As I speak about women’s ways of leading to various groups of women and men within our synod, somebody almost always challenges me with the statement, “If women start to lead in the church, the men won’t do anything.” I vehemently disagree. Inherent within that statement is the expectation for women to bury their spiritual gifts in order that men might lead. It reminds me of my teenage dating years when my mom told me to always let the boy think that he is smarter, and if we play games, I should let him win. Her advice didn’t make sense to me then, and it still doesn’t make sense to me today. Why does it have to be an “either/or” command for leadership? Why can’t it be a “both/and” invitation for leading?
Priscilla and Aquila are wonderful models of a “both/and” style of leadership as they demonstrated a healthy partnership as tentmakers and missionaries with the Apostle Paul. As a matter of fact, in Romans 16, Paul listed many of his partners in ministry, and women’s names are quite prevalent in this list. Among those named, Paul acknowledged Priscilla and Aquila, saying, “They risked their lives for me” (Romans 16: 3).
It is clear that Paul greatly appreciated the support of Priscilla and Aquila, and they are mentioned seven times in the New Testament. Their names are always together. It was quite unusual for a woman’s name to be used before her husband’s in that culture at that time, but Priscilla’s name comes first five times in Acts 18:18,19,26; Romans 16: 3; and 2 Timothy 4: 19. Aquila’s name comes first in Acts 18: 2 and I Corinthians 16:19. Some theologians think that it might be because Priscilla held a more prominent role or she had a higher social position. It doesn’t really matter. Her name still comes first in the text.
Priscilla and Aquila became teachers of Apollos, who was a great and knowledgeable orator. Apollos “had been instructed in the way of the Lord and spoke with great fervor.” He had come to the synagogue in Priscilla’s town, and he “taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.” When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, “they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” After Apollos received this instruction from Priscilla and Aquila, he continued his ministry. Apollos “vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ”(Acts 18: 24-28). In a culture where women were expected to remain silent, this is a remarkable Biblical story. Priscilla had become the teacher of a great theological orator.
It wasn’t surprising that Priscilla and Aquila had invited Apollos to their home. In the Early Church, house churches were the primary gathering places for Christians. As a matter of fact, Priscilla and Aquila hosted a house church in their home. In I Corinthians 16:19, Paul wrote, “Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.” The Biblical text also lists other women who hosted house churches. In Acts 16:40, we read, “Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them” (Acts 16: 40). In Philemon 2, we read Paul’s letter to Philemon and “to Apphia our sister and to the church that meets in your home.” In Colossians 4: 15 Paul writes, “Give my greetings to Nympha and the church in her house.” As Paul traveled, many house churches supported him, and women were certainly influential in those ministry venues.
Interestingly, the concept and practice of house churches is emerging within the Christian church once again. As our society moves toward the Information Age, greater emphasis is placed on likenesses, networks, community building, and cooperation. Churches, which once emphasized the Industrial Age values of differences, hierarchies, independence, and competition, are beginning to make structural changes to encourage more relational approaches. Congregations are recognizing the need for small group ministries, house churches, and coffee house ministries. These approaches are extremely relational, which fit women’s ways of leading very well.
The movement within our culture from the Industrial Age to the Information Age is steadily progressing, and church governance structures will be influenced. The good news is that the governance structure of the LCMS is a fine fit for these changes. While other hierarchical church bodies face greater challenges in adjusting to this movement into the Information Age, our synod’s emphasis on the importance of “walking together” should enable the LCMS to make this adjustment without too much disruption. “Walking together” will take on greater meaning as we encourage and equip women to use their gifts of leadership as we “walk together” with men in our church body. Priscilla and Aquila are wonderful models. In their home, they shared the complete story of Jesus with Apollos, a great orator who continued his ministry proving that Jesus was Christ. Seize your “Priscilla Moments” for such a time as this!