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What do you think about women pastors and what would you say to a young woman interested in the pastorate? I was recently asked about this by a very special young lady. This is what I told her. If you are thinking of reading it, please do not, unless you are willing to read the entire letter.

Dear Sister in the Faith,

I am so glad to hear that you are interested in being a pastor. Not long ago Rachel and I were talking about how we saw God working in your life. It seemed to us he had given you a love for himself and a desire to allow his Word to take root in your life. So while I am happy you have had an interest in being a pastor I am even more excited to hear that you desire to know if this is what God would have for you.

You have asked a great question. To answer it, I think we need to go all the way back to the beginning. We need to answer two questions, “Did God create men and women to have different roles?” and if he did, “What are those roles?

Genesis 2:5-8 and 2:15 tells us that God created man to work the garden and keep it. Then in 2:18 God states, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” So we see that the man was given the role of working the garden to produce fruit and of guarding the garden and the woman was given the role of helping the man. Therefore, we should notice that according to God’s plan, before sin entered the world and messed things up, God intended for the man to have a leadership role with the woman as his helper. The proper order of authority was then God, man, woman, and then creation (the animals and plants).

But notice when Satan came to tempt the humans he turned the order of authority upside down. He, an animal, went to talk to the woman and not the man whose job it was to protect his wife. This was Satan’s way of rejecting God’s established order of authority.

Then sin entered the picture.

It is important to notice that when God speaks to the serpent and the humans in 3:14-19, he first curses Satan (But he does not curse the humans!). He then causes the woman’s pain in child bearing to increase and the man’s pain in working the garden to increase. God causes pain to occur in the areas related to the woman’s primary role and the man’s primary role. He also says to the woman in 3:16, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” This means the woman, because of sin, will desire to take the leadership role over her husband. But God then reestablished his original plan by saying the man will “rule over” (or lead) the woman.

So, why does all of this matter? It matters because we see that different roles for men and woman are not the result of sin but are part of God’s good and gracious plan from the very beginning. Therefore, to say that men should lead and protect is not being sexist, traditional, or abusive. It is how God has created us. But I have to emphasize, because of sin men tend to be poor leaders and poor protectors. They can be overly authoritative and abusive or they can be reluctant to lead or to protect at all. Both are sinful and not right. Because of sin, women also tend to either want to take leadership over men or make the opposite mistake of thinking they cannot do anything without a man. These distortions are also sinful.

But you asked about women serving as pastors. What does any of this have to do with women pastors?

It seems that God’s original plan for different roles between men and women is also present in the New Testament. For example Ephesians 5:22-33 teaches that men are to take a leadership role in caring for their wives. They are to love their wives as Christ loves us, the Church. Women are to submit to their husbands because they know this is what it means for them to follow Christ (“as to the Lord” in verse 22) The order of authority from Genesis is again present in verse 22: God is the head (meaning authority) of the Church (both men and women) and man is then the “authority” over his wife. It all goes back to God’s plan in Genesis. It then follows all the way through the Bible to this passage where it was revealed for the first time that men and women are suppose to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and his Bride; the Church. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32)

To understand all of this allows us to understand the major passages on women in ministry. They are 1 Timothy 2:11-15, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, and 1 Corinthians 14:34-36. The easiest one to understand is 1 Timothy 2:11-15 which says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” and goes on to tie the reason for this to God’s original plan in Genesis.

The next passage 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, seems pretty difficult to understand at first. But it teaches that women should dress like women when they pray or prophecy in church. (At that time a head covering was considered dressing like a woman.) But why would Paul care what a woman was wearing? It is because dressing as a woman indicates that the women praying knew her distinct role as a woman. She was not trying to reject God’s plan for men’s and women’s roles by dressing like a man. It showed that the woman was recognizing her submission to the male leadership as she prayed or prophesied.

Finally, 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 is another verse that seems hard to understand. It is set in the context of interpreting prophesy. It is talking about how the Church should interpret what God has said. It tells us that, “women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission.” But! This does not mean women are supposed to sit silently in church. As we have seen in the previous verse women are allowed to prophesy and pray in church. Both of these require a woman to speak. We need to remember that this verse is in the context of interpreting prophecy. It is only saying that women, because of the role they have been given, should not stand before the congregation and interpret what God has said. Today, the person who stands before the congregation and interprets what God has said is the pastor. This is why I believe Scripture teaches that only men should serve as pastors.

