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]).