Chinese Church Issues: Women as Pastors

One of the statistics on my Chinese religious demographics wish-list (have to make that another post someday) is the gender ratio among pastors in China. I would be surprised if the proportion of women pastors isn’t one of the highest of any country in the world. Chinese churches, both underground and government-sponsored alike, by and large have no qualms about putting women in a position of authoritative church leadership, whether preaching or otherwise.

As with the bloody meat, it is hardly necessary for me to discuss the related biblical texts. I would just like to mention some thoughts related to this issue, how Chinese churches look at it, and its results.

Good-Enough-for-Them Ministry Philosophy

More surprising to me than the Chinese churches’ embrace of female leadership is the frequency of foreign laborers adopting a similar attitude. It is amazing how someone can be solidly against a female preaching in their own country, get on an airplane, land in China and cooperate with a church led by a female pastor without batting an eye! I’m not sure if it’s desperation to make contacts of any kind in China, or just a supposition that all Chinese churches are just like that. But either way, this double standard implies that it is not as important for Chinese people to do things in a biblical way. And the double standard reaches further than this issue. Pastors and missionaries often end up supporting something in China they wouldn’t be comfortable with at home!

Good-Enough-for-Us Ministry Philosophy

Now we turn to the Chinese believers’ take on things. Probably the most common response to the issue is: ‘well, male leadership would probably be ideal, but in China we can’t get enough men to be pastors.’ First, this reveals a dangerous attitude toward the authority of Scripture that needs to be addressed. Chinese pastors-in-training need to be told that their culture is not a trump card to be pulled whenever God’s instructions seem daunting. Second, this thinking shows a tragic lack of faith in God’s empowering man to fulfill his commands. No society naturally produces ‘faithful men able to teach others also.’ They are forged by the work of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the Word. Sometimes you as a foreigner have to repeat people’s words back to them to let them hear what it really means! If I said China can’t get enough men to be pastors, people would call me a racist.

Ignoring More than Interpreting

I’ve found this issue to be defended in a much different way than the eating blood thing. In many other contexts, when teachers wish to affirm the place of women in church leadership, they usually address the relevant Scriptures and do their best to offer an alternative explanation to their most obvious sense. But I have found that many Chinese believers have simply not even considered what the passages mean! You ask them what they think about the text and they just look at you blankly! Obviously, this is not an ideal response to Scripture’s instruction! But what an opportunity to teach Chinese believers to jump in and wrestle with the meaning of texts that rub us the wrong way! Conversely, how dangerous to let such an attitude go unaddressed!

Clichés More than Reasons

One of the most influential pastors in the Chinese-speaking world, while normally a refreshingly stubborn theologian, has put his opinion on the issue in words something like this: “I’ve just seen so many women greatly used of God in preaching roles that I wouldn’t be comfortable saying that they can’t be pastors.” But (as he would insist on many other issues) ‘what God is blessing’ is not a sufficient basis for our ministry decisions. First of all, we’re often measuring the wrong thing. Second, we don’t how God would bless if we were submissive to his instruction. Last, we’ve all seen ‘blessings’ come upon men and ministries that later proved to be in deep error. Haven’t homosexuals been blessed in preaching the Word? Haven’t men sleeping with their secretaries been blessed? The Word is always blessed – regardless of whether or not the instrument is approved by God. So trite truisms about the blessing of God are unconvincing. Clichés belong in high school yearbooks, not in our church’s doctrinal statements.

The Vicious Cycle

What does giving in to the regular list of excuses result in? Well, who wants to go to a church where women are in leadership? Women, for the most part. Chinese churches are overwhelmingly female. And then you’re back to the old ‘not-enough-men-to-be-pastors-in-China’ mess. No sense debating about what came first, the chicken or the egg – they both fit in the wok! So why not fry both?

And there are missionaries and churches that are insisting on following the Bible’s instructions. That would rather leave a position open and let the Chinese men feel the pressure than to do things in a way forbidden in Scripture. And the results of their efforts are proving that God can indeed raise up Chinese men to preach his Word!

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24 Comments on “Chinese Church Issues: Women as Pastors”

  1. Joseph November 10, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    I researched the issue of Female pastors in China for my thesis. The exact percentage is difficult to pin down (as with most Chinese church statistics); however, the overall acceptance of the practice has been surveyed.

