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Gender roles and pastoral ministry: Q & A with J. Ligon Duncan, Part I

October 18, 2004
Share: recently interviewed Ligon Duncan–CBMW chairman of the board and pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Miss.–on issues of gender roles as they relate to pastoral ministry.

The following is Part I (see Part II) of a Q&A with J. Ligon Duncan, chairman of the board of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. recently
interviewed Duncan–who has served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Miss., for the past nine years–on issues of gender roles as they relate to the pastoral ministry.

Last summer Duncan was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), placing a committed complementarian at the
head of one of the fastest-growing denominations in the United States.

Q: What advice would you give pastors in handling the often controversial
subject of gender roles in the home and church?

A: I think it’s good to look out at the culture and realize it is
going to be hostile on this. I think anybody that doesn’t is in for a rude
awakening. So I think it is good to recognize that we’re going to be out of step
with the culture, and the culture is also going to have a knee-jerk response to
any articulation of Christian teaching on this. What many guys do then is make
their next deduction: ‘therefore, I am not going to talk about this.’

What I would say about that is, first of all, this is an issue you cannot
hide from. You must go one way or another on this issue practically in a local
congregation. And if you don’t go the Bible’s way, you will go ‘not the Bible’s
way.’ Furthermore, it is an issue which has implications for the totality of
ministry. If one looks out at the church today and doesn’t see that one of the
top crying issues in the evangelical church, in America and the western world in
general, is the desperate need for virile, manly, godly servant-leader males in
the local congregation, they are missing one of the big issues of our times. You
cannot cultivate that in a culture of effeminacy in a church, and the minute you
cave in on gender issues whether it be female officers, whether it be refusing
to address male-female role relationships in the context of marriage, when you
refuse to address those issues, you are refusing to address one of the key
issues relating to church issues in our time. You are refusing to treat an issue
that the culture is deliberately trying to impose its opinion on in the life of
every congregation whether evangelical or non-evangelical.

It is the ultimate head in the sand approach not to address the issue. . . .
If the Bible is unclear on this, then there is nothing that the Bible is clear
about. If you can skip over the Bible’s clear teaching on this, then you have
just undercut yourself in terms of the interpretation of Scripture. The Bible
speaks more clearly to this than it does abortion. . . . It is vitally important
for a man to face these issues.

Q: Men have abdicated their spiritual responsibility in the home in myriad
ways. How does a pastor motivate men in the church to fulfill their
biblically-mandated responsibility as the heads of their homes?

A: The first think is to remind men how many good women out there are
just dying for this. If you came to visit me in Jackson, Miss. (which is not
known for its cultural progressiveness), your guess would be, in terms of
marital male-female issues, that I, as a pastor, would see more issues of male
abuse or domination of women. That would have been my guess too and certainly
would have been the presupposition of a New York egalitarian. Though I have seen
that on rare occasion, nine-to-one the main complaint I get from women who show
up in my office to talk about failing or struggling marriages, is that [they
say] ‘Dr. Duncan, I so desperately want my husband to lead me spiritually, to
lead our family, I want a strong spiritual leader. He’s not interested.’ I tell
my men that. They are dying for somebody to shepherd them spiritually. That is
an instinct that God has built into every godly woman, even if she doesn’t know
what that looks like. I think there are women out there who want it even if they
don’t know what it looks like. But we have not had, for several generations,
that kind of male husband/father spiritual leader in the homes, so first of all,
I say to the men, ‘don’t think that every woman is going to reject this. Most
women already know that they want this.

The second thing I say is ‘men, I am not getting on your case for something
that you have seen done and then decided you weren’t going to do it yourself. I
know that you never saw your dad do this. . . . So I know that men have very
little resources to draw on from their own experiences and upbringing. They
haven’t seen their dad engage in spiritual upbringing in many ways. So we’ve got
to build from scratch. . . . Men are going to have to build ex-nihilo,
begin to reset a pattern that was lost long ago. The New England Puritans were
already beginning to complain in the 18th century that we were losing family
worship and that was two-and-a-half centuries ago. This isn’t my time to beat up
on men. I want to be realistic about the challenges that they face. Some men
will start to try to take this spiritual leadership and then get resentment from
their wives, and they need to be prepared for that because the wife has never
seen it. . . . Your kids are not going to just say ‘this is cool’ . . . but it
is worth the pain because God’s plan for Christian discipleship is the local
church-but God’s plan to build up the local church is a discipleship group known
as the family. . . . That is worth any amount of toil we have to go through.

Q: Practically speaking, what will that look like in the home?

A: It’s going to mean praying with and for his wife which will include
confessing his sins toward his wife in prayer with his wife in the evening. It
is going to mean dad taking a responsibility to foster Christianity in the home;
dad taking the responsibility. He is going to be the one getting the family to
church. It is not mom’s job to get the family to church. He is going to be a
man. He is not going to be another child that his wife is going to raise. It has
to do with cultivating a type of relationship with your wife wherein it becomes
easy for her to respect you as Paul directs her to do in Ephesians 5. That is
the whole point of the wives submitting to their husbands. He (Paul) comes back
at the end of the chapter and tells you ‘wives respect your husbands and
husbands love your wives.’ I tell married couples over and over that we often
talk about a man’s need to love and the emotional need that a man has to be
loved by his wife. It is much easier for a man to experience that when he knows
he is respected by his wife.

Our egalitarian friends think that a healthy emotional equilibrium can be
achieved when all those directives and distinctives are just thrown out the
window. It can’t be. Honestly, one of the five big stresses on marriage today is
undefined roles where you get two kind, sweet people who are breaking one
another’s hearts continually because they are out of sync in terms of their role
expectations . . . because they’ve not seen role expectations.

Read Part II of this interview here.

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