Aimee Semple McPherson

The Problem with Female Pastors and How to Fix It

I believe both men and women are called to preach and teach the word of God. These are the last days, and in the last days God has poured out his Spirit on all flesh. Therefore, the sons and daughters of God will prophesy the good news of the Kingdom of God to all flesh (Acts 2). As Christ abides in all believers, he will not limit his voice to only one half of the human population. Instead, Christ will speak in and through all his children to everyone who needs to hear his voice.

This is a conviction I’ve held my entire life as I regularly experienced my mom preaching and teaching a gospel that transformed the lives of both men and women. I’ve had others try to argue me out of the proposition of women leading, but I simply do not follow their logic from a biblical or experiential point of view. Regardless, we all must walk with integrity the principles we genuinely believe. I genuinely believe that women can and should pastor churches.

My denomination was founded by a woman, Sister Aimee Semple McPherson. As a young woman, she traveled the country and the world proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Along with her evangelistic work, she formed a Bible college that produced some rather passionate church planters. Many of these church planters were women. The fact that she did this during the first half of the twentieth century is rather remarkable, especially considering the low view many had of women in authority.

Eventually, Sister Aimee formed a denomination (The Foursquare Church) to license and send out all of the pastors she was training. In the early years of my denomination, there were a number of women who were lead pastors in churches they had founded. Sadly, over time, this changed. As time passed and pastoral transitions occurred, the Foursquare denomination began to model the predominant biases and prejudices of the culture that surrounded it. Consequently, men took over almost all positions of authority.

This has led to a great incongruity between the Foursquare Church’s doctrine and practice. Although professing a theology that supports women as church leaders, in practice, the denomination has frequently not modeled that truth. This incongruity has also been evident in other denominations and churches that profess a high value for women in ministry. To overcome this disparity between theology and practice, Foursquare is trying to find better ways to encourage, develop, and appoint more female pastors in senior or lead pastor positions. I am very proud and supportive of this renewed focus on the importance of women in leadership.

Even though our intentions may be sincere, unfortunately, it is difficult to change existing church cultures, preferences and practices. Implementation of our convictions and desires has been difficult. There are many reasons it has been challenging to facilitate a better representation of women in church leadership positions. It is not my intention to justify or explain away any injustices that might be present when it comes to encouraging women to preach and lead. Instead, I’d like to address some of the practical hinderances that make it difficult to increase the role of women within the pastorate.

Training is crucial but insufficient

For women to become pastors and leaders, there definitely needs to be educational training that is intentionally geared to supporting and defending the mandate for female church leaders. This means bible colleges and training programs must be purposeful in using gender inclusive language and curriculum. Also, special notice must be given to the unique challenges women face when training for the pastorate. In many theological communities, women find themselves in classrooms primarily led by men teaching primarily male students.

While working on my Masters of Divinity, in my first preaching class, there were about 30 men and two women. As part of our class, every student assessed the preaching of the other students. Watching one woman preach to a room full of assessing men just seemed incredibly inconducive to facilitating more female pastors. Although the doctrine of the seminary was inclusive for female leadership, the environment was incredibly male-centric. In light of this problem, educational communities and systems must continue to intentionally work to level the academic playing field for female theologians and future female pastors.

It is important to note that many institutions are trying to raise up a new generation of female leaders. Even so, I do not think education will solve the greatest hindrances to better gender equality in leadership. The sad truth is we are graduating women from our Bible colleges who do not have the same employment opportunities as their male counterparts.

