5 Lies the Church Tells Women

[Note: This article is taken from J. Lee Grady’s book Ten Lies the Church Tells Women. I do not subscribe to everything in this book, particularly the author’s belief that there are no restrictions to women in the church. I do not agree that the office of pastor and elder are open to women, though I believe God has given many women, including me, the spiritual gift of pastor-teacher (which some find easier to receive when it’s called “shepherd-teacher”). At Probe, we exhort people to be discerning in what we hear and read. Mr. Grady’s book is firmly in the egalitarian camp, but as a complementarian who seeks to be discerning, I can recognize the truth of some of what he says without embracing what I believe is unbiblical. Please see the end of this article for other articles on the role of women I have written for our Web site.]

In this article I look at five lies the church tells women, inspired by the book by J. Lee Grady called Ten Lies the Church Tells Women.{1} I’m not saying all churches say all these things, but there are certain pockets of Christianity where these lies are circulated.

Lie #1: God Created Women as Inferior Beings, Destined to Serve Their Husbands.

The first lie is that God created women as inferior beings, destined to serve their husbands. Those looking for Scripture to back up their beliefs point to Genesis 2:18, where God makes a “helpmeet” for Adam. “See?” they say. “Helpers are subordinate to the ones they help, which proves women are here to serve men.” This ignores the times in the Psalms (10:14, 27:9, 118:7) where God is praised as our helper, and He is certainly not inferior or subordinate to us!

Lee Grady points out, “[I]t is a cultural bias, not a spiritual or scientific principle, that women were ‘made’ for the kitchen or laundry room. This is the most common form of male chauvinism, a burden placed on women by selfish men who want someone to wash their dishes.”{2}

This view that women are inferior to men is not biblical, but it has infected the church from the beginning.

The Greek culture into which the early church was born viewed women as “half animal,” unworthy of education, to be kept quiet and kept locked away, obedient to their husbands. In Jewish culture it was considered inappropriate for a man to even speak to a woman in public–including his own wife. A woman speaking to a man who was not her husband was considered to be giving evidence that she had committed adultery with him, and could be divorced. You can imagine the scandal Jesus caused when he regularly sought the company of women and talked to them, and taught them, just as he did men. Or when he allowed prostitutes to talk to him or pour perfume on his feet.{3}

Eve was not created to be Adam’s servant, but his honored and respected wife and co-regent, fashioned to rule over creation with him. We see another picture of God’s intention for the first Adam and Eve in our future as the church. The bride of the Second Adam, Christ, is created and is being fashioned to reign with Him forever.{4}

Lee Grady says, “Jesus modeled a revolutionary new paradigm of empowerment by affirming women as co-heirs of God’s grace.”{5} Paul continued this completely new, respectful view of women by inviting women to share in the ministry of the gospel and the church, and by teaching the equality of husbands and wives in the marriage relationship (although there is a biblical distinction of roles).

When God created woman, He didn’t create an inferior being, He created what He delights to call “the glory of man.”(1 Cor. 11:7)

Lie #2: A Man Needs to “Cover” a Woman in Her Ministry Activities.

The second lie is that a man needs to “cover” a woman in her ministry activities. “In many cases, leaders have innocently twisted various Bible verses to suggest that a woman’s public ministry can be valid only if she is properly ‘covered’ by a male who is present. Often women are told that they cannot even lead women’s Bible studies or prayer meetings unless a pastor, deacon or some other man can provide proper oversight.”{6}

One woman was told that she could not start a backyard Bible school class in her neighborhood during the summer unless her husband agreed to be present at each session and teach all the Bible lessons. Her church elders said she could plan each day’s crafts and make all the snacks, but a man had to conduct the “spiritual” aspects of the outreach since he is the proper “covering.”{7}

It is disturbing to think of the implication of this belief. When we, as women, use our spiritual gifts and respond to God’s call to minister in various ways (within the biblical restrictions for women) without a man present, is our ministry less legitimate and valid than a man doing the same work? What if a woman with the spiritual gift of evangelism senses the Holy Spirit directing her to speak to the cashier at the gas station, and there’s no man around? On a personal note, when I am speaking at one of Probe’s Mind Games conferences, do my lectures lack legitimacy or truth because the male Probe staff members are busy teaching in other rooms?

Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Out of respect for our own weaknesses and limitations, I believe that all of us who wish to minister to others should pursue an attitude of humble submission to the body of Christ. We need to submit our beliefs and methods (and content, if we’re teaching) to trusted believers who can provide support, direction, and, if needed, correction. And anyone engaged in ministry needs prayer support, which some have called a “prayer covering;” although that is not a biblical term.

But there is no verse that says, “If a woman teaches My word, make sure a man is present so she will be covered properly.” Paul’s instruction that older women teach the younger women doesn’t include making sure that someone with a Y chromosome is present! What underlies this erroneous idea that a man’s presence somehow validates any woman’s ministry is, intentional or not, a profound disrespect and distrust of women.

Lie #3: Women Can’t be Fulfilled or Spiritually Effective Without a Husband or Children.

The third lie is that women can’t be fulfilled or spiritually effective without a husband or children. Some churches teach that God’s perfect plan for every woman is to be a wife and mother. Period. Sometimes Christian women successful in business or some other professional field are made to feel unwelcome at a church, as if they are an unhealthy influence on “purer” women.

In some places, single women are prevented from leading home fellowship groups because they’re single.{8} Others have been discouraged from running for political office or pursuing a graduate education because God’s plan was for them to marry and keep house–even when God hadn’t brought a groom into the picture!

Lee Grady says, “We must stop placing a heavy yoke on unmarried and divorced women in the church by suggesting that they are not complete without a man in their lives or that a husband somehow legitimizes their ministries.”{9}

In some churches, women are routinely taught that the best way for them to serve God is to get married, make their husbands happy, and have children. They think this should be the sole focus of women’s lives. And to be honest, when God has given a woman a husband and children, especially young children, focusing her primary energies and gifting on her family truly is the most important way she serves God in that season of her life. Children will not be impressed with how many Bible studies their mother teaches each week. And most husbands will be less than enthusiastic for their wives to go off on several mission trips each year when it means the home is falling apart and everybody’s life is in chaos.

But women, even women with families, are given spiritual gifts that God intends for us to use to build up the body of Christ, both inside and outside our families. When we exercise those spiritual gifts and abilities, God delights to honor us with a sense of fulfillment. And usually that involves ministry in the church or in the world, as long as it’s secondary to our family priorities.

But not all women are called to marriage and motherhood. It is disrespectful to single Christian women to treat them as second-class women because they don’t wear a wedding ring. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating when a woman would love to be married, but God hasn’t brought her to the man of His choice; it just adds unnecessary sorrow for the church to say, “Sorry, honey, without a man you don’t have a place here.”

Lie #4: Women Should Never Work Outside the Home.

The fourth lie is that women should never work outside the home. Women who take jobs are shamed and judged, because they can’t please God if they do anything outside of being a wife and mother.

This is a hurtful lie to many women who don’t have a choice about working or not. There are huge numbers of divorced and widowed women in the church who would much rather stay at home with their families, but they’re the only breadwinners. And for many two-parent families, they honestly can’t survive on the husband’s paycheck alone.

This lie comes from a misreading of Paul’s exhortation in Titus 2:4 for women to be “workers at home.”

Paul wasn’t calling them to quit their day jobs to stay home. Women in that culture had no education and usually no opportunities for employment. He was addressing a character issue about being faithful and industrious, not lazy and self-centered. This letter was written to the pastor of a church on Crete, a society known for the laziness and self-indulgence of its people.{10}

Before the 1800’s and the Industrial Revolution, both men and women worked at home, and they worked hard. Whether farming, fishing, animal husbandry, or whatever trade they engaged in, they did it from home. The care and nurture of children was woven into the day’s work and extended families helped care for each other. There was no such thing, except among the very wealthy, as a woman who didn’t work.

