Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Close this search box.

Can a woman be a pastor? teaching elder, gender roles, discrimination

Dichotomy and Division

This January, as I usually do, I spent two weeks at an ancient languages summer school. One of my classmates in Greek class came up with a flowchart to work out where to place the accent in verbs. It was one of those charts where a question is posed and you answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and, depending on your answer, you take a step in a particular direction where another question is posed, and again you need to answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ You keep going until you reach the end of a particular path and there you find out, in this case, where to place the accent.

I remember using a similar system to classify organisms (particularly Australian native trees) into their relative genus and species during my brief science days. This kind of system is called a dichotomous key.

I began imagining how a dichotomous key could be used by churches to help them choose new ministers. An opening question might be: Does the person have an obvious, vibrant Christian faith? – yes or no? Or, Does the person have a thorough and sound knowledge of Scripture? – yes or no? Or, Does the person have a clear call to vocational ministry? – yes or no? Gradually the focus of the questions would get narrower and more specialised to fit with the unique situation and needs of a specific congregation.

In reality, most churches use dichotomous reasoning when choosing a minister, such as a pastor, whether they realise it or not. However, instead of the questions posed above, the first question seems to be, Is the person a man? – yes or no? A ‘no’ answer usually results in the candidate being instantly rejected, and the woman’s faith, gifts, qualifications, character, and experience aren’t even considered.

I can’t help but feel that there is something askew with a view that places gender above godliness and giftedness. There is something wrong with a system where, potentially, every man can be considered for teaching and leadership ministries, but every woman is automatically disqualified.

Many people refuse to consider women for teaching and leadership roles in the church because they believe that the Bible prohibits women from these vocations. Understandably, they do not want to ignore scriptural injunctions and go against God’s will. However, the very few Bible verses that seem to prohibit women from ministries that include public speaking, while they may seem plain and clear in English translations, are far from straightforward in the Greek. There are significant textual uncertainties and hermeneutical challenges with 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 and 1 Timothy 2:12.

Implementing restrictions on women’s ministry on the basis of these verses, which were addressing problem behaviour in specific churches situated in a culture vastly different from our own, is unsound and fraught with difficulties. This is evidenced by the variety of ways different churches implement their own interpretations of these two verses.

By only encouraging men in ministry, and by limiting what women can do and can become, a distinction is being drawn between the sexes, a distinction that divides the church into two classes. In some churches, this divide is deepening. And yet I do not see this dichotomy between men and women in the New Testament.  Spiritual ministry gifts are not dependent on gender (Acts 2:17–18; Rom. 12:3–8; 1 Cor. 12:4–31; Eph. 4:4–13; cf. 1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16). And equality and unity, even in ministry, are basic Kingdom principles.

In many ministry situations, the question of whether a minister is a man or a woman has little practical or spiritual relevance. And the ideal is men and women serving together.

You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month at Patreon.
Become a Patron!

Explore more

All my articles on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are here.
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
My articles on Paul’s Theology of Ministry are here.
There are Women Pastors in the New Testament
New Testament Women Church Leaders
Paul’s Female Coworkers (Paul’s Theology of Ministry)
Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders (1 Timothy 3)
Complementarians Divide the Church

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

16 thoughts on “Can a woman be a pastor? Yes or No?

  1. I do think gender has relevance. The leadership of a congregation is plural in the NT and therefore should be plural in a congregation that wants to follow the NT model. And the plural leadership should reflect the diversity of the membership in a general way or at the least be heading in that direction. This allows for a greater flexibility among the leadership in meeting specific needs and requests.

    1. Exactly!

  2. hi Marg
    thanks for writing this stuff…it can be hard to find on the www. I’ve bookmarked it and will read some more when I’m not as sleepy

  3. Don, This is such a good point. I agree with you completely.

    Dave, I saw that you posted a comment on the BWE blog too, and that your wife is a minister. It would be interesting to hear some perspectives on women in ministry from your angle.

    1. Thank you very much Marg for this insightfull truth from the scriptures.
      Take heart and be courageous, truth must always be said at risk of rejection, yet it remains truth forever.
      Thank you.
      God bless you

      1. Thanks, René-Michel.

  4. I’ve just finished reading The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight and am feeling positive about the future for women; I pray that one day we won’t be the minority, and that giftedness, calling and character will rank above gender in these choices (even in plural leadership; I believe that God made men and women complementary in a way that means we can consider gifts and calling and character rather than gender and still end up with an evenly-gendered team). I highly recommend the book!

  5. Hi Belle, I have a great deal of respect for Scot’s scholarship, his theology, and his point of view, and I subscribe to his blog.

    I’m positive about the future of women too. I believe that the full equality of men and women in the church and home is inevitable, even if it seems to be taking a long time, and even though, in some parts of America, it seems to be going backwards.

  6. Thank you for continuing to write about subjects like women’s ministry and calling in the church. I really appreciate what you have to say!

  7. Thank you for your writing about this. It’s helping a lot, and encouraging me to learn more every day and be more prepared for our church!

    1. Women can and NEED to do all the same kind of ministry as men. But if we ditch hierarchical models (as you seem to advocate) and revert to teamwork, it will solve ALL kinds of problems as well as defusing the panic of appointing women to be “over” men. The early church was smart enough to realize that there are many situations where you need women to minister to women, and men to men. So you need both on your team. Then most went all hierarchical and needed to keep women out of power. Then they almost completely kicked women out of any ministry at all.

      If we ditch the stupid unbiblical system we have of the head pastor who teaches every Sunday, and have background elders who are mostly there for serious problems and to help disciple new believers, it solves so many problems. No one is over anyone else, no one is doing all the teaching, no old fashioned people need to panic over women elders and deacons because they are not “in authority” OVER anyone (neither are the men!) every one is just serving in teams in the background while the whole Body is encouraged to minister to each other and the community.

      I don’t believe local ministry should be vocational most of the time. Vocational ministry is for itinerants who can’t support themselves while furthering the Kingdom because of specific circumstances (like many cross cultural missionaries.)

      So maybe women should form teams with right thinking men and be the vanguard of organic ministry, instead of trying so hard to break into and perpetuate the unscriptural current pastoral model that has strangled every member ministry for 1800 years.

      1. Sounds good to me. 🙂

  8. What can I say? We are on the same page, same sentence, same Word. I appreciate you so much for sharing. Your mind is sharp and you are an avid studier. You are a blessing.
    Thank you,

  9. 1Co 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.
    1Co 14:35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

    1. Hey Mark,

      Just quoting Bible verses without telling us why you’ve quoted them is not helpful. And did you really think myself or my readers are unaware of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35? I mention them in the article.

      Are you unaware of 1 Corinthians 11:5? In this verse, Paul mentions women who pray and prophecy in Corinthian assemblies, and he doesn’t silence them?

      Three groups of speakers are silenced in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, and none of them are pastors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Marg's Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Join Marg's Patreon

Would you like to support my ministry of encouraging mutuality and equality between men and women in the church and in marriage?