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6 Steps You Need to Take to Become a Pastor
You’re drawn to the idea of taking a leadership role in ministry. Maybe you’ve felt this tugging on your heart for some time. You can’t deny it any longer. You have a calling to become a pastor.
Do you wonder what becoming a pastor includes? Are you called to ministry? Most Christian churches interchange the word minister and pastor. The pastor or minister is a volunteer, part-time, or full-time Christian leader called by God to serve a local church or community.
Everyone is called to ministry. But only some are called to the ministry.
Every Christian, no matter who they are or what they do, are called to minister to others and make disciples. You could be a nurse, a business owner, a dog groomer, an athlete, or some crazy combination of the four, and you would still have the call by God to serve those around you and tell others about Jesus. That’s the purest definition of ministry.
But if that’s the call to ministry, then what is a call to the ministry?
Someone who is called to “the ministry” senses that God wishes for him or her to devote their life to serving in the local church or ministry fulltime. They often become pastors, missionaries, nonprofit organization directors, and parachurch leaders. While these people can still work other part-time jobs, they sense a calling to devote their daily life to being on the frontlines of ministry and equipping others to do Kingdom work.
This is who the Called Collective is for: High schoolers who might be sensing God calling them to vocational ministry. That being said, one of the biggest questions high schoolers ask on this topic is, “How is someone called to the ministry?”
Everyone’s call is different, but in his book, The Call of a Lifetime, Keith Drury identifies 5 common ways God might call someone to devote their career to serving his Church.
First, are you a Christian called by God to lead others into a relationship with Jesus Christ? The disciples were called to ministry by Jesus himself. The Apostle Paul was on the road to Damascus when God abruptly called him to leadership.
Some Christians are called in their childhood. Others are called after a traumatic childhood where Jesus healed over time. Others are called later in life. Each calling is unique. The calling is the inner voice of God, audible or inaudible, that speaks to your heart. It gives you a certainty that you are called to serve the Lord as a pastor or minister. It is the Holy Spirit’s urgency that you can do no other.
In Acts chapter 9, the religious leader Saul (whom you may also know as “Paul”) was on his way to Damascus when he received a vision. A flash of light from heaven blinded him, tossing him to the ground out of pure shock. In that instant, he heard the voice of Jesus speak directly to him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Saul was shook in that moment! So much so, he literally went from persecuting Christians to committing his life to spreading the Gospel—all because of a divine encounter with God himself.
Sometimes God calls people the same way. Drury says, “The Damascus Road call usually is accompanied by a sign, a miracle, or an unmistakable manifestation of God’s voice.” A Damascus Road call leaves you knowing for sure that this is what God wants you to do with your life. But hear me: Not everyone receives this call. Although a dramatic event is what many people think of when they hear about God calling people into ministry, the Damascus Road call is one of the rarer types of calls.
The Progressive Call
The Progressive Call is the most common type of call today. This calling involves a gradual sequence of events across your life until it finally dawns on you that fulltime ministry is what God wants you to do. It could begin with growing up in the church, and naturally having a deep passion for loving people and telling them about God. Once you get into youth group, your Youth Pastor asks you to join the Youth Leadership Team. You start assisting with games, leading a small group, and even giving announcements on some nights. The more you get involved, the more you begin to realize how much you love doing this, so much so that you decide to devote your life to ministering to teenagers as a youth pastor. But it took you 6 years of being involved in your youth group to get there.
That’s the progressive call.
Since the progressive call takes a long time to unfold, it can be easy to slip into doubting your calling and question if this is truly what you’re suppose to do with your life. If you find your mind ever going there, focus on God’s persistent presence and growing inner voice. Ask him to continue to reveal his will and way. He’ll make it clear to you.
The External Calling
So you are called? How are you going to respond to your calling? Some called leaders start serving at their local church. This serving is a good way to see the “external calling.” The external calling comes from your community of faith. Do others see you as a Christian leader? A pastor? A minister? Are you more and more living a life worthy of your calling?
1Timothy 3:8 Deacons (Ministers), likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.
Romans 16:1 I commend to you Phoebe, our sister, who is a minister of the church that is at Cenchreae,
The Apostle Paul commends Pheobe in that verse. Do others say to you, “Hey, have you thought about becoming a pastor in our church?”
This confirmation from others is the external call. Other believers or pastors see something in you that you already know is there.
The Call From Birth
There are some people who literally cannot recall a time when they didn’t sense a call to the ministry. These ministers accepted a call very early in their life, and hadn’t wavered in it since. The prophet Jeremiah was called to ministry before he was even formed in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5), and the prophet Samuel was devoted to serving the Lord before he was born by his mother (1 Samuel 1:11).
This call is also rare, but it does still happen today. Although God determined who he would call to ministry before time even began, there are some who never had a wrestling period, a Damascus road experience, or a gradual process to discovering their call. It’s just always been there.
