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Back and Forth: An Interactive Web-Based Conversation
A Biblical Vision -
Partners in Ministry
Welcome to my first “Back and Forth: An Interactive Web-Based Conversation.” The focus of this dialogue will be my current article in Worship Leader magazine, “A Biblical Vision: Partners in Ministry.”
Here’s how you can participate:
1. If you wish, you can simply read the article, clicking on any highlighted blue links if you want more information.
2. If you have any questions or comments about my article, or if you’d like clarification or want to raise an objection, simply send me an e-mail. In this e-mail please include:
• The sentence or section that has sparked your interest, so I can locate my response in the right place.
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• If you wish, you can respond to several sentences or sections in one e-mail. When you’re done writing, just send the message to me.
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(Note: I had thought that I’d simply put up an annotated version of my article. But I think the “Back and Forth” modality has greater possibilities. It means I can really respond to what’s on the minds of my readers, including you. And it keeps me from putting up all sorts of stuff that really isn’t relevant.)
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And now for the article . . . .
A Biblical Vision: Partners in Ministry
© Copyright Worship Leader 2004. All rights reserved. Please do not retrieve or reprint this article without the expressed permission of Worship Leader magazine. They are actually quite generous with giving permissions, by the way. For permission, contact the editor.
from Worship Leader, Nov/Dec 2004, pp. 15-17
|By the way, if you like this article, there are lots more like this in Worship Leader magazine. Regular columnists include such leading thinkers as Sally Morgenthaler and Robert Webber. Lots of album reviews, tech info, and personal stories as well. If you're not already a Worship Leader subscriber, I highly recommend it! -- Mark
|Click for subscription info
by Mark D. Roberts
Contemporary arguments for or against the inclusion of women in church leadership follow diverse paths. Some arguments focus on the interpretation of a few controversial biblical texts, while others stress the experiences of godly women. Some point to spiritual gifts, while others emphasize missional necessity. But, in my experience as a pastor and seminary professor, most Christians who wander into the thick forest of this conversation lack a broad biblical vision, a roadmap that can help them along the path to biblical obedience and divine blessing.
In this article I want to offer a glimpse of this panoramic vision. Though I can’t begin to address the myriad of scriptural details subsumed by this vision, I hope nevertheless to paint with a broad brush God’s intentions for humanity. This expansive picture will help us see and evaluate the biblical details from a fresh, truthful perspective. It will challenge both our scriptural interpretations and our practical applications.
Here is the biblical vision in a nutshell: God intends for men and women to be full partners in his work in the world. This work surely includes worship leadership, where the biblical case for partnership is especially clear, as we’ll soon see.
Partnership in Creation
Male-female partnership is featured in the opening chapters of the Bible. There God creates humanity in his own image, an image of male and female (Genesis 1:27). God assigns equally to both man and woman the responsibility of filling the earth and ruling over its creatures (verse 28). Leadership is to be exercised by man and woman working together.
Genesis 2 provides a different perspective on creation. In this chapter God first creates the man and then adds “a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18, NIV). The word “helper” in Hebrew carries no sense of subordination. In fact it usually speaks of the superior help God supplies (see Psalm 121:1-2). Yet the point of Genesis 2 is not the woman’s superiority, but rather the deep partnership between her and the man.
Partnership Distorted by Sin
This sweet beginning quickly turns sour, however, as sin distorts God’s intentions for man and woman. The first stated result of sin is brokenness in the relationship between the sexes (Genesis 3:7). This is reiterated when God says that, now, the man “will rule over” his wife (verse 16, NIV). The intimate, mutual, thoroughgoing partnership intended by God has been corrupted by sin.
The Old Testament supplies ample evidence of this corruption. Men generally rule without having women as their partners, often victimizing women in the process (for example, Genesis 12:10-20; Judges 19).
Old Testament Exceptions
Yet the Old Testament includes occasional exceptions to the rule of male dominance. Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, is a prophet who, along with her brothers, leads Israel out of bondage and Israel’s women in worship (Exodus 15:21-21, Micah 6:4). The most striking Old Testament example of female leadership is the case of Deborah who, as a prophetess and a judge, leads the entire nation of Israel (Jud 4-5). Though teamed up with the man Barak, she is the primary leader of God’s people, whom he blesses under her strong, maternal hand.
