Why Pastors Should Oversee Women’s Ministry
One of Aesop’s fables tells the story of a group of bulls who lived in a field. A lion tried to attack them, but together they drove him off.
One day, the bulls quarreled over a single patch of grass and stubbornly parted ways, getting as far away from each other as possible. The lion seized this opportunity and devoured the bulls one by one.
Women’s ministry can sometimes feel like those bulls, each separating into its own “patch of grass” away from the rest of the church. Critics of complementarianism argue that male leadership oppresses women. Perhaps it’s tempting for complementarian churches to react to this criticism with a hands-off approach, allowing women’s ministries to become a space where women are given independence from the elders—a place for them to exercise their gifts free from the oversight of male pastors.
I am convinced that while this grass may look greener, women, like men, need pastoral oversight and care.
I am a member of the Evangelical Community Church of Abu Dhabi (ECC), where I serve as a deacon of women’s ministry. Through the perseverance of faithful saints, ECC has changed and matured over the past fifty years.
When my family first arrived, our church had just undergone a major shift in polity, moving from the leadership of a co-ed administrative “church board” to a plurality of male elders. The women’s ministry quickly improved as it came under the care of biblically qualified shepherds.
Previously, the women’s ministry operated in a highly independent fashion, with its own constitution, membership, and leadership council. It organized its own finances, curriculum, and programs without pastoral input. Women leaders did their best to minister to women, and by God’s grace, their efforts bore fruit. Women formed bonds of loving fellowship, and some grew in their knowledge of God.
But the women suffered from a lack of elder oversight. It was common for women, even church members, to attend women’s events but never corporate worship. Many ladies saw women’s ministry as their church rather than a ministry within the church. Some of the lessons and curriculum were unsound. Disputes arose between leaders. On one occasion, a woman gave a talk that she had plagiarized from a notorious false teacher.
But perhaps the greatest harm was to women who were trapped in crippling sin or broken situations. In several cases, they did not receive pastoral attention because their cases remained isolated.
When I became a member of ECC, things were just beginning to change as the newly appointed elders began overseeing ministries within the church. Since our women’s ministry has come under pastoral care, the women in our church have been equipped, nurtured, united, and protected far better than they were when they functioned autonomously.
Why? Here’s a brief look at the reason behind each of these benefits.
Our churches need theologically sound women. Sisters who are equipped and eager to disciple other women are a tremendous benefit to the entire body. Therefore, the church should strive to create a culture of women who can rightly handle the Word and disciple others to do the same. Pastoral oversight is the most assured path not only to equipping the female saints but also to building a culture of discipleship in which sisters feel competent and commissioned to minister to each other.
At ECC, elders equip women in various ways. The absolute best way a pastor loves the women in the church is to ensure they are being taught the Word through faithful preaching and teaching. Our pastors also welcome us to classes alongside pastoral interns, encourage our participation in Simeon Trust workshops, and even provide feedback on manuscripts before we publicly teach one another. These supports communicate our elders’ deep commitment to the women in the congregation. They want our ladies to flourish under the rich biblical teaching of well-taught sisters so that we can foster a discipleship culture (Titus 2:3).
As a beneficiary of faithful shepherding, I rejoice in Ephesians 4:11–12, that Christ gave us shepherds “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Our elders haven’t bought our contentment by staying out of our way, and they value our members too much to “live and let live.” Instead, they invest time and resources into us so that we are well-equipped to disciple other women.
When pastors ensure sound doctrine in women’s ministry, it does not demean women as inferior. Rather, they are lovingly treating us as fellow image-bearers of God and co-heirs of Christ.
While corporate worship is where our souls are best cared for, we also need to be individually nurtured. When pastors oversee women’s ministry, they ensure that no woman suffers in silence. Women may have a strong support system through their sisters, but how much sweeter is it to be loved and cared for by not only sisters but also brothers?
Pastoral oversight ensures that sisters are being cared for by the whole body. The body grows up into Christ when it is held together by every joint with which it is equipped (Eph. 4:15–16). Paul intervened in Philippi to urge Euodia and Syntyche to agree in the Lord. These women partnered with Paul, and he cares for them enough to entreat the church to get involved in their reconciliation.
Because our pastors at ECC oversee the women’s ministry, they know the needs of our sisters. It is commonplace for them to take the initiative to ask a mature woman to meet with a sister who is struggling. And likewise, we communicate the needs of our sisters to our elders, so that they can pray and minister to us.
Women aren’t silos, only ministering to and being ministered to by women. We are a part of a family of brothers and sisters, who care for each other’s needs under the biblically prescribed leadership of our pastors.
It is true that elders cannot minister to women in the same way women can. However, women need pastoral oversight to minister to each other well. We need their guidance on matters of budget, calendar, curriculum choices, etc.
We need oversight in these areas because the church functions as one body. Our pastors know the church from a special vantage point: they see the entire body. They have to oversee what is best not just for the hands, but also for the feet. They must consider whether an event will strengthen the entire body, or if it will serve only a few; and when to focus on the needy rather than the well (1 Cor. 12:21–26). They pay attention to when the body is bleeding in places the rest of us cannot see. So, we do well to trust their leadership and submit to them as they oversee even some of the more mundane matters of the ministry.
At ECC, we choose our curriculum with our pastors. There have been times we’ve wanted to study one topic, but the pastors asked us to study another topic that they felt would be a greater benefit to our sisters in that season. We have never regretted going with their recommendation.
Our elders have James 3:1 as a sobering reminder: teachers will face stricter judgement. Pastors shoulder that burden for us by ensuring that what we study is biblically sound. There is mutual respect and collaboration, and their oversight lifts a burden that autonomy unnecessarily places on ministries.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to pastoral oversight is that it safeguards the women in the church. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”
The idea of “keeping watch” reminds me of what my husband does every time we walk together. He puts me on the inside of the path, placing himself between the nearest danger and me. This isn’t done with ill intent. He’s not communicating that he’s stronger or more capable; he’s placing my life before his own.
Good pastors routinely do the same for us, which is why it’s a delight to submit to them. They stand between the flock and the influence of false teachers. Paul charged the Ephesian elders to guard the precious flock of Christ from wolves (Acts 20:28–30).
When our pastors oversee women’s ministry, it doesn’t indicate distrust, but rather that when the wolves attack, the shepherds will bear the brunt, not the sheep. In doing so, they imitate the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11–15).
THE DIVINE DESIGN
All of this displays God’s good and glorious design for his church. In his sovereign wisdom, the gospel is beautifully displayed when we humbly submit to pastoral leadership and rejoice in God’s kindness for giving us these men. Keri Folmar writes, “Your happy submission to elder authority will be to your own advantage. You will thrive, and your elders will serve you and the church body with joy.”1
So, while it might be tempting to view pastoral oversight as restrictive for women since we don’t occupy the office of elder, my experience has been radically different. Robust pastoral oversight has communicated love, care, and value to our female members. And when women seek an “autonomous space” to exercise their independence and leadership, they are in fact splitting from the herd, placing themselves in danger of being picked off.
Pastors, some women may be tempted to find their own patch of grass, but please, for the sake of the gospel and our souls, don’t let us!
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 Keri Folmer, How Can Woman Thrive in the Local Church? (Crossway, 2021).