But please do not be discouraged by this! I am very glad that you have a desire to serve as a pastor and even more thankful that God has given you the desire to see what his Word says about it. I think you very well may have a calling to “full-time” or “professional” ministry, just not as a pastor. Women can, and should, serve in roles appropriate for what God has designed. Women are desperately needed to teach younger women (Men are not allowed to do this), children, or in a women’s ministry (Something men would not be good at!). These kinds of ministries are extremely valuable to the glory of God. I think you may be called to full-time ministry. I think you should seriously consider it and pray about it!

Finally, a few side notes. First, it is often said that this point of view allows women to only teach women and children as if teaching men were the really important work of ministry. This is a terrible view that somehow places a greater value on teaching men than women and children. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Men are not more valuable than women!Men and women are of equal worth, intelligence, and ability. Many women would even do a better job serving as a pastor than many of the male pastors I know, but that is not God’s plan. We need to remember it is his Church and he will build it as he sees fit. Second, there are a million objections to this teaching of Scripture. I think all of them are answerable. I will only comment on the most common one. Many people point out that Deborah was a Judge over Israel beginning in Numbers 4. But the story of Deborah does not mean women should serve as pastors. The story is really a condemnation of a lack of male leadership and the book of Numbers itself was written to show us how messed up life gets when we do not live it according to God’s Word. Everything in Numbers is messed up! Nothing is what it is suppose to be! Therefore, we should not try to base our doctrine of male and female roles from the book of Numbers when other passages are very clear in their teaching. Third, a very helpful, short, and free book on this topic can be found here: 50 Crucial Questions: An Overview of Central Concerns About Manhood and Womanhood.

My dear sister in Christ, please, please, please consider full time ministry and may the Lord bless you as you seek his will in this area of your life.

In Christ,

will

The End. I hope you made it this far without getting bored!

If you found this post helpful, please let me know by rating it. I also invite your constructive comments.

Congratulations on considering a call to ministry! Going to seminary will be a major commitment of your time, finances, and energy. But what you gain, a deeper knowledge of God, is precious and cannot be rivaled. Therefore, in order to maximize the benefits of your time at seminary, please allow me to pass along a few helpful suggestions.

On Studying Hebrew and Greek:

  1. Use GreekDrill. It is a Greek vocabulary flashcard program which tests you using not only the lexical forms but all possible forms of the words. No other program allows you to study words as you would find them in the text. It has a free 21 day trial period.
  2. Do not use language helps. Okay, use them a little. But force yourself to do the hard work even though it is 2 AM, you have to go to work at 4 AM, and you haven’t fed your fish in a week. If you use the language helps too much you will become dependent upon them and the grade on your final exam will earn you the moniker, “Ichabod.”
  3. Buy a marker and find an empty classroom. Write out every paradigm. Wear comfortable shoes.
  4. Download and install free Greek and Hebrew fonts from BibleWorks.
  5. Give your laptop a Greek or Hebrew keyboard by purchasing keyboard stickers from eBay. They are transparent stickers you place over your current keyboard and allow the English letters to show through. They are inexpensive and durable.
  6. Play with your language settings in Windows. You can set Windows to switch between English, Greek, and Hebrew. The Hebrew will type right to left. Assign each language to a hot key. For example: English = [ctrl] + [1], Greek = [ctrl] + [2], and Hebrew = [ctrl] + [3]. That way you can type in English, immediately switch to Greek, throw in a Hebrew word, and return to your native tongue before your coffee has a chance to cool.
  7. Favor the language classes. They are worth the hard work. When you have to make a choice between studying Greek and doing “okay” on a history test, choose the Greek.
  8. Don’t take your Greek New Testament (or your Hebrew Old Testament) to church. It is distracting to others and only serves your own pride. You most likely won’t be able to translate fast enough to keep up, thereby decreasing and not increasing your understanding of the passage. You work too hard studying the languages only to nurture a prideful attitude and render your investment useless to the Church. One of the best things you can learn in a language class is humility. Often you don’t know as much as you think you know.
  9. Leave your tools in the shed. As a pastor or teacher you are a servant of God’s Church equipped with the tools of Greek and Hebrew. You have been entrusted with these tools in order to cultivate a more fruitful understanding of Scripture. Therefore, after using the tools to the best of your ability you should set them aside and present the fruit of your labor as a feast to feed God’s people. You should not bring the tools of Greek and Hebrew to the congregation for them to choke on. It is not their business to know how to use the tools. So what benefit will come from displaying them week after week? It will only cause harm to God’s people as you unwittingly imply to them their inability to accurately interpret their English Bible. Nothing could be further from the truth! Some of God’s most faithful preachers and missionaries never studied the languages! So leave your Greek and Hebrew in the shed where they belong.

