Can Women Pray with Men?
+ Book Review, "The Making of Biblical Womanhood"


Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The countdown has begun.

In twenty minutes my doorbell will ring. Then it will be too late. I grab my husband and ask if we can pray together. Now.

In a moment of holy irony, I pray with a man—right before the visitor at the door will ask me not to.

I struggled as a woman in a very conservative church for a long time. Should I stay and work for change? Or escape and enjoy freedom elsewhere?

For years I was determined to stay.

Before the newest crisis about to erupt at my door, my friend Kay and I had started a new Sunday class for teen girls. We focused on how Jesus touched the lives of women in the Bible. And how he continues to touch ours.

The day before our first class, Kay and I were pulled aside by a godly woman a few years our senior. She asked to see our classroom. Then holding us both by the hand, she bowed her head and prayed for us there. We felt the power God gives through prayer.

The following day, early Sunday morning, a peer entered our room, again to pray, asking Jesus to transform us, including the teen girls, into his image.

It suited our goals for the class: To raise up a new generation of women who will not stay silent, who are not afraid to pray out loud, like I was afraid to for much of my life.

Talking things over with each other and with God matures us in many ways.

Men and Women Praying Together?

But what about women praying with men?

Community calls for a blending of all who are made in God’s image. At my physical family gatherings, both males and females talked to my dad together.

At our spiritual family gatherings, can’t both sons and daughters there also talk to our Father together?

In our Sunday night small group, we prayed in mixed company for years. It grew us closer to God. Closer to each other.

But no longer?

The visitor at my door, now on my couch, is confirming the decision: No. Not for now.

The leaders are asking all women—both young and old, in large or small church gatherings—to refrain from verbalizing our prayers in front of a man until they complete yet another long study of women’s roles in the church.

A brother had come to the leaders a few weeks earlier, complaining his conscience was offended by hearing women talk to God in his presence. He believed a woman should not verbalize a prayer if a man is in the room.

I was one of those women who had prayed in front of this man in group settings. I had no idea it bothered him.

So now what?

What happens if it’s a problem to him if we do, but a problem to us if we don’t?

Follow God’s Spirit

How do we create spiritual breathing room for us both to follow our consciences? To find grace in the tension? To maintain unity in honoring God?

It took the church leaders a very, very long time to conclude their study on women’s roles.

After awhile I gave up waiting on their answer to come. And I followed God’s Spirit leading me elsewhere instead.

I believed God would not put limitations on who I prayed with. He would rather I pray than run away from opportunities to talk to him with others.

Conversations in God’s presence aren’t biased concerning gender. He invites us all to talk.


I remain friends with the church leader who sat on my couch that night a few years ago. I understand he had a job to do, and he was trying his best to do it.

But I had a job to do, too. My responsibility was to grow deeper in my relationship with God. It wasn’t about girl-power versus boy-power, but about God-power.

God empowers us all with voice. All the men. And all the women.

Let’s keep praying together.

Beth Allison Barr on Biblical Womanhood

I just finished a most interesting book on how the church and culture have viewed women’s roles through the ages. I highly recommend Beth Allison Barr’s new book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth.


Dr. Barr, a history professor at Baylor University, writes from both a historical perspective and a Christian perspective. She tells us that,

“Christians are, historically speaking, pretty late to the patriarchy game. We may claim that the gendered patterns of our lives are different from those assumed in mainstream culture, but history tells a different tale.”

She says that Christian patriarchy has long mimicked the patriarchy of the non-Christian world.

And she asks that if Christians are called to be different from the world, shouldn’t we treat women differently, too? This is the world’s way:

“From the ancient world through the modern world, history told a continuous story of patriarchy—of women suppressed, oppressed, devalued, and silenced.”

But in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

“This is what is radical. This is what makes Christianity so different from the rest of human history.”

As I reflect back on my own past in the church, I look ahead to a brighter future. Barr suggests we all should.

“Historically, one of the greatest problems for women is that we do not remember our past and we do not work together to change our future. We do not stand together. But what if we did?”

