Can Pastors Have “No Position” on the Role of Women?

“Women in leadership positions, teaching roles or pastoral ministry? Our church doesn’t have a position on that.”

Really? Really? This is a phrase I’ve previously had said to me by a pastor in response to my query. I know I’m not alone in this experience. I know of a Christian organisation whose stated aim is to encourage women’s leadership, but which claims to take “no position” on gender in marriage or ministry. There are many other similar examples if you ask around.

The Fallacy of “No Position” on the Role of Women

Let’s be clear – there is no such position as “no position.” There may be some issues where it’s possible to sit on the fence…like whether fairy penguins or Emperor penguins are cuter (I’m going with fairy penguins here). But if your organisation is a church, it is impossible to have no position on whether women may participate fully in ministry roles. There may be instances where a parachurch organisation may be able to avoid having a position on this issue, but not when that organisation is supposed to be about empowering women.

No position IS a position on this issue. It’s simply a position which attempts to deflect criticism by pretending to have no position. It may be an avoidance of the hard work and potential conflict of actually determining a clear, agreed position as a church. (Being a pastor can be tough, I get that, and sometimes you don’t have the energy to deal with more conflict. But some things are more important than perhaps you have realised.)

What “No Position” Means

“No position” may mean “We allow women to teach kids’ church, run ladies’ Bible studies and give the announcements, but that’s about it.” That’s a position against women preaching, leading mixed groups, and having positions on the elder board/church council.

“No position” may mean, “We officially allow women to serve on our elder board, but the fact that no woman who has been nominated has ever been voted in is because they’re just not the right person for the job.” If nominated women never get elected, this is not a matter of chance. If a significant proportion of church members refuse to accept women in leadership roles that the church has theoretically opened to them, but you don’t preach and teach directly to correct this, you are taking a position that says you are willing to accept the exclusion of women from these roles.

“No position” may mean, “No women have ever put their hands up for any of these more authoritative or teaching roles, so it doesn’t seem to be an issue for people here. Why stir up trouble?” You need to be asking questions about why men – a minority in churches – are assuming they are appropriately qualified and will be accepted for these roles, but women aren’t.  Qualified and called women may be sitting in your pews, desperately wanting to serve, but convinced from what they see around them that their service is unwelcome. You need to also consider that there will be those who have left your church already because of their desire to see women taking equal roles, but who have almost certainly told you another (probably partially true) reason for the same reason you aren’t talking about this issue – to steer clear of something uncomfortable.

“No position” may mean, “Well, I’ve asked the people I believed were most qualified to take on these positions. Sure, they happen to be male, but it’s just because they were the best people for the job – no sexism intended, or anything.” It’s highly unlikely that no-one in the majority of your church’s population (that is, women) is suited for your leadership roles. Perhaps you need to reconsider your underlying assumptions about the competence of women to serve. Maybe you don’t know the women in your church well enough – perhaps you spend more time with the men. Maybe you assume that factors such as achievements in the secular workforce are an indicator of suitability, when what you should be looking at is a person’s discipleship and character.

“No position” may mean, “Look, there are powerful people in the church I dare not go up against. They have strong views on this. You don’t know how difficult this is.” Does God ask us to walk timidly or boldly? Who is most important to you as a pastor – people who wish to control you for their own means, or people with a passion to serve God? Because this is the choice you are making, you see.

“No position” also means that there are women in your church who wonder if God is truly just and loving when He seems to think their passion for service is not valued; that there are young girls in your church who are learning to quietly shelve their gifts; that there are men who feel pushed into roles which they know they are not suited to; that your church is choosing to value gender over giftedness, calling and discipleship.

“Let your yes be yes, and your no be no” (Matthew 5:37)

If you aren’t quite sure what your position is, then please, do your research thoroughly – more than 50% of your church members need to know whether or not they can be full participants in the work of the Gospel. Some great places to start are Newlife, Christians for Biblical Equality and The Junia Project.

If your position is that women shouldn’t lead, then have the courage of your convictions and say so. (At least we’ll know.)

If your position is that women should lead, then have the courage of your convictions and say so, and back those convictions up with teaching and action…we are relying on you! Without your advocacy, we remain an under-utilised asset in the work of the Gospel.

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6 thoughts on “Can Pastors Have “No Position” on the Role of Women?

  1. I completely agree with this article. At a denominational level, this may mean that each congregation is free to adopt their own position (Vineyard) but that can cause problems if a senior woman in leadership is suitable to serve on the denominational executive, organise or speak at conferences etc.


  2. As a trained chaplain, with a M.Div. from a UMC seminary in the Chicago area, with two units of Clinical Pastoral Education, I am fully in agreement with your post!

    I’ve been a small church pastor for two years, happily preaching each week. Plus, the president of our Congregational church’s Council is a woman. She’s been president for almost four years. That would put a serious crimp in this complementarian system.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think part of the problem is that people hold views but don’t have the biblical scholarship to back those views up. More about what people are comfortable with rather than what the bible says. There is also the ostrich factor – don’t mention it then maybe it won’t be a problem. After all it’s not a “salvation issue” 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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