Male leadership transfers to male leadership

One of the greatest problems for female pastors is the lack of job opportunities. This is compounded by the culture of normal sized churches. Most churches are only large enough to pay for one full-time or part-time pastor. When a church of this size has a pastoral transition, the congregations almost always want a pastor of the same gender as the previous pastor. In other words, churches that previously had male leadership almost invariably hire another man for the senior pastor position. This might be an issue of familiarity or prejudice. It can also be an issue of fear. In any pastoral transition there is always fear that individuals will leave the church if they are not satisfied with the new leadership. Within this fear, hiring a woman pastor can seem like more of a risk than a reward. I am not condoning this logic, but I do believe it comes into play during the pastoral transition process. In fact, this same problem most likely exists regardless of the size of the church. Since women as senior pastors are far more rare, some churches and denominational leaders are reluctant to change the culture of a church and appoint or elect a female pastor.

The second hire is another man

If women are to work their way into the senior or lead pastor position, they will need opportunities to work in multi-staff churches. Once again, the cultural realities of multi-staff churches often work against raising up female preachers/teachers. To put it as simply as possible: the second pastoral hire in churches is often a man. Again, the reasons for this are complex with certain biases and prejudices at play. Regardless, I believe there are also some practical reasons men hire men for the second pastoral position. Ideally pastors want to have a strong, healthy and close working relationship with their associate. I think some men and elder boards for that matter, are uncomfortable with a close working relationship between men and women. Whether or not it is valid, there is a fear that a woman and man closely working together within the church community may lead to the appearance of impropriety or to actual impropriety. Whether or not this fear is valid, it does influence the decisions of some churches and pastors. Ultimately, many pastors who are working alone desire a close friendship and kindredness with their pastoral staff. With this desire, they may be reluctant to hire a woman.

I know as I write these words some may be rolling their eyes at the seemingly backwards logic of leaders worrying about inappropriate relationships or the appearance of inappropriate relationships within a church’s staff. Even so, I think these concerns are present in some communities and do limit the opportunities for female pastors to be the second hire in a church.

I have noticed that many churches do not hire women until there are already two pastors on staff. In these settings, the woman is often hired for a specific need within the church that often does not include preaching and teaching in the main service. Usually the position is for a specific department such as administration, women’s ministry, children’s ministry or youth ministry. Although it is important for women to lead in these roles, these positions are not necessarily jobs that lead to moving into the senior pastor position.

The limited opportunities for women to find senior pastor leadership positions are daunting. Churches led by males often transition to another male leader. If there is a position for a female pastor, it is frequently only in multi staff churches, in areas that do not lead to preaching or teaching within the main service.

The solution is church planting

All hinderances to women finding church leadership positions should be examined and removed. All prejudices and arcane biases should be identified, addressed and rectified. Even so, some obstacles are harder to remove than others. Consequently, if the church wants to rapidly infuse its leadership with strong, female leaders, we need to focus on the areas that best lead to immediate results. This is why I believe in actively promoting, facilitating and resourcing female-led church planting.

I personally believe that church planting is our best hope to rapidly infuse the church with women as senior or lead pastors. A church that is founded by a female pastor is able to set the culture and expectations of that community. Instead of dealing with the political obstacles and cultural biases of existing churches, church plants form their community around the ideals and practices of the planting team. A church plant led by a female pastor will be able to advance values, vision and mission without wasting as much energy on reactionary battles concerning the role of women in ministry. Church plants also allow young or newly licensed/ordained women to actively walk out their calling of leading a church. Instead of being marginalized and limited to certain culturally acceptable positions within larger churches, they can immediately start living out their calling to lead a church.

The denomination I serve was founded by a woman who encouraged other women to go out and do what she was doing. She equipped and released women to follow their calling to pastor and lead churches. It is no surprise that she encouraged them to church plant. Sister Aimee understood that instead of waiting for the culture to change, she had to create new culture to contrast the existing biases within the church. Instead of waiting for the institutions to change, she simply formed new institutions and churches that held and demonstrated the value of women in ministry.