What if we all did?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Read more:

My thanks to NetGalley, Baker Academic
& Brazos Press for the review copy of this book

21 thoughts on “Can Women Pray with Men?
+ Book Review, "The Making of Biblical Womanhood"

  1. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Wow. I’ve never heard of that kind of strictness, and I’m unsure where the biblical support for it is. I attend a Conservative Evangelical Presbyterian church where women are unable to be ordained specifically as pastors & elders. At least I can see biblical support of it, but women fully participate in every other aspect of the church. Our denomination’s view is not that women are inferior to me, but God has simply given the role of pastor to men. I’ve had the book on order at the library. Apparently there is a long list of readers. 🙂 I’ll let you know what I think. Also, I had commented on your wonderful essay about your granddaughter and the bracelets. Not sure why, but it didn’t post. Wonderful piece!
    PS I had a rather pharisaical man tell me that he did not think women should hold any leadership position in society, from company exec to president. He also refused to read anything but the King James Bible! I found the latter especially interesting, because despite his claim that it is the original Bible, he failed to see it is a translation from the original language in which the Bible was written in the first place. Oh my!

  2. Martha Jane Orlando

    Until you shared your experience here, Lisa, I’ve never even entertained the thought that men and women shouldn’t pray together. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and children of the living God.
    The book does sound enlightening, though.

  3. Donna

    Oh Lisa, how sad when legalism pervades the church. My husband and I left a church of long standing several years ago over just such un-biblical issues. Being forced to sign a document saying I would not pray with men nor wear pants, listen to wordly music, go to movie theaters, blah, blah, blah, we left. I’m truly sorry the church allows satan to sidetrack them with such nonsense, oh for true biblical leaders with backbone enough not to kowtow to blind pharisees.

  4. Jeanne Takenaka

    Oh, Lisa. I had so many thoughts as I read your post (and not all of them were nice). I think sometimes we get so caught up in the minutiae of walking out the law that we miss or forget the bigger picture of the truth that God created men and women equal, just with different roles within His body. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that situation. And I’m so glad you found a church that offers more freedom to exercise your giftings and to pray in communion with men and women.

  5. Lisa Blair

    This is beautiful, Lisa, “To raise up a new generation of women who will not stay silent, who are not afraid to pray out loud.”

    I’m sad to hear what happened to you and you ask an excellent question, “What happens if it’s a problem to him if we do, but a problem to us if we don’t?”

    Wonderful! “My responsibility was to grow deeper in my relationship with God. God empowers us all with voice. All the men. And all the women. Let’s keep praying together.”

    Thanks for the book recommendation! I look forward to reading it.

    I want to recommend a book to you that brought me a lot of freedom in this area. It’s called, How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals. Edited by Alan F. Johnson

  6. Trudy

    That’s so sad, Lisa. In the strict denomination I grew up in, women were to be silent and couldn’t even be Sunday school teachers, have a vote, or any voice at all. Thank you for sharing this. I love this truth – “My responsibility was to grow deeper in my relationship with God. It wasn’t about girl-power versus boy-power, but about God-power.
    God empowers us all with voice. All the men. And all the women.” Amen! Love and blessings to you!

  7. Lois Flowers

    Wow, Lisa … I know some churches have weird rules but it’s hard to wrap my head around something like this actually happening. I’m sorry this was your experience and I’m glad the Holy Spirit led you somewhere else!

  8. Paula+Short

    Wow, Lisa, thank you for sharing this, I had no idea. Boy O’ boy is your post powerful. I appreciate your words here. I’m still stunned. I agree with Susan above. Blessings.

  9. Jean Wise

    This is so sad and so far from the truth. Why would God waste half of the human race? I love this line,”Conversations in God’s presence aren’t biased concerning gender” Amen and amen!

  10. Lesley

    That is a pretty extreme view to think women should not even pray in front of men! I’m glad you were led elsewhere and found a place where you could use your voice.
    It reminds me of a time when I visited a church prayer meeting and joined in with praying only to realise afterwards that I was the only woman who prayed! No-one said anything but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t considered normal for a woman to pray.
    I’ve heard about the book you mention a few times now and I’m definitely interested in checking it out.

