Ladies Need Not Apply

August 13, 2010

Every once in a while, I’m reminded that we are at war.  It is a war of the sexes.

The battle of the sexes is a long, ongoing war of attrition.  Once in a while, someone will jump out of their little trench and throw a grenade, but no one can seem to gain the upper hand.  And when you throw God in the mix, well, it actually doesn’t fix anything.  Some people think that it’s generally unbiblical for women to work outside the home, which definately means that women shouldn’t become pastors.  Others think that churches lose out when women aren’t in leadership.  Some people think that men and women have no differences at all.

Ah, but those opinions are never as neat and tidy as we’d like to think, are they?  Anyone who thinks men and women are the same is only living in denial.  People who think women shouldn’t have jobs must also believe that men are inherantly inferior childcare givers.  I attended a Baptist seminary, and found it ironic that a woman was allowed to do everything, I mean everthing, from running children’s church, down to repaving the parking lot (bonus points if she was breastfeeding while repaving the parking lot, double bonus points if she had twins).  She could literally do anything…except for take a preaching class, or take the title of “elder.” No, no, no, women can’t be “elders.”

I’m not out to answer if women should be pastors.  But I’m fascinated that the debate is still going on.  There’s got to be a reason that so many people are still uncomfortable with women in leadership. 

Three Possible Reasons We Argue About Women in Leadership

Maybe It’s Just Not Natural

Ladies, I have to hand it to you.  After watching those videos about our changing bodies and that horrific childbirth video in sex ed, I knew I could never have a baby…because I don’t have a uterus.  I was a bit disappointed that I would never experience the miracle of childbirth.  Except replace the word “disappointed” with “ecstatically relieved and overjoyed.” 

So possibility number 1: men and women are just different.  Men can’t pop out mini-people, and women apparently cannot have pearly white smiles, perfectly coiffed hair, pants, or the ability to pull random Bible verses out of context to prove a point.  Being a pastor takes a particular amount of charisma, ego…and testicles.

I think some people point out that none of Jesus’ disciples were women, even though Jesus was a great big feminist of his day (you have to throw that in there in order to not look sexist.)  Maybe there is something inherant to the job of “Pastor” that makes it a guy thing.  I wonder why it is that there are relatively few women pursuing ministry.  Is it because it’s a long standing tradition that it’s a man’s profession?  Or is it because most women just don’t want to be pastors?

I like some gender roles, but they’ll come back and bite you at times.  The other day, I sat through a training orientation, which included a sexual harassment video.  The video featured clips of harrassment being perpetrated by men.  Not one woman was shown harrassing someone.  It was embarassing.  I was sitting in a room that was predominately female, and the message was, “Ladies, the five men in this room definately will grope you if given the chance, because it is in their nature.” 

Maybe The Bible Says So, Dang It

Paul, Paul, Paul.  Why did you have to go and say, “I don’t let a woman speak in church.”?  Could you not have included a footnote explaining that you didn’t need to keep the women quiet, because that was a cultural norm of the day anyway, and you were actually making a point about the men being so spiritually immature and ignorant that the women were having to break social mores by speaking up in public?

Of course, once you get past Paul, the Bible doesn’t really say much, does it?  Not to discount old Paul, but I think we’ve grossly misunderstood what he was saying (hint: what he’s really saying is a lot better than what we think.)  I may get to that in another post.  I mean, you do kind of have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to say that women shouldn’t be leaders, ever.  Plus the fact that we don’t require women to cover their heads, which Paul also talks about.  Plus, that Deborah lady was a judge back in the Old Testament, and apparently no one said boo. 

Maybe People Just Don’t Like to Listen to Women As Much

Okay, possibility number 3.  Without any other logic or reason, maybe people just won’t tolerate women telling them what to do as much as men.

Think about the men in a church first.  Some people say the church is losing men already.  It’s tough enough for men to listen to another man tell them what to do (especially when a lot of the men aren’t worth listening to.)  Some of those men may have an even harder time listening to a woman telling them what to do.  Some men are going to think that a woman telling him what to do is being “harpy” or “nagging.” 