When I look at the current church leadership landscape, I once again see church planting as our best answer to eradicate the tremendous disparity between male and female leadership. Consequently, I believe we should give our best energy to raising up and resourcing female church planters. We must look for intentional ways to give preference and support to women wanting to lead or plant churches. This means the church must give more financial support and greater preference to resourcing and educating female church planters. We must also have specific strategies to facilitate networks of female church planters. It is my genuine desire to work with and support any organization or financial engine that gives strategic preference to female church planters. I sincerely believe a lot of money, time and energy needs to be allocated to the important endeavor of raising up many church plants with female senior pastors.

I understand that I am not alone in my desire to see many more women as senior pastors. I know that my denomination, as well as other denominations, are working hard to bring about change. Regardless, I write this with the sincere hope that many of us will work together to raise up a new movement of God-ordained, world-changing, female pastors. I believe we cannot simply wait for existing church cultures to change. Instead, let’s raise up some new churches that fully embrace the voice of God in both his sons and daughters.

Aimee Semple McPherson

Aimee Semple McPherson

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19 Responses to The Problem with Female Pastors and How to Fix It

  1. jorymicah August 31, 2015 at 7:02 pm #

    Church planting huh? Man, that scares the mess out of me and I am pretty darn daring. I have had several folks tell me I should start a church. I have never felt called to be a lead pastor, but maybe I have not heard the call just yet?! Thanks for advocating for women in ministry!

  2. ComposerLady August 31, 2015 at 11:44 pm #

    Great article, thank you for writing it. Church plants would help in many ways including reaching the lost. Sometimes I wish every person who perpetrated this struggle would be given Wisdom as to the harm they are causing and realization of the lost souls in the wake of their behavior.

  3. Tim September 1, 2015 at 9:34 am #

    Reblogged this on Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another and commented:
    This is gold. My friend Doug Bursch analyzes and offers solutions for the tendency of churches, seminaries and denominations to act on a male-centric bias for leadership development.

  4. Tim September 1, 2015 at 9:35 am #

    Doug, your call for a better way is great, and I really appreciate the denominational back story and your own seminary experience that help make sense of the bias and its roots. Well done.

    • fairlyspiritual September 1, 2015 at 9:37 am #

      Well I appreciate you reading it Tim. You can probably tell that I am interested in this in general and specifically for my denomination.

  5. chaplaineliza September 2, 2015 at 9:37 am #

    Doug, thanks for speaking to this subject of female pastors.

    When I graduated from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary ten years ago, I wasn’t grooming myself to become a pastor. I prayed that God would put me to work wherever God saw fit. And, I found work for almost ten years as an on call chaplain in and around Chicago! I enjoyed being in fast-paced urban hospitals, even on those overnights when the pager wouldn’t stop beeping.

    Now, I am a pastor-by-surprise! For the past year and a half, I have been serving at a small Congregational church in the Chicago suburbs. I love my position as pastor and shepherd of this small flock. Yes, one of my strong points is pastoral care. I also love to preach, and I think I am being faithful to God and where God has called me to be. (My pastor mentor agrees.) Again, thanks for speaking to this important–and needed!!–topic! @chaplaineliza

    • fairlyspiritual September 2, 2015 at 9:46 am #

      Thanks for ready and sharing this encouraging testimony. All the best to you as you walk out your calling.

  6. learn.grow.imagine.create September 3, 2015 at 3:32 am #

    I started reading this article bracing for negativity and ended up with the chills by the end. Thank you for your passion and heart to see women as recognized and effective leaders. As someone raised in an evangelical church, I struggled often with the church culture surrounding women in leadership. There was a time I considered becoming an ordained minister myself but could not align myself with the denomination I was a part of and their view of women as subservient. I hope that as we move forward, the church can find a way to truly embrace equality in leadership. Your idea is an interesting one and I see the benefit of it for sure. Thank you for sharing.

    • fairlyspiritual September 3, 2015 at 8:31 am #

      Thank you for reading and responding. My heart is truly to encourage some amazing women who work in difficult fields. Peace!

