Do you need a "Y" chromosome to be a "pastor": Reflections of an XY…

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : August 25, 2006

My friend Surly Dave is pondering the role of women in the Church. Dave is clearly a complimentarian. At the same time, Jason Clark (whose blog I read semi-regularly) has posted on the role of women as well. Jason is clearly an egalitarian. I tend to avoid discussions about the role of women, because they can get heated. The arguments get tedious and very few minds are ever changed on the matter. I, however, am one of the few who have changed my perspective.

I would have considered myself a complimentarian until about 4 years ago. Interestingly enough, the first step towards my journey into egalitarianism wasn’t my mind being changed about the role of women per se, but my mind being changed about the role of elders and pastors. You see, I don’t believe that elders or pastors have special authority. I believe in mutual submission to one anothers spiritual gifts. I see the role of elders as being primarily a trustworthy, wise, role model. I don’t see it as an authoritative role (after all, we don’t Lord over one another as the gentiles do), at least not in the conventional sense. If we all submit to one another, then the issue of having a woman “under submission” is moot. If we submit to Christ only, who makes his presence know to us by the very Spirit who empowers us for diverse ministries and is made known through diverse manifestations, then we are submitting to him in the very act of submitting to one another.

So, in a sense it is true that we are to submit to elders or pastors or apostles or prophets, but also to deacons, encouragers, administrators, and mercy-showers. I don’t see much of a New Testament teaching on authoritative roles and hierarchy. “Apostle” or “Prophet” or “Pastor” seem more like job decriptions rather than offices. If one does away with the notion of offices and simply sees all the different sorts of gifts being displayed as being submission worthy, then the question of whether or not women are submitting properly to male overseers becomes less heated, and a bit less significant.

The major step towards egalitarianism came as I was pondering the nature of cultural context in Scripture. Most folks concede that at least some statements within Scripture are culturally bound while others are “universal.” Complementarians and egalitarians read the same Scripture, but disagree over which teachings are culturally conditioned and to which extent. As I was thinking about this problem, I asked myself “what if I simply concede that ALL Scripture is culturally conditioned?” “What if it is much more difficult to determine “universals” than I had previously imagined? This sort of mini-epiphany both terrified me and liberated me. For now, instead of being a static book of static precepts, Scripture became this living Book that could only be approached with prayer, the guidance of the Spirit, and humility. No longer could I quote a verse and be utterly confident of my rightness.

I’ve said this before, and I’m saying it again: Scripture is not authoritative in the life of the Believer. The Spirit is. This isn?t to say that the truth in Scripture isn?t authoritative…but to say that the truth within Scripture isn?t accesible apart from the constituting, guiding presence of the Spirit. The Bible is revelation unless it is illuminated by the Spirit.

Some of my friends get a bit uncomfortable when I share my “epiphany” with them. It is as though I joined the ranks of liberalism and no longer believe Scripture can authoritatively speak into my life. By no means. But let us be clear: Scripture is never the end in itself. It is meant to point us to Christ, by the power of the Spirit. The way we Evangelicals (if indeed you’d still consider me one) tend to read Scripture is as though Scripture were Lord, and Hermeneutics were the Spirit.

All this is to say that the Spirit MUST take a center role in our understanding of ourselves as the Body of Christ. There is no church apart from the Spirit. Scripture is worthless apart from the Spirit. We must be a people constituted by the Spirit, guided by the Spirit, and empowered by the Spirit. The only way to sort out issues like the role of women in ministry is for a community to approach Scripture together in prayer. We must move beyond the sort of thinking that says: what does the Bible say about X, and then after compiling a list of verses and reading them straight-forwardly assume that we now have the Bible figured out and can hang our hat on our newly discovered “universal truth.” Scripture is much more complex than that. It was written in a complex social situation by complex men who were inspired by the Living God. The only thing we have in common with that original context is that Living God, so it is to Him and His Spirit that we must turn.

