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WHAT’S THE FUSS OVER FEMALE PASTORS—PART 22: Ladies Acting Like Ladies in Church Leadership

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I believe this series has made a solid argument for why women can be equal to men, both in marriage as well as in the Church. However, in the fight for equality, feminists have risen up in the wrong ways, causing more harm than good to the ongoing debate. In order to be equal to men, many women have sometimes been misled to believe they must assert themselves aggressively or “act like a man” in order to achieve equality. It is crucial, then, for a woman who believes she is called to a position of authority to act like a lady—she may have been called to do some of the same things that men do, but she was never called to be a man. Today’s impressionable youth—the same young people who are surrounded by gender-identification confusion in certain communities—do not need even one more example of a masculine woman, whether that is portrayed externally or internally. (Nor do they need a mousey man who has been whipped into submission by a domineering wife.)

The word “authority” simply means the right to be in control of someone or something. Sometimes authority is inherited, but most often it is delegated or earned. In the case of a woman minister, the only way her role as a leader over the church can be successful is if the majority of the congregation finds such an arrangement agreeable. A woman who stomps into her pastor’s office and demands that she be given authority in a church that is accustomed to male-only leadership will be viewed as being just as impertinent as a man who stomps into a women-only conference and demands to preach a sermon to a congregation who came to hear women. Nothing about either of these scenarios is agreeable, and their very nature goes against everything the Gospel message of love and peace stands for. Even if a woman’s attempt at a power move by force were to be accepted, she would not retain the respect of her listeners beyond the glorified arm-wrestling match she won. A “leader” is only a leader if followers trail behind him or her voluntarily. Only a woman imbued with charisma and who has a charitable and gentle spirit will be equipped to bring about change to a male-only governing power. Because of this, it’s important for a woman called into ministry to either find an outlet that welcomes her, or proceed with patience and caution to help reform a church built upon male dominance—knowing she will face significant challenges and resistance and she must always respond in love in the process.

One of the greatest atrocities of American history, in my opinion, was when the 1960s–’70s introduced the idea that there is no difference between men and women other than the external formation of their bodies and their reproductive functions. Science has repeatedly proven this wrong, based on studies related to chromosomes and the hormonal development of males and females even well before birth. Women and men are distinct, and it’s to the benefit of both genders that they are, as one serves to balance the other. A woman should never feel pressured to deny her own femininity in order to be used by God in a position of authority, nor should she use her pulpit (literal or figurative) to debase men. Women are in no way better than men, and we are, whether we all want to admit it or not, very different from them. The word “authority” or “leadership” should never be confused with “power,” because the journey to power leads to control over others, and that has never been the goal of Jesus Christ. It’s about the lost. It always has been. The Church as a Body is everywhere we go (Walmart, the ballfield, schools, work, etc.), and the church as a building is a result of the Church Body, not the other way around. Although numerous mission endeavor reach the already-saved, Christ’s central mission—and it should be ours, too—is to reach the lost. If that concept can remain at the forefront of our minds as we interact with the Church Body, then bickering within the church building would never be a priority.

Leaders of the Church Body, then, have one goal: to serve. Whether they are serving in a position that ministers to believers or nonbelievers, the mission remains the same. They are appointed by God to serve (Mark 10:42–45; Luke 22:24–27), not to fight; the only exception is that they are called to fight against a common enemy, which we all know is not a male pastor who believes women shouldn’t teach in a church.

By leading with agreeability and gentility, a woman can empower others (both male and female) to support her mission. But once a woman rises as a leader, she absolutely must treat that position delicately. Women can be just as power-hungry and conniving as men from every angle, because we are all fallen. A woman leader is accountable to respecting the gift of ministry that God has given her.


This leads to my next point: There are a few classic, no-brainer rules any woman in ministry must follow, no matter how “old-fashioned” they seem. The following pointers are not shared because we care what other people think, but because we should protect the ministry God has entrusted to us.

  1. Never be in a room with a man other than your husband or son if the door is closed.

Not everyone out there is our enemy, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m promoting paranoia, but as female ministers, we are already a walking controversy to some, and to the extremists, we may even be unfairly tagged as a “Jezebel,” thanks to those who interpret Revelation 2:20 as representing any woman teacher: “I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.” Additionally, since so many male preachers associate all women with Eve as the “deceived,” a closed door in the presence of another man could easily perpetuate a wave of whispers about what’s going on behind it. This simple rule is recommended in many denominations as prudent for all in ministry of any type, regardless of gender, and is wise for anyone to follow.

