What is a pastor?
A pastor is a shepherd. That’s what the word literally means. A pastor is someone who tends and guides spiritual sheep.
Can women pastor?
Let me answer that question with a better one: If God has gifted and called a woman to pastor, should we oppose him?
Here’s another: Since God empowered women to lead churches in the New Testament, is there any reason to expect that he has stopped doing that today?
Some may say, “No female pastors are named in the Bible.” Neither are any male pastors named in the Bible. Search the scriptures and you will find no one identified as Pastor So-and-so.
We live in the age of the celebrity pastor, but the early church had no such thing. What it did have were nameless groups of elders or overseers, such as the Ephesian elders who met with Paul, or the elders Paul greeted at the start of his letter to the Philippians.
That said, the Bible identifies at least three females who pastored. It’s time for us to meet these little-known ladies.
Prisca was one of Paul’s closest friends. They were such dear friends that the apostle called her by the diminutive version of her name, Priscilla.
Priscilla and her husband Aquila were Jewish business people who met Paul in Corinth and travelled with him to Ephesus (Acts 18). When Paul left Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila stayed behind and continued to preach the gospel (1 Cor 16:19). Soon they were hosting a church that met in their house. Later, they went to Rome and planted another church. We know this because of the way Paul greets them in his letter to the Romans:
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. (Romans 16:3-5a)
This brief mention speaks volumes. Priscilla and her husband weren’t merely homegroup leaders; they were church planters with a multinational legacy. Such was her influence that Paul said the Gentile churches owed Priscilla a debt of gratitude.
What did Priscilla do? To quote Gene Edwards, Priscilla was “Paul’s right-hand man.” Paul considered her his equal and said she had risked her life for him (like a good shepherd).
Priscilla was not just a preacher or teacher. She was a pastor to the apostles. She trained Apollos in Ephesus and had two apostles, Andronicus and Junia, in her church at Rome. Indeed, Priscilla was not merely a pastor; she was a super-pastor who raised giants in the faith. (I guess she never got the memo about women staying silent in church.)
At a time when the church only met in people’s homes, several women were recognized as church leaders. Priscilla was one; Nympha was another.
Paul greeted “Nympha and the church that is in her house” (Col. 4:15). We know very little about Nympha. Her house was located either in Laodicea or elsewhere in the Lycus Valley. Was she a pastor? Did she lead the church that met in her house? She must have done so, for Paul greets no one else in her church.
Chloe and her people
Chloe is another one of those intriguing people who gets only a single mention in the Bible: “I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you” (1 Cor. 1:11).
We don’t know anything about Chloe other than she lived in Corinth and she had people.
Who were these people? Were they her companions or a church that met in her house? We can’t be sure. But in the same way that “men from James” came to Antioch, “people from Chloe” came to Paul, and he recognized her as a leader within the church community. In short, she was a pastor.
If Paul objected to women pastors, the visit from Chloe’s people would’ve presented him with the perfect opportunity to say so. To quote Tim Fall, Paul might have expressed his concerns like this:
It has come to my attention you have a woman (Chloe) presiding over a group of brothers and sisters. This must not be! Is there not a man among you who could take over? Don’t wait until I am among you to correct this abomination.
Of course, Paul said no such thing because Paul had no problem with women in leadership. Instead of rebuking Chloe’s people for putting a woman in charge, he credited them for drawing his attention to a problem.
Nice job, Chloe’s people.
Many people say women cannot be pastors and they cannot lead churches, yet women did these very things in the Bible. The New Testament church had female pastors, female apostles, female prophets, female evangelists and female teachers, because God has commissioned all of us, men and women, to proclaim the good news. Some say women can’t teach because Eve was deceived. They forget that Jesus redeemed us from whatever mistakes Eve and Adam made, and he proved it by empowering women and including them among his disciples.
“But Paul, you have forgotten that the qualifications for a pastor that Paul gave in 1 Timothy 3 exclude women.”
No I haven’t, and no it doesn’t. Although many churches exclude women from influential positions of leadership, the reasons for this have more to do with tradition than what the Bible says.
I will unpack the treasures of 1 Timothy 3 in a later article. Stay tuned.
Extracted and adapted from Dr. Paul Ellis’s new book, The Silent Queen: Why the Church Needs Women to Find their Voice.