The Set-Apart-By-The-Church Call
God speaks through other people all the time, and this is particularly true of his Church. The Church is God’s chosen people to minister to the world, proclaim his name, and advance his Kingdom. The Church not only bears God’s witness to the whole inhabited earth, but also speaks on behalf of God to other people. Sometimes, God will call people into the ministry strictly through other Christians saying they would be a great in fulltime ministry—before they ever considered it themselves!
Drury says that some people can hear God’s voice better than others. Someone who has been walking closely with the Lord for the last 50 years may be more keen to how the Spirit is working in someone else’s life. God will press onto these people with a conviction about what he wants to do in someone else’s life, even if that individual has not grown to the point of hearing God’s voice themselves.
If this is you, chances are you’ve heard other people say you’d make a great pastor or ministry leader before you even gave it a forethought. However, you shouldn’t solely bank on what other people have said. Start opening up to the thought and testing it out in your local church. If the work of ministry resonates with you, pay attention: God may be calling you to the ministry.
The Open Door Call
Open Door Calls come out of nowhere. They begin as cool opportunities that “open the door” to committing the rest of one’s life to ministry. For example: this could happen on a missions trip, where seeing fruitful ministry take place in a culture hungry for the Word of God completely transforms a person’s life. She is so moved by this ministry experience that she decides to become a fulltime missionary. The door was opened, and she chose to walk through it.
Another example could be those who have a close association with a pastor. Their close involvement with a pastor or church ministry gives them fuller exposure to what a life in ministry could be. God may then plant the thought in someone’s mind, “Why not do this with your life, as well?” Thus opening the door to ministry.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list. Although these are 5 common ways Jesus calls people to the ministry, he might be calling you in a way that’s unique from these 5, or in a way that involves a combination of the 5. Regardless, no type of call is better than the others. Don’t feel like having a subtle desire to go into ministry is lesser than God sending you a dramatic event telling you to go into ministry. At the end of the day, the most important factor in receiving a call from God is obedience. It’s never about how you receive your call, but what you do about it that matters.
The pastoral career path, or vocation to those uniquely suited to it, is an attractive one for many reasons:
- Joy in opening the Word to others through teaching.
- The excitement of bringing the gospel of Christ to the world through church growth.
- Adventure in exploring different cultures through missional work.
- Satisfaction in helping others cope with spiritual and emotional pain through counseling.
- A sense of accomplishment in leading others to ministry and multiplying your impact.
- You will become more confident. Ministry training increases the confidence of your calling. You learn how to interpret the Bible more carefully. You learn how to serve people more effectively. You learn the skills of being a pastor while becoming a pastor!
- You will be more competent. Solid Biblical ministry training helps those who are serious about becoming a pastor. It tests your calling, educates you into the Christian faith and walk, and gives you skills to help you in ministry.
Pastoral careers attract those with an intense, God-given desire to not only participate in ministry but become intimately involved with the administration of churches and ministry organizations. Decisions you make at this level can influence a generation of disciples.
It’s a lifestyle to which you may be well-suited. It is also a decent living. The average salary for a full-time pastor is about $50,000 per year. This varies a lot depending on where you work and live, of course. Pastors can earn much more, certainly enough to support their families.
What are the qualifications of ministers and pastors?
In our society, a minister is a generic term that usually refers to a pastor, preacher or clergyman. For our purpose here, we are referring to all such ministers in general, who are officially ordained or commissioned by a church to carry out some form of spiritual leadership.
Above all things, the qualifications of a minister must first include a divine calling (Acts 13:2). Someone once said that there are two kinds of people who enter the ministry: Persons called by God or fools. The meaning of this is, due to the many adversities faced in ministry, it is a great mistake to become a minister, especially a pastor, unless you have received a specific call from God. No amount of education from a Bible college or seminary can ever compensate for its absence.
A call from God is somewhat difficult to describe, and may vary in interpretation from one person to another. Some have heard audible voices or seen visions, while others have simply discerned an inner “awareness” of God’s calling upon their life. A wise, elderly pastor once spoke to prospective ministerial students on the subject. He said, “Do anything you can to stay out of the ministry, unless you can’t do anything but get into it. If God has truly called you in the ministry, He’ll put you there — He’ll provide the opportunity and make the way. Don’t seek the ministry unless it’s something you can’t avoid. Then you will know that it’s His doing and not yours, and that He’ll see you through when things get tough.”
Those who answer the call to become ministers, should be mature, Spirit-filled Christians who possess an intense love for Christ and their fellow man. They should show signs of the appropriate giftings in their inclined field of ministry, and seek to enhance these through applied study and training — by attending a Bible college or seminary if possible. But more than preaching ability or other gifts, a minister of the Gospel must be a person of exceptional character, endowed with spiritual fruit, devoted to prayer and the study of God’s Word.
