wanted to let church leaders know that there is a fully developed ministry philosophy that doesn’t focus on a woman’s stage of life or marital status but that is all about equipping women in discipleship in the local church.

These essays don’t cover the exegetical debate about women’s ordination. Why not?

I have spent my career working in theology and apologetics, and I have seen many, many books written on this issue from both sides. As someone who believes in theological, academic scholarship, the debate is very important, and there are two very distinct, opposite conclusions on what Scripture teaches about this issue. But at the end of the day, I want to encourage women in the pews of Christian churches everywhere to use their gifts in their denominational context.

At its core, the Christian faith is about knowing and worshiping God. There is a need to equip, train, and encourage women to do that in the context of all creedal churches. That means the lessons for egalitarians and complementarians are the same. The debate between egalitarianism and complementarianism, while at times hotly debated in terms of exegesis, ministry practice, and ordination, is not a gospel issue nor is it an essential of the Christian faith. The need for ministry to and for women is relevant to all evangelicals and Protestant churches regardless of denominational affiliation—not only in light of #MeToo and #ChurchToo issues but also because we all need to pro-actively disciple women and train women to disciple others.

The first section, with contributions from eight different women, is oriented toward a theology of women’s ministry. Did a consistent theme emerge?

The first section of this book really deals with the foundations of women’s ministry, which include studying the Word of God, having a robust theology of imago Dei, pursuing unity in the church, and discipling women through gospel friendships. The foundation for the discipleship of women has to be a theological one. In this section, writers first and foremost encouraged readers that ministry to women—and for that matter to men and youth of both genders—should be based on Scripture and provide a gospel-centered focus to all aspects of ministry.

What does shared male-female lay ministry look like in the church?

Scripture calls men and women to be co-laborers and co-heirs. With the ongoing debate about gender roles and male-female relationships—both in the church and outside—how do we reclaim that collaborative vision, again, irrespective of one’s view on women’s ordination? Remember that not all men in our churches are ordained ministers. In fact, the majority are not. We work together in the church by making spaces and ways for all laity, both men and women, to be encouraged and equipped to use their gifts in ministry, not so people can follow their proverbial passions, but so we can equip and disciple all of Christ’s church. That’s the goal as Jesus laid out in Matthew 28.

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Source: Christianity Today