Please Don’t Call Her Pastor

When God’s good design for men and women is so under attack in our day, why would anyone who embraces that design deliberately add to the confusion by using such a loaded term for female ministry personnel? 

Our church is complementarian, which means that we value and embrace the God-given differences between men and women, including the various roles He’s given to each. Christ-like husbands are to lead their homes (Eph 5:22), Christ-like men are to oversee churches (1 Tim 2:12-3:7), and none of this is a bad thing.

Among complementarians—who all agree that the office of overseer/elder is restricted to men—there are some who argue that we should be free to use the title “pastor” for women. They argue that “pastor” is a spiritual gift, distinct from the office of elder/overseer, and nothing in Scripture restricts this gift to men. If a woman is involved in a biblically-legitimate ministry that involves shepherding care, then we can, or perhaps even should, call her a pastor.

I respectfully disagree. I submit that using the title “pastor” to refer to a woman is a significant mistake for four overlapping reasons.

1. It Works Against the New Testament Pattern

The word “pastor” just means “shepherd.” As a noun and a verb, the word is used in the New Testament in three contexts, referring to 1) literal shepherds, 2) the Lord Jesus, and 3) church leaders.

In this final and third context, “shepherd” (or “pastor”) is used as a noun only once, where Ephesians 4:11 speaks of “shepherds” being given to the church by the Lord. As a verb (“to shepherd”), it’s used once as a command addressed to Peter (John 21:16), once to speak of the self-serving “pastoring” of false teachers (Jude 12, translated “feed”), and twice in addresses to church elders/overseers.

In Acts 20:28, the first of these final two uses, the elders of the Ephesian church were summoned by Paul and charged to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for (lit. shepherd) the church of God.” The second use is in 1 Peter 5:2, where the elders were instructed to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight.”

Notice that, other than Peter the apostle, there is only one group of people in the New Testament who are told to “shepherd” (or “pastor”) others: the elders/overseers of a church. Put another way, if we were to ask the question, “according to the Scriptures, who is responsible for shepherding God’s people?”, the only answer we would come up with is “the elders/overseers.” Those attempting to apply the word “pastor” beyond elders and overseers do so without Biblical warrant.

2. It Misunderstands Ephesians 4:11

Sam Storms is a complementarian who believes women can be called “pastor.” One of the grounds for his argument is that Ephesians 4:11 describes pastoring as a spiritual gift, not an office. On the basis of that one verse, he argues that “‘pastoring’ is a spiritual gift that may be found in numerous individuals of both genders who do not yet (or never will), for a variety of reason, qualify as Elders,” and that “pastoring is a gifting that is to be exercised by those who hold the office of Elder. But nowhere does the NT assert that Elders/Bishops/Overseers are the only ones who can function as pastors.”1

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