Women as Pastors to the Flock

Ellen White once wrote, “It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God.” Was she making a call for women to be pastors? The evidence suggests she was not; consider the following for yourself …

“The Canvasser a Gospel Worker”:

All who desire an opportunity for true ministry, and who will give themselves unreservedly to God, will find in the canvassing work opportunities to speak upon many things pertaining to the future, immortal life. The experience thus gained will be of the greatest value to those who are fitting themselves for the ministry. It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God. 12  [Emphasis Added]

The remainder of the paragraph describes the character-building benefits of engaging in the canvassing work.

Was Ellen White here calling for women to be appointed pastors of churches, and therefore perhaps even to be ordained to that ministry? There are several indications that she was not.

First of all, when Ellen White wrote about ordained church pastors, she typically referred to them as ministers rather than pastors . In cases in which she used the term pastor she seems to have done so with a specialized meaning in mind, using the term to refer to a person doing personal labor in the nurture of the flock, rather than a particular church office or position.

For example, she wrote about an Elder H who told “the poor sheep that he would rather be horsewhipped than visit. He neglected personal labor, therefore pastoral work was not done in the church and its borders. . . . Had the preacher done the work of a pastor, a much larger number would now be rejoicing in the truth.” 13

Speaking of ministers who devote excessive time to reading and writing, she said: “The duties of a pastor are often shamelessly neglected because the minister lacks strength to sacrifice his personal inclinations for seclusion and study. The pastor should visit from house to house among his flock, teaching, conversing, and praying with each family, and looking out for the welfare of their souls.” 14

She again expressed her concern for personal care for the flock this way: “Responsibilities must be laid upon the members of the church. The missionary spirit should be awakened as never before, and workers should be appointed as needed, who will act as pastors to the flock, putting forth personal effort to bring the church up to that condition where spiritual life and activity will be seen in all her borders.” 15

In each instance here the concept of pastor is associated with the function of personal work for the flock of God, even when it is done by members of the church other than the minister. One who visits families, who teaches and prays with them, who shows personal care and interest, is doing pastoral work.

If Mrs. White intended to open the regular pastoral ministry to women, we might well expect her to give strong emphasis to the point rather than simply mentioning it as an aside in an article focusing on the canvassing work. In the same volume of Testimonies we find an article entitled, “Women to Be Gospel Workers.”16 Its focus also is on personal work in families and with other women, with no mention of the workers being ordained ministers.

The same volume also includes a chapter entitled “Young Men in the Ministry,”17 in which, after saying that “the Lord calls for more ministers to labor in His vineyard,” she adds, “God calls for you, young men. He calls for whole armies of young men.”18  The whole chapter is a call for men to enter the ministry, with no mention of women doing so. The same sort of gender-specific call for the ministry of men also appears in the chapter “The Need of Educational Reform.19  It seems only natural to expect these articles to urge women also to join the ranks of ministers if Mrs. White believed that women canvassers were preparing for ordination.

It seems that Mrs. White did not envision men and women doing the same work of ministry. Rather, she called for women especially to undertake a personal ministry of visitation and instruction in the home.20  Such a work was necessary, important work, and was “in the line of ministry,”21 though often neglected by the men. The work of these women would complement rather than duplicate the regular ministry of the men. And there is no call for ordination connected with it.

– Prove All Things, pg. 276-277

12. Testimonies for the Church , vol. 6, p. 322.
13. “Experiences in Australia,” p. 53, written in Adelaide, Australia, Oct. 11, 1892 (Manuscript Release #763, pp. 5, 6 [ Manuscript Releases , vol. 9, pp. 343, 344]).
14. Gospel Workers , p. 337.
15. Testimonies for the Church , vol. 5, p. 723.
16. Ibid., vol. 6, pp. 114-118.
17. Ibid., pp. 411-416.
18. Ibid., p. 411.
19. Ibid., pp. 126-140.
20. We are reminded again of the statement quoted earlier: “There are women who should labor in the Gospel ministry. In many respects they would do more good than the ministers who neglect to visit the flock of God” ( Evangelism, p. 472, italics supplied).
21. Manuscript 43a, 1898 (Manuscript Release #267, p. 1 [ Manuscript Releases , vol. 5, p. 29]).

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  • Bob Curtice

    To SDA church leaders and members:

    While I was observing the live stream of the debate at the Pacific Union Conference session this afternoon, I was surprised that the arguments presented indicated a complete confusion regarding issues of ministry and the offices of church leadership.

    It is clear from the Bible that the gifts of the Spirit are given to all dedicated men and women in the church; God’s Spirit will be poured out on everyone as is stated in the much quoted verse in Joel. Not one instance of this in the Bible refers to, or designates, these gifts as being applied toward the nomination of church leadership – whether that is in the Old Testament priesthood or in the early church organization.