A minister must have a sound mind and common sense. He should possess wisdom and tact in dealing with people, and be able to communicate clearly and authoritatively. He must understand how people live, work and struggle, and be able to be empathic and compassionate to their concerns. His own financial affairs should be in good order, and he should have a strong understanding of the business aspects of a church.
A minister must be an impartial person, who will care for all the sheep of his flock equally. He must have a love for the souls of people, and a longing to lead them to a personal relationship with Christ — to contribute to their spiritual growth and development. One of the minister’s greatest characteristics must be “patience,” as people are very difficult to deal with, and only someone endowed with an unusual measure of patience can tolerate the ordeals of humanity. The heart of a pastor will be that of a shepherd — one who leads, feeds, cares for, and protects the flock.
A minister is a general term that refers to any of the Lord’s servants or preachers, but probably more specifically relates to what the New Testament calls an “elder.” Elders are an order of mature believers charged with the spiritual supervision and ministry of the church. The terms elder, bishop, and pastor were used interchangeably in scripture, and their qualifications were the same (1 Tim. 3:1-7, Tit. 1:5-9). (A deacon is also another type of minister, but with a separate list of qualifications in 1 Tim. 3:8-13.)
There are two scripture passages which specify the qualifications of the bishop, pastor, or elder. Both were authored by Paul, first to Timothy and then to Titus.
1 Tim. 3:1 “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.
3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;
3:3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;
3:4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence
3:5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?);
3:6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
3:7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
Titus 1:5 “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you;
1:6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.
1:7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,
1:8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled,
1:9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.”
You will notice that both passages are very similar, but not identical. By combining what he expressed in the separate epistles, we gain a broad picture of what were considered the prerequisites of elders.
Epistle of 1 Timothy 1) Above reproach, 2) Husband of one wife, 3) Temperate, 4) Prudent, 5) Respectable, 6) Hospitable, 7) Able to teach, 8) Not addicted to wine, 9) Not belligerent, 10) Gentle, 11) Uncontentious, 12) Free from love of money, 13) Manages household well, 14) Not a new convert, 15) A good reputation inside and outside the church.
Epistle of Titus 1) Above reproach, 2) Husband of one wife, 3) Having children who believe, 4) Not self-willed, 5) Not quick tempered, 6) Not addicted to wine, 7) Not belligerent, 8) Not fond of sordid gain, 9) Hospitable, 10) Lover of what is good, 11) Sensible, 12) Just, 13) Devout, 14) Self-controlled, 15) Holding fast the word —both to exhort and refute.
In his highly respected book, Biblical Eldership, Alexander Strauch wrote the following commentary regarding these passages on church eldership:
“The elders, as Peter says, are examples to the people (1 Peter 5:3). Therefore, they must represent what God desires every member of the congregation to be in character and conduct. Those inside as well as outside the church first look to those who stand as leaders. It is understandable if a new or struggling believer falls prey to sin or hypocrisy, but when one who leads the congregation is found in reproach, the world blasphemes the teaching of the gospel, and saints within the church become disillusioned — some even turning away from the church. For these reasons, the stewards of God’s household must be above reproach.”
“Furthermore, local congregations tend to mold themselves according to their leaders — a tendency clearly seen throughout the Old Testament. When Israel had a bad king, for example, the people were sinful. When Israel had a good king, the people followed the Lord. Because people are like sheep, their shepherds have a profound impact on their direction and spiritual well-being. Therefore:
(1) “If an elder has a contentious spirit, the people will inevitably become contentious. So, a man with a contentious disposition is not qualified for eldership — even if he has the greatest teaching gift in the world (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7).
(2) “If an elder is not hospitable, the people will be unfriendly and cold (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8).
(3) “If an elder loves money, he will subtly use the people and work for his own ends (1 Timothy 3:3). Following his example, the people, too, will become lovers of money.
(4) “If an elder is not just and devout, he will be unable to rightly discern critical issues and problems (Titus 1:8), causing the people to become unjust and disloyal to the truth.
(5) “If an elder is not sensible, balanced, and self-controlled, his judgments will be characterized by disorganization, aimlessness, and ugly extremes — as will the judgments of the entire congregation (1 Timothy 3:1,2; Titus 1:8).
(6) “If an elder is not a faithful, one-woman husband, he will ultimately encourage others to be unfaithful (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6).
(7) “If an elder does not faithfully hold to the Word, the people will not. Such an elder will be unable to guide the church through the fierce storms of Satanic error (Titus 1:9).”
“What the churches of Jesus Christ need in the way of leadership is men of deep inner spiritual and moral character. The best systems, laws, and constitutions are impotent without men who are just, devout, lovers of what is good, sensible, self-controlled, forbearing, free from the love of money, uncontentious, and faithful keepers of God’s Word. These are precisely the qualities that God requires of those who lead His people.”¹
In scripture, we will often see a common theme that is emphasized again and again. Spiritual leaders are supposed to be primarily examples to the flock. That is, the godly lifestyle of ministers, preachers, elders or pastors is critically important as it is the visual sermon that people see and emulate with their lives. Paul told Timothy, “…be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).
