Women as Pastors: Pastoral Research Project

Preface

Please take note that the article below does not contain all the research I conducted in order to reach my conclusion. I note a few authors and books, which you will need to pick up and read in order to see how I drew my conclusions. This article is a revised version of my conclusions from a Pastoral Research Project I completed. If it doesn’t seem to flow nicely from one paragraph to another, it’s because I have taken portions out of the project that I felt were helpful.

If you would like to respond to this article, feel free to email me: wknelsen@gmail.com.

Addressing the question of women in pastoral ministry

I have always had an inner tension regarding the matter of women in church leadership. On one hand, I grew up understanding that women and men have different roles in general, both in the home and in the church. On the other hand, I’ve always wondered why God would forbid women from being in authority over men merely because of their gender. I realize this is a sensitive subject, and I intend on dealing with it sensitively. I do not know for sure whether or not my response to the issue in question is correct. There are people who have done much more research than I have who come to a different conclusion than I do. However, I am satisfied with my conclusion and until I read or hear a conclusion that makes more sense to me, I will stay where I am.

1 Timothy 2:12 – Women are forbidden to exercise authority over a man

I understand that the passage from 1 Timothy 2 that speaks directly to the issue of woman in a position of authority over men can be interpreted differently depending on the method of interpretation. If one uses the methods suggested by complimentarian authors such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem and Douglas Moo, the passages must be understood as universal commands. However, if one uses the methods of John Stackhouse and Craig Keener, the passage appears to be contextual and may or may not be applicable depending on changing culture. Because of these differences, and the possibility of either being correct, I feel I have no choice but to consider the possibility that a woman could be called by God to enter into pastoral ministry. However, there are many things to consider before saying a definite yes to a woman taking the position of pastor in a church. The primary question to consider is whether or not the church would accept pastoral leadership from a woman. I believe this is a legitimate question and if the church would not accept the leadership of a woman, I would say that it would be inappropriate for the woman to take that position, at least not in that particular church. Other issues arise, such as the motives of the woman, whether or not she has a proven track record, is educated, has the right priorities, and is available to commit to the position and still maintain a healthy household.

Issues that arise from women in pastoral leadership

The biggest issue I have with women being in the pastoral position of a church is how that would affect the ministry of that church. Careful consideration of the surrounding culture would have to be made. If a woman entering a pastoral role would damage the effectiveness of a ministry, does this affect the churches decision on whether or not to hire her for that position? Is it more important to allow the woman to minister in the capacity to which see has been called and risk the ministry being less effective? The answer seems obvious to me, but it’s hard to give a definitive answer based only on a hypothetical situation. This is a question a church must consider along with the other considerations listed above.

Other issues involve how the woman’s position affects her home life. Pastoral ministry can be quite stressful (from what I hear), and that stress could affect her ability to care for her husband and children. Although one could say this is the case with either gender, I would suggest that the fact that she is a mother and wife would change the ways in which the family would be affected by the stress of her ministry. I also wonder how her being in that position would affect her respect and submission for her husband. This leads to another question: does allowing a woman in pastoral leadership change the roles within the home that are so clearly outlined in the New Testament? This is an issue I didn’t spend much time on, but I believe despite permitting  women in pastoral leadership, there are still undeniable differences in men and women, and not just in the biological sense. More reading in Piper and Grudem’s Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood would help to further clarify these important differences and how that affects the woman’s position as a pastor.

Helpful resources

The most helpful sources in my research were Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood by Piper and Grudem and Finally Feminist by John Stackhouse. Both books proved to be an excellent source for understanding either side of the gender roles debate. It is because of the undeniable evidence on both sides that I had to leave it open to the possibility of women being able to fill a pastoral role. If Stackhouse’s argument didn’t make so much sense, it would have been easier to remain where I was at the beginning, which was that women should not fill a position that would put her in authority of men in the church. Another reason I found Piper and Grudem helpful was the vast information on the whole scope of manhood and womanhood. There are some serious issues raised in this collection of essays and I look forward to spending more time studying them in the future.

A lesson learned from this study

An interesting and unexpected lesson I learned from this study was that I need to apply all these principles to myself in my pursuit of pastoral ministry. It would be unfair to impose all the conditions (see my conclusion below) on women and not consider them for myself. As I continue my pursuit of pastoral ministry, I will need to be in constant evaluation of whether or not I am fulfilling or struggling toward fulfilling the conditions Paul outlines in his pastoral epistles.

In conclusion, my response to a woman who would claim she feels called to pastoral ministry would be this:

If you are convinced of this calling, and you have received confirmation from mentors and your pastor that you are called to pastoral ministry; if you have or plan to receive education and training for this position; if you have or will commit to living the kind of life described in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and 2 Timothy 2:21-26, and you demonstrate the desire and commitment to loving God and loving others; if your motives are pure and not merely in order to prove that women are able to fill a pastoral position; and, if the church you are called to minister to is in full support of your leadership, and you are able to commit to leading that congregation faithfully, then there should be no doubt that it is within the will of God for you to enter into pastoral ministry.

If 1 Timothy 2 is a universal/prescriptive command…

If the 1 Timothy 2 passage is universal, the conclusion above does not change. The only thing that would change is that the women pursuing pastoral ministry would not be allowed to exercise authority over men. What this looks like in real life would depend on how the church is structured.

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