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A Pastoral Strategy for Cultivating Complementarity in the Congregation

May 23, 2022
By Todd Chipman

Editor’s note: The following essay appears in the Spring 2022 issue of Eikon.

I have recently completed my twenty-first year as the teaching pastor at the Master’s Community Church. As I look to the next twenty, I want to be more strategic about cultivating complementarity. I am concerned not just for the health of families in my church, though complementarity establishes a framework for that, nor am I concerned only with men and women living according to Scripture’s teaching on gender roles. I am concerned for the place of Scripture in the life of the local church. In 2008, Mark Dever observed that complementarity is a watershed doctrine by which one can see if an individual or organization accommodates Scripture to culture or culture to Scripture.[1] Dever’s observation holds today, evidenced by evangelical feminists like Beth Allison Barr’s recent reluctance to publicly subscribe to the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy when given the opportunity.[2]

Since the founding of CBMW, evangelical feminism has not subsided,[3] and gender confusion in society has exploded. As noted by Kevin DeYoung in Men and Women in the Church,[4] today, as much as ever, those concerned for biblical complementarity need to lead with conviction and clarity. Here, I list six action steps pastors might take as they cultivate a culture of complementarity in the local church.

Stable Church Ministry and Complementarity

First, I call pastors to maintain their posts. In a culture of relational fluidity, the longterm pastorate provides depth to the relational roots necessary for a church to adopt and sustain complementarity despite the cultural pressure to compromise and go with the flow. An “I’m-Still-Here” mentality stabilizes a ministry in many ways — including how a congregation views gender roles and family. I recently visited with a pastor friend who has also been at his church for close to two decades. We walked down memory lane and shook our heads at how much Western culture has changed in such a short time (though, as Carl Trueman notes, the philosophical foundation was being poured already in the mid-eighteenth century).[5] What has not changed is us. Sunday by Sunday, we have consistently held out the Word to our congregations. Our congregations have seen our lives. As a result, we have a platform from which we can expositionally and personally lead our congregations as they endure the hyper-speed shifts of gender norms in our society. Believers facing the onslaught of wrong-made-legal-made-laudable need encouragement and direction from someone they know. The long pastorate can provide stability for weary believers; a three or five year stint will spawn one more change to a life that enjoys precious few pillars.

Complementarity in Genders and Generations

Second, I urge pastors to implement an intergenerational leadership structure in their churches. Having multiple generations of men and women fulfilling their ministries — edifying and being edified — makes complementarity attractive in the eyes of impressionable children and teens. We want younger people to think, “Men and women must have always acted like this in my church.” Youth groups and college ministries sprinkled with smiling sixty-somethings of both genders foreshadow the happy destination that complementarity offers for those walking its narrow pathway.

And this ministry paradigm is rooted in Scripture. Paul exhorts Timothy to set an example of godliness in the church so that, despite Timothy’s youth, he will be respected and positioned to fulfill his ministry in Ephesus (1 Tim 4:11–16). Paul is concerned about how Timothy will lead the various generations of men and women in the church. This is a practical matter. Likely, some elders, deacons, and their wives who were serving in Ephesus (1 Tim 3:1–13) were older than Timothy. Paul thus directs Timothy to treat older men as fathers, older women as mothers, younger men as brothers, and younger women as sisters (1 Tim 5:1–2). As ministry leaders of various generations fulfill their roles in mutually beneficial ways, they set an atmosphere of complementarity for the male and female relationships of the church body.

The Ministries of Women and the Life of the Local Church

Third, pastors should call attention to the unique contributions women make through their gifted service in the church. Regrettably, the ways women serve the local church, such as instructing and counseling other women, cooking, and caring, can go unnoticed. Writing to Timothy and Titus, Paul notes women’s unique contributions to local church ministry (1 Tim 5:3–16; Titus 2:3–5). Though conversations about complementarianism and egalitarianism often revolve around 1 Timothy 2:9–15, I suggest that 1 Timothy 5:3–16 should receive no less attention. If women commonly fulfilled ministries of preaching and teaching to a mixed-gender audience of the gathered church body in Paul’s day, one would expect Paul to mention such ministries as evidence of faithfulness for widows seeking financial assistance from the church.