    Yes, God has clearly called both men and women to manifest the gift of preaching and exhortation, actions that are commonly termed prophecy in the Bible and with foretelling future events. In no instance have any of these cases been applied to holding a leadership office in the church organization at any level. Many in the church are gifted speakers – both men and women. Speakers, regardless of gender, and the ordained church leadership bring many to the church by their combined labors. Again, all who are called to speak are not also called to hold office in the church starting at the level of church pastor.

    If there is any mistake in the SDA church on this topic, it may be that of confusing and conflating two distinct callings the Bible clearly states as:
    1. The office of the Aaronic Priesthood that foreshadowed the life and ministry of Jesus, along with the specific ordination of church office – outlined by Paul as deacons, elders, and bishops or higher church authority representing Jesus in His heavenly work.
    2. That of the gifts of the Spirit in the last days which includes both men and women.

    While it should be recognized that individuals who are called to hold church office should also exhibit the gifts of the Spirit, the existence of those same gifts in an individual is not automatically a call to office in the church. Was this a cultural issue? Not so: as was the Aaronic priesthood a representation of Christ to come. Only the sons of Aaron were specified by God to that office – a stipulation verified by the uprising of Korah, Dathan and Abirim. Remember that their dispute was over the question of why that office was restricted to only the sons of Aaron. The question was answered by the earth consuming those three and all that was associated with them.

    In the New Testament, Jesus appointed twelve men who were to be the leaders in the church whom he specifically trained. There is an order of precedence given here in the Bible that the church leadership is an office of representation that is only fulfilled by men who are called by God for that purpose. The church leadership is representative of Jesus over the church now as stated in Ephesians 5:22-24. This compares with that of the man being made the leader of the household in Genesis, which is also confirmed in several of the Testimonies to the Church where the situation was not the case in some families (1T, ch 119 “The Husband’s Position”). Many followed Jesus as “disciples” all of whom He instructed to make “disciples” of all men – including women. Again, this action is not related to one of holding church office. For this, only men were designated. This case of leadership in the church is outlined specifically by Paul in his definitions for church leadership in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1:5 through Titus 2. Each of the levels of church office in those of deacons and elders (Acts 16:4), with the apostles as designated church leadership, does not include any women.

    It is equally clear that the gifts of the Spirit are given to all, both men and women. The use of the word “ministry” and “pastor” has had their meanings conflated with that of church leadership. All church leaders are to be ministers or pastors, but not all ministers or pastors are to be church leaders. I use the terms here as did Mrs. White in the quote from Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 322. “It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God.” This statement does not imply church office leadership positions. All are called to ministry, but not all should be in church leadership. Because of this conflation of gifts and office, it has been a mistake to ordain women to the office of church leadership, in order to recognize God’s calling them to the ministry work. This calling to ministry and church office doesn’t equate to any secular office in education or business which is quite out of the Biblical leadership definitions for the church organization. In that respect all are considered equal according to ability.

    Too much meaning is read into Paul’s writings when he addresses the churches in his letters and mentions specific individuals in a manner which is thought by some to mean they were church organization leaders. There were many leaders in the church but only specific church leaders holding office. All work to the glory of God, but not all hold church office.

    To the church leadership at all levels, the question of the ordination of women is based on this conflation of the gifts of the Spirit and the clear calling for church office leadership. We cannot deny when God calls any individual and blesses that person’s work to labor in the vineyard. But the Bible is also equally clear on who can hold church office. The issue here is one of who can preach, and is hired to do so and work in ministry, that is not also one being required to hold office as church pastor. Resolve the issue of “office holding”, separating it from “all being called to ministry”, and you will find the harmony that exists within the stated will of God in the Bible and the writings of Ellen White.

    It is Satan’s objective to combine and confuse these issues, build on a cultural idea of false equality in office holding, and perhaps some elements associated with the church office of pastor. Correct the inequality of pay issues long denounced by God through the Testimonies and also clearly delineate the work of ministry vs that of church pastor and higher levels of office as defined by the Bible. Then there will be no more confusion around office holding and the Gifts of the Spirit.

    Bob Curtice, member at Central Church, Sacramento California

    • Stephen Ferguson

      Yes, I think we confuse the notion of spiritual leadership (apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and pastors) with appointed leadership (elders and deacons). Spiritual leaders are chosen by God alone according to spiritual gifts. It is only the appointed leader who are subject to the various selection criteria of only having 1 wife and obedient children.