    Peng Yaqian reports, “In May 1995, a questionnaire sent out by the Commission on Women’s Work found that 90% of the respondents felt that there was still a failure to give women their due in the Church, while 94% felt that ‘male and female pastors should be treated equally and without discrimination.’ Only 3.4% felt that ‘a female pastor can take over only in the event that no male pastor is available.’ While 93.5% felt that Paul’s statement ‘I permit no woman to teach’ was simply a response to the situation prevailing in the Corinthian church of his day, only .03% felt the passage should he taken literally” (“The Feminist Awakening Among Chinese Christian Women,” CTR 11 [1996]: 57).

    There is also a well-studied gender imbalance in the Chinese church. This imbalance has been estimated to be as high as a four-to-one ratio. However, more conservative estimates place the figure as closer to a three-to-one ratio. This combined with several considerable cultural forces pushing women’s liberation make the high percentage of female pastors understandable, yet no less disturbing.

    • Michael Chen May 20, 2015 at 5:24 am #

      Joseph, I’m currently in the middle of researching a similar paper. Do you mind sending me some of the resources you’ve found in regards to women in the Chinese church and especially, women in leadership positions? I would appreciate it so much!


    • senormichaelchen May 20, 2015 at 5:40 am #

      I am currently during a research paper on female pastors/women in leadership in China and would love to see some of the statistics you found. Are there any other resources you could point me too as well that you found particularly helpful?

      Thanks so much!


  2. Li Bo November 11, 2011 at 1:18 am #

    Or it could be that, being free from the Western bias in interpretation, Chinese read the scriptures in a way that sees no problem with female pastors. It’s not as though the American Evangelical interpretation of the Bible is the only correct understanding.

    Seriously, do you really know anything first-hand about China?

    • Vengador November 23, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

      Ha – thanks for the feedback, Li Bo! We’ve all heard about the glories of being free from Western biases. Nothing wrong there, I’m sure. But this isn’t really a cultural thing- the female pastor position is advocated by a sizable portion of American Evangelicals! But as I mentioned in the post, the female pastor position is generally NOT being supported with ANY kind of interpretation! A glance at the stats provided by Joseph above reinforce this. Only .03% of respondents think Paul’s prohibition should be taken literally? This does not point to being ‘free of Western bias’ – rather it points to being subject to a completely different bias. One I hope you’re equally upset about!

      I’m sure I don’t know near as much as I should about China – but the things mentioned in this post at least are from experience here in Northeast China.

    • Joseph November 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

      Li Bo, a couple of things. First, the Chinese church is hardly isolated from western influences. As much as Americans like to think of the Chinese church as some sort of noble savage, there is a considerable amount of interaction with western Christianity. Just about every Christian group I can think of that works in China tries to paint the Chinese church as being mostly in agreement with them. People like to think that anyone apart from any other influence would come to their own theological position. Second, both China and the USA have cultural influences that weigh in heavily on both sides of the gender debate. Theology is never done in a vacuum.

      btw my wife is Chinese and we minister in China.

      • Li Bo November 25, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

        Joseph, I know you meant well so I won’t take offense at the comment that Americans think of Chinese Christians as “noble savages.” I would be the last person on earth to make that assumption. I have fellowshipped for years with Chinese Christians in the heartland of China and the one thing I can say for certain is that the greatest damage done to the church here comes from well-meaning fundamentalists from the West who continue to come and try to “help” the church here. The foisting of dogma (such as that women should not be allowed to preach or hold office, a doctrine which could only be gleaned from the scriptures if one approaches the texts with androcentric assumptions) is bad enough; it is cultural imperialism at its finest. Even worse still are Westerners–Americans, primarily–who, lured by the thrill of “dangerous” evangelism, plant house churches and create underground seminaries. These deplorable actions not only perpetuate in the minds of the Chinese that, to be a Christian, one must break the law; but also validates the idea in the minds of the Chinese authorities that Christianity is a tool of Western interlopers. The blame for the hostility that continues to exist between Chinese churches and the government falls squarely on the shoulders of such American Christian adventure seekers. I know not a few Chinese Christians–and church leaders–who wish such Westerners would just stay away.

