Can A Woman Be A Pastor?
Topic: English Passage: 1 Timothy 3:1-7
How many of you are at least somewhat familiar with the story of Gideon? You can read about him in the book of Judges, chapters 6-8. Gideon was a man of weak faith, but God used him, along with a small group of soldiers, to free the Israelites from the Midianites. But much lesser known than Gideon’s military victory is what happened afterward.
The men of Israel gave Gideon more credit for the victory than God. And they asked Gideon if he would rule over the people. Gideon, in some kind of attempt at humility said, “Oh no. I can’t rule over you. And neither will my sons. But do me this favor: Give me the gold from your earrings.” And the people willingly gave it to him.
Gideon took that gold, and he took the fancy, purple robes that the Midianite kings used to own and he made an ephod. An ephod is like an outer robe that drapes over your clothing, and ordinarily it was something the priests would wear.
Gideon’s ephod was very ornate, and it gained a superstitious following by the people. Judges 8:27 says “all Israel whored after it…and it became a snare to Gideon and to all his family.”
Now, what kind of leader does that make Gideon? He led the people out from the hand of the Midianites and right into idolatry. He led them into false worship.
After Gideon, his son Abimelech enters the story. Due to his father’s many wives, Abimelech was one of about 70 sons. But he maneuvered himself into a place where he could gain a following and csme money. Abimelech took the money and hired thugs and killed almost all of his brothers. Only one escaped. And the local town declared Abimelech to be king of Israel.
What kind of a king is that?! I’ll let you read the story on your own in Judges 9, but it did not end well for Abimelech or for the city that declared him king. Israel was God’s nation, and an evil ruler would only bring disaster.
That’s the major theme of the book of Judges—Israel does not have a righteous king, and the nation is a mess.
When you get to the book of First Samuel, you finally get Israel’s first officially recognized king, but it didn’t happen in the right way.
God’s plan for Israel included a king. That had been made clear. But it wasn’t the proper time for one. The people got impatient though. The elders of Israel gathered to Samuel and basically told him, “You’re old. You’re going to die. Choose a king for us. We want a king just like all the other nations have.”
And God said to Samuel, “Give them what they’re asking for. They’re not rejecting you, Samuel; they are rejecting Me, their God.”
And a lot of you know the story. Samuel chose Israel’s first officially recognized king. His name was Saul. He was tall and handsome. But very quickly, the story makes it clear that Saul was not a righteous king. And as a result, he made a mess of Israel.
For the most part, that was the rest of Israel’s history in the Old Testament. We have bad kings and worse kings, and they plunge the nation into disaster—spiritually, politically, and physically. Unqualified leadership is dangerous and destructive. Getting the right kind of person into leadership is critical.
Now, we know who the perfect King of Israel is, right? Jesus Christ. He’s the King of Kings. And He sovereignly rules over this world and specifically rules over the church. The church is not looking for a king; we already have One. Jesus is our King. He is our Prophet. He is our Priest.
What the church should be looking for, however, are local leaders. The Bible calls them elders, and that’s what we’ve been talking about for the past few weeks in this series. This is a series on church leadership, and I want to remind you that the reason we’re doing this is so that we’re prepared for our members’ meeting at the end of February when you will be asked to privately, submit names, if you want, of men you’d like us current elders to consider for that position in the future.
In our first message, we talked about the argument for elders from biblical history and from biblical commands. Jesus established the global church, and He established that the visible manifestation of that be the local church. That’s a group of Christians committed to one another and to gathering for worship and edification by the word and by the ordinances. Well, God’s organizational framework for a local church is not a king; it’s a plurality of elders.
In our second message we talked about the duty of the elders. Generally speaking, they lead, they shepherd, they oversee. Specifically, they do that by praying, by teaching, by modeling, and by guarding the church. Those are their responsibilities.
In addition to those duties, we talked last week about the kind of heart elders should have—a heart of humility and compassion, a heart of perseverance and stewardship, a heart of watchfulness, and a heart of generosity and contentment.
This morning, we’re finally getting down to some of the specifics. What exactly are we supposed to be looking for in an elder?
Remember, choosing the wrong people for leadership is dangerous and destructive. And Paul mentioned that specifically in Acts 20 when he said that wolves would be coming in to attack the church.
Well, one of the classic passages we turn to for the specific qualifications of an elder is First Timothy. I’d like you to go there with me. We’ll be here for at least a couple weeks.