      I am more than happy for the SDA Church to say appointed leaders must strictly be the husbands of 1 wife with obedient children (although I doubt many SDA leaders, even in the GC, could satisfy having obedient children still in the Church).

      However, there is no power for human beings to select spiritual leaders – the Holy Spirit chooses them. Whilst celibate Paul and young Timothy were ministers, they were not elders, because they would not have satisfied Paul’s own stated criteria!

  • Mark

    To base an entire doctrine on a single quote is dangerous. If Sister White wished to make this matter known, she would have done it far more prominently and clearly than speaking of it in passing in an obscure quote. If this is the best quote that this new doctrine has to base itself on, then it is a weak foundation indeed. Common sense overwhelmingly tells that Sister Ellen did not mean for those words to mean that women should be ordained ministers, but rather gospel workers in the general sense. Sister White warned of this, that many would gather and string together passages from Scripture and from the Testimonies to support their own erroneous ideas.

    How much we have put Christ to an open shame. How many souls will be led away, saying, “These people profess to be the peculiar, holy people of God. Yet they cannot with dignity and respect agree on simple points of doctrine. They are just as stiffnecked as the children of Israel. They quarrel and fight and bicker amongst themselves. These are not the people of God waiting for Christ’s return.” How many will reject the solemn truth of the three angels’ messages because we have not the evidence that we are living it? What a fearful thing it is to think that we have caused the eternal ruin of souls over matters of doctrine non-essential to salvation? We will have to give an account in the day of judgment.

    But when, in a General Conference, the judgment of the brethren assembled from all parts of the field is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be stubbornly maintained, but surrendered. (Testimonies Vol. 9, 260–261, 1909)

    It cannot be expressed or made any clearer, even if Sister White herself spoke this at the constituency meeting.

    There will also be an omega apostasy, and The Shaking among God’s people, and I believe we are already in that time. We should not be surprised in the least bit, but as the Captain of this ship commands us, with every iceberg, we should “Meet it!” That ship in that dream Sister White had suffered great damage, but it did not sink, and it went safely into port. Let us meet this iceberg with Christian warmness, tact, love, and grace. Let us not forget the most important focus of our lives: the saving of lost souls.

  • Luther

    The entire women’s ordination movement is just the latest round of the Jesuit Counter-reformation. This is part of the Vatican II council’s ecumenical agenda of bringing all churches under her yoke by reducing all the differences between the churches as much as possible. They know it will weaken the church, and the family, and they know it is against the gender roles as outlined in Genesis post-fall. It will also cause doubt in the minds of the people as to the authority and integrity of the Holy Bible, which is the Society’s A#1 enemy, by introducing females where the Bible specifically calls for males in leadership roles.

    This movement is a Catholic ecumenical attack on our Biblical understanding and patriarchal mores, which are the foundation of our society. Our leadership is rife with Roman infiltrators….I’ve been to Andrews, and let me tell you, that placed is SWARMING with Jesuit, Dominican, and Maryknowler professors and workers. The Biblical Research Institute should not be listened to at all, as they have rejected much of our Millerite understanding of Bible prophesy. Our leaders should not be listened to, as they have been disqualified from leading the flock because of their training in the seminaries of our day. John the Baptist, Jesus, and William Miller all would have been disqualified from the work if they had gone to the accredited institutions of their day, SO DON’T TRUST THE LEADERSHIP.

    Many make the case that the issue of WO has been approved by the church four or so times in our history. But Ellen White, on returning from Australia around 1902 I think, made the comment that the state of the church leadership was so fallen and infiltrated by that time that it was unrecognizable, and it has been in a lost condition ever since.

    Watching these videos of the North American Division meeting on WO makes me SICK. The ridiculous arguments they use….I would bet 100 push-ups that most, if not all of them, are papal agents.

    WO really is a movement of Cultural Marxism as well. Listen to how the women, who are spurred on by Catholic Blue Army agents, claim to be victims of a sexist church, perfectly following the game plan of the cultural Marxist revolution against Christianity. It is an attack on patriarchy, the idea of gender roles in the home, and that the man is the leader of the household, the house-band. They need to undo all that Protestantism and republicanism (not the party) has done, and so, confuse the genders, introduce feminism, and sell it as women’s equality, women’s liberation, all the time enslaving them, making them part of the tax base so they could collect more money, forcing the families to give their children to government or Jesuit run schools, driving down men’s salaries so that now both parents had to work. Of course they would try to do it in the church. Next will be homosexuals.

    I’m reminded of the prophetic verse, maybe someone can post it, where it predicts a time where women and children rule over us. Shameful. This truly is the last generation, and this movement is truly not borne out of new revelations from the Spirit of God. Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear can sense that.