Partnership in the Ministry of Jesus
Although Jesus’s inner circle comprises twelve men, he is consistently inclusive of women, thus foreshadowing the partnership yet to come. Not only did Jesus always treat women with the respect, he included them among his students (Luke 10:38-42) and his traveling companions (Luke 8:1-3). Women bear witness to Jesus during his earthly life (John 4:28-30). Even more strikingly they are the first ones to announce the good news of the resurrection (Luke 24:1-12).
Yet, far more than his example, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus that enables the full restoration of the partnership between man and woman. The cross defeats sin and its power, thus leading to reconciliation, not only between humanity and God, but also between a divided humanity (see Ephesians 2:11-21, Galatians 3:23-29).
Pentecost, Partnership, and the Holy Spirit
At Pentecost Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to empower his disciples for ministry. In fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, the Spirit is poured out specifically upon both sexes: “[Y]our sons and daughters will prophesy . . . . Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit” (Acts 2:16-18, NIV). This means that women, along with men, will be empowered for ministry in the church, even the all-important ministry of prophesying (delivering God’s word with divine authority). God’s created intention of partnership between the sexes will, by his indwelling power, begin to thrive. Woman and men participate in God’s work, not because they have the right to do so, but because the Spirit equally endorses and empowers them.
In 1 Corinthians 12-14 the Apostle Paul spells out in detail the theological implications of the outpouring of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives various gifts to all believers so that they might build up the church. Paul neither states nor implies that certain gifts are given only to men or only to women. Rather, all gifts may be given to all people according to the Spirit’s own choice. When the community gathers, each person is expected to contribute to the assembly by teaching, or singing, or prophesying (14:26). In 14:34-35 Paul tells women who were interrupting the meetings with their inappropriate questions to keep quiet, but otherwise all people, both men and women, are encouraged to minister in all spiritual gifts.
Partnership in the Ministry of Paul
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Pauline letters contain numerous cases of male-female partnership. Yet, because we often associate Paul with a few passages that seem to limit the ministry of women, we might be surprised by what he actually says about women in his own ministry.
Consider Romans 16; Paul begins this chapter by commending a Christian woman named Phoebe, who has been active in Paul’s ministry and who is identified as a “deacon” (verse 1, NLT; from the Greek word, diakonos, sometimes translated as “minister” or “servant”). Next Paul greets Priscilla and Aquila, whom he calls his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (v. 3, NIV). This Christian couple leads a church that meets in their home (vv. 4-5). Later Paul mentions “Andronicus and Junia” who “are respected among the apostles” (v. 7, NLT). This verse has been controversial among interpreters because, when read literally, it identifies Andronicus (a man) and Junia (a woman) not only as “apostles,” but even as highly regarded apostles. It’s likely that Andronicus and Junia were a married couple, both of whom were active as church planters.
To cite one further example, in Philippians 4 Paul mentions that two women, Euodia and Syntyche, “have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers” (v. 3). Thus the Apostle Paul regularly included women in his apostolic ministry, utilizing their gifts as his full partners.
Problems in Corinth and Male-Female Partnership in Christ
Yet the partnership between the sexes didn’t get off to a smooth start in the first century. Given the fact that this sort of collegiality was socially suspect, and that men and women were not accustomed to participating together in corporate gatherings, and that most women were uneducated, and that women tended to be held in low esteem in first-century culture, and that women often associated religion with ecstatic and orgiastic behavior, the obstacles to male-female partnership were legion. Not only were some men disinclined to include women in ministry, but also some women interpreted their freedom in Christ as a license to minister independently of men and their concerns.
This happened in Corinth when women removed their head-coverings in the Christian gatherings even though this was culturally inappropriate, immodest, and troubling to the men of the congregation (1 Corinthians 11:2-16). In response to this behavior Paul clearly affirms the right of women to pray and prophesy in the assembly (verse 5). After all, they are gifted by the Spirit for such ministry, a ministry we would call worship leadership. Yet Paul insists that women must dress in a culturally appropriate manner and not neglect the concerns of their Christian brothers. Though women have the authority to decide what they wear on their own heads (verse 10), they must use this authority to build up the church and not merely for self-expression. Rejecting the women’s claim to independence from men, he writes, “But in relationships among the Lord’s people, women are not independent of men, and men are not independent of women. For although the first woman came from man, all men have been born from women ever since, and everything comes from God” (verses 11-12, NLT). In other words, God intends for both women and men to partner together, sharing jointly in the ministry of the Spirit so that the body of Christ might be built up. If women charge off and do their own thing without men, this is wrong. Of course the same could be said of men who abandon their female colleagues. In all of Christian ministry, and in worship leadership in particular, the sexes are not to function independently, but in partnership together.