To start, I’d like you to look with me at First Timothy chapter 3, verses 14 and 15. This is the key passage for the purpose of the book. Paul had to move on from Ephesus, but he left Timothy behind as his representative, and this is what he tells him. First Timothy 3:14-15.
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
“Timothy,” Paul is saying, “the church is God’s house, so make sure it runs the way God wants it to run.” And the letter basically unpacks issues for how the church should be run.
Chapter 1 talks about dealing with false teachers, and chapter 2 deals with prayer and other aspects of the church gathering. Then, chapter 3 gives instruction regarding elders and deacons. Chapter 4 talks about false teachers again, and the importance of staying focused on the Bible. And chapters 5 and 6 have some practical instructions for the church, particularly related to money and providing for others.
Our focus today, as you might have guessed is going to be chapter 3. If you have an ESV you’ve probably got a heading there above verse 1 that says “Qualifications for Overseers.” That’s what we’re talking about today, and for the next couple weeks.
As I’ve said before, in the Bible, the term “overseer” is synonymous with “pastor” or “elder.” So, what are we, as a church, supposed to be looking for in a pastor, or in an elder?
All of us have some idea of what a pastor is supposed to be, but that doesn’t mean our ideas are right. It’s very easy, if you don’t keep coming back to the Bible, to start creating your own idea of what an elder is supposed to look like. And you might be adding criteria, or you might be removing something. That’s pretty much what happened with Saul. He looked the part on the outside, so the people wanted him. But in God’s eyes, he didn’t measure up.
So, what do we want? What should we be looking for in an elder? More specifically, in our case, what kind of people should you be praying about and considering as a submission for a future leader.
Let’s read First Timothy, chapter 3, verses 1-7.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.  Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,  not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, ...  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
We’re not going through all of this today, but we are going to focus on what is probably the most controversial requirement. And some of you may have had conversations or questions along this line.
What does the Bible say about having a woman pastor? Is that okay? Or is that a sin? I’m sure most of you know that our church’s belief and practice is that the office of an elder, or a pastor, is reserved only for men. It’s not enough simply to be a man, but it is one of the requirements.
And before we get too far into this study, I want to remind you that although culture or tradition or experience can play a factor in the way we do things here at our church, the driving concern needs to be to be faithful to what we see the Bible teaching. And what we have seen is that the Bible teaches that the role of a pastor or an elder is not for a woman.
Traditionally, this is known as complementarianism. The complementarian belief is that men and women are equal in the eyes of God, but they are not the same. They have complementary roles that enhance our corporate ability to put God on display.
The Bible never teaches that men are superior to women. And it never teaches that all men have some kind of authority over all women. What it does teach, though, is that in the sphere of our homes, and in the sphere of a local church, the highest leadership is reserved for men.
The opposing view is known as egalitarianism. Those on that side also believe that men and women are made in God’s image, but they do not see that God has made any distinctions or restrictions in their roles.
Now, both sides of the issue can be severely abused. Some press the issue of authority and headship of the man further than the Bible demands. And functionally, the women do end up feeling or being treated like second-class citizens. That dishonors God. Others press this idea of equality so far, that they ignore issues of gender altogether and even begin to make allowances for homosexuality. And then they look at a church like ours and they think we’re being chauvinistic. Maybe you’ve talked to someone like that. It’s not easy.
Before I start helping you understand and explain the biblical position, I want you to know that the complementarian-egalitarian debate is not, in itself, a salvation issue. You don’t go to hell, just because you disagree with our position. There are legitimate brothers and sisters in the faith who do not believe it. But, having said that, it is still a big issue theologically and practically. And it seems to me, that it tends to be very closely linked to the trajectory of an individual or a church or a denomination. I don’t think I’ve ever met a person or have been exposed to a church with an egalitarian position that didn’t have other problems with the way they perceived of and lived out their Christianity.
But anyway, how should we respond to that position? Obviously, we want to be winsome and kind and clear. But most of all, we want to be biblical. You don’t need to get into philosophical or historical debates with them. You need to go to the Bible. What does the Bible say?
Let me tell you, the biblical position isn’t very complicated. The objections are much more complicated, because you have to think of very elaborate ways around what it’s saying to try and nullify it.
