Friday, April 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 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 of
JETS 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 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, 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. 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 got back to the proper uses of 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 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.


farisfam1 said...

I wonder if there was any difference in the way a church of Paul's time was organized and the way we have come to organize our churches today. I wonder who was "on staff" at Ephesus and who the "Senior Pastor" was in Corinth. I wonder why Paul wrote general epistles at all. Why didn't he just write to the Bishop and get him to ride herd on the rank and file?

Andrew Faris said...

No need to wonder if there was a difference or not- there was a difference, and it's that simple. The difference is that they were house churches, and I definitely think that therein lies one of the most difficult things about this issue.

And that's probably part of why the issue of defining things functionally is so important. "Pastor" is a function term.

That said, it does appear in the Pastorals that there was a certain level of organization. Clearly Paul is commanding/exhorting Timothy and Titus to carry out this or that task. In those letters much of the task is consumed with false teaching, and they as leaders are primarily responsible for taking care of it. Further, note that there are three ministry terms in 1 Timothy that seem to basically define what we would call "offices" (even if the church structure didn't allow them to have actual "offices" to work in- pardon the pun, but I hope you see my point). Presbuteros , episkopos , and diakonos each seem to have some relatively specific connotations, which is why there are relatively specific requirements for them. Note that elders are worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in teaching (1 Tim. 5:17, where there is some kind of general authority and teaching combined).

And as for writing to the bishop, there are many who think Timothy is the head of the house churches in Ephesus (which I think is hard to deny from the Pastorals) and Paul writes to him to take care of business, which actually explains why they are so unique in terms of Paul's letters. It is indeed a significant question: why is there so much vocabulary and style in the Pastorals not in other letters? An explanation that seems plausible to me is that Paul has written letters to leaders that are, unlike other letters, not meant to be read to the whole church. For example, do you really think that Paul would write to Titus that all Cretans are lazy gluttons if he wanted it to be read to his congregation? Maybe not.

I guess the overall point is that it is possible to take your thought too far. Clearly Timothy is supposed to set up the kind of structure where, to borrow a phrase from the Mormons of all people, every member is a minister. The priesthood of all believers is never denied in this, and to get a fuller picture of all of that we need to range outside the Pastorals (though not entirely).

So it's a both/and. Yes, the church looked very difference, and that's utterly confusing for a lot of these issues. Paul never commented on whether women could run college groups because there were no college groups. But at the same time, there were legitimate structures of authority that seemed to be in place, and they were to be taken very seriously.

Carrie Marie said...

What about 1 Corinthians 14? Paul tells women that they should keep silent in churches...he goes as far to say that it is a "disgrace" for women to speak in church. How does this fit in with women teaching women and children in the church?