Furthermore, the lifestyle of the preacher is what brings credibility to his message. How can he hope for people to believe in a teaching that he doesn’t live for himself? Someone once said, “Your life speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying.” It is ever so true that if we wish to influence lives for Christ, we must continually practice what we preach. “The elders who are among you I exhort… Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not… as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3).
But how do you get there from here?
You may have some experience in ministry. Perhaps some college education. It may seem like you still have a long way to go on this journey, but take heart. You don’t have to take a giant leap to become a pastor. Just take one step at a time.
1. Explore your calling in the Word.
Whether you’re new to the Bible or you’ve been reading it your entire life, it’s always a good idea to open it with fresh eyes to explore your calling.
How do the stories of leadership in the Old Testament speak to you?
- Consider Moses’ fear when God called him to free His people from the Egyptians (Exodus 3).
- Be inspired by the boldness of Deborah (Judges 4).
- Read the story of King David’s failure to lead with integrity (2 Samuel 11-12).
What do you see in the example of Jesus’ disciples building the church in the New Testament?
- Put yourself into the shoes of the early church’s men and women as they carry the gospel throughout the known world in the Book of Acts.
- Consider the burden of the Apostle Paul as he provides leadership through his epistles.
You read Scripture differently when you realize that biblical leaders are just like you. They are flawed, yet they are called. They make the bold decision to take on the challenge of leadership and make plenty of mistakes along the way.
2. Decide what kind of pastor you want to be.
While you may have a specific idea of what a pastor is based on your personal experience, there are many career options available to you when you become a pastor.
Here are just a few options:
If you are especially drawn to teaching, you may or may not focus on instruction from the Word in a church setting. Many people become a pastor to establish an authoritative voice on Scripture, then use that voice in a more academic environment.
For example, it’s relatively common for pastors to serve a small church or ministry part-time while teaching Bible at a community college or university. Or you may choose to become a “teaching pastor,” whose focus in the church is small group study or training, rather than preaching.
You may want to become a pastor specifically because you want to expand the church’s reach and impact. As a church planter, you would be a pastor with the skills necessary to recruit leaders, attract people and gather resources.
Church planters may become senior pastors of the churches they build or train local leaders to take over. With new leadership in place, the church planter can then move on to the next project and continue to expand the church.
As a counselor who is ordained as a pastor, you may work in a wide variety of workplace settings. You may be placed in charge of a counseling program in your church as a pastoral team member. Or, you could work in a Christian counseling center or other ministries.
A chaplain is a specific kind of pastoral counselor, often working for secular institutions where there is a recognized need for pastoral care services. These include the military, prisons, hospitals, government agencies, police and fire departments, and more.
You may be called to utilize your pastoral training in the missions field. The context you work in could be anything from a church-funded social service program to a relational ministry that brings Christ to unchurched people.
While the term “missionary” often brings up an image of Christians going to other countries to preach the Word, this career path also includes urban missions here in the U.S. Missionaries are needed everywhere to bring the gospel of Christ to a world that needs Him.
All pastors tend to be administrators by nature of the role, whatever the workplace setting. After you become a pastor, you may be called to apply your training to an administrative position in a business or nonprofit organization.
You may also choose the path that many are thinking about when they hear the word “pastor.” As the senior pastor of a church, your role would touch a little of everything above. Also, you would have the responsibility to provide spiritual leadership from the pulpit.
Preaching is perhaps the most important and sacred part of a senior church pastor’s duty. The backbone of the church is the truth found in the Word, and those called to preach that truth have a responsibility to attract the people to it, inspire them with it, and lead them to Christ through it.
3. Choose a degree direction.
Inspired by the Word to become a pastor, encouraged with a vision of what kind of pastor you will be, you’re now ready to choose an educational path.
Most roles that carry the title of Pastor require a graduate-level degree. Don’t let that discourage you, however! You can begin to take the lead in ministry, build your “pre-pastoral” resume, and even take on fulfilling roles that are considered pastoral with a lesser degree.
So, instead of worrying too much about how far you’re going to go (and about the time and expense – though it’s often more flexible and affordable than you think), it’s best to choose a direction. For example:
- If you want to teach or preach, start with a focus on Biblical Studies programs.
- If you want to plant churches or be a missionary, consider Urban Christian Ministries.
From there, you can go deeper with a focus on counseling, education, pastoral studies, etc. These are examples of concentrations at the bachelor’s degree (four-year) level, which you don’t necessarily have to commit to right away.
Likewise, you don’t have to commit to master’s-level concentrations on specific teaching areas, such as Old or New Testament, or specializations like chaplaincy and pastoral counseling, until you cross that bridge.
4. Seek Pastoral Guidance
Before you make final decisions about degree concentrations at the bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral levels, it’s a good idea to talk with trusted advisors about your desire to become a pastor.