But maybe it’s not just men.  Deep down, women are competitive too, and perhaps there’s a part of some women that doesn’t approve of a woman taking the lead.  I can’t think of a single woman in leadership that every woman can support.  For every woman who thinks Hillary Clinton is a role model, there’s another who thinks she’s conniving, dangerous, and unfeminine.  For every woman who loves Sarah Palin, there’s another who thinks she’s brainless, dangerous, and unfeminine.  Two women, both “unfeminine” by different groups’ very different standards.  Maybe our concept of “feminine” plays into it too.

I don’t know if there’s a hard and fast rule in nature about women in leadership, but I have to say, the women who are in leadership are up against it. 

So tell me what you think.  Is the job of Pastor only for men by nature’s design?  Or is it just that people don’t like to listen to women as much as men?  Does the Bible have anything definitive to say, or are we just taking it out of context?  Are there hard and fast rules about gender roles?  I really want to hear from any female pastors out there too: what’s your experience with peoples’ willingness to listen to you as a woman?

46 responses to Ladies Need Not Apply

  1. I’m a man, but I have certainly fought the fight to get people to accept women pastors. I never attended seminary, and yet I’m a part time pastor for a small country church. I never planned for that to happen, I’m not even sure I chose for that to happen, other than I let God take the lead and that’s where He took me. The same goes for women being pastors. If God has led a woman to preach, who am I to limit what God can do? Should I point my finger upward and say “Hey God, you can’t do that…look, Paul says right here that you can’t do that..” We men need to get over ourselves, stop living by our own self-serving rules, and stop trying to put limits on what God can do.

  2. Wow – every time I think this is settled – it’s not. I believe you are correct in asserting Paul’s one verse to culture. At the time, there woman were perpetrating teachings that were adverse to Christianity. Paul’s “cultural” restriction of women teachers in Ephesus. (1 Timothy written to Timothy, pastor in Ephesus). The city of Ephesus was known for worship of Artemis, a Greek/Roman goddess. Women were the authority in the worship of Artemis. I believe it was about Artemis, not about woman.

    That’s my take. I think that woman have a place in the church. Phillip had 4 daughters that prophesied. (Acts 21) Phoebe was a leader in the church at Cenchrae. (Romans 16) Priscilla exercised a team ministry with her husband Aquila. (Acts 18) Lydia in Phillipi (Acts 16)

    What I want to know, is not should we have woman in “leadership,” but where are the Ephesians 4 evangelists, prophets and apostles in addition to the pastors and teachers? They are the ones supposed to be equipping the church. It seems like our pastors could use some support.

    As always, a thoughtful blog. Now if I could get the birthing film out of my mind.

  3. I suppose it’s a matter of what you choose to take literally. Of course, that could be said for so much of scripture. I have an opinion, but I’m actually going to keep it to myself for once.

  4. I have yet to hear anyone explain how the OT which was full of laws, rules, edicts, and prohibitions never got around to saying women couldn’t preach or be in leadership. Then the NT came around, all of the shackles were removed, we get grace and women get law? I don’t think so. Junia is listed as an apostle, and even when some try to make the name “Junius” to make it masculine sounding, it was never a man’s name at the time. It’s like finding out that “Barbara” was a leader and making it into a man’s name so it fits our theology. A woman was first to the tomb. Women were in the inner circle, just apparently not part of the 12. Women were deacons, had churches in their homes, were apostles and teachers (Priscilla taught Apollos) and led in all sorts of ways.

    We can be priests according to the NT, but not preachers. Except that we are commanded to preach and give a response, just not in church. Except that church isn’t a building, it’s a gathering of believers. So we must preach as long as there are only heathens around, but we’re not supposed to judge another person’s soul. Or maybe it’s just lead pastor because of the authority issue, except that nothing in the NT describes the kind of authority of one human over another that we imply with that. So we have an extra-biblical definition of pastor, infused with things that are not even hinted at in the word, then say because of what we made it and how we have taken verses out of context, women are not qualified to hold the position.

