I have grown up in the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination of Christianity that has more conservative and traditional views of leadership. I was always told that as a disciple of Jesus Christ, it was my responsibility to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. However, I saw no women leading in my church to provide this example. The SBC states in The Baptist Faith and Message, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” The SBC is very specific that women are not allowed to pastor, based on verses that say women are not allowed to have authority over men. However, it says nothing about youth pastor.
When many within my church convicted me and convinced me that youth ministry was my vocational calling, I was confused. I thought that women couldn’t do it because I hadn’t seen it, yet those with the same theology were affirming it. So I sought it out for myself. Here’s what I came up with.
1 Timothy 2:11-12, perhaps the strongest argument for women not pastoring, says, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” I would like to briefly exegete this for you, but of course I encourage you to look at it for yourself. There is one command in this passage—“Let a woman learn with all submissiveness.” “Woman” can mean a woman of any age, but 92/221 times it means specifically “wife.” “Learn” means to learn by use and practice; to be in the habit of. “Quietly” does not mean quiet in speech, but humble in spirit; it is one who does not bossily meddle with the affairs of others. As you may know, women have problems with this, ha! “Submissiveness” means obedience and meekness. In verse 22, “to exercise authority” has a very dark connotation: one who kills another with his own hands, one who acts on his own authority, an absolute master, or to exercise dominion. It is only used once in the Bible, in this passage. It is very interesting that Paul uses authenteō instead of didaskō, which he usually uses when talking about teaching. We can turn to other classical literature and we see that 67% of the time, the term is used very negatively as well. Therefore one can tell that Paul isn’t commanding women not to have any authority over men, but to not have an undue authority. Once again, Paul uses the same word for “silence” meaning humility. So altogether, the verses read, “Let a woman learn by practice in humble obedience. I do not permit women to teach heresy or to be in manipulative authority, but she is to be humble.” Paul isn’t prohibiting women from leading, but encouraging women to learn and avoid being deceived. “Learn” is an active kind of learning that implies action, yet Paul reminds women to do it in humility.
I hate the argument “well maybe he was just talking to their culture and not ours,” because it can often cheapen Scripture. Yet, if we were to literally enforce this entire chapter in our culture as we have traditionally enforced these few verses, let’s think about this: A few verses before Paul commands women to dress modestly, yet no one in the church condemns me for my braided hair or my signature pearl earrings. If verses literally stand the cultural test of time, then we have a lot to change. The cultural context is clear: There were many teachers in the early church who were deceiving Christians and convincing them of false teachings. Paul wanted to make sure that women, who weren’t being educated like men, weren’t teaching if they weren’t equipped to. It would make sense that he commands them to actively learn.
The passage must also be looked within the context of Paul’s teachings as a whole. Paul consistently said that in Christ, there is no distinction between gender, race, or socioeconomic status (Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Colossians 3:11). Paul acknowledged the importance of many women in his ministry. The Bible has tons of women serving in important roles as teachers and leaders: Miriam, a prophet (Exodus 15); Deborah, a nation’s leader and judge (Judges 4-5); Esther, an advocate for the Jews (Esther); Priscilla, a teacher (Acts 18:18-26, Romans 1:3); Lydia, Chloe, and Nympha, leaders of the church (Acts 16:13-15, 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 4:15); Phoebe, a deaconess (Romans 16:1); Junia, an apostle (Romans 16:7); Philip’s daughters and other women prophets (Acts 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5); etc.
Where is the distinction then? Why are women allowed to be Sunday School teachers or Children’s Ministers, but not Youth Ministers? What is the difference? If you want to argue that women can teach, but not be the main leader: Female youth pastors aren’t running the whole church; there is still someone presiding over her. If you want to argue that adolescent teenage boys are men and that’s why a woman can’t teach over them, then we need to figure out the distinguishing characteristics between a child in Sunday School and a man in “big church.” Our culture has added adolescence, and the Bible doesn’t address it. So how can we assume that the Bible states a particular gender is supposed to serve that role?
I strongly believe that culture needs to be considered when choosing leaders. There are cultures around the world that have female-dominant leaders. If we were to evangelize in those countries and try to set up churches there, we should not expect for our Westernized church to fit their culture. It would not work, it would be too uncomfortable, and people wouldn’t want to join such a weird religion. In America we have women becoming CEOs of major companies, making influential speeches at national political conventions, and being named as some of the most influential people in the world. Yet, our church does not reflect our culture—we are still very male-dominated in major leadership roles. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing; I think our culture needs strong men as leaders. We are plagued by examples of men who are abusive or absent, and I strongly believe we need stronger men in our churches. In fact, culturally and Biblically, I personally think the head of the church needs to be a man (see, I’m not a total feminist!).
Traditionally, a male youth leader has made sense: he was the head pastor of the group. But youth ministry isn’t so much pastor-centered as it was initially, it is volunteer-centered. Youth ministry is moving more towards discipleship-centered small groups. Each discipleship group has either its same gender discipling them or a male-female team. I love this. Therefore I personally think that the main leader of the program does not matter—either a male or a woman can efficiently lead a program. And culturally, it makes sense.
But maybe it doesn’t make sense for your culture. If you are in a more conservative culture, why stir up the pot and have leaders in your church who don’t fit your culture? When I worked in small town Missouri, I was actually very surprised that I was hired in an SBC church. Yet I made sense for their culture because they were very discipleship and fellowship-centered and as a woman I have some natural giftings for that sort of thing.
As for the argument that a female cannot complete the role because of her extra estrogen: A female’s estrogen is a gift. God made men and women in his image, and women reflect God’s more empathetic and caring side. It’s inarguable that men and women are different and bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table. We need strong protective leaders just as much as we need empathetic nurturing ones. Women can get overemotional at times; trust me, there have been times when I have struggled. I have taken comments too personally, over-invested, and have (yes) cried in youth group before. But those aren’t completely negative things. What these qualities show is God’s nurturing, empathetic, gracious side of Him. God takes our sin too personally, he invests in us even when we don’t invest back, and we are constantly breaking His heart. Men have beautiful “weaknesses” too—men can be aggressive, tough on their disciples, and can harden in times when people hurt them. This show’s God’s more judicial and strong side of his character. Men and women need each other in order to provide a more perfect picture of who God is, and this picture is needed when leading teenagers. Teenagers need both male and female role models to lead them.
If I minister to teenagers, am I really going against God’s will? Can God possibly believe that I am sinning when I minister the Gospel? I have a lot of issue with this. Having a relationship with God is not about doing x, y, and z. It’s about a heart that seeks to serve Him. In Christ, we are free. How can God send me away for sending so many to Him?
I originally wrote this post 6 months ago and put it off because this is essentially my identity that I’m arguing for. I know that I will receive a lot of flack for this post, so I ask that you create discourse in the comments and not dissension Remember that I’m not saying that women can be the head of the church, but the head of a youth ministry program. I want to create a culture of youth ministry that has men and women working together to minister to our student Saints.