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Topic: Complementarianism

On the State of Complementarianism in the EFCA (Greg Strand)

June 7, 2024
By Greg Strand

Editor’s Note: The following article is part of a multi-denominational forum on the state of complementarianism and appears in the Spring 2024 issue of Eikon.

Editor’s Note: We posed the following four questions on complementarianism to a variety of leaders in several evangelical denominations. While the majority responded directly to the questions, the following article is a summary response:

  1. What do you believe the Bible teaches about God’s design for men and women, particularly in the home and the church? How do you view the relationship between the Bible’s teaching on the proper order of the home and the proper order of the church?
  2. What limits, if any, do you believe the Bible places on women serving in the church?
  3. How would you evaluate the fidelity of your denomination as a whole and its member churches individually regarding the Bible’s teaching on men and women?
  4. What direction would you like to see your denomination head regarding the Bible’s teaching on men and women?


In the EFCA, “the Conference shall be the highest decision-making body of the EFCA” (EFCA Bylaws), which consists of qualified delegates from EFCA churches, under the authority of the Word of God and in submission to the Lord and Head of the church, Jesus Christ. The EFCA position, as determined by the Conference, is that ordination is reserved for qualified men, not women, which is grounded in our understanding of the biblical texts of Scripture (cf. Gen. 1–3; 1 Cor. 11:2–16; 14:33b–36; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 5:22–33; Col. 3:18–19; 1 Tim. 2:8–15; 1 Tim. 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9; 1 Pet. 3:1–7). This is stated explicitly in Ministerial Credentialing in the Evangelical Free Church of America: “This credential [Certificate of Ordination] may be issued to male candidates . . .”[1]

Ordination, as defined by the Conference, means the following: “Ordination in The Evangelical Free Church of America is the act of publicly setting a person apart for Christian ministry by prayer and the laying on of hands by others in ministry and the leadership of the local church; thus recognizing God’s call on his life; his gifts and training for ministry; his commitment to teach and preach the sacred Scriptures.”

Ordination focuses on “pastoral ministry,” i.e., the role, implicitly those serving in the role of pastor/elder/overseer, and also the function, that of “preaching and teaching the Word.” This is what is stated for the Certificate of Ordination (COO): “This credential is designed for qualified males who serve in pastoral ministry in the local church whose primary ministry responsibility is preaching and teaching the Word . . . there are others who are also eligible to pursue a COO engaged in ministries outside the local church: seminary professors, chaplains, church planters, missionaries [church planters or teachers], institutional ministries, etc.” This combines role (“qualified males who serve in pastoral ministry”) and function (“whose primary ministry responsibility is preaching and teaching the Word”) in the context of the church (“who serve in pastoral ministry in the local church”). In sum, the Certificate of Ordination is intended for “men” who are called to and gifted for “pastoral ministry,” which consists of a “commitment to teach and preach the sacred Scriptures.”

Women can and do serve in ministry, which is affirmed and valued, a commitment that arises from our complementarian convictions. The EFCA recognizes this by granting the Certificate of Christian Ministry to those engaged in qualifying ministries. This Certificate is not just for women, but it is also available for men who are in vocational ministry and are not ordained.

Where We Stand in the EFCA

Over the past few years, through a series of questions asked, concerns raised, and criticisms made about or against the EFCA, a Declaration was written to state where the EFCA stands on the issues about which we were asked.[2] The document addresses eight issues, which were both prompted and limited by the issues raised.

This Declaration was approved by the Board of Directors and the Board of Ministerial Standing, the two boards that are elected by and accountable to the Conference. Subsequently, it was affirmed by the District Superintendents of the EFCA. As with all statements that are not formally approved by the Conference, this statement and the biblical-theological commentary are not binding on our churches, but it represents who we are as an association of churches.[3]

One of the issues addressed is the question about complementarianism and egalitarianism. What follows is the statement, that which we deny and that which we affirm, and the biblical-theological commentary:


We are not egalitarian in our understanding of the roles and functions of men and women in the church, but we do believe that the gifts and ministries of women are essential to the health and fruitfulness of churches and ought to be sought out and multiplied in ways that arise from and are consistent with our complementarian convictions, as reflected in our EFCA ordination policy.

