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Elizabeth Millar: A Woman’s Role

Elizabeth Millar

Dr. Elizabeth Millar is a storyteller for Vision Ministries Canada (a network of churches with a focus on church planting), a spiritual director, and has been a pastor’s wife and a Charlotte Mason educator for over 25 years. Her theological interests include practical theology, corporate and monastic prayer, sacred storytelling, women’s spiritual autobiographical writing, and mothering. She lives in Montague, Prince Edward Island. 

Growing up in a strict complementarian environment, a woman’s role was ascribed as helper and marked by submission and often silence. Marriage, childbearing, and homemaking were often upheld as the preferred honorable and godly roles for women. When it came to participation in the local church, leadership roles (like eldership, preaching, public prayer, etc) were reserved for men. I loved the local church (and still do!) so I eagerly participated in whatever way I could. I was elected to be part of the youth leadership team and took on leadership roles at our local Bible camp, Sunday school, and occasionally in the church service as pianist or organist. I listened to my father’s Preaching Today cassette tapes that he would receive in the mail, and also read his copies of the magazine Leadership Today. I was interested in the church and ministry in general; however, I never considered church or full time ministry as a career since I didn’t want to be a missionary (lacked the gift of evangelism) and was not really gifted for worship. Marriage and homemaking were the appropriate outlets. Maybe I could marry a pastor!

In God’s grace, I met a wonderful man who was working in the inner city as a missionary/pastor for a local church - I married a pastor! As a young wife and mother, I earnestly tried to submit, let him lead, let him make the final decision, and generally look to my husband as the final authority. These unrealistic and unhealthy expectations on both our parts led to frustration, resentment, and a realization that my husband and I needed each other. Just common sense and shared history together told me that sometimes he had expertise and sometimes I did. Marriage experience taught me that mutual submission, respect and love were the practical keys to happy relationship. Early on in our marriage, we decided to cheer each other on as much as possible. I did not realize it at the time, but this sense of mutuality led to a very satisfying marriage relationship and encouragement for both of us to pursue our callings.

It is ironic to note that it was within these experiences of marriage and motherhood that my views on the role of women were challenged. Marriage led me to this idea of mutuality and cooperatively working together as men and women; and mothering gave me respect and affection for being a woman. In fact, my feminist spirit was born during those early years of mothering as I experienced the great wonders that my maternal body was capable of. After giving birth to our 10 lb 2oz daughter in a Canadian Tire blow-up swimming pool in our living room one February morning, I asked my husband if he was jealous of me and the amazing things I could do: (he was not jealous, but he too was in awe!) Through marriage, pregnancy, and giving birth, I gained a new respect for being created a woman and having a female body. It began a 20-year journey of discerning what God thought about women and how God wanted men and women to interact with each other.

Prompted by my marriage and mothering experience, followed by much theological study (including a class with Cynthia Long Westfall - author of Paul and Gender), and reflecting on the presence and character of God through spiritual direction, I believe that women and men reflect the image of God and are to fully participate according to their gifts in the work of the church. Theological study and prayer taught me that gender is secondary in the kingdom of God. Although my womanhood is a good and beautiful thing (despite the patriarchy and cultural messages that sometimes say otherwise), it is my adoption into the family of God and the new creation that God has made me that is higher priority. I appreciate my womanhood and value the role of wife and mother that I have had for the last 25 years at home raising and schooling our five children. I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had to invest in these people and to create a beautiful circle of love in our home. However, I know that while these roles that my gender has allowed me to fulfill are good and important, my calling as a servant of Christ pulls rank.

I believe that men and women are created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26-27)

I believe that the mandate to rule the earth and to be fruitful is given to men and women. (Genesis 1:28)

I believe that sin has affected men and women, in terms of the struggle of work and broken relationships (God, others, self). (Genesis 3:16-19)

I believe that Jesus offers salvation and grace to men and women, and calls everyone to be new creations in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:14 - 6:2)

I believe that the Holy Spirit equips men and women with gifts for their specific callings, so everyone can live the Good News of Jesus accordingly. (Romans 8:1-17, 5:15-16, I Corinthians 15:45, 2 Corinthians 3:5)

I believe that Paul teaches that belonging to the family of God is priority, not one’s race, gender or social standing. (Galatians 3:18)

I believe that God would like the relationship between men and women to be built on a strong sense of mutuality and interdependence, characterized by love and respect. (Genesis 2:23-25, Romans 12:10, I Corinthians 7:3-5, Galatians 3:28, Galatians 5:13, Ephesians 5:21-32, Philippians 2:3, Colossians 3:18) 


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Great article!

I also believe "that the mandate to rule the earth and to be fruitful is given to men and women." The relationship between man and woman prior to the Fall was not as a leader/assistant, but a leader/leader! They were created equal, as partners, sharing the task and responsibility to lead and rule over Creation. The New Testament commandment to submit to one another redeems this concept of parity and reciprocity!

If I may, I would like to share an article about female leadership, in the context of the local church, namely about Phoebe: (The article is in portuguese, but you may activate the automatic translation at the right top menu.)

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