If Not Here, Then Where? Asking the right question about female leadership.

MBA

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with someone about “Female Pastors”.  I am sure at some point, you have been involved in one… overheard one… or maybe even that discussion was between Me, Myself and I as you pondered the subject.

This is a subject I have discussed with others, and myself, multiple times.  For the bulk of my Christian walk, I have found myself on the “against it” side.  This last year, my beliefs have been significantly challenged.

I looked into the scriptures, and yes there are women of notable importance in the pages.  There are clear cut leaders who are in fact women, but that doesn’t negate the scriptures that clearly indicated male headship.

RIGHT?

So began my struggle.

It is not my struggle alone.  Christians and congregations around the globe struggle with this same question.  I have spoken to women who are staunchly against it, and men who are totally for it.  I have spent time speaking with women who are Pastors, and men who are in their congregations. I’ve looked to the experts, who stand against it… and those who are starting to change their mind. Ultimately the question comes down to:

Is it biblical?  Yes, or no.

Then one day, I thought to myself:  “Maybe we are asking the wrong question…”

I am going to suggest that the answer isn’t as black and white, as we tend to think it is.  Instead I think the question we should be asking isn’t going to have an answer a simple yes or no answer, but instead an answer to a series of questions.

In fact, I think the question we should be starting with is: “If not here, then where is female headship permissible and beneficial?”

I contend the following:

  1.  In the scripture regarding the gifts of the Spirit, there is no indication that gifts are given based on gender.  So, it is possible for a woman to be gifted by the Holy Spirit with teaching, shepherding, leading.
  2.   In Galatians 3:28 we are told that in Christ we are all one. (There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.)  If we are all one in Christ, would this not also apply to the gifts of the spirit and commission into pastoring?
  3. In the OT to the NT there are occasions recorded in the scriptures of women who were called into leadership positions or referred to as specific types of leaders.  There are specific times and occasions, where God saw fit to raise a leader that was female.  We need to explore why He would do so.
  4.   As we draw closer to the day when Christ returns, God is going to pour His spirit out on everyone,  men and women.  (Acts 2:17)  Prophets, just like Pastors, are given the responsibility of rightly handling the Word of God, and conveying that message to His body of believers.  If women can be called to prophesy, what would discount them from pastoring?

Does this mean that I believe that ALL women are going to be called into Pastorship?  No, not at all.  1 Corinthians 12:28 supports that our gifts will be used in different callings, not all are called to do the same thing.  Nor is the gift of teaching, leading, and even shepherding mutually exclusive to Pastors.  I recently spoke with my Pastor’s wife about this subject.  She stated that there are many people in our church that would be considered “shepherds” yet they are not Pastors.

While I have become opened to the possibility, we have to look at the scriptures themselves to understand the WHO and the HOW.

I find myself now asking the next question:  “If a woman has been called into Pastorship, where would that calling be permissible?

Dr. Eric Mason, a Pastor, recently posted two tweets that caught my attention.

 In Titus 2 women are called to teach other women, there is no debate as to our responsibility to lead other women.  Yet, in the last year I have encountered women who are not even allowed to teach other women in their church.  Why is there such fear or trepidation about allowing women to lead?  Additionally, I’ve noticed, that when they are allowed to lead or teach, there is a great amount of scrutiny over their leadership.  They are not allowed the same freedoms in leadership as their male counterparts.

Clearly this is not something EVERY CHURCH faces, but it is something I see that swims across all denominations and even the independent/non-denominational lines.  It is not relegated to churches with senior Pastors who are on the edge of retirement, I see it among the young Pastors too.  It is not geographically pinned down either, it is common in big city churches and small country ones alike.

Last summer, I sat in a room with over fifty women who were all feeling called to seminary but hesitant because of a justification of the time and expense. Why?  They can’t see where that degree will be used.  Where are the jobs?  Where are the leadership positions?

When women are making up over 60% of our congregation on any given Sunday, and 75-90% of our volunteers that keep the ministry programs functioning… We have a LOT of women, with spiritual gifts and callings, that are going unrecognized. Their gifts are not being invested in and they are not given the opportunity to use them.

If we can all agree that at the very minimum that the scriptures call women to teach/lead/guide/shepherd other women… the conversation can begin & an answer can be found.

  In most churches we have a Head Pastor, Associate Pastor, Worship Pastor, Youth Pastor, and Children’s Pastor.    There would be absolutely no conflict to the scripture to have a “Women’s Pastor”.  A woman, gifted in the role of shepherding other women.

  • She understands the unique needs of women, and their experiences.
  • For women who need counseling, they may find her safer than speaking with a male leadership figure (particularly if her counseling is related to abuse by a male figure in her life).
  • For our male Pastors, having a female who can provide Pastoral counseling creates a place of safety in the church.  If our male Pastors are not put into the position to counsel women, they have cut off an opportunity for temptation or false accusation.

I have had several conversations with Women’s Ministry leaders across the globe, and this is something they keep bringing up on their own.  It’s happened too much for me to not notice.  They feel that having a female staff member, a “Women’s Pastor” would benefit the women of their church in many ways.

Will this be any woman?  No, not necessarily.  If a woman is going to be called into Pastorship, over anyone, she has to fulfill the same biblical requirements as the men do.  It has to be a calling from God, affirmed and supported by her spouse (her Pastor if she is single), she must be a woman who is a sound student of the Word, a Godly woman who is well respected, speaks wise instruction, lives in a way where she can not be accused… basically everything that is included in the beginning of 1 Timothy 3.

I find that from a scriptural basis, there is absolutely no reason why a woman can not step into a Pastoral position over other women.  In fact, it may be a HUGE blessing to the women in your congregation.  It can be a safe guard for your male Pastors.  It also answers the questions of how a woman can use that gift, without feeling she is contradicting the scriptures.

At this point, someone is yelling WHOA!    It may be because you think I have gone off my rocker.  On the flipside, you may be someone who is in 100% support of women as Pastors (even head Pastors) and think I am a stick in the mud.

The subject of women in the role of Head Pastor is a heated debate, and I am not interested in engaging in a topic that is going to divide our family of believers.  It’s just become more clear to me that we have allowed stereotyping to bookend what a Pastor can and can’t be, what they can do and can’t do.  We kept the subject so black and white, that we missed the glaring opportunity staring us right in the face!

If the scriptures say without any doubt that women are to lead women, then the creation of a new Pastoral position that fulfills that commission should be something we can all agree with.

And, it’s totally complimentarian.  Because, this Women’s Pastor is working as a help meet and under the authority of her Pastor.  We’ve been arguing over whether a woman can fill a certain role, without ever considering her calling may be to fulfill a NEW role entirely.   It is also egalitarian, because it allows the genders to work together in equal roles in the shaping of the church.

A Women’s Pastor is just the beginning of the creation of leadership roles for women, even staff positions, within the church.  There are churches who have “Women’s Ministry Directors” who are not and do not desire Ordination as a Pastor, but are on staff overseeing the Women’s Ministry programs.  Perhaps the “Small Groups” and “Children’s Pastor” positions are ones that we can begin to open up to women.

But what about being a Pastor over men?  What would that look like?  When would that be permissible?  That is a whole other set of questions, that I am still working through.

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this!

Do you think it is permissible for a woman to hold the title of Pastor, if she is over other women?   Would you want a “Women’s Pastor” leading the women and women’s programs in your church?

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