Conclusion for Today’s Leaders
It’s sadly ironic that Paul’s discussion of the veiling of women, which was intended to support women’s ministry and strengthen their partnership with men, ended up being used throughout much of church history to limit the ministry of women. As Christianity penetrated the Roman Empire, one of the most male-dominated societies in history, and as male-female partnership in the church continued to be problematic, it was easy for the church to adopt the ways of the world. Neglecting God’s plan for partnership between the sexes, the church squelched the ministry of women.
There have been occasional exceptions to this rule throughout the centuries as the Spirit has continued to empower women for ministry. But even in churches that endorse the leadership of women, the exclusion of one sex, at least in part, is common. Usually this means that men are in charge and women are left out, though I have seen opposite cases as well.
I believe that virtually every church – and virtually every church leader, including every worship leader – has much to learn about the biblical vision for male-female partnership and how to live out this vision in practice. No matter what your church’s view on women in leadership, I’d expect that you could build a stronger and healthier partnership between the sexes. I know that my church and I could do better in this regard.
Some Practical Steps
Let me suggest a few practical steps to help us live out God’s vision. First, we need to study the Scriptures, not only our pet passages, but the broad sweep of God’s revelation. Let’s commit ourselves to thinking about this issue from a divine perspective, not a worldly one.
Second, we need to let the Spirit show us where we can bring our personal and corporate life into greater consistency with Scripture. Whether you’re a man or a woman, ask the Lord where you need to grow in this area, and how you might lead your church into a fuller partnership between the sexes.
Third, if you have been granted authority in church, use your authority for the fulfillment of God’s vision of gender partnership. In particular, ask the Lord how you might include the opposite sex more consistently in your own ministry. If you are a worship leader, consider how the worship of your congregation might more faithfully reflect the fact that the Spirit has been poured out equally upon both men and women.
History shows us that a thoroughgoing partnership between the sexes isn’t easily achieved or maintained. But as we are inspired by God’s vision and seek to live it out, we’ll discover the blessings that come as men and women partner together in Christian ministry.
|By the way, if you have liked this article, there are lots more like this in Worship Leader magazine. Regular columnists include such leading thinkers as Sally Morgenthaler and Robert Webber. Lots of album reviews, tech info, and personal stories as well. If you're not already a Worship Leader subscriber, I highly recommend it! -- Mark
|Click for subscription info
If you have questions or comments, please e-mail Mark.
Comments and Commentary:
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The word “helper” in Hebrew carries no sense of subordination. In fact it usually speaks of the superior help God supplies (see Psalm 121:1-2).
Question: About the Meaning of “Helper” in Genesis 2:18
In your article, you say: “The word ‘helper’ in Hebrew carries no sense of subordination. In fact it usually speaks of the superior help God supplies (see Psalm 121:1-2).” This is not the way I’ve heard Bible teachers interpret this verse and the meaning of “helper.” Can you explain your viewpoint and give more proof for your position?
This is a crucial question. I also was once taught that the woman as “helper” is in a subordinate role to the man. But when I studied Hebrew in graduate school, I came to a different understanding of what the Hebrew word “helper” really means.
In Genesis 2, in spite of the goodness of his overall work, God recognizes that "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner" (2:18, NRSV). The NIV reads, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” In the classic language of the King James Version, God will make "an help meet for him." This passage has usually been understood as placing the man in authority over the woman, who is his helper, his assistant or “helpmeet.” But this interpretation misses the basic biblical sense of the word "helper" (ezer in Hebrew).
Ezer is used twenty times in the Hebrew Bible outside of Genesis 2 (not counting its use as a name; see the chart below). In most cases it has the general meaning of “helper.” In nineteen of the twenty uses, the sense of ezer is very clear: the helper is a stronger agent who provides assistance for one who is weaker. In fifteen of the twenty uses, the help comes directly from God. Take the beloved Psalm 121, for example, "I lift up my eyes to the hills -- from where will my help [ezer] come? My help [ezer] comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1-2) Or there's Psalm 33:20: "Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help [ezer] and shield." The most obvious reading of Genesis 2:18, therefore, is that God will create a helper who is more capable than the man, and anything but his subordinate. In fact, from the meaning of ezer alone, one could argue for the superiority of the woman over the man.
