Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason K. Allen, a Southern Baptist and a professor of preaching and pastoral ministry, declared in an interview with The Christian Post that the Bible does not support that model of church leadership, but there are many precedents set in Scripture where pastors' wives—and women in general—can serve the Lord and the Body.
“You typically see that co-pastor set-up in more charismatic churches. In the SBC, you really never see the co-pastor setup when the co-pastor means that the wife would be preaching as well as exercising some sort of leadership, directional authority with the congregation."
Pastor’s wives, Allen said, are more likely to be functioning as an extension of the pastor’s work in areas such as hospital visits, discipling women and working as counselors.
The SBC is America's largest Protestant denomination, encompassing more than 45,000 churches. The Baptist Faith And Message, the denom's statement of faith, refers to the office of the pastor or the lead elder “being reserved to qualified men only.”
“It’s not a point that any man is qualified and any woman is not qualified to be a pastor, rather the Apostle Paul, goes to great lengths, spelling out the qualifications not just being a man but a one-woman man," Allen explains. "Not just being a man who’s only been married one time but a man whose heart and life is devoted only to his wife. There’s a whole list of character qualifications there."
“If you were to ask me in short why the Southern Baptists do not have husband and wife co-pastors, it’s because the Southern Baptists believe (according to Scripture) that the office of the pastor, of a senior pastor, of an elder is reserved for qualified men only,” he said.
“I would say churches that do that are taking a step beyond what Scripture permits, what Scripture calls us to," Allen concluded, "and they’re choosing to operate in a way that is contrary to I Timothy 3."
As for churches who utilize and defend the co-pastor model of leadership, they say that the insistence upon male-only pastors and elders comes from a misplaced commitment to biblical literalism and cultural norms that are irrelevant to modern Christians.
“The Southern Baptists read the Bible literally, and it has commandments but it’s not a rule book. It’s a book of faith and there are many stories of women, who have had the faith and followed Jesus, and have ministered to others,” said Pastor Marty Anderson, who has served as co-pastor of Commonwealth Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia alongside his wife, Robin, for the last seven years.
“Even Jesus’ whole ministry was really financed with women... I’ve always looked at the Bible as where there is timeless information then there is timed constructed information… and a lot of that is cultural."
Allen was quick to rebut the arguments of progressive denominations, arguing that they are not looking toward the New Testament for their convictions and that the belittling of any Scriptural commands as “a first-century cultural expectation” is dangerous and shortsighted.
"Paul himself roots his argument not in the first century but in the creative order of Genesis 1 and 2. That’s where Paul takes his argument in I Timothy 2. He takes it back to Genesis and to the creative order," Allen explained. "People often misunderstand what evangelicals, Southern Baptists do and practice. Sometimes that leads to stereotypes and caricatures."
The idea that theological conservatives and denominations like the SBC subjugate women is a trope and a strawman, Allen continues, explaining that a woman in his denomination has myriad avenues available for serving God and the church—all of which either explicitly biblical or not explicitly prohibited by the Bible.
“The Bible believes in honoring women. The Southern Baptist Convention believes in honoring women. We have women in a whole host of roles. I’m president of a seminary. A significant portion of our student body is female," Allen said, noting that about 1/3 of the Midwestern student body is female.
While Allen says the school obviously cannot mandate what its students do after graduation, he explains that its female students are made plainly aware of what to expect in ministry within the denom:
“We’d be doing a disservice to our students if we said ‘come study, spend a bunch of money on your degree and be ready to pastor a church when you graduate.’ We’d be misrepresenting to our female students what they should expect after graduation."
His seminary's female students are "preparing for positions in ministry," especially in missions and counseling programs, Allen continued, "but that step to be elder or to be pastor or co-pastor" is not something he supports.