ep. 90 Women's Roles in the Church

Mary Willson

ep. 90 | Women's Roles in the Church with Mary Willson

On today’s episode of the Journeywomen podcast, I’m chatting with Mary Willson about women’s roles in the church. When Mary and I started talking I may have admitted to my armpits sweating a little bit while I’m sitting here recording in the closet, as this can be a bit of a sensitive topic, but as the conversation progressed it was clear that Mary is someone who dialogues with loads of grace. I hope you’ll listen like you’re sitting across the table from us as we discuss everything from where we see women exercising their spiritual gifts in the Scriptures, to the Biblical instruction for women’s roles in the Church.

We’re praying this conversation will serve as a catalyst to dig into the Word and to pursue further dialogue with women in your own local churches. Ultimately, our hope is that you’ll walk away encouraged to joyfully celebrate the importance God has placed on women’s roles in the body. So you’ll know our guest a little better, Mary Willson serves at Second Presbyterian in Memphis, TN as the director of women in ministry. Along with being trained in the local-church context, she received formal theological training at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (MDiv; ThM) and at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (PhD). Mary enjoys teaching and training others to teach the Scriptures, especially in the local-church context.

  1. Can you tell us a little about who you are and what you do?

  2. What does it look like for you to exercise your gifts within the context of your local church body?

  3. Where do we see women in scripture exercising their God-given gifts?

  4. What is the biblical instruction for women’s roles in the church?

  5. In light of these passages, what does it look like for women to exercise their spiritual gifts within the church while living in obedience to God’s Word?

  6. Can you offer a brief overview of alternate interpretations of these texts? How can we embrace our brothers and sisters who maintain a different view?

  7. Why is it important that we seek to understand women’s roles in the context of our local church body?

  8. Practically speaking, what tips do you have for cultivating effective partnership in ministry between men and women within the local church?

  9. How can we joyfully celebrate God’s good design for men and women in the context of the local church?


  1. What 3 resources would you recommend for someone who wants to grow in their understanding of women’s roles in the church?

  2. What are your 3 simple joys?

  3. Who has had the greatest impact on your own journey with Jesus?


“We see women all throughout the Bible exercising a wide array of gifts.”

“Genesis 1 tells us that God created both Adam and Eve in the image of God. He blesses both of them. He gives both of them dominion over his creation. Those are enormous gifts of grace that God is bestowing on both Adam and Eve. God bestows on Eve the gift of being created in his image, and that entails a special status and a special vocation. He gives her the gift of receiving his blessing and being called for a particular mission to fulfill and subdue the earth alongside her husband.”

“God creates Eve as Adam’s helper. That is a gift… a noble designation. It’s a role of strength and privilege. In the Old Testament, God calls himself Israel’s helper.”

“For image bearers east of Eden, exercising our God-given gifts can be really painful.”

“Throughout Scripture we see a wide array of what it means for women to exercise their gifts.”

“Women are right at the heart of what God is aiming to accomplish.”

“The Bible instructs women to put their faith in Jesus Christ and become part of the Church. That is the main role of women in the Church: belonging to Jesus and belonging to one another as family in the Church.”

“God ordained distinctions between men and women at creation. Those distinctions ought to come to expression in marriage and in the Church.” 

“The mystery of union in marriage points to the relationship of Christ and the church. We aren’t talking about some humdrum realities here. We are talking about something glorious.”

“1 Corinthians 11 does deal with a trans-cultural principal that is male-headship and God ordained authority structures. The point of our objective is not to apply Paul’s application of that principal, the head coverings. We apply the principal.” 

“It’s important for the glory of God. He calls us to work these matters out in the context of the local church, it’s his ordained community that is for our good. The Bible is not some exhaustive manual for how to handle every situation. The Bible is God’s personal speech to his people in which he gives us truth that we then by the power of his Spirit take and live out in our different callings and contexts. We’ve got to work this out in our particular church and in our particular context.”

“One danger as we work these things out in our particular context is that sometimes we aren’t clear with one another and maybe even in our own minds and hearts, the difference between what the Scripture clearly teaches and what we are inferring with our own best judgement. Everyone is extrapolating in some sense. We are all making our best judgements in some sense about how to take what God says with clarity and how to apply that in our particular church structures and our particular cultural moment. I think it’s really important as we do this in the local church always to bear in mind, ‘this is what God clearly teaches us in the Scriptures and this is what we are inferring based on that. It’s our best judgement.’”

“Pray for our local church leaders.”

“Prayer is powerful to change our hearts.”

“We have to be sober-minded about the painful realities around us.”

“Let’s celebrate that God has designed to build a family. A family where there is unity amidst diversity.”

“We are this living organism of diverse and beautiful people. Celebrating our differences helps us to see the beauty of God and of his reconciling work. We don’t want to eradicate our distinctions, we want to honor them and enjoy them.”


The Scripture

Women and God by Kathleen Nielson

Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles by Kathy Keller

His Testimonies, My Heritage: Women of Color on the Word of God by Kristie Anyabwile

Biographies of Different Women


Time with her nieces and nephews

Reading books that are compilations of letters

Sleeping in


Romans 16

Ephesians 5

1 Timothy 2

1 Corinthians 14

1 Corinthians 11

Galatians 3:28


  1. Where do we see women exercising their design in the Scriptures?

  2. What is our God-given design as women?

  3. What does it look like to joyfully celebrate God’s good design for men and women in the context of the local church?

  4. How are you exercising your God-given gifts in the context of your local church?

  5. How can we love others when we hold differing views?

  6. What are you going to do or implement as a result of what you’ve learned this week?


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