If we’re going to look at what the Bible says, the first principle we see is that Paul assumes male leadership. Paul assumes male leadership in the church. You could just title this principle “the assumption.”
Look again at First Timothy 3, verse 1. It says there, in the ESV “if anyone aspires.” That little pronoun “anyone” is masculine. You can see it a little more clearly in the NASB which says, “if any man aspires to the office.” Paul’s instructions to Timothy assume that this was going to be a man.
And if you look at the rest of the requirements, you see that pretty clearly. The end of verse 1 says “he desires a noble thing.” Verse 2 says he should be the “husband of one wife. Verse 4, “He must manage his own household well. Verse 5 asks “how will he care for the church?” A man is to be the leader in the home, and that is a kind of testing ground for leadership in the church.
Verse 6 says, “he must not be a recent convert.” Verse 7, “he must be thought well of by outsiders.” There’s no mention here of the possibility of a woman. And you see the same thing in Titus 1, the same qualifications.
In a few weeks, we’ll get to the section in First Timothy on deacons, and there, it specifically mentions the women. But it doesn’t do that for the elders. The elders of the church, the leaders of the church are to be men.
Now, someone might push back at this point and say, “Well, that was Paul’s assumption, but that doesn’t mean it has to be that way today. Back then, the leaders of the church were only men, but today we can do things differently.”
Well, that sounds plausible, except for one problem. And this is the second principle. Not only does Paul assume male leadership, Paul prohibits female leadership. Paul prohibits female leadership in the church. Paul not only gives us an assumption; he gives us a prohibition.
Now, when I talk about church leadership, I’m just talking about the highest form of leadership in a local church—the role of a pastor or an elder.
A father is the authority in the home. He’s the leader. But clearly, that doesn’t mean no one else is allowed to show some kind of leadership. Wives and mothers have a tremendous need for leadership. And even the kids, as they grow up, should be showing more and more leadership in specific ways. But that doesn’t mean a child has ultimate leadership in the home.
The same applies in the church. We need women who can lead. We need woman who can teach and influence others. The Bible tells us that. But it also tells us that the role of a pastor is not for a woman.
To see Paul’s prohibition, all you have to do is back up a little in the passage. Go to chapter 2 of First Timothy. And what you should realize is that Paul’s assumption in chapter 3 happens because of the prohibition in chapter 2. They’re connected.
When this letter was written, it didn’t have chapter breaks. Those were added later so we could find passages faster. The stuff Paul talks about in the chapters have a connection between them.
First Timothy 2 deals with the gathering of the church. Paul starts in verse 1 by saying that prayers should be made for the kings and rulers.
And then in verse 8 he specifically addresses men and women. Men are to pray in a spirit of holiness and unity, not arguing. What about the women? Look at verse 9.
 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,  but with what is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works.
Women are to pursue modesty, that is seeking the attention to be on God, not on themselves. And along those lines, notice now verse 11. Here’s the prohibition.
 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.
That’s not saying a woman can never, ever talk or make a sound during the service. It’s just saying that in the context of a formal church gathering, a woman is not supposed to do those things which are recognized as an expression of the authority in the church. She’s not supposed to teach over men, or have that kind of authority over men.
Paul did not intend this passage to be confusing or misdirection. He was simply upholding the same principle he upholds in other passages like 1 Corinthians 11. This is the principle of male headship in the local church.
Now, how does the egalitarian position respond to a passage like this? Let me give you a list, and how to respond to them. And then we’ll be done for today.
The first objection is a broad category, and those are the emotional objections. People get upset about the idea that women can’t be preachers, and they think that being bothered or upset by it is enough to justify us changing our position. Well, we might try and sympathize with that, but it’s not going to change our position. They are not our Lord; Jesus is, and we need to respond to the truth of His word.
A second type of objection is the experiential objection. The experiential objection. This is very similar to the emotional objection, but it is the people who say things like, “Well, my sister is a pastor. God called her to be a pastor. And you have no right to tell her she can’t be one.”
And that’s true, I don’t have any right to tell someone what they can or can’t do. But God does. And no matter what any one of us might have experienced, we need to see those experiences through the lens of Scripture, not twist the Scriptures so that they line up with our experiences. Scripture is our authority, not our experiences.
A third type of objection I’m going to call the historical objection. The historical objection. This is when someone looks at something a woman did in history and uses that to justify that a woman today should be a pastor.