      • Vengador November 27, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

        Hey LiBo – Thanks for bringing your perspective to the table. It is one that I think I am coming to appreciate more, though I obviously have a couple differing opinions. I’m going to try to write a couple entries on some of the ideas you mention here and I hope you’ll come back around and comment on them to help me clarify!

        That said, I think you may have overstated your case. For example, ‘foisting dogma’ may be cultural imperialism, but it is hardly ‘cultural imperialism at its finest.’ Really? At its finest? There’s no better example of cultural imperialism? It might by a certain phrasing be shown to be a kind of cultural imperialism, but certainly not cultural imperialism by definition! As for the source of continued hostility between government and church, I would be interested in learning how you know that the blame lies squarely on underground church planters. And as much as I agree with you about the fear-mongering that missionaries can perpetuate, I’m not ready to write all underground church planters off as ‘adventure seekers’. (I’d chuck a bunch of short-termers in there, first! Church-planters are normally here long-term, and the adventure is over after about a year!)

        Again, are ‘androcentric assumptions’ really the only way to arrive at such a doctrine? Huge portions of American Evangelicalism have arrived at just such a conclusion. As I’m sure you wouldn’t want them writing off your interpretation to feminist assumptions, couldn’t you concede that there are some conscientious interpreters of Scripture that, after diligent study, conclude that you’re wrong?

        I agree that there is a kind of house church that gives Chinese people that impression: that you must break the law to be a Christian. But obviously most people in house churches have no such thought, nor do most outsiders.

        It is apparent that the missions model you subscribe to is full cooperation with the state-sponsored churches. Like I said, I think I’m getting it more and more. But I’ll try to write some more, and please let me know where I’m wrong! Thanks again!

      • Joseph November 29, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

        I would like to clarify that by “noble savage.” I was referring to the literary concept of an idealized person, who symbolizes the innate goodness of one not exposed to corrupting influences. Please don’t read this as “uncivilized” or “primitive.”

  3. bart November 11, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    You are assuming that the Bible is against female church leadership. In light of China’s case, even for those that had firmly believed in the above, one should re-examine the biblical interpretation again.

    • Vengador November 23, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

      Bart – yes, I am assuming that for this post. The post is not meant to be an examination of the biblical texts. I can certainly understand that you would not agree with the rest of my observations if you differ in your reading of the passages. Basically this post is for those who turned down the same road I did way back there. And for the record, it’s a little presumptuous to assume that someone else hasn’t ‘re-exmained’ their biblical interpretation. I’m sure you have examined the Scriptures and have come to a different conclusion than I have. But try to believe that I examined them, too! Thanks for the feedback…

    • SNinja January 9, 2015 at 12:02 am #

      God is constantly drawing people to himself despite working with incompetent sinful man. Just because He’s doing this, doesn’t mean HE automatically approves of everything that is being done. He’s just working through it despite of the sin, if he couldn’t do this, no one would believe because all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.

  4. Joseph November 18, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    Oh, I forgot to mention. The percentage of female pastors in the house church networks is unknown. The percentage in the TSPM is right about 30% and growing. Women currently comprise over fifty percent of the combined student bodies at the various TSPM seminaries.

    • Vengador November 23, 2011 at 10:11 pm #

      Hey Joseph, thanks for the input – I would love to read anything that you have written on the Chinese church – on this and any other issue! It’s always great to hear real numbers on these things instead of people’s guesses! Thanks again!

      • Joseph November 29, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

        Send me an email, and I’ll forward you some stuff.

    • senormichaelchen May 20, 2015 at 5:50 am #


      Would love to see some numbers and research that has been collected in regards to this topic. Thanks so much!


  5. Yi Zhang March 13, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    I am a chinese believer and I have visited chinese churches in China. Whoever wrote this post should stay in china for a while and then comment on this situation. Just the things you wrote here they don’t sound spiritual to me.

    • Vengador March 26, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

      Yi Zhang
      Thanks for your comment.
      That’s wonderful that you have visited Chinese churches.
      But we live in China and start Chinese churches.
      I am sorry that this post doesn’t sound ‘spiritual’ to you.
      I hope nothing has been said in an ungracious way.