Biblical-Theological Commentary

God, in his wisdom, created human beings in his image as male and female (Gen. 1:27). There is sameness in essence or being (ontology), since both are in the image of God, and there is distinction, since they are male and female. We believe this distinction in creation ought not to be ignored, but is significant and ought to be appreciated and valued.

The distinction between men and women can have no bearing on their oneness in Christ (Gal. 3:16-19) or on husbands and wives as “fellow heirs of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). Both men and women are equally valuable as persons created in the image of God and as recipients of the grace of God in Christ (1 Cor. 11:11-12; Gal. 3:28).

Within the context of marriage, the Bible teaches that the husband has a role of headship, analogous to that of Christ toward the church. This role calls the husband to self-giving, sacrificial love toward his wife, in which he is to seek her welfare, and especially her spiritual well-being before God (Eph. 5:25-30; Col. 3:19; 1 Pet. 3:7).  The appropriate response by the wife, and her responsibility, is submission to her husband (Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; cf. also 1 Pet. 3:1; Tit. 2:3-5).

Submission is not in any way degrading for the Christian (cf. 2 Cor. 9:13; 1 Tim. 2:11; 1 Tim. 3:4), for all believers are called to submit to others in various contexts (Eph. 5:21), including to governing authorities (Rom. 13:1; 1 Pet. 2:13,14) and to leaders within the church (Heb. 13:17). Jesus himself was submissive to his earthly parents (Luke 2:51), to the earthly authorities (John 19:10,11), and to his heavenly Father (Matt. 26:39; John 5:30; 6:38; Phil. 2:8).

It is challenging today to hear the word submission without negative connotations. At times submission has been hurtful, and forced submission is always destructive. However, our understanding and application of submission must be grounded in and guided by Scripture. God’s divine design and order are “very good” (Gen. 1:31), and for all to submit joyfully to this truth is the God-ordained means by which we all flourish. It is the gospel alone that enables us to see this and empowers us to live it.

Submission in this larger context refers to a woman’s worshipful learning in the context of the local church and under the authority of the elders/pastors, not to every man nor in every context (1 Tim. 2:11). One translation captures this notion: “Let a woman receive training in a quiet demeanor with complete respect for order.” Even though this requires further explanation, it conveys submission to the biblical order of God’s design for men and women that was universal in the churches (1 Cor. 14:33, 40).

The local church operates as a community modeled in some sense on the extended family household (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15; 5:1,2,16). The office of elder/pastor reflects that of the husband/father in the family unit (cf. 1 Tim. 3:4-5). As shepherds of God’s flock, these men have the primary responsibility for the spiritual oversight of the church family, including the proper teaching of the Word of God and protection from false doctrine. In the EFCA, ordination is the recognition by the broader church of a man’s calling, character, and competence to fulfill this pastoral office and function.

Both women and men have important contributions to make to the church in corporate worship (1Cor. 11:4; 14:26), and in teaching and theological training (Acts 18:26; Tit. 2:1-15). The biblical limitation of women from “teaching or having authority over a man” in the context of instructions for Christian worship (1 Tim. 2:11,12) is not simply a cultural necessity limited in application to the particular circumstances of the church in Ephesus. Rather, this provision is grounded in the created order (2:13,14; cf. 1 Cor. 11:2-16) and assigns to the elders of the church the responsibility for doctrinal fidelity (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9), reflecting the notion of male “headship” in the household. This principle is reflected in the EFCA policy of reserving ordination to qualified men, while qualified women are eligible for other ministerial credentials.

Women have always had a very important role in the life of the church as evidenced by the many references to women as fellow-workers in the gospel in the letters of Paul (cf., e.g., Rom. 16:1-15; Phil. 4:2-3; Acts 18:26), and in the history of the Free Church women have served in prominent roles as evangelists and missionaries. The contribution of women to the work of the church today cannot be overstated. We need all the gifts to be exercised according to God’s divinely-given order in the church (1 Cor. 12; 14:40; 1 Pet. 4:10). Therefore, women as well as men need to be equipped and trained for gospel work, and the ministry of women in the church ought to be encouraged and appreciated.

