This is one of those so-called “difficult” subjects that few Christians want to tackle for fear of offending someone in some camp somewhere. But this is really not a very difficult topic at all for anyone who understands that all authority in the church is vested in Christ and never in any man or woman.
Can a woman be a pastor (meaning a pastor as incorrectly understood as a control-based authoritarian figure)? The answer to this question is very simple. No, but neither can any man!
In other words no one, male or female can be a “pastor” in the modern incorrect sense of the word. There is no such thing in the Bible as a pastor (within the popular institutional definition of “pastor”) where such a figure can be a tyrannical control-based leader and has all kinds of unauthorized power and authority in the church to rule over God’s people, power that God has simply not given them. All genuine power and authority rests solely in Christ. So to ask whether or not a woman can stand in this imaginary position in the church is a meaningless point, because no one can stand there, regardless of their gender.
Since there is no such thing in the Bible as the modern idea of a controlling CEO-pastor, then there is no such role for either a male or female to fill. Such an office of power and control is forbidden for either gender to take on as it usurps the place of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
So obviously we must first define our terms and we must first make sure that we have the correct biblical definition of pastor / elder before we attempt to elaborate any further. I have written much in other articles on the subject of authority in the church and what constitutes a genuine pastor /elder and so I don’t want to go into too much depth here.
A few quick things though: The words pastor, elder and bishop are for all practical purposes synonymous terms in the New Testament. They all mean pretty much the same thing. These words do not represent any kind of offices or stacked hierarchy of one position over another. But the darkened hearts of man typically claw for anything that can be twisted into an opportunity to give them “greatness” or power over another. This is how they come up with the idea of a bishop being “over” a pastor and a pastor being “over” an elder. A genuine pastor / elder / bishop is a true servant-watchman and someone who the church respects (or should respect) for their sound doctrine and solid Bible-based life, but the church does not blindly follow them. Enough said. Let’s get back to the subject at hand: can a woman be a pastor?
Well, what does the Bible say?
1This is a true saying, if a man desire the office** of a bishop [one who looks diligently, sees-over, is a watch, sentry or scout], he desires a good work. 2A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4One that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5(For if a man knows not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 1Tim 3: 1-7 KJVt [Emphasis Added]
[**Note: the word “office” was added later, most likely due to translator bias or denominational influence. The word office (or any equivalent for office) is not found in the original Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.]
We see here that the Bible teaches that a requirement of an elder, who is most often called a pastor and sometimes a bishop today, is that he must be the husband of one wife and we know that a woman cannot be a “he” or “the husband of one wife”. So this is our first red flag.
[Note: “husband of one wife” does not mean that a man must be married or that he cannot be an elder if he has ever been legitimately divorced as some legalists incorrectly teach. God allows divorce under certain limited circumstances such as for infidelity of a spouse (especially unrepentant habitual infidelity). Under such circumstances, divorce is allowed and does not, for example, prevent a wronged husband from becoming or remaining an elder. But if he is married he must be a one-woman man and not a polygamist.]
Further in verse 5 we see:
“For if a man (not a woman) knows not how to rule his (not her) own house, how shall he (not she) take care of the church of God?”
The words “man”, “his” and “he” are further red flags that there is a problem with the concept of a women being an elder.
[Before I go on, let me point out an incredible thing here as a side note. Notice how this verse says, “For if a man knows not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” It doesn’t say how shall he rule the church of God! Big difference. So while a man may rule at home (not adversarially of course, but in love and in cooperation with his wife), he is to take care of the church, not rule the church. It is fantastic to see over and over how the Bible consistently re-reiterates proper church authority. Unfortunately, most would-be kings read right past these and other even more blatant verses and overlook all the blaring proofs that God prohibits control-based church leadership.]
[On another quick side note, for those who claim that a bishop is something other than an elder or pastor, should read this:
4To Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior. 5For this cause left I thee in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 6If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. 7For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; 8But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; 9Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. Titus 1: 4-9 KJVt
Here we see that an elder is also called a bishop and again must be the husband of one wife (again meaning that if he is married he must be a one-woman man and not a polygamist. This has nothing do with a legitimate previous divorce.)]
