Should women be church elders?

Should women be church elders? October 21, 2015

WomanWinRaceType the words “Should women be” into Google.

The next word that automatically pops up: pastors.

In other words, when people search Google about women’s roles, the #1 phrase they search is this: Should women be pastors? It’s even more popular than should women be allowed in combat – an issue that’s all over the news.

Click on that four-word phrase and you’ll get 12.5 million hits. Clearly, people are curious about women’s ordination.

Yet by focusing on the gender of the person in the pulpit, we miss a much more important gender-related question: Should churches ordain female elders?

At Church for Men, we say no.

Now, before the knives come out, let me explain why we believe women should not serve as elders.

We are not saying women are incompetent to lead. Many women are wonderfully gifted in leadership. Indeed, we would say the average woman is better equipped to lead in church than the average man. The body of Christ needs both men and women in leadership positions.

So if this is the case, why would we advise against female elders?

The problem lies with men – and how they respond to female leadership.

All men have a disease. It’s called she’ll-take-care-of-it-itis. It’s a form of amnesia. Once a woman starts taking care of something, men forget completely about it.

For example, when my kids were small, my wife supervised their education and health. I had only a vague notion about their schooling or what shots they needed. If they got a cold or had a test coming up, I often didn’t realize it. This is not because I didn’t care; it’s because I knew my wife would take care of it.

When it comes to the church, men have the same disease. Once women step up and assume the formal leadership posts in the church, men happily forget all about it. They assume the women have things under control, so they withdraw — not out of anger, but out of relief that someone so competent has the religious portfolio covered.

With the church in such capable hands, men turn their attention toward work, recreation, and myriad other opportunities – places they feel truly needed.

Pretty soon the women are asking, “Where did all the men go? Why don’t the men step up and lead in the church?” And the men think, “Why should I lead? The women are doing a wonderful job.”

And everything goes smoothly – for a while. But over time the lack of male participation begins to weaken the church. Fifteen or twenty years down the road the church will find itself declining – lacking energy, vision, and most important, children.

A one-winged bird cannot fly. And a church cannot fulfill Christ’s mission if one gender is doing all the work.

This line of reasoning leaves feminists fuming. “Men just need to get over themselves and accept female leadership.” I couldn’t agree more.

Yet the reality is that once any group becomes female dominated, men tend to excuse themselves. In fact, any organization, institution or commercial enterprise that’s associated with women tends to repel men. This is why men don’t go into fabric stores. Why men don’t attend baby showers. Why few men choose female-dominated occupations – even those that pay well, such as nursing.

Women have a hard time understanding this, because they LOVE to infiltrate male-dominated fields. Every woman wants to break that glass ceiling. But few men possess any interest in the things of women.

Am I advising against female leadership simply because of men’s fragile psyches? No, here are five more reasons churches should be led by male elders:

1. The denominations that admitted female elders are all in serious decline. Just look at the numbers: mainline churches have been in a nosedive since the 1970s – precisely the time they opened their doors to female leadership. Again, not because women are poor leaders, but because female leadership causes men to withdraw. And a lack of male participation dooms a church.

Have you seen photos from a mainline church’s general assembly meeting? It looks like a casting call for “The Golden Girls” TV show. The women who lead in church tend to be grandmothers. They make cautious decisions that build relationships and preserve harmony. And they are very compassionate.

This leads to another reason women should not be elders:

2. Churches with female elders inevitably shift to the left. The more female leaders a church ordains, the more it leaves orthodoxy behind.

Again, to be clear: we are not saying that all women are theological liberals (as evidence, get to know Nancy Pearcey, one of the best minds in Evangelicalism today). But women as a group tend to drift leftward precisely because they are so compassionate. Grandma will sacrifice rules on the altar of relationships. Her priority is not some point of doctrine; it’s the person weeping in front of her. She’s often willing to re-interpret the Bible to make everyone feel loved and accepted.

This leftward shift sends men heading for the exits. In 30 years the church is dead.

3. Women-led churches upset the female-male counterbalance that exists in traditional congregations. For decades, men served as pastors and elders while women staffed the office and operated most of the ministry programs – the choir, Sunday school, food pantry, etc. Each gender had its area of influence – and the two groups knew how far they could go before they upset the other.

But with female elders, women do it all – without much input from men.

Again, this is not women’s fault. Men are often unwilling to take on roles traditionally held by women. So if women dominate both the elder board and the ministry teams, men will tend to withdraw from the church altogether. That’s not good for men – or for the church.

4. The Bible assumes male elder governance. The New Testament lists the requirements of an overseer twice (here and here). In both lists, the elder is assumed to be a married man. Some contemporary scholars argue this assumption is rooted in first century culture. That may be true. However, as we see the wreckage in mainline churches we can’t help but wonder if these standards still apply today.

5. Young men need to see older men leading in order to see a future for themselves in the church. It’s not uncommon today in mainline churches for women to lead the entire service: a female pastor, liturgist, and choir director officiate, while lay women lead the prayers, serve Communion, and take the offering. When weeks pass between man-sightings, young men begin to lose heart. It’s clear to them that church is a woman’s thing.

So, does Church for Men oppose female pastors? Not in all cases. In fact, we produced a 13-minute documentary about a female pastor who turned her church around by focusing on men. Watch it here.

Here’s the other reason we don’t categorically oppose female pastors: the role of pastor (male or female) is not formally defined in the scripture. The paid professional who preaches a weekly sermon and runs the church is extra-biblical. Therefore, we believe that churches have the liberty to staff that position however they choose. So if your denomination or congregation is OK with a female pastor, so are we.

But when it comes to the elder board, should women hold themselves back so men will step up? It depends on how you define holding back. Read what Jesus says about power in the church and get back to me.

So now that we have both progressives and traditionalists mad at us, let’s throw things open for discussion. Should churches ordain female elders? Once again, we oppose female elders not because of competence, but because men withdraw when women step up to lead. I wish men weren’t like this – but they are.

David MurrowDavid Murrow is the author of the bestselling book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. David’s books have sold more than 175,000 copies in 12 languages. He speaks to groups around the world about Christianity’s persistent gender gap. He lives in Alaska with his wife of more than 30 years, professional silk artist Gina Murrow. Learn more about David at his Web site,, or join the conversation on his Facebook page, Don’t forget to share this page by clicking on the links below, or scroll down and leave a comment (right below those annoying ads that pay for this blog). 



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