Is Pastoring a Spiritual Gift? If So, Can Women Have That Gift, Title?

by Brandon Sutton

I agree with Solomon. There is nothing new under the sun. Challenges to biblical authority and traditional interpretations to Scripture are never new, just carefully repackaged.

This particular argument, however, did catch me by surprise. And to be honest, I am impressed by its creativity and persuasiveness.

The text in question is Ephesians 4:11-12. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” The question is a good one. Are these offices or spiritual gifts? If they are spiritual gifts, can women have the gift of pastoring? If so, would it be appropriate for women to hold the title of pastor?

I do see the logic. If pastoring is a spiritual gift and not an office, and women are endowed with this specific spiritual gift, then it may be deemed prudent for churches to give such women the title of pastor if for nothing else than to recognize their God-given gifts and identify them to the congregation as one set apart for ministry.


Let’s put this argument to the test. Does Ephesians 4:11 teach us that pastoring is a spiritual gift? If it does, the argument articulated above may hold sway. But if the text is featuring not spiritual gifts but gifted people, the argument falls apart before it can be made.

The chapter begins with an apostolic plea “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). Part of our worthy walk includes demonstrating an eagerness to maintain church unity (V.3). Oneness characterizes the body of Christ (V.4-6). But, even though we’re one, “grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift” (V.7). Though the church is one unified body, each individual member has been given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

This brings us to our first question: what does Paul mean by “Christ’s gift” in verse 7? Is Paul referring to spiritual gifts like he does in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28; thus, making a distinction from verse 11? Or are the gifts in verse 7 what He gives in verse 11; namely, the “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers”?

v7-8: But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

v11-12: And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

My conclusion is that the gifts referenced in verse 7 are not the same gifts He gives in verse 11. The gifts in verse 7 are synonymous with the spiritual gifts outlined in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and 1 Peter 4. What Christ gives in verse 11 are not abstract spiritual gifts, but gifted leaders to serve the church. In other words, the gifts in verse 7 are spiritual abilities given to people (such as service, hospitality, mercy, etc.) and the gifts in verse 11 are actual people.

Here’s why I came to that conclusion.

  1. Paul’s use of the word charis (χάρις) in verse 7. In Ephesians 4:1-6, Paul is speaking about church unity, but then makes a shift to discuss diversity among unity by highlighting the grace (charis) given to individual members. This grace (charis) is “according to Christ’s gift.” The word charis is used in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 to describe the various gifts given to church members from the Holy Spirit. So, in Ephesians 4:7, it’s almost as if Paul is saying we have received a “gift of grace” or a grace-gift. That alone indicates Paul is speaking of spiritual gifts in Ephesians 4:7. To bolster this point, consider what NT scholar Douglas Mangum says. “Paul uses the term “grace” to describe these gifts, but this is not salvific grace, as in 2:5–8; rather, it is related to spiritual living, as in 3:7–8. Each believer is given this grace, but it is given in various ways/degrees.” Furthermore, the way he speaks about unity and diversity compliments his teachings on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. There he says we have been given an individual gift to build up the body of Christ (12:7).  It's the same kind of thinking and word usage employed in Ephesians 4:7.
  2. Paul distinguishes between gifts and the ones gifted. Paul grounds verse 7 in verse 8 by quoting Psalm 68:18. “Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” The point to be made here is that when Christ ascended, He gave spiritual gifts to individual men and women (anthropoi in verse 8 could mean both men and women). Meaning, the spiritual gifts He gives are distinct from the people He gives the gifts to. Why does this matter? It matters because in verse 11, Christ is not giving distinct, abstract gifts to people. The people themselves are the gifts.
  3. Paul’s use of the word “And” (Kai, καὶ). In verse 11, Paul makes a shift in his thinking. He pivots from talking about the gifts Christ gives to men in His ascension to the gifted leaders he gives to build up the body of Christ. These are distinct gifts. They aren’t the same thing as verse 7. We know this because Paul says, “And, he gave apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers.” The important thing to note is that “and” (kai) functions to show that something related but different is being introduced. For example, Matthew 17:12 says, “But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and (kai) they did not recognize him.” Elijah came (first thought) and they did not recognize him (second thought that is related but distinct). Of the nearly 9000 times the term is used in the New Testament, this is how it functions. What’s the point? The point is that verse 7 talks about gifts given to people and verse 11 talks about gifted people given to the church.

*(Douglas Mangum, ed., Lexham Context Commentary: New Testament, Lexham Context Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), Eph 4:7–16.)

My conclusion, then, is that Paul makes a distinction in the gifts given to men in Ephesians 4:7 and the men given as gifts in Ephesians 4:11. Though they are both gifts given by Christ to the church, they are different. Again, the former refers to the abstract gifts given to people while the latter refers to the actual people given as gifts to the church. Therefore, pastoring is not a spiritual gift; rather pastors are gifts given to the church.

To illustrate this point: imagine grandma comes to your house for Christmas. With her, she brings all the food and dozens of gifts for the children. Grandma gives gifts to you and the members of your family. And because you are grateful for her, at the end of night, you stand up and tell everyone how much of a gift grandma has been to your family. Grandma gave gifts to the kids just as Christ gave spiritual gifts to his followers (V.7). At the same time, grandma is a gift herself to the family just as the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers are gifts to the church.


Having established that the titles in Ephesians 4:11 are actual people and not merely abstract spiritual gifts, we can begin to clarify even further who God calls to fulfill these roles.

The principles found in 1st Timothy 2:12-13 provide the clearest parameters for women in leadership. I will not go into great detail in this article (I did that in this article) but the basic argument is this: Pastors are required to teach with authority (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:9). Women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men (1 Tim. 2:12). This has nothing to do with cultural issues but is rooted in God’s creation design (1 Tim. 2:13). Therefore, a woman cannot teach or exercise authority over men; therefore, she is not qualified to be a pastor. This does not mean she cannot teach in some circumstances or be an evangelist. She most certainly can and should! But her giftings must operate with the God-given confines of Scripture.

We should search the scriptures to ground our understanding of doctrine. Yet, as we see in a line from a famous hymn, “God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.” (God Moves in a Mysterious Way, Cowper) We must interpret scripture with scripture. When we’re tempted to reinterpret verses based on opinions we bring to them, we should remember that the clarity of God’s Word must always win. 1 Timothy 2:12-13 is that clarity for the question of women serving in the role of pastor, no matter how some may seek to reinterpret Ephesians 4:11.

Here are links to two previous articles on the question of Can Women Be Pastors?
Does The Bible Allow Women To Be Pastors?
Does The Bible Allow Women To Be Pastors? Answers to Common Objections

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Brandon is the Associate Pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN and leads the Recovery & Redemption ministry for the church. Brandon is married to Sherrie and has a daugher, Emma.


  • Cultural Christianity,  Gender roles,  The Bible (or “Scripture”),  The Church