As part of a tour group to Israel many years ago, I met a very sharp African-American man named Morris Bates. As we talked, he handed me his business card, and I saw that he was associated with The Blood Washed Church of Calvary located in Norristown, Pennsylvania. But what really caught my attention were the words: “Mary Bates, Pastor—Morris Bates, Assistant Pastor.”
Because of an unhealthy preoccupation today with male authority, many in the church will not stomach such an arrangement in which the woman is the out-front teacher and pastor. The Bateses, however, were merely functioning according to their gifts. She obviously had teaching and pastoral gifts, while his gifts were administrative. Her gifts required her to be publicly out front, while his gifts were most effective behind the scenes.
A Marriage and Ministry Partnership
In Romans 16:3-5, Paul greets such a couple named Priscilla and Aquilla. This couple is always mentioned together and always referred to with the plural pronouns “they” and “them.” They obviously functioned in a close partnership for they are never mentioned separately. There is also evidence that Priscilla was the out-front one in ministry and the pastor of the church they hosted in their home.
Paul first met this couple when he went to Corinth to preach the gospel. They welcomed him into their home, and he worked with them in their tent-making business, the vocation in which Paul had also been trained. They were Jewish followers of Jesus, as was Paul. The three of them had much in common and became very close friends during the 18 months they lived, worked and ministered together in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3).
When Paul departed Corinth, Priscilla and Aquilla departed with him, but they stopped off and remained in Ephesus, while Paul continued on to Jerusalem and Antioch. Paul later returned to Ephesus and reconnected with this couple.
While in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquilla heard Apollos, a convert of John the Baptist, speaking in the synagogue in Ephesus. Realizing that he was deficient in his understanding, “they” took him aside, and “they” explained to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:24-26). Luke makes it very clear that both were involved in the instruction of Apollos.