But the term "helper" is qualified by "as his partner" (or "meet for him"). The point of the Hebrew expression so translated is to emphasize the equality or parity between the man and the woman. She is not his superior even though she is his ezer. This fundamental equality is underscored by the creation of the woman from the rib the man, neither from his head or his feet (2:21). Although the woman is not just the same as the man, her complementarity does not negate her sharing in everything the man is: "This at least is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (2:23).
If you’re stuck with a subordinate sense of “helper,” consider these analogies. Sometimes I am the helper of my children as they do their homework. I come along as someone who has superior knowledge and even authority. But at other times my children are my helpers when I’m working in the yard. Now I’m still the authority. I tell them where to weed the garden, for example. So they are helpers in the subordinate sense. 95% of the time the Bible uses the word ezer, it does so in the first sense, where the helper is the stronger party (usually God).
For a very helpful and balanced online study of Genesis 1-3, check out this excellent piece by Don Williams, a Vineyard pastor and theologian.
Here are all the biblical uses of the Hebrew word ezer:
Gen. 2:18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner."
Gen. 2:20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.
Ex. 18:4 and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, "The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh").
Deut. 33:7 And this he [Moses] said of Judah: O LORD, give heed to Judah, and bring him to his people; strengthen his hands for him, and be a help against his adversaries.
Deut. 33:26 There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, majestic through the skies. 27 He subdues the ancient gods, shatters the forces of old; he drove out the enemy before you, and said, “Destroy!”
Deut. 33:29 Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph! Your enemies shall come fawning to you, and you shall tread on their backs.
1Sam. 7:10 As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel; but the LORD thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel. 11 And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as beyond Beth-car. 12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
Ps. 20:1 The LORD answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you! 2 May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion.
Psa. 33:18 Truly the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, 19 to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. 20 Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield.
Psa. 70:4 Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you. Let those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!” 5 But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!
Ps. 89:19 Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said: "I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people. [Note: a textually odd verse. The presence of ezer here is questionable.]
Psa. 115:9 O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield. 10 O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield. 11 You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.
Ps. 121:1 I lift up my eyes to the hills-- from where will my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
Ps. 124:8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
Ps. 146:5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God, 6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; 7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.
Isa. 30:5 everyone comes to shame through a people that cannot profit them, that brings neither help nor profit, but shame and disgrace.
Ezek. 12:14 I will scatter to every wind all who are around him, his helpers and all his troops; and I will unsheathe the sword behind them.
Dan. 11:33 The wise among the people shall give understanding to many; for some days, however, they shall fall by sword and flame, and suffer captivity and plunder. 34 When they fall victim, they shall receive a little help, and many shall join them insincerely.
Hos. 13:9 I will destroy you, O Israel; who can help you?
In seven OT texts, Ezer is a name of a person: Neh. 3:19; 12:42; 1Chr 4:4; 7:21; 12:9; 25:4; 25:31.
. . . women often associated religion with ecstatic and orgiastic behavior . . .
In your article under “Problems in Corinth” you make a statement that “women often associated religion with ecstatic and orgiastic behavior…” Can you further explain this and give me sources for your comments?
Yes, indeed. Thanks for an excellent question.
By and large, women in the Greco-Roman world were held under the thumb of oppressive male authority (which is not to say that all male authority is necessarily oppressive, by the way). With a few exceptions, women lived all of their lives under the absolute authority of some man, usually their father and then their husband. Women were, for the most part, to stay out of public life. They had relatively few opportunities for education or financial advancement.
But religion provided an opportunity for freedom, of a sort. In some of the cults that thrived in the Roman Empire during the first century A.D., women could be priestesses or prophetesses. In other religions they had the opportunity to cast off social decorum and experience a liberation from all restraint, including the established morays for decency and sexual behavior.
One clear example comes from the cult of the Greek god Dionysus (known and Bacchus among the Romans). Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, whose worship included such things as drunkenness, wild dancing, and unbound sexual promiscuity. In Roman times, the so-called mysteries of Dionysus were especially attractive to women. Here they could throw off their shackles, so to speak, and experience induced ecstasy, not to mention sexual license.
Many of the early Christians were converts from paganism, including the popular cult of Dionysus. It would be only natural for these converts to assume that some of what they had experienced in the worship of Dionysus would be practiced in the worship of Jesus Christ. This may very well explain, for example, some of the excesses among the Corinthian women (interrupting gatherings by speaking in unknown languages, taking off veils, etc.; see, for example, the fine study by Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger, “Pandemonium and Silence at Corinth.” For a general background, see the article “Dionysiac Mysteries” at the Theology Website.)
