Should Women Lead Music?

For discussion - does the New Testament allow women to lead music during worship services? What saith the Scriptures? I'm curious as to what this community thinks on this issue. In most fundamental-evangelical circles, this hasn't been traditionally done. Is this Biblical?

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Bert Perry's picture

Since most good pianists and organists happen to be female, and very often the man trying to lead music is really cuing off the pianist because that's the only way he knows to make it work, my older daughters (who both have earned partial scholarships in piano performance) note that in effect, women are already leading music.  Leading from behind, perhaps, to use the ballroom dancing picture, but leading nonetheless.  My daughters have led me from behind while I tried to "lead" congregational singing.  

Is this a big deal?  I don't think so; as long as you have some church leaders exercising some authority over what's played and sung, and if they're especially talented over the "mood" set by instrumentalists, I don't think it violates any notion of male headship or women acting in authority over men.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

My manhood is no less threatened by a woman leading singing, praying, or reading Scripture than it is by the Incredibles. the Berenstain Bears, or Inky Tinky.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

What about 1 Cor 14:33-34? How do y'all interpret this in context? I'm not trying to be tricky; I'm just curious what people think.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Ron Bean's picture

I'm looking forward to hearing the interpretations of I Cor. 14:33-34. I've seen the following:

-Women are to be totally silent except for congregational singing (no solos allowed).

-Women can sing, including solos, but not talk or pray aloud in a meeting. (one forbid female testimonies and prayer requests as well)

-One allowed a woman teaching or presenting her mission work as long as she wasn't behind the pulpit.

Thankfully, I've seen more sane interpretations,

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

We might look up 1 Cor. 14:35, where it notes that if the women want to "learn something", they ought to ask their husbands, no?  One might infer there that what's being said is that women were not to take part in what may have been some rather raucous discussion of theology that occurred on meeting day.  We might also look up 1 Cor. 14:26, where it's noted that "each of you" is bringing some contribution--psalm, prophecy, etc..--and wonder if Paul is not saying women ought totally be silent, but ought to be quiet during the time of theological instruction. 

You've also got Anna the Prophetess (Luke 2:36) as well.  I've got to wonder if what they're really getting at is that in a rather raucous meeting, they needed to reduce the number of debaters by half.  At any rate, some of the other implications of the passage might be seen as rather uncomfortable for us cessationists too, don't ya think?  Good implications for the discussion of teaching and Sunday School we've got going elsewhere, too. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Steve Davis's picture

What churches permit may depend on whether they follow the normative or regulative principle. We don't have a song leader, choir, or special music but in churches that do I don't see any scriptural reason why a woman couldn't lead in those situations under the authority of the elders. We do have a woman who "leads" from a keyboard. We have women read Scripture, translate, and hold communion trays as people come forward (we don't serve in the seats). We do not have women preach, lead communion, baptize, lead in (pastoral) prayer or give the final benediction, acts reserved for elders.

As for I Cor.14, here's what I think is a good response.

https://document.desiringgod.org/50-crucial-questions-about-manhood-and-...

AndyE's picture

The context of 1 Cor 14:34-35 is instruction by Paul regarding the order of a proper worship service. It appears that women may prophesy (14:31, “you can all prophesy one by one”) as long as proper covering/submission to authority is maintained (11:5), but this seems to be an activity of a different nature than the other verbal activities mentioned in this chapter, such as speaking in tongues (cf., 14:2-3), interpreting tongues (14:27), or weighing/judging the prophetic speech of others (14:29).  These last three are prohibited by verses 34-35.

1 Tim 2:12 also prohibits women from teaching or exercising authority oven the men in the church.  Men are to have the responsibility for teaching the adults of the church, and men are to be put in leadership positions of the church.  To me, that excludes women from leading the worship service or even mixed adult choirs in the context of a worship service.

LGCarpenter's picture

I had occasion to visit a church out of state this last Sunday and was surprised that the adult class I attended was taught by a woman.  The worship service was also led by a woman.  The only part led by a man was the introduction of the speaker, the sermon, and a closing after the sermon.

Mr. LaVern G. Carpenter

Proverbs 3:1-12

Steve Davis's picture

AndyE wrote:

The context of 1 Cor 14:34-35 is instruction by Paul regarding the order of a proper worship service. It appears that women may prophesy (14:31, “you can all prophesy one by one”) as long as proper covering/submission to authority is maintained (11:5), but this seems to be an activity of a different nature than the other verbal activities mentioned in this chapter, such as speaking in tongues (cf., 14:2-3), interpreting tongues (14:27), or weighing/judging the prophetic speech of others (14:29).  These last three are prohibited by verses 34-35.

