What ministry roles can women fill in the church?

Burk Parsons & W. Robert Godfrey
3 Min Read

PARSONS: When we speak of ministry, it’s important that we first understand what that word means because there is a lot of misunderstanding. Too often we equate minister with pastor, but that’s not how the New Testament speaks of ministry.

The word ministry simply means “service,” and it can mean a role of service or an office of service, but it refers to any service that is rendered to another. That’s important because sometimes even the question might be problematic for some Christians. They might think: “That just shouldn’t be. Women can’t be in ministry at all.” However, ministry simply means “service,” biblically speaking.

The Bible gives all the many and beautiful ways that women not only can minister and serve but the many and beautiful ways women should minister in the church. The church should constantly be striving to identify, disciple, and train women in theology, Scripture, the languages, hermeneutics, and so on. Then they, as older women, might train up, teach, and disciple younger women. They ought to help raise up the next generation of young women to be courageous, faithful women, mothers, and teachers in the church for generations to come.

GODFREY: One of the great truths recovered at the Reformation was summarized in the words, “the priesthood of every believer.” In the medieval church, there was an entirely separated caste of priests who stood between God and the congregation. In a profound sense, the congregation was entirely dependent on the priests to minister the sacraments that would bring God’s grace and enable the congregation to draw close to God. The Reformation taught that the priesthood is not a separated caste of people, but rather that every Christian is a priest. That means every man and every woman is a priest before God.

The priesthood of all believers has sometimes been misunderstood as if I am my own priest before God. That’s not what it means. It means that every Christian helps every other Christian in the journey to God. That is a task for every man and every woman in a Christian congregation. We should be looking around and asking, “How can I as a priest before God help other Christians in this congregation draw closer to God?” That should keep us all busy and keep us from envy.

PARSONS: I know we are all on the same page, but these sorts of things go out on the internet, so it is important to state clearly that in no way, shape, or form does the Bible teach or commend that women are to be ordained pastors or elders.

While there is certainly disagreement on the subject of women as deacons, I’m going to state plainly that as I study the New Testament and as I’ve looked into this matter in great depth over the years (as have many others who disagree), I do not believe that the New Testament assigns the office of deacon to women in any clear way either.

Here is the reality: the offices of deacon and elder are a burden. Yes, it is a joyful burden in some ways, but our goal, whether we’re men or women, is not to aspire to an office. Our goal is to aspire to service, humble service that doesn’t need to parade itself. It doesn’t need a title. The reason we have men who are called ministers, elders, and deacons is not to lift them up and say, “Look at how great he is.” Yes, they serve as examples. Yes, it is a noble task, but it is not first and foremost to give them a title. Rather it is first and foremost to help God’s sheep know that elders serving among them and alongside them are here to help, to shepherd, and to serve. The title is secondary.

In my opinion, people have to go through exegetical gymnastics to try to squeeze the office of deacon in for women, and I respond by saying: “Why? Why do that to them? Let them serve in the ways that they can and should in the church. It is not about needing to have an office.” God sees, God knows, and God observes the service of each and every one of us. That’s ultimately what matters, not a title.

This is a transcript of W. Robert Godfrey's and Burk Parsons' answers given during our 2022 National Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email ask@ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.