Why is this bit of first-century history and cultural so important? Because it helps to explain why the early church needed, in some settings, to crack down on the excesses of women in the church. Because women were free to minister in the Christian gatherings, some brought in baggage from their pagan background. This necessitated an adjustment in the freedom given to women.
In 1 Corinthians 11, for example, Paul explained that women were free to pray and prophesy in the assembly (1 Cor 11:5), but that they should do so with their veils on (unlike what they would have done in the rite of Dionysus). Why was this so important? Well, for one thing, in first-century Greek culture, an unveiled woman was sexually provocative. It would be like if a woman were to wear lingerie to church today. So, in deference to men, the Christian women were to remain veiled. Moreover, it was a high priority for the early church to distinguish itself from the pagan cults that were Christianity’s chief religious competitors. If women (and men) acted just like the pagans did, then their distinctiveness as God’s holy people would be lost.
The key practical and theological point here is that freedom in Christ is not unbridled. Just because we’re free from the law, weren’t not therefore entitled to do whatever we darn well please. Our behavior as Christians must always be weighed in light of the Scriptural guidance, and interpreted in light of cultural standards. In first-century Corinth, it was wrong from women to go unveiled. Why? Because it violated the principle of loving concern for others in the church in that time and place. But today in Western society the veil does not have the meaning and power it once had in the ancient world. So a woman who ministers without a veil on her head is not out of line, unless she is dressing in a way that would be considered sexually provocative in our own culture.
History shows us that a thoroughgoing partnership between the sexes isn’t easily achieved or maintained.
Question 1 from a Female Worship Leader
My Pastor and I have an excellent working relationship, we compliment each other very well. We respect and honor each other. How does one keep it from becoming too intimate a relationship?
First of all, simply being aware and careful is a great start. Sometimes we kid ourselves about the emotional and erotic potential in male-female relationships. Your awareness is key. You’re on the right track.
Second, both you and your pastor need to continue to be self-aware and truly honest with yourselves. In my experience, most Christians get into trouble when a relationship begins to have the slightest twinge of something beyond ministry partnership and friendship, yet they don’t deal with these feelings while they’re still in infancy. In a nutshell, I’m talking about denial. Since we Christians know that adultery is wrong, we tend to deny even the slightest attraction to someone of the opposite sex, other than to our spouse. But this sort of dishonesty keeps us from dealing honestly with ourselves and from making tough choices that will keep us from real sin.
Third, both you and your pastor need to have a person in your life with whom you can be completely honest about what’s happening in your relationship. This can be with your spouses, but sometimes this is tricky. It may be hard for you to say to your husband, “I had the slightest feeling of attraction to my pastor today.” But you need to say this to someone! I’d recommend that you have a Christian woman in your life with whom you will be completely honest – someone you can call in the middle of the night, if necessary – and who will hold you accountable. Your pastor should have a man in a similar position.
Fourth, I’d recommend that you are very careful about the contexts in which you and your pastor are alone together. Too much privacy can be a real problem. I worked very closely with a female worship leader for a number of years. We had a great working relationship and friendship. Period. Our one-on-one meetings were always during office hours at church, when lots of people were in the building. If I met her for a working meeting over coffee, it was always in a very public place near church.
Fifth, I’d limit physical contact between the two of you, especially when you’re alone together. A friendly hug in public can be okay, depending on a variety of factors. But when you’re alone you should avoid even this. Your relationship should be very businesslike in private.
I know I might sound paranoid to some folks by saying these things, but I’ve seen ministry relationships between a man and a woman start with the best of godly intentions and end with adultery, more than once, in fact. This leads some folk to conclude that men and women should never work closely together, but I think this is an overreaction. However, I believe we need to be very careful in such a relationship, especially when it involves lots of working together.
Finally, let me add that the best insurance against adultery is a solid marriage. Throughout my ministry I’ve worked with dozens of situations that have involved marital infidelity. Every single time one of the root causes of the adultery is a struggling marriage. So, let me encourage you to keep your marriage strong and vital. I’d pass on the same to your pastor.
Question 2 from a Female Worship Leader
Recently, our congregation has seen a grass roots revival stirring in the hearts of the women within our body. Our women's ministry is flourishing and women are really seeking to go deeper in relationship with the Lord. But our men's ministry is stagnate - even though we have strong, godly men in all key areas of ministry, including our pastor, youth pastor, worship pastor and small group's director. The women want to see this revival continue within our body, but want the men of our body to rise up to their roles as spiritual leaders, in the church and home. We don't want to take over and force this stirring, but we want the men to catch this vision and move forward with it. Any ideas or comments?
