Women Preaching without being Preachers

Woman in PulpitA recent article in the Christian Standard online weekly version was entitled “Women Preachers.” This was brought to my attention by several friends (and thanks for that).

First, let me say that I have written many articles for Christian Standard and do a lot of writing for Standard Publishing, so I respect both organizations very highly. Second, let me also say that I understand this is a touchy issue. It has been for forty years now. This article attempts to be positive and even a little progressive, and I commend it for that intent.

But I think the truth is that there is a group of church folks for whom this is not even open for discussion. There is a determined mindset that says that women are disqualified or prohibited from leadership roles within the church. Any attempt to move away from this position is decried as a betrayal of Scriptural teaching and compromise with the ever-lurking threat of liberalism. Women may be leaders in government, business, entertainment, literature, art, music, military, and serve on the Supreme Court, but not leaders in the church. And frankly, I don’t think the persons who take this position are open to dialog or modification.

The article points to a Christian college that has opened its preaching classes up to women students. How can they do this, the article asks, if such Scriptures as 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 seem to prohibit women from teaching (or even speaking) in public church forums? Here is the carefully nuanced answer:

The key issue . . . is differentiating between the act of preaching and the role of preacher. Preaching has to do with proclamation, edification, and teaching of the gospel. The role of the preacher is more than that. [A preacher is] the teaching elder, the spiritual leader of the church.

So, it is OK for women to preach, but not for women to be “preachers.” I must say that this opens up many possibilities I had not thought of before. I guess it is OK for women to eld but not be elders. They can deak without being deacons. They can teach without being teachers. The can minister without being ministers.

I’m sorry, my sarcastic side got the better of me there for a minute. Back on topic! But here is the problem with this argument. The role of “teaching elder” is convenient, but not biblical. All elders are to be “apt to teach.” And there is no biblical justification for seeing a single “teaching elder” as the “preacher” of a congregation. There are several Greek terms in the New Testament that we could translate as “preacher,” (nominal forms of kerusso, euangelistes, perhaps prophetes), but none of the words for “elder” or its office (presbyteros, episkopos, poimen) imply anything about preaching.

So we are back to the issue of whether or not women can be elders. I believe they can, and if you agree with me, this entire line of thinking become irrelevant. If we continue to limit women and their potential for ministry and leadership in the churches, we will continue to lose the millennial generation, for whom this is not an issue. I’m not OK with that, and I don’t believe I have sacrificed or compromised any biblical principles to arrive at my position. So let women preach and be preachers. We need them.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College


22 thoughts on “Women Preaching without being Preachers

  1. It always strikes me as a bit provincial (and parochial) when people assume their position on such matters is “the way it’s always been”. Such Christian Church folk would do well to remember our own history– that we have a great, if forgotten, tradition of women preachers (ministers) in Stone-Campbell Christian Churches. Life did not begin with (nor did the Stone-Campbell movement) the anti-intellectual trend of the 1920s, or with Restructure in the 1960s.

  2. Wow, a very nice written article. I have a niece in WA. She is a minister to the church and preaches every Sunday.

  3. Well said, Mark. Thanks.
    It’s curious that Ozark has homiletics for men and a parallel course for women (that is to say, their female students can’t take homiletics), yet they are the school who is currently getting attention for training women to preach. Christian Standard readers who have written negatively about Ozark at http://www.ChristianStandard.com should read more carefully and direct their criticism instead to the congregations who are hiring these women, not to the school that is reluctantly training them. I, on the other hand, applaud these congregations and hope that Ozark and other schools take more steps in the right direction.

  4. As a woman teacher, speaker, and writer, I can be fulfilled in knowing I am using my spiritual gifts to serve others without needing to stand behind a pulpit on Sunday. There are many many opportunities to “preach” to groups of women if one feels called to do so, and ministry should of course happen 7 days a week, not just on Sunday. Call me old-fashioned – I’m anxious to see the Scripture to defend women teaching men from a position of authority. Very interesting discussion though!