Sometimes that means looking at a famous woman pastor from the past. And they might say, “Well, God really blessed that ministry. It was growing and growing. What about that? Why would God bless a ministry like that if she wasn’t supposed to do that?” Basically, that’s a pragmatic response. It’s justifying the means by the end.
Suppose a man came to our church and gave his testimony, and he said that he came to know Jesus because his father went to jail for murder, and that set him on a path to search for truth. Are we going to say that it’s okay, then, for a man in our church to kill someone because that might lead to his son’s salvation? That’s ridiculous. We can’t use an end to justify a means.
And if we’re going to talk about God blessing someone’s ministry, couldn’t we also include some of the non-Christian groups or cults that have grown greatly in the past too. Was that from God too? Is that a sign of God’s blessing? Of course not.
If someone came to faith through a woman pastor, my response would be, “Praise God. The power of His gospel is greater than the messenger.” That’s the same thing I’d say to someone who said they were converted by a pastor who eventually abandoned the faith. The gospel is greater than the messenger.
Now, along the lines of historical objections, some egalitarians like to use biblical historical examples to undo Paul’s command. They point to women like Deborah in Judges, or Priscilla in Acts, or Philip’s four prophetess daughters. How can we respond to that? What do we do with those women?
Well, we don’t have to do anything with them, because there is zero indication in the Bible that any of them were the leaders of the local church, or that they were functioning in that kind of capacity.
Deborah wasn’t the pastor of a church. She was a prophetess and a judge. Judges, by the way, is filled with examples of leadership that are not ideal. Samson went after a Philistine prostitute. Jephthah sacrificed his own daughter. And I already told you about Gideon’s idolatry.
Deborah, just so you know, wasn’t supposed to be the main judge in her time. That was a guy named Barak. You can read it in Judges chapter 4. Barak had been called to fight the Canaanites. But he didn’t do it. So, Deborah, in her righteousness, is introduced as an embarrassment to Barak because he ignored God’s call.
Do you know what Barak said to Deborah, when she told him to go to war? He said, “Ok, if you go with me, then I’ll go. But if you don’t, I’m not going.” The guy was a coward. And Deborah responded by saying, “Fine, but this victory will not be for your glory. The Lord will give your enemy into the hands of a woman.” That was a form of judgment.
In Isaiah 3:12, when the prophet is weeping over the sad state of the nation, he says, “O My people! Their oppressors are infants, and women rule over them.” That was not a good thing! God’s design for Israel’s king, and for an elder of the church, is that it be a man.
Again, that doesn’t eliminate the role of women who will teach or who have some kind of leadership. Our church needs that. It’s vital. But leadership as an elder, with the responsibility to teach the congregation as a whole, is for a man.
What about a woman like Priscilla? In Acts it says she pulled Apollos aside and taught him more about Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with that. She did it the right way. She didn’t make a big scene in the middle of the service. She taught him privately. And personally, I thank God for every single woman who has pulled me aside after a service and helped me in some way. Sometimes, they might help me see something I hadn’t seen, or they might tell me the right way to say something in Spanish. That sharpens me. Keep doing it.
Whatever women you find in the Bible, even if it gives them the title “prophetess,” which isn’t a very specific term to begin with, it never presents them as having some pastoral ministry in the church. It was some kind of teaching and some kind of leadership, which is important, but it wasn’t in the role of a pastor. There is zero evidence for that. So, don’t be intimidate by any historical objection to what we read in 1 Timothy 2, even a biblical female.
A fourth kind of objection I’m just going to call the spiritual objection. The spiritual objection. This is very, very common. It’s an appeal to the spiritual of men and women, and the typical passage for this is Galatians 3:28, which says “there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” That’s Galatians 3:28. The egalitarian position is that that passage removes all the distinctions.
And that’s just not true. We’re not going to look at it in detail. But the context of that passage isn’t dealing with roles or distinctions in the church. The passage is talking about salvation by faith alone. Verse 26 says, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. And verse 29 says “If you are Christ’s you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
That’s all this passage is talking about—being part of God’s family. Like I said earlier, men are not superior to women. And women are not inferior. We are all equal in the eyes of God. But that equality in status does not mean a removal of the distinctions.
Galatians 3:28 also says there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free. Was Paul erasing those lines, saying we had to rid ourselves of those kinds of distinctions? No. He’s just saying that those differences don’t affect how we come into God’s family.