Ask pastors you know and trust about their experiences.
- What did you study?
- Which degree did you earn?
- What did you learn in college and seminary that you apply today?
- What challenges should I expect as a pastor?
- What will I enjoy about going into this career?
You should also reach out to an admissions counselor and faculty at your college of choice. Discuss your vision for your future career, your sense of calling, and ask plenty of questions about the careers students like you enter after graduating.
5. Stay open to the Spirit.
It is common for students like you to start or re-start their educational journey with an idea of what it will mean for them to become a pastor, then change course. Multiple times, even!
This usually isn’t because of indecision or a lack of conviction. Students who change degree tracks are no less committed to fulfilling their calling than those who don’t.
What they’re doing is often listening to the Holy Spirit and prayerfully considering whether He is prompting them to change direction. Like the Apostle Paul called in a vision to change course and go to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10), we all have to be prepared to respond to the Spirit.
6. Work with your church to become ordained.
Once you have earned your degree, the final step in becoming a pastor is to be ordained.
Your church’s process varies by church and denomination. Typically, there is a candidacy period, which you may be able to begin while earning your degree.
During this time, you’ll work with your senior pastor, who will mentor you and give you opportunities to lead. You may be in a paid, lower-level leadership position.
Whatever this model looks like for you, and whatever career path you enter, ordination is when you know you have achieved your goal. You are a pastor, equipped for servant leadership and ready to make an impact in the name of Jesus Christ.
charlottechristian.edu, “6 Steps You Need to Take to Become a Pastor.” by Dr. George Shears III; askanydifference.com, “Difference Between Minister and Pastor.” By Piyush Yadav; christianleadersinstitute.org, “Becoming a Pastor.” by Henry Reyenga; victorious.org, “What People Ask About the Church.” By Dr. Dale A. Robbins; indwes.edu, “5 WAYS SOMEONE IS CALLED TO MINISTRY.” By Jake Thurston; knowingjesusministries.co, “Does the Bible Allow Women to be Pastors? Answers to Common Objections.” By Brandon Sutton; biblestudytools.com, “Can Women Be Pastors? The Ordination of Women to Pastoral Ministry.” Dr. Michael A. Milton;
Difference Between Minister and Pastor
A church is a spiritual place for Christians. In the New Testament, a building is never described as a church, it is called an Ecclesia, a Greek word, which means the called-out ones. In other words, the Bible identifies people who are trusting Jesus for salvation as a community, or believers.
In other words, it is a Christian house of worship, where religious activities take place.
A minister and a pastor play an important role in a church, as without them the words of God cannot be, or won’t be passed on the people, the believers. Both the minister and pastor are considered to be the heralds of the world, who lead people in their spiritual way.
They are the preachers, and act as an intermediator, and perform spiritual, or religious activities.
Does the Bible Allow Women to be Pastors?
In the beginning, the Lord placed the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden to work and keep what God created. The Lord allowed them to eat anything they wanted, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The Serpent, however, approached the woman to twist, question, and contradict what God told Adam. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 3:1). After the woman responded responsibly, the Serpent offered an alternative position. “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). God gives a clear word—don’t eat from that tree. Satan questions God’s Word and offers a different position. The man and woman chose to believe the lie, and it led to the fall of man into sin.
In my last article, I asked the question: Does the Bible Allow Women to be Pastors? Scripture is clear. Only biblically qualified men can hold the position of pastor in Christ’s church. But this clear teaching isn’t acceptable for many people. They respond with, “Did God actually say women can’t be pastors?”
As promised, I have followed up on my last article with common objections. I realize not everyone agrees with my position, and in response, alternative positions have been proposed. Here are four of the most common objections with biblical responses.
Objection #1: Wasn’t Paul’s command in 1st Timothy 2:12 related to cultural issues for that time that don’t apply today?
This objection presents itself with different nuances, but the basic argument is that Paul was only prohibiting women in Timothy’s church from becoming elders. He wasn’t intending to make the command binding on the church for all time.
The problem with this objection is that it neglects verses 13-14. Let’s read the passage in context. “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. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” (1st Timothy 2:11-14) Two things should be observed. First, nothing in the text indicates that Paul’s prohibition is due to a cultural situation—such as uneducated or problematic women teaching in the church. Second, Paul gives us a two-part answer as to why he gives this command. “For” means because; meaning, the reason Paul is giving this command is because, “Adam was created was first, then Eve.” The first reason Paul lists why women cannot hold authority over men in the church by taking on the role of pastor is because it would violate the creation order. Men have been placed in authority over women and children both in the home and the church. This has nothing to do with holding women back or being sexist. This is God’s good design. He knows what is best for His people and the church. The second reason is because the woman, not Adam, was deceived and became a transgressor. This is a tricky portion of Scripture. Is Paul saying that Adam wasn’t deceived? No, Adam was deceived because he ate the fruit and disobeyed just like Eve. What Paul is saying is that Satan tempted the woman and consequently the woman led her husband into error. Adam should have acted as the head of his wife and protected her from Satan’s lies by holding fast to God’s commands. In God’s church, men must lead and protect women by teaching and obeying the Word of God. When the order is reversed, like in the Garden, we are taking women out from under the headship and protection of men; thus, opening them and the whole church up to Satan’s original schemes.
