Why Women Shouldn't Be Pastors

(And also what God's Word says about gender roles. Reading time estimate: 8-9 minutes)

When serving and equipping churches, I ran into some women who were pastors. Proponents of women being pastors claimed that there is no gender design or that it was cultural. I test both positions with a Bible survey from Genesis to Judges, the Gospels, and the Pauline epistles. The survey shows that God Himself dictated gender roles before culture existed, put them into Israel's Law, and maintained them over time. Then, Jesus countered cultural traditions but kept gender roles. Biblical eldership therefore requires male headship.

"Sounds like discrimination. Give me one, good reason..."

God's Word requires male pastors. Women are fully-capable of leading and doing about any other job men do. Outside a rare few (celibate), most men also need women partnered with them to accomplish God's will for their lives. Men and women were created to walk side-by-side together with God. Anyone talking like women are inferior, have less value, or whatever aren't quoting the Bible. They're opposing it. That kind of awful thinking causes actual discrimination that's hurt entire countries worth of women. God's Word opposes oppression and injustice. So, why should we not allow women to be pastors or otherwise exercise authority over men?

God's Word says He made men and women differently. He gave them different, gender roles that He commanded them to stick with. This was not a cultural thing He'd progressively fix over time. God personally gave the orders in Genesis, to Abraham, to Moses, and so on. His covenant also required leaders to copy His Law, teach it to the next generation, and follow it to the letter. If they didn't, He'd give them the punishments in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Then, Jesus and the church showed up opposing many cultural principles but kept God's that still applied. That included gender roles.

With the context of pastors, let's do a quick survey of His Word to see what it says about gender roles and male/female headship.

What the Bible Says

Let's look first at how God creates us. In Gen. 2:18-25, Adam's job was to bear God's image, live with Him (the best company), work easy jobs, get free food, and avoid one tree. All in Paradise with nothing that can harm him. God knew some human company was best for Him. In v20, God said he needed a helper, a partner. God made one. In v23, the word woman meant she came from man. The word itself suggested the base design is they're meant for each other, not independent. In v24, the man must "hold fast to" his wife over even his own family. God created a companion who'd be a great help to him that he is supposed to love and be inseparable from above all others.

We see God assigning leadership, both power and accountability, to men early here. God tells Satan a human offspring, Jesus, is coming who will stomp on him. A woman will have the privilege of giving birth to that person. Due to Adam, men would be held accountable for the Fall and labor in the fields. God would make that labor miserable for them. Due to Eve misleading him, women would experience labor pain, would be tempted to lead/control the men, and would instead submit to male leaders. Kind of implies Eve was in charge before but we'll leave Adam alone for now. Eve is assigned the role of mother and primary care-taker of all living beings. All the women after her would have that or a similar role.

We see two, distinct roles with a combination of punishment and privilege. Each have ups and downs for self-interested people (aka sinners). Solomon's advice about them shows the desirable wives are highly independent, active in community, and make wise decisions. The men have household (or group) authority with final say usually after consulting with their wives about what's the best decision. Except for Adam, all men start out as children. The women are closest to and primary teachers of the children. Proverbs further indicates the parents teach them together. All this means God's design isn't driven by men: it's a team effort with both genders shaping the future of the human race one, family unit at a time.

At the society level, His design from that point on both requires and assigns leadership roles to men. The exceptions are rare enough that most people can learn all of their names in a single session.

In the Old Testament, God tells us a lot about how we're redeemed and who He's sending. God's covenant with Abraham promised more descendants than he could count, some would be kings, and men had to be circumcised as a sign of that. A male king or kings. His next choices were Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. Moses delivered God's Law. His Law required dedication of the "first-born male." That's another hint. In Leviticus 8, the LORD used men as priests: "Aaron and his sons."

God's covenant with David promised a "son" who would be a king whose kingdom would last forever. The Messiah. He'd also be a priest and God's Son. God, who said "there's no Savior besides me," prophesied the Messiah's name would be Immanuel, or "God With Us." A stunning picture emerges: God Himself is coming to save everyone as some combo of a human man, priest, and king. God who assigned gender roles will Himself take male form to obey His own Law.

After Gen 46, God had plenty of women to use for these leadership roles. He mostly used men. He could've made the major covenants with women. He used men. Miriam and Deborah that some people cite to support a norm of women pastors were prophetesses who spoke for God. Far from a norm, their supernatural abilities that all witnessed were the proof that God Himself wanted them in those roles. Then, God made most (all?) authors of the Bible men. They work became the canon.