Extremists aside, we don’t have to be considered a “Jezebel” or a “deceivable Eve” to be seen as someone who may use our positions in ministry inappropriately. The simple truth is that nobody in ministry—male or female—should be in a room alone with a member of the opposite sex. It’s sad, but many churchgoers thrive on gossip, and even some of the sweetest, kindest-acting congregants become bored if they’re not stirring up one big, juicy tale or another. The defense, “There was nothing going on, I promise,” might be believed if we’re lucky and have a spotless reputation, but why go there if we don’t have to? Let’s keep all doors open if we’re speaking to a man.

As to how to handle the special situations (such as counseling, one of those “May I speak to you privately?” moments, etc.), when you are not permitted to bring someone with you, ask the man if he would be willing to bring his wife or a buddy along. Always, always have a witness present at all times if at all possible. However, if you have a counselee who insists on full privacy, consult your board and ask how your church or the church’s organization would like for you to handle it. If you belong to a large organization, policies are likely already in place to handle this. Security cameras that record audio are considered by some organizations to be the fix for this, whereas others simply state that the woman minister must refer the counselee to a respected male staff member. Whichever you choose, be smart and careful. A person can speak somewhere outdoors in view, but out of earshot as an option as well.

  1. Restrict physical contact with other men, and while interacting with them, act like a lady, not a giggly girl.

For some women, it’s natural to hug everybody as a greeting. I advise against this for a woman minister. A full-frontal hug that presses a woman’s chest against a man’s might be fine in the secular world, but it can give the wrong impression in church. If a man reaches out to hug you and there’s no getting out of it, pivot your waist and respond with only one arm; turn it into one of those evangelistic side hugs we do in church. Handshakes are fine, as long as they are followed with a quick break, lest you be seen as intentionally prolonging the contact. Never do that thing we all see in movies when a man is pouring his heart out to a woman and she strokes his upper arm as an offering of comfort. If you do this, you’re just begging for someone to accuse you of flirting.

A woman minister must show that she’s intelligent. If you’re in the presence of only women, then you can giggle with the best of them. But an overly perky, bubbly woman who socializes with other men like a teenager who is continuously flattered, enamored with her speaker, and laughs at all his jokes with a high-pitched titter will label you an “airhead” or worse (a flirt, etc.). It also sends a red alert out to other women present and raises suspicion. Your body language will likely be under constant scrutiny, so don’t move in a way that could be viewed as suggestive (head to the side with a sway, or the upper body inclined too far forward, etc.). Avoid doing anything that might make you appear suspect, such as leaning over to whisper in a man’s ear.

  1. Dress modestly, and keep your attire feminine.

When I preach, I wear whatever is comfortable. I delivered my most recent sermon while I was wearing bell bottoms, a bohemian-chic top, and sandals. I am the poster child for comfort. So by “modest” and “feminine,” I’m not talking about a potato sack dress that goes to your ankles, and I don’t believe that it even needs to be a dress (depending on one’s denominational interpretations of a female’s appropriate attire). But steer clear of dressing like a man. Some couture fashions are trending right now that, although cutting edge on the walkway of a fashion show, would appear to those in the pews as a woman who is struggling with her birth gender. Wearing something that looks like a man’s suit and tie, even if it is tailored for a woman (think Ellen DeGeneres), could cause some old-fashioned folks to wonder if you’re trying to say more about your identity than you really are.

Keep your hemlines below the knees. You don’t want a rumor started that you’re only taking the stage to show off your legs, and if you’re on a raised platform, a skirt any shorter than that could result in an accidental flash of thigh (or worse). Keep your collars high enough that you can safely bend over to pick something up off the floor without inadvertently giving anyone a “down the shirt” show. This is especially true for a woman who intends to pray for others at the altar. Don’t allow your midriff to show under any circumstances either, because even though the majority of the world might see it and think it’s just a belly, some people in the Church might a) think you’re displaying an area that’s inappropriate to bare in church, or b) like what they’re seeing for the wrong reasons (which is far worse). Other good rules of thumb are: No skin-tight clothing that accentuates every curve, no wrap dresses that might come untied and open suddenly, and no garments with peek-a-boo slits.

Lastly, I know it seems silly to discuss shoes, but a few high-heel styles out there are made to look a little too sexy. Some of those candy-apple red, high-gloss, six-inch heels may appear suggestive.