1 Tim 2:12 also prohibits women from teaching or exercising authority oven the men in the church.  Men are to have the responsibility for teaching the adults of the church, and men are to be put in leadership positions of the church.  To me, that excludes women from leading the worship service or even mixed adult choirs in the context of a worship service.

I think you're hard pressed to show this is the order of a proper worship service normative for all churches. Paul is dealing with issues in the church where some women seem to be engaged in inappropriate activity (prophecy in the immediate context) and not in submission to leadership. I'm not sure it offers any support to prohibit women from leading mixed choirs. I'm not sure what "leading the worship service" means. 

TylerR's picture

One reason I'm asking this question is to consider whether the "women leading music = bad" is rooted in the Scripture, or in tradition. I believe (at least) two things should be considered with this question:

  1. What does it mean for a woman to "exercise authority" over a man in a corporate worship context? If the elders appoint a woman to lead music, is she "under authority," just like any person serving in church is?
  2. What does Paul mean when he said women must "keep silent" in 1 Cor 14, and how does this apply to a modern context?

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

AndyE's picture

TylerR wrote:

  1. What does it mean for a woman to "exercise authority" over a man in a corporate worship context? If the elders appoint a woman to lead music, is she "under authority," just like any person serving in church is?
  2. What does Paul mean when he said women must "keep silent" in 1 Cor 14, and how does this apply to a modern context?

To explain my view, being put in a position to lead means being given authority over those you are leading. Just because I have a boss doesn't mean I don't lead or exercise authority over those under me. How one is appointed and if they are under authority themselves, doesn't impact my thinking on it.  I believe the traditional position is biblically based. 

My earlier explanation of 1 Cor 14 didn't delve into any modern applications.  Based on my understanding, the things going on in 1 Cor 14 (tongues, interpreting tongues, prophecy in the sense of speaking direct revelation from God, judging if such revelation is actually from God) is not happening today, because those gifts have ceased. Consequently, what women are directed to keep quiet about, is not really happening.  An application, though, regarding the judging of revelation, is probably relevant, and worth a discussion about what it means today. I don't think it has a direct application to the question of leading music, though. 

TylerR's picture

Thanks. I get what you're saying.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Richard Brunt's picture

A number of years ago I visited a Mennonite Church and the teacher of the adult male Sunday School class was a woman.  She was the only woman in the class.  She did however,  have a head covering on to show submission to her husband.

Richard E Brunt

T Howard's picture

Because we could not afford a full-time worship leader or pastor, my church, in its past, had relied on part-time worship leaders who were women (no men who were musically inclined in my church wanted to do it). Both experiences ended up being unmitigated disasters. Never again while I'm an elder.

Lesson learned: violating Scripture out of expediency or pragmatism doesn't end well.

 

 

TylerR's picture

The question is whether it violates Scripture to have a woman lead music. Where is the legitimate line? Can you have a woman design and run a children's Sunday school program, complete with an approved budget in the thousands, but not lead the congregation in singing during the morning service?

Some say yes, others say no.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

T Howard's picture

Scripture says, "No." Leading a congregation in Scripture reading, prayer, and singing is both a leadership and teaching function that is reserved for men.

TylerR's picture

Will you ever allow a woman to publicly read Scripture on Sunday morning? Can a woman pray in public in your church? Can a woman teach children's Sunday school in your church?

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:
Will you ever allow a woman to publicly read Scripture on Sunday morning?

Of course, we have women reading the Scripture every Sunday in their Sunday school classes. (see below) But, we have our elders or our worship leader (who is male) lead the congregation in Scripture reading.

Quote:
Can a woman pray in public in your church?

Of course, but she cannot lead the congregation in prayer.

Quote:
Can a woman teach children's Sunday school in your church?

Of course, but she's not leading / teaching men.

TylerR's picture

Ok; thanks. This goes to the crux of the matter:

  1. Is a woman "exercising authority" when she's invited to real Scripture publicly, in a corporate worship setting? Why?
  2. Ditto for public prayer.
  3. Why is leading in song different than leading from the piano?
  4. How is a woman performing a "special" in front of the congregation different and allowable? Or, is it not allowable?  

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:

Ok; thanks. This goes to the crux of the matter:

  1. Is a woman "exercising authority" when she's invited to real Scripture publicly, in a corporate worship setting? Why?
  2. Ditto for public prayer.
  3. Why is leading in song different than leading from the piano?

Leading the congregation in Scripture reading in a corporate worship setting is a leading / teaching function.

Leading the congregation in prayer is also.

Playing music for the worship service is different than leading the congregation in corporate worship.

Our worship service doesn't include specials. If you want to sing, you sing with the rest of the worship team.

TylerR's picture

Got it.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

josh p's picture

I wrote a paper last semester on Tyler’s point two and was surprised to come to the conclusion that at least in the church service the answer might be no. 