This lie completely ignores the Proverbs 31 woman, who not only took excellent care of her family, but also had several home-based businesses that required her to leave her home to engage in these businesses. I personally appreciate this biblical pattern because I had a home-based business and a ministry the entire time my children were growing, both of which took me out of the home sometimes. I was able to grow my gifts as my kids were growing, and now that they’re both adults, I am able to use those gifts and abilities more fully with my new freedom to leave home.

On the other hand, an equally distressing expectation common to younger people in today’s churches is that women should always work, regardless of whether they have children or not. Our culture has so downgraded the importance of focused parenting that many people consider it wasteful for a woman to be “only” a homemaker. It’s sexist to say that a woman’s only valid contribution to the world or the church is to be a homemaker, but both extremes are wrong and harmful.

Lie #5: Women Must Obediently Submit to Their Husbands in All Situations.

The last lie says that women must obediently submit to their husbands in all situations. This lie really grieves me deeply, because it is probably responsible for more pain and abuse than any other lie we’ve looked at in this article.

In Ephesians 5:22, wives are commanded to submit to our husbands. For some people, this has been twisted to mean the husband is the boss and the wife’s job is to obey his every whim. That is a relationship of power, not self-sacrificing love, as this marriage passage actually teaches. The wife is called to serve her husband through submission, and the husband is called to serve his wife through sacrificial love.

We have no idea how many women have been physically, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually abused by their husbands wielding the submission verses as a weapon. When they finally tell their pastor about their husband’s rage-outs and physical assaults, they are often not believed, and sometimes they are told that if they would learn to submit the violence would stop. Then they are counseled that it would be a sin to separate and hold the husband accountable for what is a crime! Some abused women, who feared for their lives, have actually been told, “Don’t worry. Even if you died you would go to be with the Lord. So you win either way. Just keep praying for him. But you are not allowed to leave.”{11}

A comprehensive study on domestic violence in the church in the mid 80’s revealed that 26 percent of the pastors counseled an abused wife to keep submitting and trust that God would either stop the abuse or give her the strength to endure it. About a fourth of the pastors believed that abuse is the wife’s fault because of her lack of submission! And a majority of the pastors said it is better for wives to endure violence against them than to seek a separation that might end in divorce.{12} I respectfully suggest that separation with the goal of reconciliation is often the only way to motivate an abusive husband to get help.{13} Just as we cast a broken limb to enable it to heal, separation is like putting a cast on a broken relationship as the first step to enable change and healing. We see in 1 Cor. 5 that God’s plan for unrepentant believers is to experience the pain of isolation in separation from friends and loved ones; why would it be unthinkable for the same principle to be effective within an abusive marriage?

All the lies we’ve looked at in this article are the result of twisting God’s word out of a misunderstanding of God’s intent for His people. The way to combat the lies is to know the truth–because that’s what sets us free.


1. Lee Grady, 10 Lies the Church Tells Women (Lake Mary, FL: Creation House, 2000).

2. Grady, 23.

3. George Byron Koch, “Shall a Woman Keep Silent? Part 1.” http://www.resurrection.org/shall_a_woman____part_1.htm.

4. Rev. 22:5, 2 Tim. 2:12.

5. Grady, 21.

6. Grady, 89-90.

7. Grady, 90.

8. Grady, 140.

9. Grady, 143.

10. “Even one of their own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’” (Titus 1:2)

11. Grady, 172.

12. Grady, 174.

13. I especially recommend Dr. Paul Hegstrom of Life Skills Learning Centers. He is a recovered abusive husband and pastor who wrote an excellent book, Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them: Breaking the Cycle of Physical and Emotional Abuse (Beacon Hill Press, 1999). His Web site is http://www.lifeskillsintl.org.

© 2001 Probe Ministries.