As unfair as it is to say this, and it really is unfair, all these rules should be followed even more strictly if you’re physically attractive. The prettier a woman minister is, the more finger-pointing sharks will have to talk about if she slips in her wardrobe choices even once. Do not let the purity of your ministry be spotted by something as menial as inappropriate clothing.

  1. Be a good example to youth.

Younger girls will be watching how you dress and interact. With certain gender-bending communities at large today you need to not only be a modest woman, you need to be a Christ-like woman. Teach young women how to be strong, but show them how to be righteous and feminine as well. Your style doesn’t have to involve fancy hair and makeup, but your influence needs to be womanly and chaste.

Don’t use your pulpit to talk about your husband’s bad habits, even if it seems like a funny topic. Younger ears might hear this and repeat it later without the discernment you may possess for correct timing and context. Let young girls see you as their own shining example of how a woman should love, honor, respect, and submit to the man she’s married. Teach them from a godly woman’s perspective what they should be looking for—and what they should avoid—in the opposite sex. Empower them to feel worthy of a great guy, but help them understand that their central pursuit should be first and foremost Christ.

Let your reputation be one that speaks to young men as they are learning what it means to respect and care for women. Be an example of what a real woman looks like—not a raging feminist who challenges the male species at every turn, but a gentle voice that welcomes understanding, growth, and maturity. By this, they might just approach the next girl in their life with a higher level of regard for the person inside the pretty shell.

There are many young girls who don’t have fatherly figures in their lives, and there are many young men who don’t have motherly figures in their lives. Take this into consideration when you minister.




  1. Do not—under any circumstances—gossip.

People, including women, are already horrible about this in church, and the worst, in my opinion, is that many times, personal information that should be kept confidential and slanderous stories are disguised as “prayer requests.” If you have a congregation, you will hear concerns that are brought to you. Some will be sincere; others will only be given by those who want to be the first to deliver you the juicy news. If a person comes to you with “in-the-know” information, listen politely, tuck it in the back of your head, and never mention it again unless the situation gets so out of hand that you’re forced to intervene. If the speaker is a repeat gossip, find a polite way of letting him or her know that your church will not be a place of slander.

Nothing can topple a ministry faster than a bunch of senseless rumors, and no woman’s pulpit can crumble faster than when she allows herself to get in the middle of those rumors. Nothing can be so efficiently divided as when it happens from the inside out.

  1. Have the support of your spouse.

If you are married, this is the most important of any of these rules. It may seem unfair if you feel called and your husband isn’t on board. But while understanding that marriage is the most sacred of institutions ordained by God, He will not call a woman into ministry that would pull apart her marriage. Consider the “open-door” rule I mentioned prior. One rumor could subsequently wreak havoc upon a marriage and ruin a ministry as well. The last thing a woman minister should be known for is having disregarded her husband’s convictions and disobeyed his wishes because she felt called to do what so many men today already interpret as Paul’s explicit prohibition in Scripture. If your spouse doesn’t agree with the direction you feel drawn toward, keep praying that God will either make His will known to your husband or reveal His more perfect will for you. If God wants you involved, rest assured that He will communicate with your spouse in time. On the other hand, God just might be using your husband as a sounding board to keep you from a path that isn’t the right one for you at this time.

One thing is certain, a house divided will fall. A marriage that stands in disagreement with a ministry will be set up for failure from the beginning. Not only will a woman preacher be heading into murky waters without the support of her husband as it affects her reputation, but her closest and most important support system will be missing from the get-go.

That brings me to the next key point of this chapter on gender roles.

What does a biblical marriage look like? If today’s culture makes no difference in “normative” and “absolute” regulations from Scripture, then what are women supposed to do when met with resistance against what they feel God has called them to do? What happens when a woman is married to a nonbeliever, or when she is challenged by a male church leader? When does she submit, and when does she obey God despite the confrontation of other humans? Where is the line between a woman who is only being obedient to God’s will versus the woman who is a feminist agitator?

This is a touchy subject, but the answer always—always—comes back to two words: “prayer” and “balance.” My publisher asked that I write a little about my own experience, as he believes my relationship with my husband, James, is a good example of what God intended marriage to be. I don’t share the following as any kind of formula women should follow. I share it because one person’s history can be another person’s refinement.

UP NEXT: My Story and Application


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