Bert Perry's picture

No "special" music? I have to seriously consider Tom Howard's church!  :^)  (OK, OK, I've heard some good stuff, but some of the bad stuff makes me seriously want to consider throwing out the baby with the bathwater....)

Seriously, the point of male authority in key areas is well taken.  I just don't know that I can interpret 1 Cor. 14: 34-5 and such as forbidding women to make a peep in church at all.  That noted, the principle of authority is well taken; we're just, IMO, discussing where to draw a line.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:
Seriously, the point of male authority in key areas is well taken.  I just don't know that I can interpret 1 Cor. 14: 34-5 and such as forbidding women to make a peep in church at all.  That noted, the principle of authority is well taken; we're just, IMO, discussing where to draw a line.

Any role that involves leading / teaching the entire congregation is reserved for qualified male leaders (1 Tim 2:12). Leading the congregation in prayer is both an exercise of authority as well as a teaching function.  Pastors, when we lead our congregation in prayer, we're teaching our people how to pray and we should be teaching them sound theology.

There are certainly some gray areas we can discuss, but when we're talking about what takes place during corporate worship, the Bible provides repeated guidance on the need for qualified male leadership.

 

TylerR's picture

I asked a woman to lead singing this morning at church. She did so, did a lovely job, and I wasn't struck dead. 

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Ron Bean's picture

Were your men intimidated?

Did any of your men feel that their authority was being challenged?

Did she wave her arms?

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

None of that. The more cultural taboos (or, to be fair, what I interpret to be cultural taboos) I break, the more I see that people in the Pacific Northwest don't seem to care about the traditional hobby horses. I see nothing stopping a woman from leading the congregation in song, but tradition. I asked her to lead it, and she did - the same as the lady who kept the tune by playing the piano.

While I'm at it, I'll confess this:

  • I also allow women to do public Scripture reading
  • I allow women to pray publicly (the lady who led singing this morning did that, before we took the offering)
  • I'm going to have two women help distribute the elements for the Lord's Supper next week (along with two men), and 
  • I'm going to have women begin help collect the offering soon, too. 
  • I'm also appointing a woman to coordinate all music for the Sunday morning worship service, and lead singing, too. She'll set the song leading rotation and manage the program. 

Soon, Satan worship will break out from the pulpit. The slippery slope has begun.

In all seriousness, though, I felt enormously happy as this lady led singing. We have several highly skilled ladies in our church, who are quite good at singing and playing various instruments. If I followed the traditional pattern, they wouldn't be able to do it. Instead, they'd have to watch a man fumble around and lead singing, when they can do it 1000x better and exercise their gifts, under the authority of the pastors. Now, they can.

That's why I was happy.   

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Jay's picture

I've been struggling with this for the last two/three years or so.  I am very opposed to a woman leading the congregation in prayer (or the Scripture reading, for that matter, as I see both as Elder responsibilities), but considering that women are generally more adept at music, I don't have a problem with women musicians.  A woman lead the music ministry at my home church for many years, and did it very well, but the woman that took her place is (in my opinion) not as good.  To be fair, she also has massive shoes to fill.

When we joined our current church, I specifically discussed this with our pastor.  We disagreed politely, and I still was able to join the church, but there is some minor tension there between what I believe/affirm and our established practice.  We do have female deacons, if anyone is wondering, which I am OK with.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

TylerR's picture

My general approach is to integrate as many people from the congregation into the work of the ministry, especially on Sunday mornings. To that end:

  • We have a rotating number of church members who do Scripture reading, both men and women, along with children who have been baptized and made a credible profession of faith. A different person does Scripture reading every Sunday.
  • We will soon have a similar rotating group of church members (men and women) do announcements on Sunday morning
  • We just opened up song leading to men and women, and we'll have a similar rotating group who does this. We will soon have a woman coordinating this rotation. 
  • We'll soon do likewise with offerings and the Lord's Supper.
  • I appointed a woman to be in charge of the "visitor welcome" group, and she'll coordinate follow-up with new visitors and run that program. 
  • I've also formed a small group of people to help me revise the bylaws, among them two women. One used to run a local pregnancy care center ministry, and the other is in a senior management position with a State agency. Both have extensive leadership and management experience, and their help will be invaluable as the others pastor and I work through revising a set of incoherent bylaws. 
  • We're going to kick off an associate pastor search committee, and I invited a woman to be on the panel to assist us. 

The alternative is to have the associate pastor and I lead and do everything. Nope. We're using everyone to get the work done, and guess what? Lots of able, competent women are willing and eager to pitch in, under our leadership. Things are going well. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you allow the other 65% of the congregation (i.e. the women) to actually serve and do something besides nursery, playing piano and teaching little kids.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist