Complementarianism in Context

what does the bible say about complementarianism
Ephesians 5:21-33, 1 Timothy 2:8-15

This article is not meant to be an exhaustive study answering every question about complementarianism. If you want to hear all the biblical arguments in great detail regarding complementarianism, one of the best resources out there is The Counsel of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

My goal here is to simply address one common mistake I often hear when people talk about complementarianism. I want to share my heart as a complementarian man because it pains me to see all the confusion. I hope clarifying this one big mistake I want to discuss in this article will help bring some understanding and perhaps ease some of the hurts.

I’m really not writing for those who are bloodthirsty and already assume I’m a misogynist for simply identifying with the term “complementarian.” Rather, I’m writing to those who are genuinely curios about how someone could hold to this belief that men should lead their families and men should be pastors. Or perhaps you hold the belief that a husband should lead his family and a male pastor should lead his church, but you are not sure why you believe this.

I write this for you.

Complementarianism Should Be Kept in Context of the Family and The Church

To me a more helpful way to talk about the roles of men and women is to use the words “men and women” less in this conversation and use the words “husbands and wives” and “pastors and church” more.

I think the biggest confusion I often see that people make with complementarianism is that they over extend the context of what the Bible really talks about. The Bible doesn’t say women can’t be in authority over men in society, in the work place, on the sport’s field, or in government. I think many who would identify as complementarian error here as well.

The Bible specifically talks about the family unit and the church when it comes to the roles of men and women. It states women should not lead other men in these two specific areas. So rather than say “Men are called to lead and women are called to follow,” I believe it is far more biblically accurate to say “Husbands are called to lead their families and pastors are called to lead their churches.”

The Tension Seems More Focused on, “Why Can’t Women Be Pastors?”

I feel there is far less arguments from modern Christians about husbands and fathers leading their families. Sure, there’s some tension with Christians in this area. There’s a lot from non-Christians. I have personally, however, sensed a lot more tension these days from Christians about women not being pastors.

Common arguments include, “But many women are more qualified than men.” “Many women have more education than their male pastor.” “Lots of women are better preachers and teachers than male pastors.” “Many women are strong enough to lead a church.” And I believe all of these statements are totally true! So why do I believe women should not be pastors?

I believe the problem is that we have focused on the wrong thing in this question. Most people start defending women and listing all their amazing qualities. But the problem with women being pastors has nothing to do with women or their qualifications. The real issue is defining what a pastor is. To me, saying a woman should be a pastor is the same thing as saying that a woman should be a husband or a father.

So again, most Christians I’ve talked to do not argue about the value of both husbands/fathers and  wives/moms being different. (I would need a whole new article to explain how they are biblically different and not just stereotypically different. This article from The Gospel Coalition is helpful.) I don’t think most modern Christian women want their husbands to act like women. I think Christians under 40 have watched the generation before us live that experiment and we are not in a rush to live it ourselves.

The emphasis I have sensed among younger Christians has less to do with emasculating men like many in the feminist movements of the past did and more to do with expanding the opportunities for Christian women in all areas of life, including ministry. Obviously I support this! I think most modern Christian women want their husbands to take initiative in disciplining the kids, in pursuing her heart, making sure the family is well provider for, and to take leading his family seriously in all the other areas necessary.

This doesn’t mean wives and moms don’t also do these things. But I just don’t believe the majority of Christian women are struggling with letting their Christians husbands be the leaders of their homes. The complaints I have heard from Christian women revolve more around wanting their men to lead more, not less. And by leader, I mean a Christ-like leader who takes responsibility for the wellbeing of his family. The focus of his leadership is not asserting his will but taking the responsibility for the health of everyone under his care. If something goes wrong, he’s owning it and not looking to his wife as the scapegoat. I think most modern Christians support this type of male leadership in the home. While she wants her husband to act like a man, she also wants to be free to impact the family and church as a fully liberated woman. What’s not to like here?

Again, I think the real problem many Christians have today is when someone tells women they can’t be pastors because this feels like we are limiting the equality and opportunities of women.

The Problem Is We Have Forgotten What a Pastor and a Church Really Are

So what’s my point? My point is that many Christians don’t have issues with husbands and dads leading because they have a better understanding of what a good husband and dad should do. They understand only a woman can be a wife and a mom and only a man can be a husband and father. Many Christians struggle with the idea of women not being pastors because they don’t understand what a biblical, good pastor is.

A man is to be a pastor to the church because the church is an extension of the Christian family unit. Just as a husband and father are supposed to lead his family, a pastor is to lead the church. How would that work exactly if a woman wants her husband to lead at home but she wants to be the pastor once they go to church? You do not lose your role in the church when you are at home with your family. And when you are at home with your family you do not lose your role at church. The church and a Christian family are connected. So when groups of Christian families come together, the church is meeting. If the husbands and fathers are the leaders in their homes, why on earth would they act differently once these families come together as the church?

I believe we run into problems because most Christians have lost sight of what “pastor” and “church” are. Pastor is not synonymous with CEO, business leader, professor, counselor, thought leader, fundraiser, visionary, police officer, and other similar words. If this is what we now mean by pastor, of course women should be pastors too. But this is not how the Bible uses this word, therefore this is not how I want to use this word. Pastor should be linked with words like husband and father.

Church is often linked with words like non-profit, business, company, ministry, organization, and other similar words. Of course women should lead in these areas! But biblically, church should be linked more with words like “family.” The church is the family of God.

Husbands and wives are equally important but reflect the glory of God differently in marriage. Mothers and fathers are equally important but they reflect the glory of God differently in the family. These same men who lead their families should lead the church because the church is a collection of families uniting under God’s truth. I believe a man should be a pastor of a church just as I believe a man should be the husband and father of his family. Males and females “complement” each other when they play these different roles of equal value as they come to together to fully reflect the glory of God.

So if you are someone who thinks a wife should protect, provide for, and pursue her husband rather than the other way around, then I probably won’t be able to help you much in understanding why women should not be pastors. But if you understand the beautiful, God-given differences between wives and moms compared to husbands and dads, I hope you can better appreciate why I believe men should be pastors.

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Mark Ballenger is the writing ministry of Mark Ballenger. To reach Mark, send him an email anytime:

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