The issue of whether women can serve as pastors and leaders in the church is a topic of much debate within Christianity. There are different perspectives on what the Bible teaches about the role of women in church leadership. Here is an overview of some of the main biblical passages that are relevant to this discussion:
1 Timothy 2:11-14
In 1 Timothy 2:11-14, Paul writes:
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
This passage has been interpreted by some to prohibit women from teaching and having authority over men in the church setting. They believe this command was not just meant for Timothy’s specific context but applies universally in the church. The reasoning seems to be that men, by virtue of being created first, are to be the spiritual leaders and women are more prone to deception if placed in teaching roles over men.
1 Corinthians 14:33b-35
Another relevant passage is 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35:
As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
This passage has also been taken to prohibit women from speaking or teaching during church services. Those who hold this view believe women cannot preach or teach to men in church gatherings. Some understand the command for women to be silent as a local rule just for Corinth due to women possibly causing disorder in worship, while others take it as a universal rule for all churches.
On the other side of the issue, Galatians 3:28 indicates there is spiritual equality between men and women in Christ:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Those who believe women can serve as pastors point to this passage to show that gender roles and distinctions are broken down in Christ. Since men and women are equal before God, they argue there is no biblical barrier to women serving in leadership over men.
Women in leadership in the Bible
There are also examples of women leaders and prophets in the Bible that some believe show women can have authoritative teaching roles over men:
- Deborah was a judge and prophetess who led Israel (Judges 4-5).
- God gifted Miriam and others with prophecy and appointed them as leaders over Israel (Exodus 15:20-21).
- Priscilla taught the learned Apollos along with her husband Aquila (Acts 18:26).
- Philip had four unmarried daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9).
- Phoebe is called a “deacon” and “benefactor” of Paul and others (Romans 16:1-2).
- Junia is said to be “outstanding among the apostles” along with Andronicus (Romans 16:7).
Those who believe women can be pastors say these examples show that God calls and gifts women to be leaders, teachers, and prophets to both men and women. While these women may not have held the title of pastor, they exercised pastoral teaching and leadership gifts.
Two main positions
In summary, there are two main positions on what the Bible teaches about women pastors:
- Only men can serve as pastors. This view believes that 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 prohibit women from teaching and having spiritual authority over men in the church context. These are universal, timeless commands rooted in creation and gender differences. While women can teach other women and children, the role of pastor is reserved for men.
- Women can serve as pastors. This perspective understands 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 as specific commands to particular situations, not universal prohibitions across all churches for all time. With men and women being equal in Christ and the examples of gifted women leaders in the Bible, there is no reason to prohibit women from being pastors today. The gifts and calling of God override gender limitations.
Different denominational perspectives
There are a variety of perspectives across Christian denominations when it comes to women in church leadership roles like being a pastor:
- Roman Catholicism – Does not ordain women or allow female priests. The Catholic Church teaches that since Christ chose only males as apostles, only men can have priestly authority in the church.
- Eastern Orthodoxy – Similarly does not ordain women or allow female priests, believing this is an unchangeable apostolic tradition stemming from Christ.
- Conservative Protestants – Most evangelical churches prohibit women from serving as pastors and holding eldership/oversight positions in the church. This includes denominations like Baptists, non-denominational Bible churches, Presbyterians (PCA), and others.
- Mainline Protestants – Most mainline denominations ordain women and allow them to serve in senior pastor roles. This includes Methodists, Lutherans (ELCA), Episcopalians, Presbyterians (PCUSA), etc.
- Pentecostals – Varies by denomination. Assemblies of God defers judgment to the local church. Foursquare Church ordains women for ministry. Hillsong Church has women pastors.
There is evidence on both sides of the issue from Scripture, which leads to sincere Christians holding different positions. Each perspective believes they are faithfully interpreting biblical commands and principles.
Titus 2 – Biblical model of male leadership?
Those who believe women should not serve as pastors/elders often point to Titus 2 as a model for male-only church leadership. The passage says:
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
The logic is that older/elder men are directed to teach sound doctrine while older/elder women are directed to teach younger women and children. This seems to establish a pattern of male spiritual leadership over the church. Women teach other women but are not instructed to teach men or the overall church.
Some counter that this passage was addressed to a specific situation in Crete dealing with false doctrine. It does not establish a universal leadership pattern but gives instructions responding to specific issues facing that community, like women being led astray and reviling God’s word.
Addressing common arguments
Here are some brief responses to common arguments made by those who believe the pastor role is only for men:
- But Jesus’ 12 disciples were all men. True, but Jesus also had many women disciples and followers (Luke 8:1-3). Nowhere does Scripture state that the 12 apostles established a permanent leadership model of only men.
- None of the New Testament pastor/elders were women. There is no conclusive evidence for this claim. Some believe women were included among the elder/oversight groups (Philippians 4:2-3).
- In the Old Testament, priests had to be men. Jesus ushered in a new priesthood where all believers are priests, not just a special class (1 Peter 2:9). The restrictions on physical priests do not seem to apply spiritually.
- But man was created first. Some argue this means male headship. But Genesis 1 says male and female were made together in God’s image. Genesis 2 order doesn’t necessarily imply leadership roles.
Each argument from the male-only view has counter arguments from the egalitarian position. There are good-faith reasons why Christians come to differing conclusions on this issue.
Church government structures
One factor that influences a church’s stance on women pastors is their view of church leadership and government structure. There are a few main structures:
- Episcopal – Rule by bishops. Generally doesn’t allow women bishops.
- Presbyterian/Elder led – Rule by elders/presbytery. Many prohibit women from being elders.
- Congregational – Each local church self-governed. More likely to allow women pastors.
Churches structured around identifying and appointing elders see prohibiting women from those roles as a natural extension of biblical eldership. Congregational churches focus more on recognizing those gifted by the Spirit.
Effects on church ministry
Some argue that the different stances churches take on this issue have real effects on the ministry of the church. For example:
- Restricting women from top leadership means the church is missing out on the gifts and talents of half of its members, hampering its mission.
- Allowing women to be pastors means rejecting biblical authority and commands, potentially hurting the church long-term.
- Having men as spiritual leaders creates needed order and structure for a healthy church.
- Excluding women from pastoral leadership fosters patriarchy and limits diversity, hurting the church’s witness.
There are heartfelt reasons offered on both sides for why their view of women in the pastorate best enables the church to function and thrive.
Conclusion and wisdom moving forward
In conclusion, there are good biblical arguments made by Christians on both sides of the debate over women serving as pastors. Much of one’s position comes down to how key passages like 1 Timothy 2 are interpreted, whether as universal prohibitions or specific commands to historical situations. It also depends on how much weight one gives to examples of women leaders in the early church.
While people of goodwill and biblical commitment have landed and will continue to land on differing views regarding women pastors, it would be wise moving forward for several attitudes to prevail:
- Humble respect – Recognizing that there are thoughtful biblical scholars on both sides of the issue should lead to greater humility and less dogmatism regarding one’s view.
- Focus on mission – While important, this issue itself should not distract from the ultimate mission of the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
- Room for disagreement – Leaving room for disagreement while still loving each other and recognizing the whole Body of Christ.
- Move forward in grace – Extending grace to those with different views rather than judgment.
While Christians will continue to wrestle with and debate this issue, the prayer is that the church as a whole will still reflect the best of Christ to the world.