Sunday, May 4, 2008

Just Call Her a Children's Pastor

Ever notice that a man who runs the church's children's ministry is called a children's pastor, but a woman is called a children's director? Well if you hadn't, certainly my woman children's director friend has- and to her credit, she doesn't get real upset about little things like that (last I checked, I think she may even agree with it). In any case, the game is up: those children's directors really are children's pastors. They do all the same stuff, just with a different title to match the different anatomy.

Of course the people who come up with stuff like that are normally godly folks just trying to get the Bible right, and in the attempt to be faithful to 1 Tim. 2:11-14 et. al., pull the titular switcheroo. But I for one have always wondered what Paul would think if he came around our churches only to find that his Spirit-inspired concerns about gender roles in the church, at least at points, got so trivialized. (Well, maybe he'd be too busy telling all the egalitarians just how wrong they'd got his writing to notice how complementarians mess with ministry titles...zing!)

Harold Hoehner wrote an article for the December '07 issue ofJETS entitled, "Can a Woman Be a Pastor-Teacher?" in which he makes a point of distinguishing between what the NT calls "gifts" and what it calls "offices." On a number of levels, the article is frankly not that good. Most importantly, Hoehner predicates the case on a false understanding of spiritual gifts (apparently he hasn't read Berding's book) that leads to the plainly counter-intuitive dichotomy between things like doing the work of an evangelist and having the gift of being an evangelist (766-7).

Nonetheless, one point is well-taken: the word-group translated "gift" or "spiritual gift" in English Bibles refers to something distinct from the church office titles of elder, bishop, and deacon especially found in the Pastoral Epistles. This leads Hoehner to conclude that a woman could have the gift of pastor-teacher (Eph. 4:11) and even be ordained as such without necessarily also being an elder, which Hoehner maintains is a position restricted to males in the church.

Despite the article's problems, the noted gift/office distinction still stands, and leads me to conclude this: a woman really could have the spiritual
ministry (a better term, following Berding) of a pastor-teacher, as long as it is within the Biblical bounds set for women's ministry roles, esp. in 1 Tim. 2:11-14 (Hoehner tries to get at something like this, but is simply not as clear). Specifically, if her authority is exercised over children and/or women, there is no reason that she could not be exercising her ministry of pastor-teacher.

One more correlating point should be added: "pastor" is an overused term in our churches today, compared to its relative scarcity in the NT. Outside of the Eph. 4 passage, I am not sure of a text that refers to church leaders as "pastors". "Elder" (Gk.
presbuteros and/or episkopos) is the more common and explicit term, most importantly within the Pastoral Epistles. That is to say, of course a woman children's "director" is pastoring those children. It does not mean she is exercising the ecclesiological male-only authority of an elder. This understanding of pastoring actually fits better with the Eph. 4 use of the term as a spiritual ministry for the edification of the church, rather than an office per se. There is something more active (for lack of a better word) about pastoring.

So go ahead ladies, call yourselves pastors, as long as you're not doing the stuff that the Bible says is only for males. The issue has a lot more to do with what you do than what you're called.
After all, there is no explicit "women can't be elders" text- that is a (reasonable) application from the function-in-action type boundaries set in 1 Tim. 2 compared to what the rest of the Pastorals say about eldership (cf. Blomberg's article in Two Views on Women in Ministry). Maybe the title change would even change the focus for women from "what you are not supposed to do" to "exercising your role in the ministry God has empowered and called you for." And that would be a nice change.

I should add one last comment: this would only work if we properly used the terms "pastor" and "elder" as delineated above. Otherwise, it will probably result in confusion. But I think it is worth going through with both changes together simply because of connotations. "Director" (or whatever other non-biblical word you choose) comes off in my view considerably more demeaning (and actually considerably more authoritative!) than the biblical term "pastor." And like I said, what we want to do is encourage both men and women to fulfill their God-given roles for the sake of His church.


David A. Carlson said...

While I agree with the overall concept presented, don't think for a moment that Children's Ministry Pastors don't exercise over men - for they do.

Unless that is you have no men teaching in your childrens ministry. Which would be a whole set of different issues (and problems) if you don't

David A. Carlson said...

em, exercise authority over men, that is

Andrew Faris said...


Thanks for your response.

You're certainly right about that, but it is a little beside the point of this particular post. What you are touching on really comes down to what one thinks of the biblical bounds of female authority over males, etc. I am certainly a complementarian though I'm not entirely sure of what I think of that particular point for now.

All I'm really trying to get is the inconsistency and needlessness of playing games with titles within the complementarian position.


David A. Carlson said...

I agree with you (I just wanted to point out what could be seen as a flw in your logic) - I remember a debate in our church 20 years ago if we could have "deaconesses" (who focused on what could broadly be described as women's ministry issues) and call them "deaconesses".

We said yes - to me it comes down to the elders appointing individuals whom are gifted to assist them (the eleders) in conducting the church's ministry

We also had pastors who were not Elders - we kept those two offices or positions seperate (some pastors were elders, but not all)

Carrie Allen said...

"Director" (or whatever other non-biblical word you choose) comes off in my view considerably more demeaning (and actually considerably more authoritative!) than the biblical term "pastor."

...This is my favorite sentence from your blog post.

Anonymous said...

My pastor was just reading Acts 2 today for Pentecost and I couldn't help but notice Jesus' clear references to women and their service along with men. It seems we were always created equal in Jesus' eyes.

Andrew Faris said...


Yes and no.

I agree that we were always created as equal in essence, worth, and image-of-God-ness (for lack of a better word), but with different functions. And "always," as in, "since the original creation," is an important word there. So if you mean that, I agree.

The Acts 2 quote of Joel 2 is a great affirmation that both men and women "prophesy" does not mean that they both "teach" (contra the egalitarian position). It does mean that they both have significant and meaningful ministry though, and complementarians need to do better about recognizing and appropriating that.

That said, that's really not the point of this post so much as to clarify one aspect of complementarianism. In the coming weeks I am going to try to set out a series of points from my own recent studies on this issue that I think are both important and at least somewhat provocative. Hopefully that will help some more.

Thanks for the comment, and I hope I've been able to help some.