Therefore, Paul’s command in 1st Timothy 2:12 is not based on cultural circumstances whatsoever. His command that women cannot teach or take authority over men is rooted in the created order and fall of man, and thus binding on all churches for all ages.
Objection #2: What about all the women in the Bible involved in ministry?
There are many instances in Scripture where women were engaged in ministry, and rightfully so. Christian women are gifted and called to serve the Lord. That’s not the concern of this article. We’re asking the question: Does the Bible allow women be pastors? Many argue that women can be pastors, and they cite certain biblical stories or texts highlighting women who are engaged in ministry to support their position.
For starters, what about Deborah? Deborah was a prophetess and judge who led Israel after Ehud died (Judges 4:1, 4). It is argued that if God made Deborah a judge and leader over Israel, certainly women can be pastors.
But we need to take a close look and think carefully about this argument. First, the book of Judges is a descriptive, not a prescriptive, book in the Bible. Meaning, the book of Judges, and in particular Deborah’s account, is describing what happened. It is not necessarily telling us what must happen. Paul’s command for churches is prescriptive. He is telling us what must happen in the church. Narratives, like Judges, are merely describing events that took place. They’re not intended to prescribe moral commands and doctrine. Bottom line, that Deborah was a judge does not contradict or change Paul’s command in 1st Timothy. Secondly, Deborah was a judge during Israel’s darkest time in history. That she was appointed should be seen as a judgment on wicked people. This claim is bolstered by the fact that Deborah tried to give military command to Barak, and he was shamed for his initial reluctance. Even so, Barak was the one who led the men into battle (Judges 4:14-16). Deborah’s story is heroic, but it does not change the fact only qualified men can be pastors in God’s church.
Another example comes from Jesus’ ministry. Our Lord had several women who followed and assisted Him. Then, after the resurrection, it was the women who first announced that Jesus was alive (Matthew 28:1-10, John 20:18). It was women who “preached” the resurrection. Therefore, it is argued, women can preach in the church today. I have even heard an argument for women preachers that since Jesus is the Word of God, and Mary gave birth to Him, it follows that she also published the Word of God (that one is my personal favorite).
These arguments seem to hold some initial merit, but let’s remember, they are descriptive, not prescriptive. They are telling us what happened, not what must happen. The gospel narratives, like Judges, are just as authoritative as anything Paul penned, but unless specifically stated, they aren’t giving specific commands of what we should do as Christians. They are great examples, and they communicate essential truth, but in many cases, they aren’t telling us how to order God’s church. Furthermore, these passages having nothing to do with the office of pastor. They simply portray women telling others about Jesus—which all Christian women should do!
Time won’t permit to expound upon other examples, but I will conclude with a rapid fire of a few:
- Priscilla instructed Apollos but that was a private conversation, not preaching.
- The Elect Lady in 2nd John was not an elder but a reference to the church itself.
- Junia was “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7, NIV), but she wasn’t an apostle herself. She was “well known to the apostles” (Romans 16:7 ESV). Junia might even be a man, not a woman, as that name was not exclusively female at the time.
- Euodia and Syntyche were prominent in the church, but nowhere are they mentioned as elders (Phil 4:3).
- Phoebe was commended for being a servant to the church, not a pastor (Romans 16:1).
Objection #3: What about women who prophesied in the church?
If Paul allowed women to prophesy in the church at Corinth (1st Corinthians 11:5), then why would he prohibit women from preaching sermons? Prophecy in the early church was not what Jeremiah or Isaiah did in the Old Testament. Those men spoke the unadulterated, inerrant, Word of God publicly for everyone to hear. Prophecy in the early church, on the other hand, was for the church, more subjective, and in need of assessment from the elders because there was no guarantee that it was free from error (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). For example, a man or woman would receive a prompting from the Spirit, share that word from the Lord with the church for her encouragement and edification, and it was the job of the elders to determine if this new word was in accord with sound doctrine.
Women were encouraged to share such revelations, but it was to be done within other parameters that have been set—such as speaking to their husbands first and submitting those revelations to the elders. These revelations are not the same thing as giving an exposition of the word with exhortations and authority. They aren’t sermons. That job belongs to the pastors of the church.
Objection #4: Why would God gift and call women to preach if they can’t be pastors?