    Got it.

  5. True dat!

    “I was sitting in a room that was predominately female, and the message was, “Ladies, the five men in this room definately will grope you if given the chance, because it is in their nature.”

    I hate to say this, but as someone who worked in an all male field in the 80’s and 90’s, this was pretty much spot on true. At least for me, everyday was a game of hands off! If you complained, it was just “We’re only joking! Geesh!” Of course, now that I’m 45, it’s not an issue anymore. Or maybe guys are more concerned about getting in trouble.

    But I think you’re also right about us ladies.
    “Deep down, women are competitive too, and perhaps there’s a part of some women that doesn’t approve of a woman taking the lead.” Sad, but true.

    • That’s because we’re all contaminated by the same misinformation and cultural messages. If being competitive were a deal breaker, men wouldn’t be in ministry either.

  6. I used to go with the hardcore Southern Baptists that women are not to be leaders in the church because it says it in the bible. But Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man…”

    Sounds dumb, but I recently have been questioning if it’s Paul’s rule or God’s rule. But Matt, I’d be interested in a post about the context of what he says in 1 Tim 2:12. Can you give us a small blurp on your take? Just something to suffice my itching and eager learning mind.

    I’ve heard most people say, “Women are too emotional to be leaders.” But so can men. I’m not really sure where I stand. Wasn’t Esther a big leader? And doesn’t the Proverbs 31 talk about a woman who goes around town to buy, sell and trade using her earnings?”

    • That’s a tough verse to write a blurb about. I may have to do a seperate post on this. I’ve been wondering if it’s Paul’s rule or God’s rule too. But I think the most likely scenario is that Paul is speaking in a cultural context we don’t understand. Bottom line is Paul says that a woman speaking in public is disgraceful. Paul didn’t make that up, it was a social norm. So Paul sets about making sure that women in the church are honorable. As different as our culture is today, creating honorable women who are honored is a good goal.

      • The word you’re translating as “have authority” actually means “usurp authority” which is something that men aren’t supposed to do either. There are those who believe that “a woman” in this particular passage is a specific woman whom Paul chooses not to name. There is every reason to believe that Paul was addressing a problem in the church where the individual in question was inappropriately wresting control from someone who should have had it.

    • ‘”Womenare too emotional to be leaders.” But so can men.’

      Too right! Or doesn’t anger count??

    • I recently presented this topic to my class and this article really helped me understand the 1 Timothy passage. It’s a completely different perspective on the reason for women not teaching or exercising authority. It deals with the Greek text and really is fascinating. Hope it helps you too.

      Hopefully the link works. If not drop me an e-mail and I’ll forward the PDF file.

  7. I know Mrs. Tony C reads your blog Matt, so I want to say emphatically that women are just as capable as men at being strong spiritual leaders in the church!

    (Hoping for some groping this weekend)

  8. I think that I’d be uncomfortable with a woman “preaching” on a Sunday morning, but I know (having just come from MOPS convention) that I have no problem with hearing women “talk.”

    I also tend toward the idea of the pastor and wife team (similar to deacons and deaconesses). Not necessarily that the wife preaches, but that she takes an active role in his ministry, especially where women are involved.

    I know this wasn’t really your main point, but my thought on women worship “leaders” is the following: If anyone other than the Holy Spirit is leading our corporate worship time, then we’re doing it wrong. So I’m perfectly comfortable with myself or some other woman worshiping on stage, keeping everyone on the same sheet of music. That only came about after about a decade of prayer, questioning, and consideration.

  9. Depends on what we mean by pastor. These days it can sometimes simply mean the Sunday morning lecturer. I’m pretty anti-sermon, and I think women could make great pastors (as in leaders among believers, which encompasses a lot more than simply public speaking once or twice a week.

    • Amen! Where do we get this idea that we must have preaching all the time. 1 Cor 14 does not say that is th only reason we gather.

