In the 5/23/14 edition of the Sword of the Lord, editor Shelton Smith lists those undersung yet essential ministries in the church in an article titled “The Preacher's Best Friend”. The first enumerated on this list are ushers.
Of these functionaries, Smith writes, “The men meet the folks coming in.” Smith then proceeds to list a number of responsibilities assigned to this position such as the distribution of bulletins, the finding of seats and the collection of offerings.
The wording itself raises a particular question. Must those filling this position be men? Why can't these individuals be a women?
In many independent and Fundamentalist churches, the deacons carry out these tasks. If so, such a gender specific pronoun would be understandable.
Such churches hold to the simplest interpretation of the text that the diaconal office should only be held by men according to I Timothy 2:12. However, by his own admission, Shelton Smith does not necessarily view deacon and usher as being synonymous.
He writes, “Our soul winners, bus workers, teachers, deacons should not feel left out here.” One might respond that in using the term “men”, Brother Smith was being a linguistic traditionalist in that the term “men” can grammatically include both men and women.
The other two church support ministries mentioned in the article are sound technicians and nursery workers. However, in connection with these, neither is referenced with gender specificity.
For example, sound technicians are referred to as “they” (a term that can include both men and women). Nursery workers are praised as “These men and women are the saints who attend other people's babies during Sunday school and church time.”
In defense of male-only ushers, it could be argued that these servants of the church might be called upon to carry out tasks best fulfilled by men. Ushers are on the front line of the church interacting with the public.
As such, limiting the position to men only cuts down on the possibility for hanky-panky on the part of flirtatious visitors or even sexual predators coming into the church. So if we are to be so uptight about untoward interactions between female ushers and male visitors, shouldn't we be as concerned about improper attraction or spats between a male usher and a female visitor or some lawsuit gold-digger attempting to make a buck off harassment or abuse allegations?
If the threat of this kind of scandal or outrage is to be a foremost preoccupation, then why would Shelton Smith approve of men being allowed to serve in the nursery? For is not molestation a greater evil than a momentary passing tingle or thrill someone might experience from a passing glance or smile in public with someone other than one's spouse.
If anything, wouldn't these potentialities necessitate female ushers to interact with female visitors and male ushers to interact with male visitors. Others will respond that only men should be ushers because it is commanded that women are to remain silent in church according to I Corinthians 14:34..
Verbal communication is at the heart of the usher's ministry as they great people and direct them to where they need to go. If that is the case, should women be forbidden from choir membership and (perhaps even more importantly) musical solos? For along with the pastor's sermon and Scriptural readings, music plays a pivotal role in conveying the doctrine and teaching of the church.
An additional argument could be made that only men should be ushers since these officers and volunteers are usually responsible for the collection of the offering. I am aware of no Scripture that forbids women from handling finances and currency. From the list of virtues and enterprises elucidated in Proverbs 31, it would seem that women of godly character would excel in just such an arena.
It will no doubt be retorted that money is dirty. As such, only burly, gruff men should handle something as filthy. If that is the case, why does it usually fall to women to toil in the kitchen before, after, and during the church suppers?
Scripture does indeed teach that men and women are distinct creations that each exhibit the creative nature and purpose of God in an unique manner. However, when determining what exactly that entails, the exegete must be careful to distinguish what exactly is there in the text from what may be a sincere yet single interpretation among several within a spectrum of acceptability.
Frederick Meekins is an independent theologian and social critic. Frederick holds a BS in Political Science/History, a MA in Apologetics/Christian Philosophy from Trinity Theological Seminary, and a PhD. in Christian Apologetics from Newburgh Theological Seminary.