Today I am taking on a simple question with a lot of controversy; is it God’s design that women be pastors in the church?  As you can tell from the response Michelle Hollomon got from her guest post, “The Woman’s Place in Church” there are two main camps:

  1. “I value women as pastors in the church, and therefore I have a low view of the Bible.”
  2. “I value the Bible, therefore I will never accept women as pastors in the church.”

Let me say clearly that I believe both of these views are in error!  The good news is that there is an alternative to the above.

  • I believe in the authority of the Bible and trust it as the source for my doctrine, ethics, and ministry practice AND BECAUSE of my love for the Scripture, I believe the church needs recognize that some women are gifted by the Holy Spirit as pastors.

Okay, but what does that mean for women to be a pastor?

Am I suggesting that we need more mega-church, super-star paparazzi women-pastors like we have men-pastors?   No, I am not arguing for the status quo.  I am arguing for a biblical order to the church, and to do this I must work hard to faithfully apply the Scripture;

  • Where the Bible speaks clearly, I need to speak clearly.
  • Where the Bible is silent, I need to be silent.
  • And in all cases I need to speak and act with charity.

If  then I am faithful to the Word, I must accept that women are pastors in the church. But, I am going to apply that truth in a way you may not expect. To do that, I need to clarify what it means to be a pastor. As I pointed out in a previous post, “My Title is NOT Pastor”, the Greek word ποιμήν is used only 1 TIME in the NT in reference to a gift from God’s Spirit and nowhere does it say this gifting is only for men (Eph 4:11), but we do see examples in the New Testament of where women are given the charge to shepherd (pastor) and teach well the doctrines of the Faith (Titus 2:3-4).

The problem we have in the church today in the West is that too much of our ministry practice is based on guess-work about what the word “pastor” means. the guessing needs to stop.  We need to cut out the false expectations put on women by Western culture, and discard what is a fundamentally flawed view of ministry.  So allow me to address each of these areas.

Unload Cultural Expectations

When it comes to the role of pastor, the church has made too many decisions based on culture and not enough from Scripture.  We have built a system of “Pastor as CEO” that is not in the Bible and then forced that system onto the Scripture.  Until this problem is corrected, we will never accept women into their proper place in the church.

In a previous post, I make some observations about the word “pastor” and so I will add to those ideas here and apply them to women.

Pastor” is NOT a title of leadership.

This is true for both men and women, I don’t think either one should hold onto the “title” of pastor.  This does not mean I reject biblical authority and leadership, it just means that biblical authority is deeper than the titles we create for ourselves.

Pastor“ is NOT the name of church-office.

Over the years, I have had many women friends point out that because they cannot hold the “office” of pastor, they cannot get the Government benefits of the housing allowance, tax deductions, and other societal benefits.  In my opinion, women doing ministry should be able to get these benefits. but this has nothing to do with being a biblical pastor.  Tax breaks are not what it means to be a pastor in the church.

Pastor” is NOT a synonym for “Elder“.

Elders in the church are given the task of shepherding the flock in a unique way that keeps the church ready for the return of the Chief Shepherd who is Christ (see also John 10:16).

1 Peter 5:1–4 (ESV)

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

But, the ministry of Elers to shepherd, is not the same as the gift of shepherding.  As mentioned above, Eph 4:11 tells us that “Pastor” IS one of five foundational gifts given by the Holy Spirit to help build Church.  This gift IS given to some mature brothers and sisters in the Church so that they can guide their younger siblings into maturity.

Older women are to pastor the younger women and older men are to pastor the younger.

Titus 2:1–5 (ESV)

1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

This passage of course does not say that all older women are given the Spirit-gifting of “pastoring”, but since it does make clear that women are shepherds, it is not unreasonable to conclude that some of these women will be especially gifted by the Spirit as pastors to help equip the church to grow in holiness.

The Gift of “pastor” is not the same as the office of Elder.  So while all Elders are gifted as pastors, not all pastors (men or women) are called to the office of Elder.