    • AChineseBeliever September 18, 2015 at 10:43 am #

      Found some great teaching on this subject from Watchman Nee – you may have different opinions on Nee but you should read and examine it with the Word of God yourself, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!” – Acts 4:19 有关妇女讲道的问答

      1. 问:读第五期问答中,以妇女讲道为不应当。不错,但不知是否因当时会中有未属灵而不守规矩之妇女讲道,保罗才禁之?或无论古今之妇女属灵与否都不可呢?为何主耶稣于现今的时代将他的灵浇灌在许多的妇女身上拣选她们往普天下去传道呢?若无论如何,凡是妇女都不可讲道,敢请问使徒行传二章十七至十八节,二十一章九节何解?(浙江钟)


      2. 问:旧约的时代,人们对于神旨,多不明了;重男轻女之风,间或有之。新约时代,主耶稣已将男女的界限打破,同为神所造,同是神的儿女,没有轩轾之分,使徒保罗在林前十一章五节说,『女人祷告或是讲道要蒙头。』又提前二章十二节说,『我不许女人讲道。』问女人祷告不蒙头是罪么?女人讲道是罪么?现在为甚么女人祷告不蒙头呢?为甚么还有许多女人讲道呢?(河南)

      答:因为人们背叛圣经的教训,随著世界潮流而漂流。亚当是先造,夏娃是后造的,(提前二13,)男人是女人的头,(林前十一3,)女人乃是为著帮助男人造的:(林前十一9,创二18;)这些乃是圣经不易的定理。现今妇女解放运动,乃欲颠倒神所定规的秩序,至为可叹。妇女原有她的地位。压迫、欺侮,乃是圣经所不允许的;然而,变动神所定男女的地位,乃是神所憎恶的。我非因着自己是个男人才如此说话;如果,我今日是个女子,我亦是如此主张。圣经是我们言行的惟一标准,世界的学说,是我们所不愿闻的。女人祷告不蒙头,在会中讲道,是否罪,我们不敢断言。惟有一件事是我们所知道的:这样作,是违反圣经的命令的。『圣经如此,岂不大与世界潮流相反么?』- 圣经那里曾与世界潮流和合过?

      3. 妇女任职

      答:凡圣经所无者,都是人的创作和遗传。晚近的人们,以为今世的进化,和世界潮流所趋,皆以为教会应当有-比圣经-更完美的组织。我是一个愚人 – 和我同愚的亦大有其人- 我不敢 如此说,亦不敢如此想。我听了这种话,会生战抖。妇女为牧师、长老,不过是近今世人悖逆和放纵的一表示而已。可叹!神的话是说,『女人要沉静学道,一味的顺服;我不许女人讲道,也不许她辖管男人,只要沉静。』(提前二11~12。)现今敌基督的灵到处发动,从前所有的规矩范围,都要次第破坏。所谓平等自由者不过是一种名词而已!女人如此,男人何独不然。就是男人,圣书中乃以牧师为一种恩赐,赐给全教会的,(弗四11~12,)今人则以之为一种职分,为单个教会的一种制度;去圣书远了。至于长老,圣书中只言使徒和奉使徒命令者,方有权柄设立;而今则没有使徒,竟有长老!神的教会里,属乎人为者太多了!我们应当多在主前,承认我们的错误,更求主复兴他的儿女。阿们。

      4. 妇女讲道

      问:兹因前读贵报三月分第五期问答妇女讲道,问妇女在会中讲道应当与否。烟台张答圣经以为不应当。不悉张君能详为赐知圣徒保罗时代教会之景况否。并盼先生分心指明;妇女会中讲道究属可否?福闻诸多爱主兄姊,多有论及此问关系紧要,不应登诸报端。因是故有谓贵报不可看者。福素甚爱重,不愿一人因此而灰心。故奉草斗胆直陈,切望 先生在主里见谅是祷。(烟台李)