But that is not the case. What ministries does Paul cite as evidence that a widow has been faithful to Christ and thus qualifies for the church’s financial support?[6] Faithful widows are those who hope in God, are known to toil in prayer, and demonstrate contentment in their life situations (1 Tim 5:5–6). For Paul, a widow is to be recognized for church support if she has been faithful to her husband and known for good works like bringing up her children, caring for strangers, serving the saints, and assisting those in need (1 Tim. 5:9–10). What commends a widow for church support is not that she preached or fulfilled pastoral roles, but that she is known to be faithful in ministries God has called her to, especially those focused on solidifying relationships in the home and the church.[7]

The substance of what Paul states in 1 Timothy 5:3–16 is also found in Titus 2:3–5. It should be noted that Paul has different goals in 1 Timothy and Titus. When Paul leaves Ephesus toward the close of his third journey, he predicts that some savage leaders would arise from within the church (Acts 20:28–31). Paul’s prophecy came true, and in 1 Timothy, Paul charges Timothy with the task of correcting heresy that is rooted inside the church, promulgated by some elders who had strayed from the truth (1 Tim 1:3–7, 18–20; 4:1–5; 5:19–23).[8] However, the churches on the island of Crete are less developed, and Titus must set the initial team of elders in place and encourage the church toward good works consistent with sound doctrine (Titus 1:5, 16; 2:14; 3:1, 8, 14).

Despite the differences in Ephesus and Crete, Paul writes common instructions to Timothy and Titus regarding the vital roles women are to play in the church. Older women are to demonstrate reverent character and temperance to model the lifestyle that testifies to sound doctrine (Titus 2:1, 3). The revenant character of older women provides them a platform for ministry as they labor to solidify relationships in the home and the church: encouraging the younger women to love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4). The fruit of the older women’s lives is to be seen in the pure character of the younger women as they care for the relationships and needs in their homes and submit to their husbands (Titus 2:5a). As older women and younger women fulfill Paul’s ministry directives, they defend Christian doctrine from those who oppose the faith (Titus 2:5b). Though often unseen, women’s domestic ministry contributes to the church’s experience of God and its reputation in the world.

But the ministry contributions of many women are public[9] — and need to be publicized so the church can celebrate women’s contributions to church life and mission. Newsletters and social media can be used to spotlight these ministries.

‘Til Death Do Us Part

Fourth, pastors should prioritize comprehensive premarital and newlywed counseling. Each couple whose vows reflect complementarity — and who keep those vows decade after decade — becomes a wall of defense protecting the church from the gender agenda of the progressive left. Though premarital counseling might be just one more to-do in the already full pastoral ministry routine, it is a warehouse for building complementarity billboards. Young couples soon become young families that soon become church leaders, homeowners, business leaders, and school board and city council members. Couples happily displaying complementarity in the church and society advertise the greatness of God’s design for men and women.

I require couples to memorize and recite Ephesians 5:22–33 or 1 Peter 2:21–3:7 as a part of our counseling, knowing that God’s word will shape their thinking for decades to come. Recently at a men’s gathering at my church, a man who fifteen years ago memorized 1 Peter 2:21–3:7 as a part of premarital counseling I required stood and recited it spontaneously for the group. The room was silent for a few moments.

Complementarity and the Comprehensive Nature of Scripture

Fifth, pastors need to preach Scripture as God’s authoritative word in all subjects it addresses. Helping the congregation grasp gender roles in the redemptive-historical grid of Scripture provides the congregation the best rationale for complementarity: the fulfillment and joy and courage discovered by those participating in God’s plan to glorify himself in the world through the Great Commission efforts of local churches. In Men and Women in the Church, Kevin DeYoung gives a chapter to surveying the differing gender roles of men and women in the Old Testament. This chapter could serve as a rubric for a topical sermon series on the foundations of complementarity in Israel’s Scriptures. At times our churches need this kind of direct instruction on the roles of men and women.