The role of women in the church is an important issue. And I believe we must bring Scripture into the discussion. And I believe that the Spirit’s voice in and through Scripture is the authoritative voice in the discussion. But the way we try to hear that voice needs to be different than the conventional evangelical approach. We must dig deeper, be culturally aware, understand the theology that is sometimes obvious and sometimes just under the surface of the text, and we must be in prayerful discussion the presence of the Spirit in our midst.

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10 Responses to “Do you need a "Y" chromosome to be a "pastor": Reflections of an XY…”

  1. Surly Dave on August 25th, 2006 2:46 pm

    I’ve posted my rough draft here. I address some of the issues you raise.

  2. Jeff on August 26th, 2006 10:21 pm

    I remember when we first met, I couldn’t believe such an intelligent charismatic baptist could be so misguided. I knew you’d come around eventually.

  3. JVD on August 27th, 2006 4:48 pm

    In working with 5,000+ emerging leaders in the past few years it was always striking to me how many women were wired as strong leaders as there were men.

    On the flipside there were many men who were wired with high empathy - no one size fits all. I think we get in trouble when we ask a man to lead when he is clearly not wired to lead. As much as we shut out a woman who is a strong leader just because she is a woman.

    Scripturally I look at Ephesians 2:10 where we are all wired & created for God’s works that he planned in advance for us.

  4. Van S on August 28th, 2006 11:18 am

    Thanks for reminding me Jeff… ;)
    JVD: Thanks for sharing your experience with emerging leaders. That definitely needs to be factored in.

  5. Steve Marden on August 29th, 2006 9:16 am

    It’s pretty telling to me that churches in the complementarian camp have NO problem with women acting as elders and pastors in the mission field, in third world countries, but when they come back to the USA their gifts and talents are not recognized. That is situational ethics. If God calls a woman to be a pastor or an elder, who is man to stand in God’s way, and in opposition to His Will?

  6. Kipp Wilson on August 29th, 2006 8:09 pm

    I find it startling how easily and subtly the issue can be twisted. It is not a question of whether women can be gifted as men are. It has absolutely nothing to do with it (though both sides would have it be so).

    Let me be clear: women can do everything, EVERYTHING, that a man can do–preach, lead in prayer and worship, prophesy, exhort, rebuke, teach, discipline, have authority, and so on. Both sides should concur with this if they would just think through the real issue. The only difference in any of these ministries (and not necessarily all) is purely one of audience.

    Audience, not gifting. Let’s quit trying to make Scripture say something it doesn’t.

    So in answer to your title, Mark, the answer is “no.” You do not need a Y to be a pastor. You only need one to be a pastor over men.

    Sorry if I come across as snotty. Oh, by the way, I went from egalitarian to complementarian. And even today I wish I were egalitarian. My understanding of Scripture opposes my personal preference in this particular case. So it does go both ways.

  7. JVD on August 30th, 2006 8:46 am

    How does gifting not matter when you look at how we are created? Why would God gift if not to let people use those gifts?

  8. JVD on August 30th, 2006 8:46 am

    On a side note - we continually lose women from the church who are extremely gifted because the best we can offer them is “Director of Women’s Minsitries.”

  9. Kipp Wilson on August 30th, 2006 8:59 am

    When did I say God wouldn’t let someone use their gifts? If a woman has a gift of preaching, let her preach (authoritatively and expositionally) to women. If a woman has a gift of leadership, let her lead women.

    And I could equally argue that we continually lose men from the church who are extremely gifted because we refuse to let them take turns at being the senior pastor. I know every church has a few “backseat pastors”…

    And I agree with your side note. So let’s call that position what it is: “Pastor of Women.” We’re so paranoid about the title; like I said, complementarians confuse the issue too.

  10. Kipp Wilson on August 30th, 2006 9:17 am

    I should say as well that complementarian churches have utterly failed to communicate, encourage, and staff this “unlimited gifts, limited audience” mentality. As one comic pointed out, the highest position that a woman can achieve in the Catholic church is “nun.” Similar in Protestant circles…

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