Culture

Is Learning from Women Essential for Your Pastoral Competence?

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Like so many others, I’ve listened to Pastor John Piper’s statement that women should not be allowed to teach at seminaries because they would assume a pastoral position of authority above men who are being trained to pastor. Buried within his response is the statement,

The issue, as always, is not the competence of women teachers or intelligence or knowledge or pedagogical skill. It’s never competence!

I believe that competence is an important issue of consideration in the home, church, and seminary leadership. For that wisdom, we need to look to our most competent head of the church, the pastor and high priest, Jesus, who models the seminary teaching office for everyone.

The Women in Jesus’ Seminary

In preparing for and living out his earthly ministry, Jesus embodies the character, servanthood, humility, and gospel-centric life in his relationships and dealings with women. The Gospels reveal:

  • Jesus taught and discipled women. Mary of Bethany (Lk 10:38-42) and her sister, Martha (Jn 11), are prime examples of this truth.
  • These female disciples were courageously loyal to Jesus. Male disciples (all except John) scattered in fear, but the women followed Jesus until the very end (Mt 27:55).
  • Jesus listened to the voice and heart of women (even when giving a gentle rebuke). The Samaritan woman at the well has much to teach us in this regard (Jn 4:1-42)

I know that many will survey these passages and conclude that Jesus has the leadership role and the women are submitting to him—but that is only part of the story.

Jesus Was Ministered to By Women

A critical reality that we sometimes forget about our pastors is that they are human. Like the rest of us, they are deeply shaped by their human interactions. The God-Man Jesus was not different in this regard. In the same way that he was leading and ministering to these women, these women were ministering to and blessing him.

We see Mary of Bethany reciprocate his ministry when she anoints him for his death and burial (Mt 26:6-13, Mk 14:3-9, and Jn 12:1-8). Author and seminary professor Carolyn Custis James would say that Mary of Bethany was the only disciple who welcomed the cross. Likewise, there are other scriptures that talk about how Jesus accepted the ministry support and contributions of women (Mk 15:41, Lk 8:3).

Additionally, we would be remiss if we ignored the fact that Jesus was using these encounters to prepare these women for public ministry. The Samaritan woman at the well became an evangelist who caused a revival to break out in her town. The women who remained faithful until the very end were also the first at the tomb, and they became the first evangelists to publicly proclaim the good news that he had risen!

Pastoral Training Must Involve Learning from Women 

This debate about the role of women in seminary leads to much deeper ecclesiological and missiological issues about how the American church continues to train her pastors.

While some are anointed, ordained, or have hands laid on them in various denominations, seminary is still the primary place where we professionally train pastors in orthodoxy.

Yet as a seminary graduate myself, I have a strong conviction that too many seminaries are graduating MDiv students who are competent to preach but not competent to pastor. Sure, they may be able to read the original languages and properly exegete a text, which is very important work, yet the real responsibility of pastoring well also includes the ability to lead and shepherd people.

Unfortunately, many pastors don’t get this level of relational, sociological, or leadership training in seminary—and that renders them incompetent.

This debate about the role of women in seminary leads to much deeper ecclesiological and missiological issues about how the American church continues to train her pastors. @ASISTASJOURNEY Click To Tweet
Rajasthani tribal man wears traditional colorful casual and herding flock of sheeps in field

All pastors, even those who are seminary-trained, need to fill their education gaps in several areas, including these few: supplementing their required or recommended reading lists to include books that are authored by women and people of color, seeking out women and people of color as mentors, and seeking personal and communal relationships with women and people of color.

Let me say this clearly: If you are a male and you have never been taught or influenced by the faith or leadership of a woman, your competency as a preacher and pastor will be severely limited.

If you are a male and you have never been taught or influenced by the faith or leadership of a woman, your competency as a preacher and pastor will be severely limited. @ASISTASJOURNEY Click To Tweet

Pastor and seminary professor Dr. Dennis Edwards mentions four ways that male pastors miss out when women don’t get to teach:

  1. Women professors provide examples of dynamic faith.
  2. Women professors can help to teach God’s word more accurately.
  3. Women professors can give wisdom for pastoral duties.
  4. Women professors can help male students be more humble.

Even Paul clearly acknowledges that it was the faith and leadership of young Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois, that prepared him for the pastorate (2 Tim. 1:5).

Likewise, it was the martial team of Priscilla and Aquila who sorted out Apollos’ theology so he could be a better teacher (Acts 18:18-28).

Jesus and the Mothering Role of Shepherd

Jesus is a single man who reveals the sacredness of the pastoral call and ministry.

The way he models pastoral leadership is so foreign from the sociological, political, and religious culture that is the backdrop of the Bible. Jesus told his disciples that greatness does not come by leading in the way that the world does, rather they must humble themselves to become servants (Mt 20:20-27 and Mk 10:43-45) and to consider the needs of others above their own needs (Phil 2:1-11).

I wonder if Jesus learned the pastoral way of humble, sacrificial love first from his own mother.

I wonder if Jesus learned the pastoral way of humble, sacrificial love first from his own mother. @ASISTASJOURNEY Click To Tweet

Mothers, even those of us who are quite selfish, understand the pastoral role of shepherding in a unique way. From the very beginning, through the dangers of childbirth, we risk our own lives for the sake of our children.

What might Jesus have learned as he watched his mother demonstrate a self-giving, sacrificial kind of love toward him and his siblings? How might that have shaped the way he ministered? How might her love have honed his own future competence as a pastor?

In his book, While Shepherds Watch Their Flock, seminary professor, Dr. Timothy S. Laniak, wrote:

We need to be both strategic and gentle in our service. Casualties come to some that are ‘driven hard,’ especially in the name of ministry…We sometimes forget that mothers need to by mothered. Nurturers need to be nurtured. Life-givers need life poured into them. Shepherd leadership combines the sensitivities and skills of a good midwife and nurse. Leading means mothering.

If we want to have competent pastors, then we need to encourage them to learn more, not less, from women.

We need women and men in the pulpit who are both competent to preach and competent to pastor through their nurturing relationships, leadership, and shepherding skills. This pastoral competency cannot be obtained by rejecting the competence and contributions of women. If we want to see more competent pastors, then let’s encourage them to learn and be formed in the same way of our Chief Pastor, Jesus, who throughout his earthly ministry allowed himself to be ministered to and taught by women.

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