Male Eldership

By Anna Fry - 13 July 2023

It should be of no surprise that in our culture, which has so rapidly changed with regards to the roles of men and women and gender, that the issue of whether females should be in leadership has become a controversial issue. People are often surprised when they find out that I am in a church with a male eldership team. They’re even more surprised when I tell them that despite my character, I hold to the complementarian view rather than an egalitarian view.

The egalitarian view states that men and women can hold the same roles within church. This includes authoritative leadership roles such as elders (as within ChristChurch), vicars, ministers, bishops, canons, and senior pastors etc. depending on your churchmanship. Despite the recent presentation that this is a relatively new view, it has actually been held by others in the past, such as William and Catherine Booth who started The Salvation Army, who both served alongside each other with equal authority and leadership within the movement. It should be noted, however, that Catherine Booth saw her husband as her head within the home and she devoted much of her time to raising their children and caring for her husband – often releasing him to perform leadership roles.

The complementarian view on the other hand states that women, to a lesser and greater extent, should not be in leadership. There is a wide spectrum within this view, some believe women should hold no leadership at all; others, having a softer complementarian view, believe that women should not be the most senior leaders of the Church (which is elders in our context), but can and should be represented in wider leadership teams. At ChristChurch, we hold to this complementarian view, our eldership consists of four men, Si, Rob, Chris, and Tom.  Our wider leadership team has men and women in it and consists of Si and Anna Fry, Chris and Jenni Joyes, Rob Williams, Tom Simmons, Steve and Sarah Mewett, Nigel Unwin, and Phil and Elo Reah.  The elders are responsible for leading the church and for the governing of the church; they hold the ultimate authority under Jesus for the church and are spiritually responsible before God for ChristChurch. The leadership team helps the elders by giving a wider diversity of opinions, and thoughts on the function, vision, and actions of the church. But the ultimate authority and the decision will be made by the elders, who are then accountable for those decisions before Christ.  So why do we hold to this view, why are there no female elders at ChristChurch?

First and foremost, it is important to remind ourselves that Scripture is clear that men and women are created equal in Genesis 1:27. The question is not about worth and value, but of the differing roles that men and women hold within the church. Jesus himself, when he was here on earth, addressed the issue of women being treated as less important than men; He treated women with respect, honour, and love.  In the culture to which Jesus came, women were seen as a man’s property, and yet Jesus gave all the women that he met personal dignity and treated them with the equality that was established by God at creation. There is no room for misogynistic views, abuse, and behaviour within the family of God. Men are to care for and look after women and treat them with equal dignity and respect. I believe we are gifted in ChristChurch with four male elders who treat women with respect, dignity, kindness and gentleness, modelling the way men should treat women to the church and community. Secondly, as this discussion is so broad that it is the focus of several books, I have limited the discussion and arguments present to being solely in relation to women being elders within a church, not to the many other roles we need and see within Scripture.

So, what is our biblical authority for having only male elders? Well firstly, I look to Jesus, who established His church choosing 12 men to be his disciples and to become the Apostles and leaders of the early church. You note how Jesus, despite his radical approach to women and the fact he had women followers, chose 12 men only to be the Apostles to the early Church. In fact, Jesus the head of the Church, is himself a man. In Revelation 21:14 we find the 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel are sat on by 12 male apostles. We see as Grudem says that “there will be no eternal modelling of equal roles for men and women at all levels of authority in the Church”. [1]  We see this pattern of male eldership in the highest governing roles of the Church, right from when Jesus chose the 12 Apostles to eternity in heaven. 

You also see that the Apostles chose men to plant and appoint elders in each church. Paul’s instructions regarding who has authority within the church in both 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 are consistent that this authority belongs to men.  Paul points all the way back to the Garden of Eden, prior to the fall, showing the created order of Adam being created before Eve. In the Old Testament itself, the consistent pattern of male leadership: Prophets; Judges; and Kings (with some rare exceptions) foreshadows the pattern for the Church.

The issue of the created order also brings us to another argument for male only elders, the connection between relationships in the family and church.  Despite our culture, I believe it is clear from passages such as Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 that wives should submit to their husbands who in turn submit to Christ before whom they will be held accountable for how they have loved and cared for their wives and managed their families.  Passages such as 1 Timothy 3 and Ephesians 5 in the New Testament make the connection between the reflection of family relationship and authority, and church relationships and leadership patterns. Just as husbands will have to give account so will elders. They will stand before Christ and give account for the decisions they have made, the things they have said and preached and the way they have cared for and loved the church (which consists of both men and women who love and follow Jesus).  The role of elder is arguably a fearful and reverent responsibility which should ONLY be entered into by men who have the character as described in the New Testament (e.g. 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) and have been called by God.

I hope that you can see why I am biblically persuaded that male eldership is what God intends for His Church. I love Kathy Keller’s comment in her book Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles where she so excellently discusses this issue. She asks “Do we have to obey, or even care about, something said so long ago in a time and place so unlike our own? And why did God arrange things this way, with a gender-based division of labor? The answers are “yes” and “I don’t know”. [2] (Although she does give a sensitive and thoughtful explanation of why later in her book!)

I’d like to finish by recommending a couple of books that I found really helpful on this issue, Kathy Keller’s book Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles is a short helpful book on this issue.[3] I also think that Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, chapter 47, provides a helpful overview of leadership of the church as a whole and considers the question of what roles women should hold.[4]

[1] Grudem, W. (1994) Systematic Theology. Michigan:IVP p940

[2] Keller, K. (2012) Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles. Michigan:Zondervan p13

[3] Keller, K. (2012) Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles. Michigan:Zondervan

[4] Grudem, W. (1994) Systematic Theology. Michigan:IVP p940