When men are preparing to enter the ministry, we often talk to them about the importance of surrounding themselves with faithful men. We teach them how to identify future leaders. We teach them how to preach. We encourage them to remain faithful to the Word.
But when was the last time you heard a seminary commencement message encourage future pastors to also surround themselves with biblically literate women?
Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. But I hope by the end of this article you will see the importance of it.
The help of women in the Bible
When Paul ends his letters, he often speaks of those who are meaningful to him. He speaks of those who have helped him, sometimes he speaks of those who have left him, and he speaks of those who are partners in ministry. While Paul does provide qualifications for men in pastoral ministry, those verses are few compared to the general commands to all that he provides in his letters. And his general tone as he closes out his letters is one of community effort, rather than a male-only endeavor. Paul’s ministry is upheld by men and women serving faithfully, and as a result, the church is upheld by men and women serving faithfully.
Just consider how he speaks of Priscilla in Romans 16:3. He calls her a “fellow worker.” In Acts 18, he goes to see Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, and then travels with them to Syria. Then at the end of Acts 18, we learn that both of them helped explain the “word more accurately” to Apollos. And she is not the only one. In Romans 16 alone, numerous women are mentioned, alongside men, as being a help to Paul and to the church. Colossians 4 speaks of Nympha and the church in her house. This isn’t even including the many women who were useful to Jesus in his time on earth.
The overarching message of Scripture, Old and New Testaments, is that both men and women are necessary for the ministry of the local church. The message of the gospel goes forward by both genders working together (Matt. 28). Yes, qualified men are called to lead and preach, but the local church is a body, so everyone contains something necessary for the body to flourish.
The value women add
But I want to talk for a moment about the value a woman might bring to a pastor in the local church.
Pastors are tasked with the great responsibility of shepherding the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:2). This involves first and foremost, the preaching of the Word. But on any given week, there are many other things a pastor might do that fall under shepherding. He may meet with a young believer, teaching him how to read his Bible. He may visit an elderly member, encouraging her to persevere to the end. He may disciple a new father or perform pre-martial counseling. The shepherding work of a pastor is vast and often overwhelming.
But what about the woman in the church who recently miscarried? Should she be shepherded by the pastor too? Or the woman in the church who needs encouragement to press on in mothering? Or the woman in the church who is struggling in sin and needs counsel? What about the woman in the church who needs discipleship in her understanding of Scripture or application of Scripture to her work in the marketplace? And even more serious, where does the abused woman go? Does this fall on under pastoral shepherding?
Yes and no.
Pastors will give an account to God for how they handle the Word and how they serve God’s people. So in that sense, this is absolutely their domain. But in another sense, I would argue that pastors best serve the women in their church by having biblically literate women they can turn to for the female shepherding needs in their church. As vast as the needs are in the church for men, the needs for women are equally vast. And we have a biblical basis for encouraging these needs to be met through the care of other women (Titus 2:3-5).
Part of good leadership is delegating responsibilities to those under your care. Part of good pastoral leadership is delegating the shepherding ministry to others as well.
But this is hard isn’t it? Because it assumes that the women in your church are biblically literate enough to handle such responsibility. It assumes the women in your church have a desire to serve in this way (which I bet they do). It assumes that you have a working relationship with women in your church. But it is a work worth taking on.
Priscilla was useful to Paul because she knew her Bible, and out of that knowledge came fruit. Our women can’t shepherd other women if they don’t know their Bibles. But our women also can’t shepherd other women if they don’t have opportunities and encouragement from their leadership.
Pastors have a lot on their plate. And depending on the size of your church, the responsibilities and needs far outweigh what you can feasibly handle. But I think one way to alleviate some of this burden is to partner with the women in your church in this way. Find women who display an aptitude and a desire to teach the Bible. Use them in the ministry of the Word to the women. And then watch the Word do its work in the lives of your people.
Paul was thankful for Priscilla (and many other men and women) because he was one man, albeit an incredibly fruitful one. He might be the one praised for his missionary travels and establishment of churches, but his ministry was upheld by the faithful work of other brothers and sisters. God’s purposes haven’t changed. He still uses the entire body of believers to spread his glory throughout the world—from the preacher on Sunday morning to the woman meeting with a broken sister in her living room. We need everyone in this mission.
Do you have a Priscilla in your church? I bet you do. You just have to look for her.