  7. Shannon Lachance April 12, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

    When I first joined Foursquare over 10 years ago, there were no women on stage at my first visit to the International Convention in Chicago. I thought that was odd since it was founded by a very passionate woman who was on fire. I love the heart behind your post. It is very insightful. I have church planted. I chuckle because church planting is very difficult. I also smile because no one told us that we needed to go start a new denomination to get women back in position and back on stage at our annual conventions.. Thanks to pastor Jack, Tammy is where she is right now. He included her and got behind her. I love how you want to see women back in ministry. Have you thought of working with women to mentor them. I think the first step is inclusiveness. Women need to work as a team more than men. We are relational more than lone rangers. We often work to network and build within teams rather than create a one man (woman) show.
    Women who have become great were supported by men. You have the heart…… I bet you could do it and make a difference. Thanks for wanting inclusivity. God bless you.

    • fairlyspiritual April 12, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

      I have thought about these things as well. Thanks for reading, and for the encouragement.

  8. Donna Sparks October 22, 2016 at 6:41 pm #

    I love this! As an Assembly of God female evangelist, I can say it’s also a major issue in our denomination as well. However, I’m doing my best to travel and speak the Word of God, and help to equip and empower other women to pursue the call of God on their lives as well. I also LOVE reading anything about Aimee Semple McPherson. A pastor prophecied over me that I would be the next Aimee Semple McPherson, a few years before God called me into ministry. I thought the man was crazy, but I believe it more with every day that passes! God is good!

    • fairlyspiritual October 22, 2016 at 6:44 pm #

      Thanks for reading. I truly pray God continues to bless and lead you.

  9. Ibukun Williams March 2, 2017 at 11:34 pm #

    Thank you for this article. I am a female minister, this is inspiring & encouraging.

  10. Rachel Wine May 18, 2017 at 5:28 am #

    I am the daughter of a minister/missionary. I watched both my parents teach, preach, and church plant. Though my mother was very gifted, I always felt there was something innately missing in her and other female pastors when it came to taking the lead role.

    I run a small corporation. After fifteen years of training staff, I recently turned over the president position to one of the young men I raised up. While I do have female managers who are very skilled at their jobs, I have once again felt something was missing for them to take the lead role. Despite having succeeded, I also seen that same weaknesses within own leadership style. My instincts tell me, while there may be exceptions, women were not created/designed to take the lead role in churches.

  11. Leslie Leland May 29, 2017 at 11:48 pm #

    Love the thoughtful preponderance.

    As an ordained Foursquare minister and a woman, I have thought about this quite a bit. It seems to me that the early Foursquare movement kept Jesus as their center and since He, along with His disciples, promoted and valued women; our leader saw men and women with equal potential for preaching the gospel and going to the world as missionaries. Historically women and men have become equals in times of revival since the resurrection, so it is not surprising the Sister and her contemporary revivalists stepped into their callings and were accepted by their male counterparts. It also follows that the women Aimee sent out were accepted and trusted ministers of the Gospel. Literally, it was the church that was breaking the boundaries of convention and releasing women into leadership roles when the world was holding them back.

    Personally, I think that several things worked against women in the Foursquare Movement. First, Sister McPherson passed the helm of the movement onto her son and not, as she had planned, to her daughter. I do not suggest that Rolf did not appreciate his mother’s passion for women in ministry, he certainly was not the advocate that Roberta would have been. Second, as the world caught up with the church, who were the real liberators of women, the church pulled back in order to not look like the world. In other words as the women’s lib movement gathered steam the church began to box women into “pastor’s wife”, “children’s minister” and “worship leader” categories. These jobs looked more appropriate for nice church ladies than “senior pastor.” This was so unfortunate since the world would have looked on the church and the message of Christ as the true liberator of women and not the anti God women’s movement of the 60’s.

    As we move into a new season of revival, I look forward to women rising once again to minister shoulder to shoulder with their brothers. To my perspective revival is the answer not pioneering or church planting.

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