Is Eldership within the church exclusively for men? Godly woman are invaluable to the church. Their insight, wisdom, and ministry to the body cannot be overstated. Many women have more knowledge than their husbands or other men in the church. How, then, can we exclude them from the office of an elder? The language of Titus does use masculine pronouns when describing elders. The qualifications, then, seem to limit the office to men only. This is not the only place that uses such masculine language to describe leadership. A Biblical eldership must be male because it is part of the Bible’s overarching structure of male leadership. But a male-only-eldership, does not limit women from “leading” in other ways.
Despite the contentions of many modern scholars, the bible has an overarching framework of male leadership. It establishes men as the heads of their home and the heads of the church. Within marriage, women are to “submit” to their husbands. So, the collective teaching of Scripture states:
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Eph. 5:22-24)
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. (Col. 3:18)
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:1-5)
12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve (1 Tim. 2:12-13)
In each text the emphasis is placed on the role of the wife to be under the leadership of her husband. Now, there are also passages that clearly dictate what that authority is supposed to look like. It is service and not dictatorial. Far too many men are interested in answering the question “who’s in charge,” when the Bible is actually giving more instruction on who’s going to “die to self.” Nonetheless, however, there is a leadership established by God, that Paul clearly connects to the created order and to a spiritual hierarchy (1 Tim. 2:13; 1 Cor. 11:3). The Bible establishes male leadership in the home.
What’s true in the home is then also applied to the context of the church. Regularly, Paul uses the analogy of the home as a model for the church (Ga. 6:10;Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15), and he states that a man who would rule in the church must govern his household well first (1 Tim. 3:5). Jesus’ appointment of only male apostles and the masculine pronoun choices for the qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy and Titus demonstrate these foundational frameworks of male leadership. Male leadership in the church is the conviction of Scripture.
These issues have stirred up much debate. Some have argued that male leadership is a cultural value of the ancient world, not a Biblical value. Their attempts to prove this distinction have failed to address both Paul’s creational foundation and spiritual foundation for male leadership in the home and the church. Others have attempted to identify female elders in the early church, but their arguments for this are equally as weak, building whole cases on the potentiality of a feminine name in Romans 16:7 – which makes no direct connection to apostleship. These arguments have been hashed out again and again by critics and scholars, I remain unconvinced by their arguments which seem to be grasping at straws.
How male leadership in the church plays out is an important matter worthy of a moment’s consideration. Among conservative Christians who hold to an exclusively male eldership, there has been an over-emphasis on this point and not enough consideration of the roles and values of women in the ministry of the church. While women may not be elders in this view, they are still valued members of the church who have a place to serve. Paul lists many women who serve alongside him and who serve the churches that he helped to plant. He mentions them by name and describes their invaluable service to him. Others, like Priscilla, are known to be teachers of the gospel (Acts 18:18, 26). Women are equally valuable members of the body of Christ and while only men may be elders, godly elders know how to support and learn from godly women.
Godly elders must be willing to listen to and learn from godly women, as is modeled in the Scriptures. Good leaders know that they do not know everything, they know that their perspectives are skewed, they know that their wisdom is limited. They need the input, wisdom, and perspective of others, especially those who are different from them. Women ought to be invited into conversations with the leadership, to help them think through issues, to open avenues of conversation that have not been previously considered, to explore theological and practical ministry issues through different eyes.
There are some, I know, who would consider this a violation of 1 Timothy 2:11-14. I am not persuaded that Paul is addressing the church in this text, rather I am inclined to see it as an issue of marriage. Paul is speaking about wives who disrespect and rebuke their husbands in public, similar to what he is addressing in 1 Cor. 14:33-35. Paul obviously invites women to speak in church, for her clarifies how they can do that in 1 Cor. 11, where women both pray and prophesy. So, Paul’s point is not that women are completely “silent” but rather that they are not to be disruptive and disrespectful. He, presumably, was addressing a specific issue in the contexts of these churches. Even if, however, some want to argue that the 1 Timothy 2 passage is about the church, I still think the fundamental issue would have to do with authority, not with learning from women. Godly men ought to learn, and ought to be willing to learn, from godly women.
The reason Titus utilizes only male pronouns in his instruction about the qualifications for elders is because the bible supports a framework of male leadership in the home and the church. This framework, however, does not mean that women are not vital and valuable members of the church. Elders need to learn and listen to the godly women in their churches. In fact, even as Paul speaks about male leadership in Ephesians 5, he precedes these words with words about “mutual submission” (Eph. 5:21). Meaning there is a sense in the church in which we all submit to one another and learn from one another. If we speak, then, of eldership as a specific leadership role which is exclusive to men only, then we may speak of leadership in general as open to all. The Bible supports, then, a male-only-eldership, but a diverse leadership open to all genders. May it be so in all our churches.