Why did He put a few women in leadership roles? The exceptions may show a few things. First, He's a sovereign God that will do what He pleases. Second, when most are unfaithful like in Judges, God will move through anyone who remains faithful (eg Deborah). Third, He sometimes uses society's outcasts to accomplish His will. The stories of Gideon and Paul show God uses people in their weakness to make it clear it's Him doing all of this. God might even be countering sexism by illustrating women can be great leaders, teachers, and so on. God's rule with exceptions show men only get headship by God's grace and choice, not men's merits. All that said, that He keeps a consistent norm of choosing men for these positions reinforces that it's an intentional part of His design.

As predicted, Jesus Christ came as the Son of God. Gender was just tiny part of all the prophecies he fulfilled, though. God's name went from Yahweh or LORD to "Father" to reflect the relationship He'd have with us. Jesus was called the "last Adam." Romans explicitly says that "Adam, who was a type of the one to come." It's clear He's painted as the anti-type or opposite of Adam, not Eve. Likewise, Corinthians says first man was from the dust, the "second man" from heaven. It emphasizes He's a man comparing He who saved us to he who first sinned. Jesus dies for all sins from Adam onward, is raised from the dead, goes to heaven in bodily form as a man, and is given authority or headship over all of existence. Still consistent. He leaves a church behind to do His work.

While He was still here, Jesus appointed twelve men as Apostles to lay the foundation: write the New Testament; start the first churches. We see them describe the same gender roles again: "the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God." Paul reiterates here that women are not to teach or exercise authority over men. Men in authority must love those under them like Jesus. Husbands must love their wives in this way. Pastors have it harder. Like Jesus, who always did what's best for others, washed His disciples' feet, and died for them. God gives authority with high accountability.

The church, the sum of all believers, is described as the Bride of Christ He's destined to spend forever with. From birth, human mothers care for and raise their children into godly adults. From our new birth, the church takes on the women's role of caring for and raising believers to spiritual maturity. So, we see a beautiful picture of God's union with all who believe in Him, each in a gender role, all under headship of Christ, and everyone involved imitating any of Jesus' attributes that are critical for the mission.

God's, not Men's, Roles for Us

The Bible was written by men but they didn't make all of this. Notice that these are God's design, laws, and promises. He proved with prophecies, miracles, and character consistency that they came from Him. The high value He places on women along with important roles they play show that there's no male chauvinism at work. He then used men and women working together in the church to change the world for the better via the Gospel. 

Can men who have been leading take credit for any of it? Yes. Men can definitely claim to be unworthy sinners who are, in gender terms, half the reason Jesus was nailed to the cross. Still high fiving each other guys? Didn't think so. Instead, we men should raise our hands towards heaven being grateful that the only good man to ever exist saved the rest of us. If you're married, raise your hands with your wives in gratitude for the greatest gift God gave you after your salvation. Let us praise God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ for all God has done. Let us exercise our God-given role we didn't earn with Christ-like humility and dedication. And I'm sure the ladies reading can imagine an entire, matching paragraph on their end.

What Do We Do?

The living God of the universe whose Son lived and died in perfect obedience asks we do that, too. That includes following His design for gender roles in our homes and churches. Start them that way. If your home or church isn't, then confess to God you've sinned in that area of your life, pray He helps you get on track, and make changes to get into obedience to Him. Just like committing to Him in everything else.

If you're a woman pastor, you will have to step down either immediately or as soon as you're able. You might first pray that He sends and start looking for the right person to fill that role. After they step in, do continue serving the Lord in any ministry His Word allows.

For those interested, this article describes godly character for women. This article has a long list of ways women can serve.

I encourage everyone, men and women, to dedicate to God and others as much of your life as you're able. Just do it His way He teaches in His Word so He'll bless every step you take. At Judgement Day, He'll greet you saying, "Well done, faithful servant!" before you spend eternity with Him reaping what He helped you sow.

(Bonus: Although I haven't reviewed them myself, a few people said these were good resources on the topic. I'll share them just because I followed some of their work on these topics. Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood by Wayne Grudem on Amazon, PDF, and lectures I just found. Follow-up book with John Piper. I'd be interested in feedback from anyone that reads them ahead of me.)

(Credit: The paragraph on Jesus drew heavily on Struach's book, Biblical Eldership. Originally, the whole article was going to. I took notes on that paragraph, grabbed a few verses for others, and just felt Spirit-inspired to do my own thing from there. I felt I should do it out of respect for my best influences in life. They were and are still mostly women.)

(Read the Gospel, learn to share it, read other essays, or back to home.)