As the SBC & Others Consider Ordaining Female Pastors, We Should Consider These Things 

By Shane Idleman Published on June 12, 2024

For the last two days, the Southern Baptist Convention has been holding its annual meeting conference to vote on some important issues — and one of the most hot-button items on the agenda is whether to permit women to become pastors.

From the SBC to Mainline denominations and many churches in between, the topic of female pastors is very prevalent these days.

Let me begin by saying that I know and appreciate many women who have been recognized as pastors. They are diligent, steadfast, and hard-working. Our country has done a great disservice to women over the years by not elevating and supporting them in leadership roles.

Author and speaker Alexander Strauch echoes this same concern. In his 2003 book Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, he wrote:

In the minds of contemporary people, excluding women from church eldership is sexist, discriminatory, and one more example of male dominance. But this need not be the case. No one who truly loves people, who is sensitive to God’s Word, and who is aware of the painful dehumanization that women have suffered (and still suffer) worldwide would want to discriminate against women.

Did We Overcorrect?

Women are one of the greatest gifts that God has given the world. But in our passion to promote women (something I wholeheartedly agree we should do), have we overstepped the Scriptures in some areas?

It is common for the Church, as a whole, to overcorrect itself when abuse occurs. Here is the key for me: Women who preach are different altogether than women who pastor a church. The Bible is clear that a woman should not usurp the spiritual leadership of the man in the home or the church.

God gave men the role of leading and dying for their family and the Church. I believe that Christ coming into the world as a man was strategic for this very reason: to lead, shepherd, and die for. Therefore, it follows logically that men are given the positions of pastors and elders in the church.

Despite what some people argue, this has nothing to do with the culture in which the Apostle Paul wrote about women in the church; the male/female roles were assigned at creation. It’s not about one sex being “better” than the other; it’s about design. How did God design us? First Timothy 2:11–13 talks about women not usurping the headship of men (cf. Genesis 3:16 again).

Learning From Is Not Leading Over

Can men learn from Bible teachers/preachers such as Kay Arthur, Priscilla Shirer, Anne Graham-Lotz, and others? Absolutely. But they should not be the spiritual covering over the man, thus usurping his role as the spiritual leader of the house. That’s the key.

For example, I was blessed by Joni Eareckson Tada’s message at John MacArthur’s Shepherd’s Conference years ago, but this is not usurping the headship of men; it’s encouraging and convicting them.

We must understand that the loving, nurturing role of a woman is vital to the health of the Church in the same way that it is vital to the health of the household. God has designed males and females to complement one another in relationship; one gender is not better than the other, but we do have different roles. To reject these God-given differences can lead to an unbalanced view — and an unbalanced life.

Second, many misunderstand male leadership as God designed it. It’s not a glorified position, it’s the position of a servant. A servant is called to protect, lead, and guard the church. We are to serve those God has entrusted to us. If there is a loud noise at home in the dead of night, do we encourage our wives to investigate? I hope not. God has called men to the position of servant leadership and protector.

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Third, we see from Genesis 3:16 that God ordained a leadership role for the man. However, when men cower back from their leadership responsibilities, women will step in. Therefore men must rise to the call of servant leadership. This type of leadership is not domineering or abusive; it’s kind, gracious, and humble. Pastors are to serve those in church, not lord over them. God’s design is not focused on “better than” or “superior,” even though abuse has led many to believe this.

But What Does the Bible Say?

Some people use the New Testament character Chloe as an example of women being pastors. They say that, according to 1 Corinthians 1:11 she was a house church leader. However, the Scripture (in which Paul references divisions in the church) doesn’t say that; it says he heard about the discord from “members of Chloe’s household” (NLT)

Another female leader in the New Testament is Priscilla. She and her husband, Aquila, ministered together. Another example is Lydia in Acts 16. Her entire household was baptized and her home became a meeting place for early Christians.

Although these women are mentioned, the context does not support the idea of them serving as elders or pastors. The terms for pastor, bishop, or overseer were not used to describe them. Deborah, a powerful Old Testament figure who judged the nation of Israel for a season, is another example people use to support the idea of women serving as church pastors, but it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Words & Qualifications Matter

The Greek word for bishop is episkopos, and the word for pastor is poimen; both terms refer to the same office, and they both come from masculine nouns that mean “to shepherd” or “to care for.”

The qualifications for male leadership are listed in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9. The Bible does not outline character traits for female pastors, nor does it use the words episkopos or poimen when describing their role. For those who agree with the position of female pastors, where does the Bible list the character traits needed for this role?

Can men learn from female Bible teachers? Absolutely. In fact, we need more female authors and speakers. Both genders complement each other, rather than compete against each other; we are equal in Christ, but have different roles.

Jesus Never Reversed Roles

Jesus honored and supported women. He treated them the way they should be treated, but He never reversed their role in society. Jesus called Paul, He commissioned Peter, and He encouraged John to lead the Church.

Women can — and should — teach, administrate, and organize, but under the direction of Scripture such as in women’s ministry, children’s ministry, office management, and countless other positions. But we should avoid using the masculine noun “pastor” when outlining their role.

Male leadership should look to the wise advice and counsel of women before making decisions. For example, in my home, my wife and I make decisions together. Additionally, all three of my editors for books and articles (including this one) are women. Their advice and suggestions are priceless. All are exceptional writers, far better than me.

Women are a true blessing to the Church, the glue that keeps everything together. We would not survive or flourish without them.

If the Bible directly mentioned females serving as pastors and provided a list of character traits such women need to possess, I would be among their biggest fans.

My view has nothing to do with opinion, abuse of authority, or male chauvinism, but everything to do with the principles given in Scripture that allow each role to complement the whole. Times change, but truth does not.

 

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Southern California and the creator of the WCF Radio Network. His program, Regaining Lost Ground, points us back to God and reminds us that although times change, truth does not. His books, blogs, and sermons can all be found at ShaneIdleman.com.

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