Monday, October 16

Women church planters

Marty Duren's Women in ministry post this past weekend has generated over 148 comments! Instead of adding one more to this already long list, I have chosen to post my own comments on the subject below...

A while back, we had a group of Stateside volunteers who came down to help us plant house churches. Mornings were spent training them in our church planting methodology. Afternoons were spent with experienced national church planters in evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and in intentional church planting. At the end of the week, five new outreach groups were begun, one of these eventually became a church.

After being immersed in the above for a couple of days, one of the Stateside volunteers asked:

"How could you as an IMB missionary sign the BF&M2000 and allow women to be out there planting churches?"

I welcomed the question and we began a dialogue more or less along the following lines...

"Well," I responded, "for starters I didn't read the part in the BF&M where it prohibits women from starting churches..."

The student clarified, "they are teaching and leading churches..."

"Yes", I replied, "and not only that, they are winning new people to the Lord, discipling them and starting new churches. They consider themselves 'ministers of the Gospel' just like you and me..."

"But the BF&M2000 says that only men may be pastors, you have women who are pastoring out there..."

"Very few of the house churches have leaders who are called 'pastors'. Leadership is usually shared amongst several individuals according to their spiritual gifts and talents...being the 'church planter' does not make them the 'pastor'..."

I continued, "In the New Testament we find several roles/functions mentioned: apostles, evangelists, prophets, teachers, shepherds (pastors), servants, etc. At least some of these roles/functions were filled by women like Junia (apostle), Phoebe (servant/deaconess), the four daughters of Philip (prophetesses), Priscilla (missionary/church planter/church worker), Lydia (church leader?), etc."

The volunteer continued to press the issue, "call it what you want, but the office of pastor is limited to men..."

I, of course understood where he was coming from and what his point was, but it was important to me that he understand that there can be a 'church' without the offices of pastor and deacons...

"Can we have a church without having the two offices," I asked?

The volunteer hesitated, "well, I guess, but..."

I continued, "Are offices needed if the church as a whole is covering all the ministry bases: teaching, evangelism, nurturing, exhortation, encouragement, discipleship, worship, etc.? Where in the NT is a church required to have an officially named pastor in order to be a functional NT church?"

I could see that my friend was not thoroughly convinced but we both had other responsibilities to tend to and the conversation ended.

My point?

Eph.4:11-12 talks about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers existing in the church to equip the saints. Equip for what? The work of serving in the Kingdom! For building up the Body of Christ!

In many of the house churches shepherding/leadership is shared amongst several without anyone filling the role of 'the pastor.' Responsibility is mutual amongst ALL the church, not just the pastor. Our team does not have any problem with churches selecting one or more of their own and calling them to be their pastor(s)/elder(s).

But we have noticed a pattern that has emerged within those church plants where they have singled out and called a pastor...

Of the 4-5 house churches we relate to where they did name an official 'pastor', all are struggling right now. Not because they called a pastor, but becuase the church looks to their named pastor as the one primarily responsible for all the work of teaching, leading, evangelism, preaching, etc.

Everyone of these pastors has come to me complaining that they cannot get the church to do the 'work of ministry'. They expect their pastor to do everything (sound familiar?) Quite a number have even left because their 'pastor' was not as dynamic and educated as some of the others around in the more established churches. The work of being the church has been replaced by going to church.

Please hear my heart, we are certainly not against pastors. We believe churches need shepherds, guidance and strong healthy leadership. Our emphasis is on making true disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. We want to see everyone in the church fulfilling their spiritual call to be an active, vibrant part of the Body of Christ. Shepherds are certainly key to helping train and ready the Body for their work in the Kingdom. Every disciple of Jesus is a minister/priest of the Gospel. We try to stay away from anything that would separate us into classes of clergy and laity for the very reasons illustrated above. The only thing that should differentiate us within the Body of Christ are not our 'positions' or 'offices', but simply the various gifts each of us has been given by the Spirit.


Bryan Riley said...

Good post, but are you skirting the issue of whether women can be pastors, saying women can't be pastors but churches don't have to have pastors, or what exactly are you saying with regard to the issue of whether God prohibits women from serving in the role of church pastor (or other roles)? I am on a journey here, obviously, and seeking much counsel! :)

J. Guy Muse said...

BRYAN--Since very few of our planted house churches have 'pastors' (either male or female), I come to the subject from the vantage point of believing it is not necessary for churches to have a named 'pastor' in order to be a "church."

What is important is that the shepherding function be present and active within the body of believers. This can be shared by both gifted men and women, but the 'pastoring' function should not be equated with what most of us understand as a traditional church pastor (along with the various duties these individuals carry out. )

I think we have made more out today's modern pastor position than is implied in my reading of the NT. Today's modern 'pastor' is a hybrid of various combined roles/functions of what in the NT are called apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, pastors, administrators, etc.

We call 'pastor' what the NT divides out into several roles of various individuals (5-fold ministry). No one should be expected to fill all of these roles as a single individual, yet that is what is expected of today's modern pastor. No wonder so many of them are prone to burn-out and weariness.

To answer you directly, I personally feel it is preferable for men to do the shepherding functions when at all possible, but when this can't be done, as is the case in many new church plants-- where there simply are not any men available to do the pastoring--it falls to the willing and gifted church planting sisters to fill in the gaps until male leadership arise within the emerging church being planted.

Under IMB definition of church, we are not supposed to count any women-led (pastored) congregations, even if they are functioning as a NT church in every sense of the word. So, yes, the whole matter is complicated for us as well. You are not alone in your struggles to understand these things. We too are still trying to get a grip on the issue too. Hope some of this helps more than cloud the issue further :-)

TKB said...


Great explanation! It is very hard for American SB's to look at church without their cultural lenses


Strider said...

Guy you heretic! Great post. I am glad you are pushing the boundaries and challenging us to return to biblical church. Our constituency is not ready to hear this but since the Bible is inerrent- and infalable- we must follow it and not our traditions. The first church we started only had women in it for four years. They called themselves a church and functioned as one. After four years a couple of families joined the church and within a few months one of the men was functioning as a pastor. After four more years they still don't call him that but that is what he is. I think that men should be in the roles of elders and pastors but the reality for us- as was the reality for Paul- is that men are prideful creatures who come to faith slower than women and many times grow in faith slower than women. God is not panicked by this. My own view is that healthy churches will have male leadership because they are full of healthy families with mature men in them. But God is moving His Kingdom forward with whoever is willing to come with Him and mostly- around the world and throughout history- that's women.

Mike said...

Terrific post. The chickens of paying professionals to do "ministry" are coming home to roost in the U.S. churches.

He will accomplish His purpose. Even if the rocks have to cry out.

J. Guy Muse said...

TRAVIS, STRIDER, MIKE--Thanks guys for stopping by and sharing with us all your thoughts on the current post. I don't know about "pushing the boundaries", to us it is more just what has happened without our ever planning that these things be so. One thing for sure, all of this is a work in progress and we have yet to see all that God intends to do in our midst. May the Lord continue to bless each of you in turn in the ministries He has called you to.

Bryan Riley said...

Thanks, Guy, for your response. I have thought and said that same thing about what we have come to believe "pastors" are versus what the bible and the NT church says about pastors. Good post. It will be fun continuing to grow and learn before the Father in Heaven one day!!!