Nevertheless, a word of caution is in order. It is possible to appear more concerned about gender roles than God’s revelation of himself and his purposes in the world. The key to preventing this is to be careful to exposit these patterns of complementarity in their broader redemptive-historical and theological contexts.

Complementarity in Personal Discipleship

Finally, pastors and women’s ministry leaders should advocate for complementarity as they mentor the next generation of church leaders. Many churches have formal internship or residency programs for younger men who have sensed a call to church leadership. But what structure does your church have for developing the next generation of women? We need to establish women’s mentoring programs that include complementarity so that younger women can see older women loving their husbands and children, using their gifts for the church, reading their Bibles, praying, rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep.[10]

Reading resources in Eikon or books by authors writing on theological anthropology will help younger men and women in the church to think biblically about the roles God has designed for his image bearers. As male and female ministry leaders invite younger men and women to walk with them, those younger believers will see how leaders carry out their unique roles. In 2022, our churches would do well to evaluate the structures we have in place for fostering complementarity in personal discipleship in both genders.

Todd R. Chipman (Ph.D.) is the Dean of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as Teaching Pastor at The Master’s Community Church (SBC). 

[1] See Mark Dever, “Young vs. Old Complementarians,” JBMW 13, no. 1 (2008); 24.

[2] Denny Burk, “Complementarianism as a Second Order Doctrine,” January 24, 2022,

[3] For recent expressions, see Beth Allison Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth (Grand Rapids: BrazosPress, 2021), and Aimee Byrd, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020).

[4] Kevin DeYoung, Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021).

[5] Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, Crossway: 2020).

[6] It is likely that Paul has in view widows who minister in the church in a quasi-vocational sense, remunerated by the church for their service (Denny Burk, “1 Timothy,” in ESV Expository Commentary XI, eds. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., Jay Sklar [Wheaton: Crossway, 2018], 430). George W. Knight counters the argument that each church must have an organized ministry of widows, writing that Paul envisions churches supporting widows only if (a) the widow’s family is not able, and (b) widows without family support meet the qualifications Paul lists. In such a case the church may ask widows to serve in specific ministries but would still support widows even if they would not be able to serve (The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, eds. I. Howard Marshall and W. Ward Gasque, NIGTC [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992], 222–23).

[7] Douglas J. Moo argues, “It is difficult to explain everything Paul says about gender roles as culture-bound. An assumption that women have a particular responsibility for the raising of children and management of the home is hard to avoid” (A Theology of Paul and His Letters: The Gift of the New Realm in Christ, ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger, BTNT [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2021], 332).

[8] Though, as Robert W. Yarbrough notes, Paul’s references to the false teachers are vague and may thus include other figures (The Letters to Timothy and Titus, ed. D.A. Carson, PNTC [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018], 103).

[9] Kevin DeYoung (Men and Women in the Church, 94–95) echoes John Piper’s list of ways women serve in the life of the local church, even though they are not exercising authority over men or preaching to the gathered congregation (John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem [Wheaton: Crossway, 2006], 58).

[10] See Bev Berrus, “Developing a Culture of Women Discipling Women,” 9Marks, December 10, 2019,; Kandi Gallaty, Disciple Her: Using the Word, Work, & Wonder of God to Invest in Women (Nashville: B&H Books, 2019); Dana Yeakley, The Gentle Art of Discipling Women: Nurturing Authentic Faith in Ourselves and Others (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016); Mark Dever, Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus, 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches (Crossway, 2016); and, Dana Yeakley, A Woman’s Guide to Discipling: Inspiration, Advice, and Practical Tools for Helping Others Grow (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2010).

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