  11. Tea With Jennifer

    Oh Lisa,
    We recently had a man do the same thing in our fellowship however our church leaders came to the opposite conclusion in stating;
    “But in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).”
    And stood by the women of our church, sadly the man & his wife decided to leave our fellowship.
    There is a legalism movement creeping back into the churches… which is very disturbing indeed.

  12. Vitalia

    I’ve been feeling convicted by Holy Spirit as a married woman to not pray alone with another woman’s husband or any man for that matter. I can’t seem to find scripture to back this message I’ve been getting from God. But it feels like prayers are spiritually binding and I’m creating ties to a man that is not my husband.

  13. Joan (Jo)

    I’m late to the party on this one as I just found this post, over a year since you wrote it. However, a situation similar to this (but not as severe) recently occurred in our church. Actually, it occurred by someone who left the church complaining about our church. However, putting my experience aside, Galatians 3:28 is a wonderful verse! We are all one in Christ! I think that sometimes legalism occurs when the person is not secure in their own faith. Possibly they cling to man’s law rather than to what Jesus was actually teaching. They may feel they need to follow a list of do’s and don’t’s in order to be saved. Is a woman praying with a man a matter of salvation? No. Placing our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is.

    1. Cindy Lutz

      I’m also late but dealing with this now too. I was one of those people who agreed that the Bible is pretty clear that women don’t get to hold the office of pastor, but it never occurred to me that women couldn’t speak, pray, even teach in some circumstances, in mixed company until I attended a membership class a few years ago at a Baptist church. I appreciated that they made it explicit but I could not overcome a sense that if nothing else, this was a recipe for abuse, spiritual and beyond.

      The problem, for me, is that because I was abused as a child and have seen all kinds of abuse in churches, it’s hard to know what’s what. Am I drawn to abuse? Do I over-respond to hints of it when I finally see it? Am I just “lawless?

      When covid locked us all out of our churches, forced us to online participation, I discovered YouTube. This has resulted in my learning a lot, but has also been so confusing that I decided it was more important for me to get plain teaching and clear boundaries (lest I end up repenting for being white, on top of everything else?) even if it meant denying significant parts of my faith walk. (It seems that churches that take a hard line on women also take a hard line on the role of the Holy Spirit.) But now, this little church has asked me to serve, which was fine until they added that they’d like me to be a “member”. I’ve pretty much worked out that I can’t be, but it’s spun me back out into the “where CAN I go?” sea of confusion. It seems like any I look at “erase” me somehow: I’m too old to serve on worship team (despite that being probably my area of greatest ‘anointing’, and my voice not being ‘old’–it just seems like so many churches are about attracting young people and apparently old people on the platform don’t send the right message.) I’m too conservative Biblically and politically for a vast array of others (I live in Portland, OR, might make a difference.) I’m not vaccinated. Seriously, we still have churches around here that don’t let you in if you can’t show proof of vaxx. I am a “charismatic” woman who believes we are to go where the Spirit leads us but who also doesn’t believe we’re meant to focus on seeking manifestations. I AM old enough to be tired, tired of so much confusion, controversy, I get why so many churches are just not fighting any more, but it scares me if/when a woman preaches…agh! What am I most wrong about? I don’t know. ?

      1. LisaNotes Post author

        I appreciate you sharing your wrestlings with us here, Cindy. This topic is a sensitive one. I used to think I totally understood what the “rules” were, but as I got older, I saw things differently. I hope you continue working through these things, as unnerving as they may be. It sounds like you are onto something.

        For me, in general I’ve decided to err on the side of love, when in doubt. I’d rather be accused of loving too many and too broadly than of loving too little and too few.

        And btw, I totally see what you’re saying with the worship teams. I saw that happen with my previous church too; the older people got replaced with the younger ones. I think it’s an example of ageism. 🙂

    2. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for sharing that you’ve had a similar experience, Jo. If we could all live true to Galatians 3:28, relationships could be smoother, yes? 🙂 Sometimes it’s difficult to let go of our traditions when God’s love may be calling us to do something different. But you nailed it that trusting Jesus (not each other) is our saving grace!

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