LCMS Guidelines on Women Leadership Complete

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) released guidelines on women leadership within the conservative denomination. The guidelines, prepared by a special task force, will be included in an appendix to a decade-old report on the “Service of Women in Congregational and Synodical Offices” and will be mailed to individual congregations for review.

The LCMS, a conservative evangelical denomination with over 2 million members, prohibits the ordination of women. The 1994 report, penned by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, specifies that women cannot lead a congregation spiritually. Specifically, the report limits both the pastor and elder position to men on the basis that both those positions are divinely inspired.

Elders historically "work closely with the pastor in his divinely assigned responsibility to feed the whole congregation with the Word of God and to watch over it for the sake of its spiritual welfare." In such situations, the report says, "women may not serve in this office."

In regards to “humanly established offices,” the new appendix says women can lead them as long as those positions to not require “public exercise of the ministry of Word and sacraments.”

The new addition was made in response to questions from the Minnesota South District regarding women serving as executive director, president, assistant director, or vice president congregation.

"Scripture does not prohibit women who possess the requisite gifts from holding these humanly established offices, assuming that the occupants of these offices do not 'perform those functions that are distinctive to the public exercise of the ministry of Word and sacraments,'" the CTCR responded to Minnesota South's questions.

According to Samuel H. Nafzger, the CTCR Executive Director, the commission decided to append the 1994 report at the request of the LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick. Both the 1994 report and the appendix will be published in the form of a booklet, and will be mailed in early January to help congregations implement a 2004 LCMS convention resolution on women.

The guidelines include a sample paragraph for the constitutions of individual LCMS congregations that might want a section on women in church offices. The sample paragraph suggests the following wording:

"Women who have reached the age of _____ may serve as officers and as members of all boards and committees of this congregation which do not call upon them to carry out the specific functions of the pastoral office (preaching in or serving as the leader of the public worship service, the public administration of the sacraments, the public exercise of church discipline). Accordingly, a woman shall not serve as pastor of this congregation or as ______."

The age in the first blank slot can vary by congregation, but must be at least the minimum age required by state laws for non-profit organizations. The second blank gives the congregation the power to list any office that is divinely inspired or holds "specific functions of the pastoral office as listed in this sample paragraph."

Despite the leeway offered by the blank slots, Nafzger said the guidelines “simply pull together what the Synod already said about the service of women,” according to the LCMS news service.

Current LCMS policy dictates that the term “elder” be reserved for the congregational office assigned to assisting the pastor “in the public exercise of the distinctive functions" of the pastoral office; in this case, women are not allowed to serve as elders.

The policy also states that “to avoid confusion regarding the office of the public ministry and to avoid giving offense to the church," only lay men assist in distributing the elements in the Lord's Supper, and that while women leadership may be desirable, "men be encouraged to continue to exercise leadership in their congregations even as they are encouraged to exercise their God-given leadership in a God-pleasing manner in their homes."