There is no doubt that certain women have demonstrated great skill in communication. It is also true that God calls women to ministry. But these subjective callings and giftings should be interpreted by and aligned with Scripture. All Christian women are called to ministry, and God grants some Christian women the unique ability to teach, but that doesn’t mean God is calling them to violate His Word. When a woman discerns a desire to serve the church with her teaching abilities, she should do so within the boundaries created by God’s Word. Practically speaking, she should teach women and children but not men. To teach men would be to violate the clear teachings of Scripture.
1. Does the Bible actually speak to the issue of the ordination of women?
There is a possible side path that we are tempted to take and that is the matter of “ordination.” Is there a discernible “theology of ordination” in the Bible? Many believers, in fact most of the global church, answers that question by saying “yes.” Yes, there is a discernible doctrine of ordination: the recognition of gifts and graces and calling to God ordained offices of the church. Depending upon the branch of the church there may be two offices or three offices. The Bible speaks of presbyters who served as pastors, evangelists, apostles — those who were directly commissioned by Jesus Christ face-to-face — as well as deacons, and local church elders. Some, like Anglican brothers and sisters recognize an office of the episcopacy: the presbyter whose primary function is to “shepherd the shepherds who shepherd the flock.” These are all very important matters but constitute a completely different set of questions and responses. For now let us just focus on the question of whether the Bible prohibits the ordination of a female in the office of pastor (or presbyter, “priest,” or minister of Word, Sacrament, and Prayer, that is, Christian clergy serving as pastor, “rector,” or “vicar”). Those who fill these offices must be called, trained, approved, for the Bible says “no man takes this honor unto himself.”
There are many places in the Bible that speak to the question before us but do so by inference; that is, one must gather the data of the texts and discern the truth. Rather than focus on these all go to the usual texts that is cited and, indeed, the biblical passage that is often debated.
1 Timothy 2:8-15 remains the crucial scriptural text in the debate over the ordination of women, or, if you prefer, the issue of women serving as pastors of local churches. In this passage, the Apostle Paul is teaching young Pastor Timothy about the pitfalls of ministry in the Ephesian church. This Christian community, founded by Paul, was a hotbed of controversy. One of those problems, in chapter two, involves prayer for kings and all in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Reading a text with Newton’s Third Law, we recognize that for every admonition there is an equal and opposite problem that created the exhortation. Therefore, undoubtedly, there were some who refused to pray for pagan or anti-Christian rulers. This violated the order of human government ordained by God. There was also trouble with men in public prayer. It is quite likely that some were weaponizing public prayers in the house of the Lord, using the privilege of pastoral prayers to call out the peccadilloes of others. Quarrels were morphing into violence.
And then there is the matter of the sensual and ostentatious display of Greco-Roman female fashion that is prohibitive.
“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (1 Timothy 2:9-10).
Now, both of these critical matters in the Ephesian congregation involve parochial and universal concerns. In other words, local customs were in play in the controversy. But so, too, were more global concerns of virtue; In this case, modesty. This is a vital distinction that must be considered as we move to the “tenderloin” passage informing our pursuit of an answer to the question of whether females may be set apart for pastoral oversight of a Christian community.
So, St. Paul admonishes Timothy concerning the apparent assumption of the mantle of teaching authority by women in the Ephesian church.
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
There is absolutely no debate whatsoever that the Apostle Paul is forbidding women from holding the principal position of authoritative doctrinal teaching in the Ephesian church. The question is whether the Apostle Paul is continuing his line of thinking about social norms or is he moving from the issue of provocative attire by women in the assembly to speak about another matter altogether: namely, women exercising authoritative doctrinal headship over the men in the church. To put it another way: Is 1 Timothy 2:11-12 a parochial, i.e., particular, guide, or is this pivotal passage a universal, i.e., a general rule?
Men and women of good will differ on the response.
Those who believe in the ordination of women into the pastoral ministry might preface their study of 1 Timothy 2 with another important passage. The Apostle Paul taught, “there are no male or female, no slave nor free, no Jew or Greek, but we are all one in Christ.” All understand this to be true. However, some interpret this to be not only speaking ontologically — that is about personhood — but also about role relationships. Others draw the distinction between the equality of personhood and the distinction of role relationships. For instance, the apostle Paul clearly is not overthrowing the role relationship of husbands and wives, parents and children, of employers and employees, of civil authority and citizens who must abide by the law. In speaking to the essential personhood: we are all equal before God. Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 2:12 appears to be a teaching related to role relationships.
Paul is saying that females should not “wear” the mantle of doctrinal authority in the local church. It is very important to see that he buttresses this, as if to anticipate a discussion about changing social norms, with the passage that deals with the fundamental creation ordinance of men and women. This is the familiar place with the apostle Paul says, “for Adam…” Did you see that? This sentence is an explanation, a defense of his previous statement, namely, that, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” Paul goes on to say that in the beginning God created Adam and Eve. There is an order in creation. The truth is that the highest form of the order is woman for she was the last creature that God made. This is also demonstrated when Adam awakes from his divinely induced sleep to behold the woman. She is fair and lovely, the gift, the highest order of creation and one to be cherished, honored, and protected in every way.
