How to pastor women (without making them uncomfortable)
In the #MeToo Era, many pastors live as though God will not hold them accountable for the souls of women in their church.
There are commonly two extreme—and opposite—answers to this question. The first is a pastor who carelessly sees his role to pastor women as no different than men. This pastor thinks the same blunt conversations he has with men in the church can take place with women. This mentality has led to many pastors, including several I have personally known, to lose their marriages and ministries because they foolishly placed themselves in compromising positions with women in their church—in the name of caring for them.
There is, however, another side that is a growing, particularly among younger pastors. It’s the pastor who so fears the foolishness of the first extreme that he completely neglects the pastoral care of women in general in his church. Motivated largely by fear, some pastors deceive themselves in the name of being “above reproach,” God will not still hold them accountable for the souls of female members entrusted to their care.
Because of these two extremes, the first thing to establish is a need for a wise balance. Wise, thoughtful, discerning, and balanced parameters need to be at the heart of every pastor’s approach. Here are four suggestions I have found helpful over the years in avoiding these extremes as I try to care for women in my own church:
1. The “Old enough to be your grandmother” rule
I feel a freedom to visit an elderly widow in her home or the hospital alone if there is a sizable gap in age versus going to visit a needy, recently divorced woman around my age, which I never do alone! It’s wise not to compromise this rule. Remember, the rule is “grandmother” not “mother.”
2. Copy the woman’s husband and your wife in emails
I think it’s perfectly acceptable to communicate through email with women in the church. Many email exchanges are solely administration issues (“Would you please put our women’s event in the bulletin?”-type emails).
However, if you intend to send any email to a woman in the church or receive one that involves anything personal in nature, your wife and the woman’s husband can be copied on it. It can be in the (cc) section so all corresponding can see the spouse’s involvement. There are certain private counseling matters that would prevent someone else being copied in on email, but this is a good practice in general. This may seem tedious, but can be helpful accountability where appropriate.
3. Counsel with the woman’s husband or someone else present
I never counsel a woman alone. I know, that sounds extreme to some of you. Even if there is glass between us and the church secretary, I will not meet alone with another woman. I will, however, counsel a woman with her husband present. This practice can bear good fruit as the husband learns to better care for his wife as he sits and listens. Besides, many times the husband is part of the problem! I’ve learned that in my own marriage.
I’ve also learned this: sometimes a wife is not comfortable sharing some things with her husband in the room, which is why another woman or even another trusted pastor can be that extra person in the room. This becomes essential for marriage struggles where a husband is controlling and domineering and a wife is afraid to share openly. If I’m trying to care for a single lady, my wife is the preferred choice of counseling companion, but I’m open to allowing another leader or trusted friend of the single lady to be present. I’m flexible, but will not counsel alone.
4. Pass off long-term discipleship and counseling to other capable women
Pastors need to deal with pastoral matters with everyone in the church. However, long-term issues that will require years of care and discipleship should eventually be handed to mature, godly, and capable women in the church who will report to the pastors on their progress, which still allows some kind of pastoral oversight and soul care.
These four lessons have helped me to shepherd the women in my church. However you do it, be wise, but don’t neglect to care for this critical sector of the body of Christ.