Can Women Serve as Elders, Deacons or Pastors?

Second in a multipart blog series.

In the first post in this multipart blog series, I raise the question: “Should women serve as elders, deacons, or pastors” in a church?

But notice what I did NOT ask. I did NOT ask: “Can women serve as elders, deacons, or pastors?”

Do women have the capabilities, talents, stamina, etc. to exercise leadership? So, can women serve as elders, deacons, or pastors?

Of course they can.

At least, it should be apparent by now that women are just as talented, if not more so, than men, at many, many things. Granted, this must be examined at the individual level. Some are more capable than others, whether they be men or women.

Various Christian groups have been electing women to serve as ordained, or otherwise, as spiritual leaders for a long time. Various Pentecostal and Holiness groups have been ordaining women since the late 19th century, and many of these women have done a spectacular job at what they have done. The Quakers have been encouraging women leadership in the church since the 17th century. Plus, there are different kinds of leadership and ministry skills needed in the church, where the needs far exceed the willingness of Christians to heed the call. It would be fair to say that God has used these women preachers and leaders to build His Kingdom.

An old traditional, patriarchal view suggested that women were somehow inferior, or that they lacked something to be able to perform as well as men. Many Christians over the years have been guilty of perpetuating the idea. Some still do so today. But Galatians 3:28 should be evidence enough that such misogyny has no place in the thought of the believer:

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 (ESV).

Old habits die hard. But die they must.

Nevertheless, the question of can women do these things is NOT the same as should they do them. For some who overreact to the old patriarchal ways, the fact that I distinguish between the two questions might come as a shock, and may even sound abrasive. I just encourage both sides in the discussion to keep reading.1

Broadly speaking, at the risk of grievously oversimplifying, there are two camps within evangelicalism that try to address this question of “should.”

Complementarians believe that men and women are to complement one another in ministry. However, women should not exercise positions of spiritual authority or headship, over men, in the church.

Egalitarians believe that men and women are equal with one another in ministry.  As a result, both men AND women should be eligible to serve together in all positions of spiritual authority in the church.

The issues between complementarians and egalitarians are complex. Complementarians are concerned that egalitarians are minimizing the differences between men and women, to the detriment of both women and men, and introducing complex assumptions into our reading of Scripture, that are hard to sustain, in good conscience. Egalitarians are concerned that complementarians are trying to smuggle misogynist, woman-hating thinking back into the church, while they ignore valuable cultural factors present, in how Scripture is read.

A lot of Christians, perhaps the majority, are somewhere in between. In fact, it is probably more realistic to think of the complementarian/egalitarian debate as something that exists on a continuum. A number of Christians, like me, might lean one way, more than the other, but we want to try to figure out how to make peace with one another, so that we can move on towards other, more important things.

The following blog posts are an attempt to address just some of the issues, mostly related to how the Bible is to be interpreted, in a way that the average student of Scripture can comprehend. Hopefully, I have done my homework correctly, and put such weighty matters down on the bottom shelf, as much as possible, so that as many as possible can reach for them, and think them through.

You probably will not be able to tell where I will “land the plane,” based on the majority of these blog posts, near the beginning. Both sides deserve a fair hearing. Just hang in there, as you will eventually discover where this is going. But you will quickly figure out that there are hyper-complementarian and hyper-egalitarian readings of the Bible that ought to be rejected. Some of these hyper-complementarian and hyper-egalitarian views are amazingly popular, in different corners of the evangelical church.

Before continuing on, I would urge the reader to consider looking at some of the other blog posts I have written on this topic before, to fill in some of the gaps. In particular, one of the most troublesome issues is in the very terminology we use, such as terms like “elder,” “deacon,” and “pastor.” You might want to start there before moving on much further. If you get lost, go back to the first blog post, where I am keeping track of the series.

Until next time…..


1. Well, surely questions like should women serve as X, Y, or Z, as well as can women serve as X, Y, or Z, are good questions. But perhaps a more profound, and more meaningful question is, who are the elders, deacons, and pastors in a church? This is quite a different question, as it touches upon very deep topics regarding the structure of the church (ecclesiology) and a theology of gender (part of a theological anthropology), which is too much to go into here, at the present time.

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

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