Christian and Missionary Alliance Considers Giving Women the Title of ‘Pastor’

Jennifer Ashby preaches and teaches regularly at Neighborhood Church in Rockville, Maryland. She baptizes people, disciples them, marries them, buries them, and counsels them in times of crisis.

But one thing she won’t do, as executive director of ministries at the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) congregation, is call herself “pastor.”

The CMA consecrates and licenses women for ministry but does not permit them to use the title “pastor.” The term is restricted to men who can be elders, even though not all pastors are elders in CMA churches and not all elders are ordained pastors.

The title is just a title, admits Ashby, who is also one of three women on the CMA board of directors, but not having a title can complicate pastoral ministry.

“Because certain words are off-limits, you end up doing verbal gymnastics,” she said. “Without the commonly understood language around what I do, people don’t understand how I can help them. That’s one of the big functional implications of this policy. People come to the church and say ‘I would like to speak to a pastor,’ and it’s not clear to them that an executive director of ministries can help them.”

The CMA is considering changing the title restrictions at the denomination’s annual General Council meeting, scheduled for both Nashville and online at the end of May. Though no decision will be made this year, the Alliance will talk about allowing women to be called pastors in the future.

“It’s become clear to me that some of our policies unnecessarily restrict otherwise called and qualified ministers,” CMA president John Stumbo said in an official announcement. “This grieves me. … I believe we’ve been inconsistent in our documents and inappropriate in some of our policies. Any place we find that our policies limit people from ministry beyond any limit given by the Scriptures, are we not in error?”

The proposed policy change would still restrict eldership in Alliance churches to men. Senior pastors, who are always elders, would also be men. The elders in individual congregations are responsible for deciding who serves in the church, and could decide to prevent women from preaching, presiding over Lord’s Table, or leading the church in other ways. However, official CMA policy would allow women to hold “key places of leadership in the Alliance at the local church, district, and national levels” and call themselves pastors at the same time.

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Source: Christianity Today