On Preparing for the Future:

  1. Celebrate your first day on campus by buying a commentary. (Get your parents to buy it.) Each time you have to write a paper buy another one. Celebrate all minor holidays by buying a commentary. That way you will graduate with a substantial collection and reduce trips to your school’s library. Use Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey and Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey to help you select the best commentary for what you require.
  2. Keep two easily accessible files on your computer, “Ideas for Ministry” and “Recommended Resources.” Have them open during class and record any book, audio resource, website, or great ministry idea your professor shares. I use One Note for class notes which allows me to keep all these files immediately accessible and organize them by topic.
  3. Begin a sermon illustration file. Include quotations, news stories, statistics, and any other material that would help you develop a sermon point. Label each entry by topic, scriptural reference, and source.
  4. Type out or photocopy the table of contents of every book you purchase. Then file hardcopies by topic or better yet create a searchable database. This will help you locate resources in your own library for future research papers, sermons, and teaching opportunities. Otherwise you will completely forget about that one perfect chapter in a seemingly unrelated book.

On Saving Valuable Time:

  1. Use StyleEase. This software installs in Microsoft Word and automatically formats your papers. There is a special “Seminary Style” edition for our particularly unusual requirements. You can find it at StyleEase.
  2. In addition, figure out your school’s formatting before you arrive on campus. Format a document to use as a title page template. Then when needed, plug in your assignment’s title and class information. Format it now and use it for all the papers you will write over the next several years.

On Maximizing Your Classroom Experience:

  1. Use ratemyprofessors.com to help you select classes.
  2. Avoid new Ph.D.’s and favor professors who have been teaching for many years. Nothing against new professors but the older ones are usually better. They have had more practice, done more research, and fielded many more questions. Avoid professors you have never heard of, cannot find in an internet search, and are not recommended by a few other students.
  3. Go to a theologically solid seminary. Do not compromise for convenience. Your theological education is too important to the future of your congregation. In my undergrad I sat through hours of what I can only describe as insanity. When discussing this with pastors I would often hear them say, “Yeah, there’s one of those professors at every school.” But the truth is there isn’t one of those at every school. I encourage you; find a good seminary where you don’t sit around wasting your time debating if God is a woman or if sin is wrong.
  4. Don’t sit in the back row where you will be tempted to not pay attention by checking Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, or your favorite blog.
  5. Consider recording your classes. If you are consistent you could complete seminary with an entire M.Div. on tape.
  6. Go to as many chapel services and guest lectures as you can. Sometimes one lecture can open doors for you that an entire semester will not. Guest lecturers are often very good; otherwise they wouldn’t have been invited.
  7. Test everything with Scripture. Even the best professors have an off day.

On Considering Odds and Ends:

  1. Get married. Wives are awesome.
  2. Don’t get a puppy. Puppies are still awesome.
  3. Check out wtsbooks.com. It is the bookstore of Westminster Theological Seminary. Their prices are so low they are depraved. Shipping is incredibly effectual and only $4 no matter how many books you buy. If your order is over $35, shipping is only $1; an irresistible grace for poor seminary students. (You just know these guys have been reading Isaiah 55.)
  4. Buy a coffee grinder. You’ll need it. It will help wake you up in the morning. Buy vinegar to clean your drip coffee maker. Find the instructions online. Buy a nice coffee mug. You will be spending significant time with it. It may become your best (or only) friend.
  5. Take a C. Do not sacrifice your Scripture intake, prayer time, or family to the demands of seminary and when you begin to, let that A go and accept a C. God will be honored by your poor grade.
  6. Get exercise or you will slowly gain weight from all the sitting you will do.
  7. Buy a compact Bible to carry to class. Everyone I know ends up doing this. Make it easy on yourself and select your preferred translations as soon as possible. That way you can familiarize yourself with it before you graduate.

If you found this post helpful, please let me know by rating it. I also invite your comments. What have you found helpful or worth passing along to a future seminarian?

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