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul says the church is a body, and we all have value. But we also have different contributions we make. Equality in status does not erase distinction in how we serve. So don’t let anyone use Galatians 3:28 as a way of trumping First Timothy 2. Women are to be honored and esteemed, and the fact that God has said an elder must be a man doesn’t minimize that.
Objection number 5, I’m going to call the practical objection. This comes from churches that, on paper, say they agree that a woman shouldn’t be a pastor or an elder. But that doesn’t mean she can’t preach for the congregation.
More recently, there have even been some vocal churches within Southern Baptist circles saying that it’s okay if a woman preaches to he church on a Sunday morning, as long as that has been approved by the elders.
One pastor compared that to a man allowing his wife to cheat on him with another man. He might say he’s allowing her to do that, but that’s outside the authority God has given him. He can’t authorize her to do something God has said she’s not supposed to do.
And in that case, if a church was trying to allow a woman to preach for the congregation, by saying she’s technically not a pastor or an elder, it’s still a violation of what Paul is saying. In the context of the gathered church, a woman is not to take the authoritative position of teaching the congregation.
The final objection to First Timothy 2 is the big one. This is the one you find in academic circles. And it all sounds very sophisticated. I’ll call it the cultural objection. The cultural objection.
This comes from people who say, “Well the culture in the church at Ephesus had some very specific problems, and so what Paul is saying here is just addressing that specific problem.”
Sometimes they say it has to do with women not being educated at that time, or it has to do with a strong group of false teachers in the city who were women. And in order to make that point, they have to a make a pretty long argument, because it’s not in the text. It’s not in the Bible.
Paul mentions false doctrine; we know that’s a reality. But nothing about the prohibition in chapter 2 even hints at something specific to that church alone. Why does Paul say the women can’t teach or be in a position of authority? What is that commandment rooted in? Look at verses 13 and 14.
The first word there is “for.” That’s a connecting word. This is the reason for Paul’s prohibition—For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
Paul’s instruction is rooted in the order of God’s creation. God created Adam first, and he was the one God gave the instructions to about caring for the garden and not eating form the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And since God gave the command to Adam, the implication is that he would have passed it along to Eve, and he would have been the primary one responsible to carry it out. He was responsible to take care of her. Adam was the leader. God made the man first. The woman was made second. That’s the order God chose.
And if you know the story from Genesis, you know the truth of verse 14—and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
Paul’s not saying that Adam wasn’t guilty for what happened. He was right next to Eve, and he never stepped in. And then he decided to eat on his own. Eve, though was deceived by Satan. She ate first. And maybe that led some people to think that women should have some kind of shame in this life. But that’s not what God wants.
God doesn’t leave women out of leadership in the church because He doesn’t believe they can make an impact in this world. God has a very special and unique role for the women. And it’s one that men can’t fulfill. Look at verse 15—Yet she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
Mothers have a distinct role in the life of their child that no elder could ever have. Even in my own family, I get to see it. Mom shapes the kids. There is a unique bond there, a unique opportunity.
Timothy was a guy that Paul trained and chose to serve as his partner. But in Second Timothy 1 he says the he got his sincere faith from where? From his grandmother and his mother.
Ladies, don’t ever let anyone tell you that just because you can’t be a pastor in our church, you don’t matter, or you don’t have an impact. You may have the greatest impact in our church, from a human perspective. You shape the next generation.
I’m not sure a lot of you know the name G. Campbell Morgan. He was a British pastor from the late 1800s into the early 1900s. He got to interact with men like D.L. Moody and Charles Spurgeon, and was a very famous Bible teacher. He even played a big part in training Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
Campbell Morgan once said this: “My dedication to the preaching of the Word was maternal. Mother never told it to the baby or the boy, but waited. When but eight years old I preached to my little sister and to her dolls arrayed in orderly form before me. My sermons were Bible stories which I had first heard from my mother.”
Morgan went on to have four sons, by the way, and all of them became preachers. And on one occasion, he was talking to someone them, and they asked him, “Who is the greatest preacher in your family.” He answered without hesitating. “My mother.”
Ladies, God has an amazing task laid out for you. And He will use you in great ways in our church and in our communities.
Let’s pray that Christ would gift us with more godly elders to lead us in our task, and that He would gift us more godly women who will strengthen us for that task.