  5. I’ve enjoyed the discussion on this subject… I learned years ago that the Disciples were second only to the Assemblies of God in the number of females in ministry. We, in the Restoration Movement, have a long history of firmly held convictions on every side of this issue. The tongue-in-cheek sarcasm of Mark Krause isn’t far from the truth. There are people in every church who “eld” without being elders and “deak” without being deacons, and serve in one way or another without being “ministers.” If men or women feel it is necessary to have a title to do the work, or if they feel they must be publicly honored or recognized for their efforts, the greater problem might be pride. Since when does a person have to carry a title to be effective? Men and women do serve the church whether we call them deacons or deaconesses, or not. My understanding of Scripture leads me to believe that the older shepherds/overseers in the church are exclusively male, but my understanding does not preclude elder-women from shepherding/overseeing other ewes. I choose not to be a part of a congregation that has female preachers for the same reason. That role seems to me, to belong to males… but in no way hinders women from proclaiming the gospel in their spheres of influence. If God has called a person to serve, they should serve with all their might- with or without title.

  6. Pingback: Feminist Flood Waters Rising: Another Division On the Horizon? | The Blade Blog

  7. Mark, if you don’t see a biblical basis for a teaching-elder role, then what is 1 Timothy 5:17 referring to? Even A. Campbell saw the role of a “presiding elder” as a natural development of the ‘ancient order of things.’ Church history would also indicate that a “teaching-elder” role was normative in the early church, even if it later was expanded to more than was intended. As I see it, there was no one way to ‘set the church in order.’ But, I don’t think that means we ought to embrace no order in the church. On the topic of women preachers, it definitely makes a difference if we see a teaching-elder role. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 seems to limit ‘authoritative teaching’ to male leaders. But, this would not preclude women from using their gifts.

    • Ryan,
      1 Timothy 5:17 is speaking within the context of a plurality of elders. It knows nothing of the single/dominant “Preacher” role we have in many churches, which is more like the CEO of a modern American corporation. If you look closely at this verse, it does not specifically mention preaching, although it has been interpreted that way. It says that these are elders who “rule,” meaning they maintain order and control, and that the work hard in the word and doctrine/teaching.

  8. I Tim 5.14 I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. Do we throw this verse out because is seems old fashion? My wife stayed home and followed the Proverbs 31 principle. We now have 3 sons who are preachers. By doing what scripture commands, she is influencing possibly more people than any one preacher ever could. JUST READ THE WORD!

    • The good woman of Proverbs 31 was also a a businesswoman, not just a stay-at-home mom. That passage tells us she bought property which she then put to profitable use.

      Furthermore, as a career military family we had the opportunity to be part of several Independent Christian congregations around the country. Interestingly, some who would never has a woman “minister” often encouraged visiting missionary woman to share their experiences from the pulpit without ever seeing that as a conflict with women keeping silence in the church. Few would doubt that these godly women were indeed ministering to the needs of those in foreign lands. Why the double standard for those here in America?

  9. Thanks for clarifying, Mark. The single-rule pastor/CEO model does seem out of place. But, if I am hearing you right, the NT does envision the role of a teaching-elder working alongside other ruling elders, who also may or may not teach. Forgive the long quotation, but I’d like your thoughts on J. W. McGarvey’s comments on this topic (Can you tell I have a noninstrumental background):

    [It is an old question, as old, at least, as Presbyterianism, whether capability to teach must characterize every eligible candidate for the Eldership. The Presbyterian theory requires one teaching Elder and a plurality of ruling Elders in each congregation, and they claim that they find authority for this distinction in the well-known words of Paul: “The Elders who rule well count worthy of double honor, specially they who labor in word and teaching.” After all that has been said and written on this passage, we think that candor most certainly requires the admission that there were some Elders who did not labor in word and teaching. Every attempt which we have ever seen to set aside this obvious inference from the words, is a mere subterfuge like those so often adopted to obscure the plain statements of the Scriptures in reference to baptism. Let us deal fairly with our own minds, and the Scriptures will more readily yield to us their meaning.