Local Church and Association of Churches: Autonomy and Interdependence

The EFCA is “an association and fellowship of autonomous but interdependent congregations of like faith and congregational government.”[4] As with all other associations of churches structured around congregational polity, we experience a tension between autonomy and interdependence. Too much autonomy results in independence. Too much mandated interdependency results in external authoritarianism.

Over the past many years, we have adopted credentialing policies, held conferences, and made statements that affirm the complementarian understanding of the Scriptures. This position is affirmed by the vast majority of those who participated in our five-year Doctrinal Survey in 2023 (the results are not yet posted), which consisted of all senior or lead pastors (not all are credentialed) and all EFCA credentialed leaders (not all are in EFCA ministries): 90.4% affirmed complementarianism, which remained the same from our 2018 Doctrinal Survey.[5] At the same time, we also strongly affirm “that the gifts and ministries of women are essential to the health and fruitfulness of churches and ought to be sought out and multiplied in ways that arise from and are consistent with our complementarian convictions.” For example, Prepared, a gospel-centered, systematic, two-year program for women in ministry, provides an opportunity for women in the EFCA to be trained biblically and theologically, to be equipped and prepared to serve the Lord and others faithfully and fruitfully in ministry in the local church. This ministry is grounded in and guided by our complementarian convictions.[6]

Even with this Conference decision and the other statements made, there is a tension with congregationalism. As a denomination, we are complementarian, but local churches are not required to be complementarian in their polity. Because we engage in ministry in both the now and the not-yet of the kingdom, there is no pure church, and thus we are not a pure association of churches. But even with the tension of our congregational polity — our autonomy and interdependence — we remain committed to doctrinal purity (biblical truth/the gospel) and relational unity (a manifestation of the truth/gospel in life and ministry), and we seek to affirm and implement our complementarian convictions faithfully and joyfully.

Based on the Conference decision, only qualified men can be ordained, those who are called to and gifted for “pastoral ministry,” primarily the role of senior or lead pastor, which consists of a “commitment to teach and preach the sacred Scriptures” (the function of pastor/elder/overseer). This means the EFCA is prescriptively complementarian. And based on the fact the vast majority of our senior or lead pastors and credentialed leaders affirm complementarianism, as evidenced in the 90.4% response in the Doctrinal Survey, we are also descriptively complementarian (results of our Doctrinal Survey do not carry the same weight as the Conference decision or the biblical-theological exposition. Biblical truth is not determined by a majority perspective. But the results reflect that the great majority of EFCA senior or lead pastors and those credentialed in the EFCA confirm [descriptive] the EFCA’s complementarian convictions [prescriptive]).

In conclusion, we affirm complementarian ekklesiai and congregational order and ardor, which is grounded in the Word of God, and guided by biblical principles, theological practices, and pastoral wisdom. In keeping with Christ’s precedent, direction, and mission, optimal realization of personal and corporate love for God in Christ and true flourishing occurs. This is manifested in the synergy of women’s and men’s shared walk with Christ, promotion of each other, devotion to each other, and self-sacrifice for Christ’s sake. Complementarian convictions and practice — the order revealed by God and the ardor empowered by the Holy Spirit — seek to maximize the transformative power of the gospel and joy of the Lord by living out those convictions and practices, exuding an aroma of Christ.

Greg Strand is Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing for the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA).

[1] “Credentialing in the EFCA,” Evangelical Free Church of America, accessed May 8, 2024,

[2] “Where We Stand in the EFCA: Denials and Affirmations,” Evangelical Free Church of America, June 21, 2023, accessed May 8, 2024.

[3] “Where We Stand in the EFCA: Denials and Affirmations: A Biblical-Theological Commentary” Evangelical Free Church of America, accessed May 8, 2024,

[4] “EFCA Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws,” Evangelical Free Church of America, June 21, 2023, accessed May 8, 2024,

[5] “EFCA Doctrinal Survey Results (2018),” Evangelical Free Church of America, accessed May 8, 2024,

[6] “Prepared,” Evangelical Free Church of America, accessed May 8, 2024,

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