This is an excellent practical question. And, frankly, the situation you describe is quite common, both in churches and in families. Women often have to have a deeper yearning for God than men. Thus they are often the ones who kindle the sparks of revival as the Spirit lights them. Of course there are many instances in which revival comes through men as well. But, statistically speaking, I think you’d find that women in our culture are frequently more in touch with the Spirit than men.
Before I answer your specific question with some practical advice, I want to make a more theoretical observation.
I don’t think anybody knows exactly why women are often more in touch with the Spirit than men, though we can speculate. My speculation points to what I believe to be an inherent receptiveness in womankind, a sensitivity that may well be related to woman’s being created for motherhood. Yet when this sensitivity is directed to the Lord, it helps women to be much more receptive, open, and, yes, even submissive to God than men. Thus the Spirit of God has more freedom to work among women, in many cases, than among men.
Now I could be wrong about this explanation, of course. But, whether I’m right or wrong, the fact that women are often more in touch with the Spirit than men helps to explain why I believe partnership between men and women is so vital in the church (and family, for that matter). Godly leadership begins with humility before God, with openness to the Lord’s leading, with a willingness to submit to God’s sovereignty, and with sensitivity to the Spirit. IF women generally are, by virtue of their created distinctiveness, more apt to be humble, open, submissive, and sensitive than men, then the church desperately needs the servant leadership that women have been created to offer.
You’ll sometimes find people arguing that because women have been created to be more submissive, this means they shouldn’t be leaders in the church. But I’d argue that IF women have indeed been created to be more submissive, then this is precisely why the church desperately needs their leadership. Christian leadership, unlike that of the world, begins in humble submission to God, not in grabbing hold of one’s authority. (By the way, I'm not sure it's best to say that women were created to be more submissive. I think sensitivity, tenderness, and humility are the traits that tend to be more present in women than in men. These can lead a woman to be more readily submissive.)
So, what’s happening in your church illustrates wonderfully the need for men and women to share in partnership together as leaders in Christ’s church.
Now to the practical advice you were seeking in the first place.
You are right to stay away from trying “to take over and force this stirring.” Genuine spiritual revival is a work of the Holy Spirit, not human pressure. Any attempt to force the men to be more spiritual would backfire, not only because the men would tend to resist being forced, but also because you can’t force the Spirit to work in people’s hearts.
So what can the women do? First and most important, you and your sisters can pray. I know this sounds like a pat Christian answer, but I believe it with all of my heart. Prayer fertilizes spiritual revival like nothing else. I say this as one who just tonight spent an hour in prayer with leaders from my church. Prayer should be you’re number one priority.
Second, the women of your church can demonstrate the fruit of genuine revival in your own lives: in your marriages, in your families, in your friendships, etc. As you do this, the men will see that something is going on. They’ll be curious and, ultimately, eager to experience what they see in you.
Third, don’t assume that spiritual revival will come through the men’s ministry. God may want to use another avenue for renewal in your church.
Fourth, praise God that you have such strong, godly men in leadership of your church. Perhaps there could be settings where these men could be praying along with some of the on-fire women. I’m not talking about one man/one woman prayer partnerships, by the way, but larger groups. Maybe the women’s ministry could invite your pastor and other leaders to some sort of regular prayer gathering.
Fifth, you and the rest of the women should not be afraid to express clearly and boldly what God is doing in your lives. This will both challenge and encourage the men.
Sixth, at all costs, avoid nagging and blaming. Sometimes women who feel powerless in relationship to men resort to behaviors that only make men less receptive, both to them and to the Lord. A wife who wants her husband to exercise more leadership at home, for example, might nag him about it and even criticize him for being weak. This approach almost guarantees a negative result.
Seventh, the on-fire women should be sure to encourage the men when they exercise spiritual leadership. Whereas nagging and blaming make matters worse, genuine encouragement and gratitude will fan the flame of revival among the men.
Note: I’ve given these practical bits of advice to you and your sisters in Christ. But what I’ve said would apply if this note had been from a man who wanted to see the women in his church grow in their spiritual passion.
Conclusion: I pray that God will continue to fan the flames of renewal in your church, so that all members, both male and female, will be more committed to Jesus Christ and more passionate about serving him in the world.