    But while we are thus compelled, by the obvious meaning of plain words, to admit that there were Elders in the primitive churches who did not labor in word and teaching–that is, who did not preach and teach publicly, we are by no means compelled to admit that it was because they were incapable of teaching. Capability of teaching being a prescribed qualification for the Eldership, we may not suppose that it was disregarded in the selection of Elders, unless it be in uninstructed congregations. But Paul does not mention the “Elders that rule well” in a manner to indicate that their appointment was irregular. There is another way to account for the distinction made without supposing a violation of the law; and that is, that although all of the Elders were capable of teaching, some were more capable than others, and the burden of this part of the work was for this reason assigned to them by mutual consent. Where a number of men are associated together in an office of multifarious duties, it is almost invariably the case that some are better adapted for one duty, and others for another; and in order to the greatest efficiency of the body they must of necessity adopt a corresponding division of labor. It is natural, therefore, if not unavoidable, that in the practical working of the board of elders, some of them should do little else than rule, and others little else than teach and preach. Jointly, they are responsible for the teaching and ruling; among themselves they must divide the labor in such a way as will accomplish the best results. The best rule that they can jointly exercise, and the best instruction that they can jointly impart, is what the Lord requires at their hands.

    Some of the Christian congregations of the present day are at work on the plan here indicated. They have a board of Elders, all of whom are capable of teaching, and one of whom is a preacher. The latter proclaims the gospel to the world in the public assembly, and takes the leading part in the instruction of the congregation. He gives the whole time to the work, and lives of the gospel which he preaches. The others take a secondary part in the teaching, and share in the full responsibility of ruling. They give but a portion of their time to the work, and give it, like the Elders of the church at Ephesus, gratuitously. Acts xx: 34; 25. This is Scriptural and wise.] (McGarvey, J. W., The Eldership. 1870)

    McGarvey’s thoughts make a lot of sense to me. I’m afraid in our challenges to the CEO pastor system, we may go too far and throw the baby out with the bath water. Must we repeat the failed experiment of Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett to establish “mutual edification” churches and expel the “located preacher” (reach “paid preacher”). As you’ve already indicated, the issue often devolves into a contest over the control of money. I like how my former professor, the late Bob Lowery, encouraged us who serve in the full-time preaching ministry to think of ourselves as lead pastors, a part of a team of pastors who are variously gifted by God.

    Again, sorry for the long quote… but your post obviously stirred up my thinking. Thanks!

    • Ryan, Bob Lowery and I would be very similar in this. If there is a discernible NT pattern, and if we choose to adopt it, we would have the leadership of a church be a “college of elders of whom the primary preacher is one.” (by “college” I mean they are colleagues.) If we want to create another system such as the single ruling elder/preacher, we are not really trying to follow a NT pattern
      One problem with this is that this NT pattern does not work well in larger churches, probably not in churches of more than 300 members. This is why we have turned to other models for church governance. Since we are Americans, the Pastor/CEO one seems logical.
      This is why I think it boils down to whether or not women can or should be elders. I believe they can be elders. I’m not sure they always should be elders in every cultural situation. But in America today, it seems we should be beyond cultural barriers to women in leadership.


  10. While I’d never enter the conversation with my mad Greek skills, I do tend to like Nancy Beach’s (long time church leader) take on the topic. She basically summarizes: All churches have head-room here. From the most conservative to those that are to the left there is room at the leadership/teaching table for women and we should take a look at it and see what our local congregation can do to honor, capture the talents, and embrace those in our congregations on the sideline with a huge amount of talent and ability (these are the women among us).

    I have been in many a staff meeting where we try to think about how to engage minorities among us (put the hispanic or African American on stage, hire one on to staff, etc etc) we need to think the same way here.

    I remember a decade ago my friend who was VP at World Vision in Development who came back from Africa talking about the role of women. How they were strategically partnering with them at local and national levels to get stuff done. He said something like “when women get involved good things happen. It’s why we need them at the top. When women lead we tend to not go to war and we tend to take care of our children better.” (this was of course before gun-toting-Palin but I digress).

    This has always stuck with me. We need these two thoughts in church: a. when women are involved great things happen naturally and b. no matter what church you are involved in there’s head-room and we should be talking about it.

    You are doing that here Dr. K and that’s a good thing

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