So the Apostle Paul says that in fact she has a greater role in the history of the world: for it is by woman, without the aid of the man, through childbirth, that she brings forth salvation, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ. Each of these passages deserve their own interpretive analysis, discussion, and prayerful reflection. But for our purposes it is enough to say that the force of this teaching by the apostle Paul appears to be admonishing Timothy that (1) women should not hold authoritative office in the local church that involves apostolic and doctrinal teaching; and (2) it has absolutely nothing to do with social norms — whether it might be considered appropriate or inappropriate for female to hold such an authoritative position over a congregation — nor does it have to do with ability (as a seminary professor and as a pastor I have known many gifted women whose skills and natural abilities far exceeded some of my own assistant ministers and pastoral staff). Rather, the matter is settled because of the creation ordinance.
2. So, does the Bible condone women in other offices of the church?
That is a very good question and, once again, the answer to that question is not unanimous. There are some who believe that 1 Timothy 2:12 forbids a woman to be a senior pastor, it does not forbid the ordination of women to the office. Others, feel that a woman can serve as an associate pastor or in another expression of pastoral ministry. There are others still, who believe that the office of deacon is open to women. Usually, those who hold this position point to the great female figure in the New Testament, Phoebe. She most certainly is identified as carrying out diaconal ministry. Others, point to 1 Timothy 3:8-13 in the Apostle Paul’s statement of qualification for deacons. It is to be noted that there is a qualification required of deacons that is not required of elders or overseers ( 1 Tim. 3:1-7).
Paul says that “their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderous, but sober minded, faithful in all things.” Why are deacons given this requirement and not elders? A survey of the New Testament provides further insight to this question. The deacon was required to be involved with the women of the church, for example, the distribution of support to widows, and, obviously, other ministries that are necessary but not mentioned. The elders principal duty is the teaching of the Word of God and the spiritual and doctrinal oversight of the flock. Therefore, the apostle Paul focused his comments on the work of the deacon and the necessity, if he were to be married, of a wife who is trustworthy in dealing with such sensitive, confidential matters within the body of Christ.
So, there are some within the body of Christ who feel such distinctions are imposed upon the text rather than extracted from the text. They feel that women may be ordained into the diaconal ministry.
3. If the church persists in the distinction of the role relationships of men and women, especially pertaining to the pastoral ministry, won’t this have a negative effect before the watching world?
The truth is that much of what the church stands for, teaches, and proposes runs contra mundum — that is, “against the world.” Is it not true that the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, the family, and, of course, the Person of Christ, is increasingly at odds with the postmodern and post-Christian society? Then again, if the Church advances this position or any other position based on anything other than Scripture, she will be completely defenseless against rhetorical attack. Indeed, the Church without biblical doctrine is in danger of collapsing. Therefore, those men who boorishly employ this Scripture as a weapon to keep “female parishioners” from exercising their gifts are wrong (and should be called out by other men). They will be seen for what they are by the world and, ultimately, by the Church.
On the other hand, whether it is the ordination of women — and we must remember that, again, there are those within the body of Christ who love the Lord, love his Word, and have arrived at a different position — or whether it is human sexuality or any of the other issues we face it, if we alter, add to or take away from the Word of God we will not only fail in our attempt to impress the world with our magnanimity, but more importantly, we will incur the wrath of God.
4. Well, is there anything positive to say?
The biblical revelation of the role relationships of men and women, those who are called to the office of pastor, to those who were called to the office of deacon, or elder, or those who serve in a variety of other honorable professions and trades, recognizes the value and worth of every individual. The same Apostle Paul who wrote 1 Timothy 2 is the apostle who did indeed write,
We serve the Lord according to God’s calling, according to God’s own revealed order, and we do so in humility, and total dependence upon his strengths. And we never serve apart from others. We are, indeed, members (eyes, ears, hands, feet) of the same body. Our calling is always conducted in the presence of others following their vocation. So, let respect and honor be the marks of our ministry, even—no, especially—with those brothers and sisters from whom we might part because of this or another matter.
Men and women of good will might certainly disagree about this teaching. In fact, we do. But if one reads 1 Timothy 2 and concludes a position differently than my own, and does so out of an earnest desire to understand and follow God’s Word, then I have only to say, let us “cooperate without compromise.” And if your heart is with my heart give me your hand.
The Serpent didn’t offer to Eve a complete contradiction of God’s Word—at least not at first. First, he questioned the Lord. Then he twisted God’s Word, and in the end, he offered a completely different position to the man and woman.
Scripture is clear on the question of women pastors. But many don’t want to accept what God has said. Instead, they mimic the enemy by saying, “Did God really say?” My Christian friends, let us not question the Lord. His Word is good and designed for our flourishing and His glory. To question and contradict Him not only brings dishonor to our Creator, but it will lead to our harm.
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