      答:敝报所有答案都是编者自己答的。问题下所有地名及人姓,乃是指问者的所在地,和姓氏而已。所以三月分第五期的答案,并非张君答的,乃是编者负责答的。我们感谢你写这一封信来,你爱护敝报的心,真愿主祝福你。我们想你已经看过十一期几个对于妇女问题的答案了。所以我们在此就不必多说了。不过,我们愿意趁着这个机会,对我们的阅者表明我们对于一切圣经问题的态度。虽然,我们没有接到别的疑议敝报的信,但是,我们想这样作乃是有益的。我们深深觉得解经乃是一个最重大的责任,所以我们对于解经就不能不取慎重的态度。像妇女在会中讲道这一件事,乃是神许多最好的儿女,所最有不同意见的一点。我们不愿作模棱两可的见解,因为我们相信真理只有一是。我们所相信的,乃是圣经的话,除此之外,人的遗传、意见、和解释,乃是我们所不信任的。无论人责我们为异端、为邪说、为不合圣经,我们都不暇顾,我们只知圣经到底是说甚么。可叹,现在许多的解经,都是改经!许多的解释,都是失解!我们永远不承认,我们是不会错误的 – 如果众人都承认,我们乃是 最后这样承认的一个 – 也许我们的错误比别人更多!
      但是,亲爱的弟兄们哪,我们愿意按着字面来跟从圣经。如果我们错了,我们真是愿意受教;请知道我们错了的人将圣经的教训 – 不是人的见解 – 指明给我们看。我们自知靠不住, 所以才靠圣经。我们既然自知靠不住,所以,(请你们饶恕我们,)我们也不愿意倚靠那一个大名鼎鼎的解经家。基督徒报的解经,我们自认与人遗传的见解,真有许多不同的地方。但是,我们绝对不愿意我们的读者,囫囵吞枣似的跟从了我们。如果这样,则基督徒报停刊了更好。我们只能将我们所知道的真理传扬出来,但是读者千万不要以为基督徒报既然如此说,所以是不会错的。我们很直的对弟兄们说,我们确实的不承认我们是像写圣经者的先知们那样的受默示而书写。我们是会错误的。虽然爱慕基督徒报者现在一天多过一天,然而,知道基督徒报的缺欠者,恐怕没有一人比编者知道得更清楚。主也知道我们的缺点。我们愿意每一个的读者,将我们的信息,与圣经的教训去校对。如果相同,就请你出代价来遵行。如果不同,我们劝你千万应当拒绝。切不要因信任基督徒报,以及编者的缘故而盲从。我们独一的目的,就是领人亲近神活的道,和写的道。如果人能亲近基督和圣经,我们的工作就已得着极大的奖赏了。愿意基督徒报只作浮桥,愿意被忘记而无所得。

  6. Peggy S July 11, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    I know this was written a few years back, but I have a question. You mentioned “bloody meat” and I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Unless you are referring to eating the meat with the blood in it?? I support what you have written here as I am a woman in the USA and believe that God’s word teaches against women pastoring/teaching men. I would like to humbly, as a woman, submit that the American churches are quickly bowing to women pastors. But I believe that God only uses a woman in authority, such as Debra, to bring judgment upon the people.

    • Jake July 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

      Hi Peggy
      Thanks for the comment.
      Meat with the blood in it is exactly what I meant.
      There are a great number of Chinese Christians who think that is very wrong.
      Thanks for giving me the chance to clarify.

  7. China Man November 11, 2013 at 12:04 pm #


    Thanks for your post. I live in China and have had communication with some house churches.

    While for the most part I find their interpretations very straightforward, I have found an interpretation about this particular subject quite disturbing. The leaders of a church I have met with say that in passages like Timothy, Timothy is not actually referring to “men” and “women”, but rather to the strength of one’s faith. Thus, the one with weaker faith is considered a “woman” and the one with stronger faith is considered a “man”.

    This is very clearly, in context, not what the scriptures are talking about.

    Please continue to pray for this situation. Its so heavy on my heart for the Chinese to put men in leadership.

  8. Anders June 20, 2015 at 10:57 pm #

    Yes. And the key, I am sure, is simply beliving His word and then choosing to walk according to it. If God can raise up the dead, then he can raise up some Chinese brothers to lead. But God blesses obedience and obedience isn’t always what seems the most practical.

  9. Jana Ablin September 3, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    Any recommendations for a good Jesus centered church in Nanjing China?

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