We have all clicked on the “Meet our Staff” page on the website of a church we are checking out. We are greeted by many smiling faces – a list of portraits each taken under the same tree. There is Joe, the Lead Pastor. He is the oldest, with a touch of gray at the temples. Jayden, the Student Ministries Pastor is wearing a t-shirt and sports a tattoo or two. Sam, the Worship Arts Pastor, is a bit more conservative. He is the youngest, even though his glasses are a bit out of date. Then there is Emily, the Children’s Director, with long brown hair and a smile a mile wide.
Each portrait is accompanied by a short description of the role of the respective staff member. Even though the context of each ministry is different, they all have the same general responsibility: to lead their respective ministry to accomplish the mission of the church. The usual responsibilities of such positions are to recruit, train, and mobilize volunteers; submit a budget; plan and implement programming and events; and deal with mountains of administrivia.
So, if each leader has the same general responsibilities, why then is Emily’s title “Director” while the other staff are “Pastors?”
The obvious answer is that Emily is not a man.
Before I address this any further, let me first qualify my position by stating that I am a complimentarian. In short, this means that I believe that the genders are absolutely equal in dignity and value, different in nature, and that humanity reflects the Image of God though the two genders functioning together in their respective God-given roles. One expression of this relationship, I believe, is the existence of certain gender specific roles in church leadership such as male eldership.
The danger, however, in being a complimentarian is that it can be too easy to hold women back from fully flourishing as leaders and gifted members of the body of Christ – even inadvertently. One subtle way that we hold women back is through inconsistency in our use of leadership titles.
Take Emily for example. She functions exactly the same as the other associate pastors, even having an equal and respected voice in staff meetings. However, her title is different because she is a woman. This to me is a grave injustice and a laughable contradiction. She functions as a pastor, but is not given the title of pastor, because we don’t believe in woman pastors.
To misquote Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name is still a rose.”
If the title “Pastor” is used to refer to those paid to lead ministries, and if you pay women to lead ministries, then they are pastors no matter what you call them. To give them a different title just because they are women, and then allow them to function as pastors anyway, is an insult to our intelligence and to her dignity. Furthermore, it alienates the next generation who hold sincerity among its highest values and view this inconsistency as nothing less than a lie for expedience sake.
The above church really has only two options to stay consistent: Give Emily the title “Children’s Pastor,” or fire her and hire a man to do the job. I sincerely hope they choose the former.
Part of the work of the gospel is to redeem the relationship between genders in a manner that fully restores God’s original intent of reflecting the Image of God. This is precisely why it is important to fully affirm women in all that they are called to be. It is very possible to do that and still affirm gender specific roles. I suggest the approach used at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, which states that anything a non-elder male can do, so can a female. I would extend that and say, any title a non-elder male can have, so can a female – even “Pastor Emily.”