      It seems the pulpit has become an icon for the church,pushing aside so many other vital gifts and ministries.

      The real pastoral role is this. Matt 18:12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?

      I think we need pastors that would rather find the ones that are no longer in fellowship, and get them back into the church. Around here, that would be a full-time job. Come to think of it, woman would be great at it!

  10. I wrote a paper in college about how Jesus treated women differently than the culture of His day. The fact that women were the first witnesses to the resurrection and He told them to tell His disciples was huge. Their testimony wouldn’t be admitted in a court of law, but Jesus made them His ambassadors. That’s just one example of course.

    It was pretty fascinating and I think the whole keeping-women-out-of-pastoral-ministry is kind of stupid, but pet doctrines are like rectums- everybody’s got ’em.

  11. I read a great book called “What Paul Really Said to the Women” by John Temple Bristow, which does a great job of breaking down issues that arose through translations of what Paul wrote to the various churches, taking it out of cultural context, etc. And if what he says is correct, then Matt, you are also right: What Paul is saying really isn’t as bad as we think.

    • Oops- I didn’t quite get the title right- it’s “What Paul Really Said About Women”. I find your post particularly interesting, as my husband and I just moved to NC and are in the process of finding a new church. Due to a run-in in a Target parking lot, we got invited to one that seems great….but they are at least loosely affiliated with the Southern Baptists, who believe women can’t be pastors. I personally have no desire to be a pastor, but I do think it is just as possible for God to call a man as He is to call a woman to that office….along with any other ministry gift or office. Sigh.

    • I remember reading that book around 15 years ago. It really helped me get a new take on some of the “clobber passages” used by those who oppose women’s public ministry in church and changed my thinking.

  12. In my “tribe” we fully support the ministry of women, in what ever area GOD calls them too. To be honest, in Bible College, two of the women stood far and above ALL of us men in maturity, knowledge of the word, and preaching ability. I was humbled by their gifting.

  13. I grew up in a very conservative church that is strictly against women being in positions of authority. (Although it seems to have the same outlook on double bonus points for breastfeeding twins while repaving the parking lot.)

    Despite years of being surrounded by this mentality, I’ve always had trouble wrapping my mind around the concept. Then again, if I would’ve just accepted my role, and gotten to work popping out babies at 16 (after I would have dutifully gotten married at 15), I would probably understand… or be too worn out to care.

  14. This is definitely something I have struggled with lately as well. I really need to go back and refresh my memory on some of these passages. I think the biggest argument against women in position of “elder” (at least in the Restoration Movement of churches) is that there is no biblical evidence for them. There is mention of women in the role of deacon, but nothing in the role of elder. Outside of that, there is relatively little about women’s role in a leadership position. Especially when you begin taking into consideration the context of many of the verses already mentioned. I would definitely like to come back to this one though.

  15. Great topic. Ever since I was little I wanted to be a pastor, but the denomination I was raised in don’t believe in women pastors. For awhile I found Joyce Meyers inspirational. Do you think women should be pastors?

  16. This is some of your best work, Matt. We have allowed culture to control us too long on this issue. It’s funny, the very people who oppose women in the clergy are the same ones that say we must not be controlled by culture, and they themselves are indeed controlled by the culture.

  17. This is a topic about which I’ve thought and studied quite a bit – and about which I still don’t really have definitive answers. There are some women teachers who I respect greatly and am blessed by their ministries but, interestingly enough, they all happen to only teach women. My wonderful husband has no concerns about gender and has watched some of Beth Moore’s teaching DVDs with me and been totally blessed (even though her examples are very female in orientation since that’s the crowd she speaks to). Like Jonathan Chang above, I’d be real interested to hear your thoughts on 1 Timothy 2, especially that 12th verse. That’s always caused problems for me and I’ve never found an explanation yet that seemed right to me.

