Training Young Pastors to Shepherd Women

A couple months ago I was informally asked to give my thoughts on how seminary professors can train their seminary students to lead in areas that are theologically and practically important for women.  In other words, how can (male) pastors learn how to better shepherd the women in their congregations and to provide healthy and relevant guidance to their church’s women’s ministries?  An older woman whom I greatly respect had been asked to give a seminar to seminary professors regarding this topic, and she asked for my thoughts.  I took thirty minutes to respond to her today via email and thought I would share my brief observations and suggestions here.  I recognize that I’m no seasoned veteran in these areas, but the topic is worthy of discussion.

  • It is important for seminary professors in our context to talk often of the value and dignity of women, because there is such a strong (and appropriate) emphasis on male leadership that women can be discounted unintentionally.  It is also vital for professors to talk about what complimentarity doesn’t mean along with what it does mean, because it is easily misunderstood in our current cultural milieu.
  • It is important for professors to teach pastors-in-training to give practical examples and illustrations that connect with women when teaching, because the examples in many sermons can be male-dominated.  These feminine examples are important not just because women can connect with them but because they fill out the biblical picture of humanity made in the image of God as both male and female (Genesis 1:27).
  • Pastors need to be careful to communicate the full spectrum of ways in which women serve the Lord in the church, in the home, and in the society.  Often in our circles the emphasis is only on child-rearing in the home, which certainly is a fundamental responsibility of married women in Scripture (Proverbs 11:15, 21, 28; Titus 2:5).  However, Proverbs 31 also makes it clear that women have a significant influence in the marketplace by making their homes an economic headquarters for the family (vv. 13, 14, 16, 18, 19, 22, 24, 31).  Likewise, Acts 18:26 makes it clear that Priscilla and Aquilla had a strong theological influence in the life of Apollos.
  • Since women are called specifically to mentor younger women (Titus 2:3-5), I believe it’s important for pastors to model the priority of mentoring and to teach it.  Instead of disengaging from the “women’s ministry,” I would prefer that pastors be involved in the life of the women in the church, always encouraging the older women to be investing in the younger women.  It seems all too easy to forget that Paul’s admonition in Titus 2 is actually to Titus himself, so that Titus is the one who’s called to instruct the older women to teach the younger women how to be workers at home (Titus 2:1).
  • Professors need to emphasize to the men not to be insecure and tentative when it comes to interacting with women and the women’s ministries.  I think that we as men can be intimidated by the strength of women who are unified and tight relationally, and this causes us to back away and not engage them in a pure and encouraging way.  The men simply slink away instead of rising to the occasion and providing leadership and direction and cultivating an atmosphere in which every member of the church can thrive.
  • Pastors-in-training must be trained to care about the widows in their churches.  My father-in-law is a foremost example of this, always treating the elderly widows very thoughtfully by inviting them over to be with the family, making sure they’re OK during winter storms, or greeting them warmly on Valentine’s Day, all in a very sincere, pure, family-centered way.  He simply “remembers them in their distress” (James 1:27).  I think it’s easy as men to think that there are more important ministries than those that God calls most important, and most truly “religious.”
  • Pastors need to always be preaching to and counseling the husbands in the church to make it their primary responsibilities to love, serve, and lead their wives.  I get concerned when men see women’s ministries that are so large and involved and effective that they (the husbands) step out of their role in leading their wives spiritually.  It can be easy to abdicate this role simply because a man feels that the women around his wife can do such a better job encouraging her than he can, but the women need both angles — male leadership and female friendships.

These are just some quick thoughts from a young, inexperienced idealist, but I hope they can jumpstart our thinking about how church leaders can provide the kind of biblical, thoughtful, specific leadership to women that will help them thrive and blossom in Christian life and ministry.  I’d be happy to hear your own observations and suggestions, or to be corrected if I’m missing the boat somewhere.  It would be especially helpful to hear from the women: How have you been led, taught, and cared for by church leaders in your life, in ways that have been particularly thoughtful, helpful, encouraging, and protective?

5 thoughts on “Training Young Pastors to Shepherd Women

  1. Hi! I found this article b/c Dr. Varner (whom I consider a friend and mentor) posted a link to it on FB. Very insightful. I wanted to share my personal experience in this area. I had the privilege of attending seminary (MDiv, Moody Graduate School), and being the only woman at times in a classroom full of men. I remember in our preaching classes in particular that I brought a viewpoint during our critiquing time that was totally unique. For example, one brother (who was currently in the pastorate) gave an illustration that put his wife in a negative light. She came out ok in the end, but she didn’t start out so well in his story. I told him that even though she “learned her lesson by the grace of God,” he should choose a different way to communicate his point. Pastor’s wive are a target of criticism enough in the church, and they don’t need any ammo from what’s said from the pulpit.

    Another time, a brother preached about how being faithful in the little things will open up the opportunity for service in bigger areas. He used the illustration of serving in the children’s ministry at church, and how it was pretty insignificant, but he knew bigger opportunities would come. Even though he was being honest about his view of ministry (and other seminarians may have agreed with him), he expressed a sad misunderstanding of the huge, powerful role of educating our children (which is “women’s work”). Again, I raised the point and got the impression I was the only one who caught the subtle error in thinking.

    All that to say that I was glad to be able to be a feminine voice in a large male program (understandably so, since we’re complemanterian). I hope these men I respected greatly continue to listen to women’s points of view the way they did to mine when we were classmates.

    BTW, the Lord has given me a wonderful husband who appreciates my insights and benefits as he prepares his courses at the bible college he teaches at in West Africa, where I work with students’ and pastors wives. AND, I really enjoyed your article on the World Cup. I’m not normally a soccer fan, but I’ve got serious World Cup fever! It probably doesn’t help that it’s on African soil and I’m in almost the same time zone so I can easily watch most of the matches. Go Ghana!!! :) Blessings to you, brother!

    1. Angie,

      These are good and accurate observations – thanks for sharing them! I completely agree with your emphasis on teachers being thoughtful about the light in which we present our wives, and being careful to have a truly Christlike emphasis on ministries like children’s ministries that are heavily populated with women. Your blend of (1) helpful observations, (2) willingness to bring them up and offer gentle correction, and (3) ongoing respect for male leadership is exactly the blend we need. I hope you’ll continue to bring your thoughts and discerning observations to all of us who have the responsibility to lead!


  2. I share your thoughts. In fact, in regards to your points 4 and 5, that’s why I lead monthly women’s fellowship at our church. This is because I’m not a pastor only to our men, but also to our women and children.

    A great post bro!


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