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Is it biblical for women to be pastors?

by Stephen Davey

Judy asks, "What is the biblical answer regarding women as pastors?"

Hi Judy,

Thank you for your question. This is an issue that comes up frequently. I’ve had to answer it so often that I’ve made it part of the new members class that I teach in my church. I’ll share with you what I share with the class. There are three main points to consider.

 The Context of Leadership

I want to begin by addressing the family. Even though it’s a different question, the context is important. God has chosen to order family life in such a way that husbands—men—are leaders in their home. Here are two passages to consider:

 (Ephesians 5:22) - “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church . . . as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands . . .”

 (1 Peter 3:1-5, 7-9) - In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the Word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands . . . You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead . . .

 Here are the principles we need to consider: First, any wife who is reading this should recognize that submission to her husband is not man’s idea, but God’s. This is not something that men made up to have power over women or to exploit their position. Family life was ordained by God and God determined that men were responsible to lead. 

Second, any husband who is reading this should recognize that honoring and understanding your wife is a prerequisite to answered prayer.  It is impossible for you to have a healthy, vibrant spiritual life unless you are loving, honoring, respecting and seeking to understand your wife.

 The Implications of the Qualifications

The next consideration involves the qualifications that God gives for leaders in the church. The church is led by elders. There are several terms for this, such as pastor, overseer, and elder, but they all refer to the same office. Here is what Paul wrote to Timothy:

(1 Timothy 3:1-5) - 1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity, 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?). . .

 Every reference in the New Testament to elders is masculine. What that tells us is that elders were intended by God to be men. The Greek words are presbuteros (overseer), episkopos (bishop),  and poimenas (shepherd or pastor).

When you read the biblical qualifications, you notice that much of it is connected to the man’s family life. Since the church is led, much like a family is led, a man becomes qualified to lead in the church based upon his leadership in the home.

The Direct Prohibitions

 Finally, we need to consider Paul’s direct prohibition against women having leadership over men in the church. 

 (1 Timothy 2:11-12) 11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.

 Being a pastor or an elder does involve authority, and therefore, the role is specifically for men. I realize that this is an unpopular position. But we need to order the church around God’s instructions, despite what we might think or feel about it. 

Here are some final thoughts and principles for you to consider. The roles of men and women in creation are not based upon equality of gender, or the lack thereof. God does not value or esteem one gender over another. This is simply the structure God designed to provide order to the home and church. The differing roles in the home and church between men and women are not based upon inferiority vs. superiority but on function and order. There is nothing about God’s structure that relates to our essence or nature as humans. It is simply a structure of authority to provide leadership. 

Thanks for asking. I hope this was helpful. 

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Kathy Mangum says:
This means a woman cannot teach a Bible study that exercises authority over men at church, correct?

[WI Reply] Kathy, you are correct. In the church where Stephen and Scott serve, all of the adult classes that are for both genders are taught by men. So, if some of the students are men, the teacher is a man.