The question of whether or not to leave a church based on its leadership is an important one for many Christians. Specifically, some believers feel uncomfortable having a woman as their pastor and wonder if they should find a new church. There are good arguments on both sides of this issue. Taking the time to think it through carefully and seek scriptural wisdom is crucial.
Differing Views on Women in Church Leadership
There are three main positions that Christians hold regarding the role of women in church leadership:
Complementarians believe that God created men and women equal in value and dignity but distinct in role and responsibility. They interpret scriptures like 1 Timothy 2:12 to teach that the office of pastor or elder is reserved for qualified men only. The woman’s role is still vital but does not include preaching or having spiritual authority over men.
Egalitarians believe that God gifts both men and women equally for all roles of leadership in the church. They interpret passages like Galatians 3:28 to mean that male-only leadership promotes injustice and fails to empower women to use their God-given gifts.
Some Christians adopt a view somewhere between complementarian and egalitarian. They may believe women can hold certain ministry positions, just not the senior pastor role. There are also differences of opinion on how secondary doctrinal issues like this should impact church unity.
Key Considerations Around Unity, Maturity, and Calling
When deciding whether or not to leave a church with a woman pastor, it’s helpful to reflect on the following:
Preserve Unity in Love
The Bible emphasizes the importance of unity among believers (John 17:20-23). Leaving a church should not be done lightly, especially if it means abandoning a body of genuine believers over secondary doctrinal differences. However, if an issue greatly violates one’s conscience, finding a new church may be necessary. Pray for wisdom and grace on all sides.
Assess Your Spiritual Maturity
It’s wise for each person to examine their own spiritual maturity and motive for leaving. Are we acting on a biblically informed conscience or personal preference? Are we prepared to thoughtfully explain our decision if needed? Have we displayed a teachable spirit and respected the spiritual care and authority of church leaders? Leaving should not be about demanding our own way.
Consider Your Unique Calling
God gifts people differently to play unique roles in the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27-31). If a woman pastor is clearly gifted and bearing spiritual fruit, her ministry may still have great value. However, it could conflict with the giftings/calling of certain church members. In this case, humbly finding a new church community may be healthiest for all. Loving accountability to spiritual leaders is essential.
4 Options to Consider When Deciding
When determining if staying or going is best, reflect carefully on these options:
Stay Committed But Limit Involvement
If the woman pastor has sound doctrine/teaching skill but our conscience prohibits full endorsement of her role, we can stay but limit involvement. For example, one may attend/support ministries of the church but abstain from voting on major decisions requiring member affirmation of church leadership. Open communication with leaders about this can prevent misunderstandings.
Seek Gracious Exemption
In some cases, it may be possible to stay in the church but be exempt from aspects we don’t feel comfortable with. For example, asking for an alternate preaching pastor for the times when the woman pastor is scheduled to preach. This upholds conscience but still allows continued fellowship.
Transfer to Branch Location
If disagreements with church leadership seem irresolvable, transferring to a branch location of the same overall church network can be a compromise. This allows continuation in the same general community without directly impacting or discrediting the pastor we take issue with.
Find New Church Community
When core leadership direction seems fundamentally at odds with our biblically-informed conscience, leaving a church to find (or plant) a new one where we can serve freely in accord with our convictions may be the best option. But this should be done carefully and graciously, not hastily or reactionarily.
Moving Forward in a Christ-like Manner
Deciding whether or not a woman pastor warrants leaving a church is incredibly complex. There are good-faith arguments on multiple sides of this issue. As we wrestle thoughtfully with this and seek unity in our local congregations, here are some closing principles to keep in mind:
Act in Love, Not Self-Interest
In everything, we must act in love not selfishness (1 Cor 13; Phil 2:1-8). Leaving or staying should be based on serving others’ growth, not demanding our own way. We must be willing to sacrifice personal freedoms and preferences at times for the sake of gospel unity.
Hold Convictions with Humility
Even with deeply held biblical beliefs, we must hold our views humbly, recognizing we see imperfectly (1 Cor 13:12). As our conscience permits, we should demonstrate patience, endure differences of opinion, and avoid acting superior to those who see things differently.
Major on the Majors
Not all doctrinal disputes are of equal importance. The core truths of salvation through repentance and belief in Christ alone must be our focus. If a church is grounded in the gospel message, contextual differences may be secondary. But for some, the gender roles debate involves core biblical methodology and interpretation.
I hope this overview has provided meaningful thought-starters to help each Christian prayerfully process their own decision on this complex issue. There are good reasons some may feel compelled to leave a church with a woman pastor, just as there are good reasons to stay.
Seeking whole-Bible wisdom with guidance from the Holy Spirit while acting in grace and humility should be our priority more than demanding our way or virtue-signaling. At the end of the day, listen to your conscience but major on unity in Christ and the integrity of the gospel message above all.
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