Why I believe women should pursue degrees in theological AND pastoral studies

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The other day, a Christian woman announced on twitter that she’d completed her BA in pastoral ministry. 

This drew the following response from a US Theology professor.

There has been an ensuing debate around the rights and wrongs of women studying at seminary particularly in a complementarian context.  Complementarians understand that men and women are both created equal and are co-heirs in Christ but also believe that Scripture encourages a distinction of roles in marriage and in church life. This means that complementarian churches would not appoint female elders.

Now, there has been a long running debate about this.  Some Christians are concerned that this is restrictive upon women, that it excludes them from particular roles in the church based purely on gender and so is sexist.  Egalitarians and feminists would therefore argue that women can be and should be appointed to the posts of pastor, elder, vicar, bishop etc.

Now, I come from a complementation position.  I argue here, that this view should not be based a hierarchical understanding of life, so that men are not called to a higher position over women.  Instead we serve as family together in the life of the church.  Indeed, I’ve argued that this means that both egalitarians and complementarians alike can risk reducing the role that women play in church. I’ve likened it to family life.  If elders are a bit like dads, then church families need mums too.  Just as if we tried to make everyone into dads, we’d lose the insight of mums, I believe that we’ve risked losing the discernment and perspective of godly women by trying to force-fit everyone into the same role.

But I cover that debate in more detail in the paper and today I want to focus on the specific question of training.  In his defence, it’s been pointed out that Aniol is not against the idea of women pursuing academic learning generally or indeed against them studying for degrees in Theology. His specific concern is with women receiving qualifications in pastoral ministry.  The point being that studying for pastoral ministry indicates that the person is seeking a call to a role as a pastor, in other words to be an elder in the church.

I’ve seen comments from a number of people arguing that there is a point there.  This has included the suggestion that if we send women off to seminary to study the same qualification as men training for the pastorate then we’ll struggle to explain to them why they cannot also go into the pastorate when qualified.

I disagree. First of all, I’m a little confused by the suggestion that those sound, well taught, godly women who we think suitable for further seminary training are going to have their heads turned by it when part of the reason we identified them as ready is because of their solid grasp of Biblical teaching on this issue. 

Secondly, as many people have pointed out now, pastoral ministry work is much wider than simply the role of sole or senior pastor in a church.  Therefore, for all kinds of reasons, women are involved in pastoral ministry whether as women’s workers, family workers, children’s and youth workers etc.  So surely if we treat seriously those responsibilities and want women to care for and disciple well, then we would want the training process to be open to all.

As it happens, if you go to study at the main reformed theological colleges in the UK, Union and Oak Hill, then you’ll find the courses cover both theological and pastoral studies, in fact the Oak Hill qualification is a BA or MTh in Theology and Pastoral Studies.  Both colleges open up their courses to men and women.  If a woman trains at Oak Hill, she’ll have the opportunity to study Biblical studies, exegesis, Systematic Theology, Church History etc. She’ll also study apologetics, culture and pastoral counselling.  These are the same options available to men.  Why would we want to exclude her from them?

It may be that we believe that there is something specifically different about the role of pastor that requires some different training. It would be good to identify what those particular differences are and to identify the training. I suspect that it isn’t currently provided. Of course the same is true for the women training because they want to be more available to disciple and care for women – they too may wish to access certain aspects of training that are not a priority for church pastors.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that a degree in pastoral studies is the right route for every woman seeking to serve in the church. Regular readers will know that I’ve been passionate about seeing in context vocational training especially for those looking to get involved in urban planting. I’d love to see many men and women trained through this root.

Want to talk more about in context training for urban mission?

Contact me here

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