Twice now we have seen that an elder or bishop must be the husband of one wife so we know this particular role is simply not available to a woman. It’s not that we are looking for the Bible to say the same thing over and over before we believe it. But when the Bible does say the same thing twice in different places then that should help us draw a faster conclusion.
Now add to this the fact that the Bible teaches that women are to be in subjection to their own husbands and are not to speak in church assembly in such as way as to usurp or undermine the authority of their own husbands (more on this in another article). Also, the Bible always refers to the role of elder in the male gender and never the female. We do not see a single example in the Bible of a female elder, pastor or bishop. This adds to the overall picture as well. We do however see female judges and this is a small part of our proof that women are not to be suppressed from speaking or teaching in the church, but that is a subject for another time.
Fear Not. It Gets Better…
Regardless, all Christians male and female are already authorized by God to operate as the ministers and watchman of equal worth that He has already made us to be, willing to bring the truth from the Bible and warn the church of impending dangers, whether people get mad at us for it or not. The elder’s role doesn’t mean that men are any better than women, no more than the role of an older women encouraging younger women means that women are any better than men. God is no respecter of persons. Men and women are of equal worth but have differing roles. Just like a man can never know the joys of childbirth, a woman can never know the joy doing thins that require a tremendous amount of physical strength. Neither gender has the right equipment to do the other gender’s job.
Like a Grandfather and Close Friend
In a nutshell, the overall picture that we see in the Bible is that a true elder is a mature older man who watches over everyone like both a grandfather and close friend and, among other things, is ready to give advice on life issues according to what the Bible teaches. He does not control and make decisions for members. He is not a dangerous tyrant who dictates and commands. He does not set a personal goal or vision and require everyone to follow it. He is not a clever entrepreneur or businessman disguised as a shepherd. By using the word “advisory” here, I mean advisory to the whole church. This type of advisory elder (again often called a pastor or sometimes less frequently bishop) is not some “pastor’s” lackey assistant or gofer. I say this because many if not most pastors today wholeheartedly believe that elders are subservient to them, as many also believe that bishops are superior to or “over” them. This is all rubbish.
Being around a true elder should be as comfortable and non-threatening as having a quiet kind-hearted grandfather around who keeps an eye on things and advises on important matters, nothing threatening, nothing dominating. Such as person is a truly wonderful gift to the church. Sadly, because worldly ambition and ungodly agendas rule the hearts of so many potentially good elders, it is an incredibly rare thing today to have the pleasure of running across a real elder in operation or being able to serve along side of one.
So the question really comes down to can a woman be a grandfather? No, but neither can a man be a grandmother!
Obviously a man cannot be an older woman, nor function in the role of an older woman nor do anything that the Bible specifically assigns older women to do, such as having a ministry of encouraging younger women:
3The aged (older) women likewise, that they be in behavior as becomes holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; 4That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, 5To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Titus 2:3-5
In fact, male pastors who see themselves as the all-important “be-alls” and “do-alls” in the church, often think that they too can have such personal ministries to younger woman. And what often happens? All kinds of trouble, including sexual immorality, infidelity / adultery, divorce, etc. are a common result. Here we see the importance of men NOT stepping over the line and doing what God has called women to do. So the door of limitation swings both ways. There are some gender-specific things that God has ordained for each side. We are not singling out women to be limited. Both men and women have limitations.
Thankfully, none of this clips the wings or limits the scope of a Christian woman or man as far as their importance and potential depth of spiritual service to the church. None of this relegates a Christian man or women to any kind of a sub par / substandard church citizen. The denigration of women in particular is very common among ungodly women-suppressing legalists and their legalistic churches.
Except in churches “pastored” by domineering women**, we don’t see very many churches singling out and suppressing the male gender in a similar way. (However both genders are very suppressed in churches where control-based church leadership is present.) But nevertheless it is not inconceivable to imagine the existence of an odd domination that makes a huge deal out of the ministry of women to women, so much so that it would make any men present feel substandard and useless.
**Sometimes due to the fact that some women “pastors” feel threatened by men and so feel the need to constantly overcompensate and assert their so-called “authority”, such churches are often riddled with even more serious abuses than male dominated churches.