I note a common theme around discussions of limiting the role of pastor to males only. The concern is that we are limiting women using their giftedness in the Body of Christ. This is a legitimate concern to address. I think in many cases conservatives have not adequately used the giftings of women in their congregations, hence the popularity of parachurch women’s organizations.
But we need to correctly frame the problem of our use of women’s gifts in the Body of Christ, and we need to speak of it precisely from Scripture. And I want to say boldly that limiting the role of overseer/elder/pastor to males only is not the same as the very real problem of not giving opportunity for women to use their spiritual gifts in our local congregations.
First, what are the gifts of the Spirit as the Bible discusses them? There are three main passages on spiritual gifts:
I Corinthians 12
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. … 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Some may argue whether the list in Ephesians 4 is what we would consider spiritual gifts, but by the wording in verse 7, it seems so. Also, there is some confusion because we have conflated the gifts around the idea of pastoring (shepherding, teaching) with the office of overseer in a church. All overseers must pastor and should have the gift of shepherding, but there is also a type of pastoral care that should be found in the Body of Christ outside the authoritative role of elder/overseer. For instance, mentoring and parenting are both shepherding situations that those not in the role of elder do.
Note that NONE of these three passages on spiritual gifts use the Greek words for elder or overseer, episkope that Paul uses in I Timothy 3 or presbuteros that Peter uses in I Peter 5. These are the words we associate with the office of pastoral authority in the local church. The episkope (pronounced episcopay) in a church should likely have a number of these spiritual gifts, especially the gifts of teaching and shepherding, wisdom and exhortation. But note that these gifts are not synonymous with the role of episkope, which I am convicted by the language Scripture uses in I Timothy that God limits to men only.
The role of overseer/pastor/elder in our churches today is not a spiritual gift, and denying it to women does not keep them from exercising their spiritual gifts. I personally believe I have the gift of teaching and shepherding. Others have confirmed that for me, so I feel reasonably comfortable saying it. I have been in churches that did not give me much opportunity to exercise those gifts in the church. I primarily use the gift of shepherding while raising my children, but I am also now in a church (with male only elders) that has given me great opportunity to use my gifts among our congregation. If church leaders value those gifts in women, the opportunity to use those gifts as women abound without taking on the role of elder/overseer.
On the flip side, it is good for male leaders, particularly elders in complementarian churches, to recognize that the gifts of the Spirit don’t seem to be limited by gender. The implication then is that women as well as men are gifted in such ways, and the Church needs to use those gifts for the maturity of the overall membership. Women are gifted with wisdom and exhortation. Men are gifted with wisdom and exhortation. Pastor, do you see the value of such gifting among the women in your church? If so, how do you develop those gifts? How do you use them for the overall health of your church? Because that is what such gifting among the women as well as the men in your congregation is for – to equip your congregation for maturity and unity in the faith. Steward those gifts!