  18. I’ve noticed that a disproportionate number of Protestant “youth pastors” are just that; they’re ordained (MALE) pastors. However, in the Catholic church, there are zero female priests but there are way more female “youth ministers” than males.

    So…riddle me this; why could my phenomenal youth minister from high school, Lisa, teach at national and international conferences as well as lead our youth group, but NOT teach in front of a church every Sunday? The woman is a thousand times more gifted than most priests I’ve ever heard preach. It makes no sense whatsoever that she is allowed to shepherd and guide dozens of other youth ministers (she trains other youth ministers for a living now), but she couldn’t lead a church if she wanted to.

    At least women no longer have to cover our hair in public (like the New Testament demands that we do), and we’re not considered harlots for wearing jewelry and makeup. Small victories, ladies…

  19. Ah… this issue. I worked at several “non-denominational” churches that officially didn’t believe in women pastors. In reality I was doing the work of a pastor. It was interesting trying to come up with an official title for what I did… so we just didn’t bother. At one of them I had a “minister” card to get in at hospitals etc. We figured that would be safe since to minister is to serve and that’s what I was doing. I talked to a woman once who was older and wiser. She had actually had a huge impact on several well known male evangelical leaders. I asked her how she dealt with being a woman so active in ministry in a sub-culture that didn’t even recognize that as a good thing. I loved her response… something like “honey, I just smile and go right on about my business, and the ones who can receive from me will.” I can tell you flat out that I think a lot of churches would have a lot less sexual sin involving pastors if they had women on staff to counsel and work with the women. Silly me… I read the Bible before going to church. I saw how Jesus treated women and other marganilized groups, and I believed that scripture about there being neither Jew nor Greek… male nor female… I’ve never felt like Jesus looked at my femaleness as a disqualifyer for ministry. However I’ve never felt as much discrimination in the workplace as I did working at churches… which is saying a lot since all my other work has also been in male dominated fields.

  20. Paul isn’t saying “I don’t let a woman speak”… he’s quoting it, and then goes on to vehemently put-down the statement.
    There’s a little word that is left out of some translations, but not the earlier ones (like King James!). Then it was “WHAT!”… today it might be “NOT!!!”…
    Paul vehemently disagreed with keeping women quiet.

    A good website that goes in depth into this and other very contentious issues: Christian Think Tank. See

  21. Part of what scares me about this debate is that so many commenters seem to think that just because it was Paul’s words and not those of Jesus, we don’t have to listen to them. Either the Bible is inerrant or it isn’t. If it is, than everything in it, including Paul’s directions and words, are to be given the same weight as the rest of the Bible. If it isn’t, then who cares about this debate because all of Christianity is made up and a lie. We can’t have it in the middle. All or none. Sorry.

  22. Ultimately it does not matter what our opinions are. Scripture lays out the qualifications for pastors in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

    “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”

    There is not even an implication in these qualifications that women are permitted to be pastors. Scripture is clear that only men are called to be pastors.

  23. I haven’t read all of the comments, but my brief non expository comment.

    Men are designed by God to lead and be the head of the home. Spiritually and in all other aspects of leadership within the family. We are designed and commanded to love our wives as the church. How would it work for a man to be the spiritual leader in his home if his wife were his pastor? Just a thought, I am not decisive on any stance here, but these are the things that I think allude to other places in the Bible that are dealing with this topic.

  24. Grins. I’m one of the evil female preachers. One of the ones who refused to let humanity cloud the call God gave her.

    Whether its the young man who on our first date said, “I don’t hate you, I just know that to be a preacher you have to be called, and God doesn’t call women.” Or the entire room of pastors who stopped speaking to me or looking at me when I said I was a pastor at a large local church. Or its the minster who co-officiated an entire funeral with me calling me “Miss Emily” instead of Reverend, its still tougher for us than you might think.

    Being said, the only point I might completely disagree with you on would be the comment that few women are choosing to pastor. The female population of most seminaries are growing. Female pastors are growing. We’ve fought for God for generations, we won’t stop now. Even if we shouldn’t be preachers! 😉

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