A Right View of Ministry

Our culture is obsessed with power… the church is obsessed with power… but the Bible is not!

Pastor” is NOT about wielding power over others.

One argument I often hear is that women need to be pastors so they can share the power with men.   The problem here is that pastoral ministry is not about wielding power—at least not from a biblical perspective.  In practice, unfortunately, the pastor has chosen to imitatie the World and set-himself up as the “man with power” and in seeking equality women have fought to get a share of that power, but this is not God’s design for biblical leadership.  So when I say women should be pastors,

  • I am not saying women need to “share” the power…
  • I am not saying women need to be “empowered”…

Contrary to the ways of our World, any man or woman who wants to be a pastor must be about “dis-empowerment”… that is giving up power so that they can serve, sacrifice and love the church.  Jesus is our example, as the Head Pastor he gave up all his power and equality with the Father and laid down his life for his flock.

Philippians 2:3–8 (ESV)

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Same Spirit-Gifting; Unique People

The same hermeneutic that leads me to conclude only men are Elders, leads me to conclude that women are gifted by the Spirit as pastors in the church.  However, this does not mean we need to accept the World’s view that men and women are the same…. they are not.  Both Men & Women are created in the image of God and BOTH are needed to reflect the fulness of His glory.  The reason God created men and women, is because each sex has unique qualities that are necessary to be the Church.  So while women and men can both have a pastoral gifting, that does not mean they both function the same way in the church.  Acknowledging the high call God has placed on women to help lead in the church, does not mean we have to blur the distinctive beauty between the sexes.

To help make this point, I will give the last word to  Mary Kassian using some quotes from her book, “True Woman 101: Divine Design“.  Each quote emphasize that biblical womanhood does NOT, as Mary writes, “consist of women squeezing themselves into a cookie-cutter happy-housekeeper-with-husband-and-kids mold.”

“The Bible presents a design for True Womanhood that applies to all women—at any age and at any stage of life—old, young; single, married, divorced, widowed; with children or without, whatever. Its design applies to women of every personality type, every educational level, every career track, every socioeconomic status, and every culture. God’s design transcends social customs, time, and circumstance.” (p. 16)

“The solution isn’t to try to rewind the clock to the 1950s, and squeeze women back into that culture’s “Leave it to Beaver” stereotype. No. The solution—the biblical solution—is to embrace the Word of God, and ask Him to help us figure out how to live out His divine design in this culture.” (p. 155)

“The Bible doesn’t give us a simplistic, prescribed set of rules about what womanhood must “look” like. It doesn’t tell us, for example, how long our skirts should be, or whether we should pursue advanced education, or that women must be the ones who clean the toilets and cook all the meals, or that we should never work outside of the home, or that all women should get married, or that we must educate our children a certain way. The Bible doesn’t contain such checklists.

“Women are not the same. Womanhood will look different from woman to woman. It looks different for Mary than it does for Nancy. It may look different for your friend than it does for you. It may look different in Nigeria than it does in Canada . . . for a married woman than a single one. . . for a twenty-year-old than a sixty-year-old . . . for a gregarious woman than a quiet, reserved one. . . for an athlete than an artist. . . for an outdoorsy type than an indoorsy type . . . You get the idea!

“That’s not to say that our decisions don’t matter. In His Word God has given us timeless principles about womanhood that transcend culture. It’s important that we wrestle with how to implement these principles. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance to help us figure out how to apply them in our particular situation. But we must avoid a cookie-cutter mentality. We are all unique. Every woman’s circumstances are distinct. We each need to carefully discern how to apply God’s principles in our own lives, and we can encourage one another in that process; but it’s not up to us to determine how they must be applied in other women’s lives.”(p. 210)

I know there is so much more that needs to be written and discussed on this topic so I will close now with great anticipation of your feedback.

For a discussion of the Office of Elder and the role of men, CLICK HERE
For a discussion of the pastoral gift and men, CLICK HERE

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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