How should a pastor approach shepherding women in the church?

 There are commonly two extremes that accompany this question.  The first, represents a pastor who carelessly sees his role to pastor women as no different than men.  A pastor who thinks spending time alone with women in the church should look no different than with the men.  A pastor who thinks the same blunt conversations he has with men in the church can take place with women in the same way.  This mentality has led to many pastors, several I have personally known, to lose their marriages and ministries because they foolishly placed themselves in compromising positions with women in their church…in the name of caring for them. 

There is, however, another side that is a growing extreme among younger pastors, especially.  It is the pastor who so fears the foolishness of the first extreme that he completely neglects the pastoral care of women in general in his church.  Motivated by fear or unwilling to make the extra effort to understand a certain kind of woman different than his wife, some pastors deceive themselves in the name of being “above reproach” that God will not still hold them accountable for the souls of these women entrusted to their care. 

Because of these two extremes, the first thing to establish in a pastor wisely thinking through caring for women in the church is the need for balance.  Wise, thoughtful, discerning, and balanced parameters needs to be the heart of every pastor’s approach.  So then, here are a few suggestions I have found helpful over the years in avoiding these extremes as I personally try to care for women in the church, yet being very wise and aware  of the biblical call to be above reproach:

Old enough to be your grandmother rule.  I feel a freedom to visit an elderly widow in her home or the hospital alone if there is a sizable gap in age, verses going to visit a needy, flirtatious, recently divorced woman who is my age, which I NEVER do alone!  Be wise not to compromise this rule.  Remember, the rule is “grandmother” not “mother.” 

Copy the woman’s husband and your wife in emails.  I do think it is perfectly acceptable to communicate through email with women in the church.  Many email exchanges are solely administration issues (would you please put our women’s event in the bulletin type emails).  However, if you intend to send any email to a woman in the church, or receive one that involves anything of a personal nature, a pastor’s wife and the woman’s husband should always be copied in it.  It should be in the (cc) section so all corresponding can see the spouse’s involvement.  This may seem tedious, but a necessary accountability. 

Counsel with the woman’s husband or someone else present. I NEVER counsel a woman alone.  I know, that sounds extreme to some of you.  Even if there is glass between us and the church secretary, I will not meet alone with another woman.  I will, however, meet to counsel a woman with her husband present.  This has born good fruit as the husband learns how to better care for his wife as he sits and listens.  Besides, many times the husband is part of the problem!  If I am trying to care for a single lady, my wife is always my preferred choice of counseling companion, but I am open to allowing another leader or trusted friend of the single lady to be present.  I’m flexible, but will not counsel alone.

Pass off long-term discipleship and counseling to other capable women.  Pastors need to deal with pastoral matters with everyone in the church.  However, long-term issues that will require years of care and discipleship should be eventually handed to mature, godly, and capable women in the church who would then report to the pastors on their progress, which still allows some kind of pastoral oversight and soul care.

Alright, there is my attempt at balance.

Pastors, any wise counsel you have to add that helps capture this balance??

Posted in Caring for Widows, Discipleship, Training for Ministry
40 comments on “How should a pastor approach shepherding women in the church?
  1. Michael says:

    These are great thoughts! Thanks for the insights!

  2. Shawn says:

    Great topic, my wife and I have had multiple conversations over this to protect our marriage, our emotions, and our reputation. However, counseling women is a needed ministry within the church and falls under the scope of pastoral oversight and shepherding.

    Therefore, I do/have done the following:

    1. Somewhat stop counseling appointments and block out a 2 month period to meet weekly with my wife during office hours. She already wanted this, so it made this process easier. For 1-2 hours or so, we created a “counseling class” where I administered homework, special readings, and had long discussions over the material. Overall purpose was to provide training for her within a “counseling/discipleship” philosophy.

    2. Any women needing counseling will come in and the assumption is a person will be in the room. I try to be as gentle as possible because it can cause them to be insulted. I say, “I’m not doing this for you, but in honor of my wife, let me give her a call and we are going to counsel together, because she may see things I don’t.” If husband is unavailable, I’ll have my wife. If my wife is unavailable I try to reschedule or allow another secretary or pastor to sit in.

    3. Depending upon the issues, long term problems I will do but I know feel comfortable transferring this to my wife while maintaining oversight.

    • briancroft says:

      Good insights.

    • Sam Bierig says:

      Shawn could you explain step 1.) a bit more? My wife and i do alot of couseling together and i am curious what you had your wife read. Also, how did the assigning your wife homework go?

      • Shawn says:


        She is my wife and therefore I did not want to overburden her already current busy schedule. However, she’s always had the desire to get her Master’s degree in Biblical counseling. Though I don’t have my MABC, I do have some training in Biblical counseling and since finances, time, and distance were factoring against us, we set up our own counseling training time. She thoroughly enjoyed it but worked much slower due to all our time constraints.

        The books read were:

        Trip, Paul David. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change. Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002.

        MacArthur, John F. Our Sufficiency in Christ. Weaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 1991. (To see the affects of Psychology in the “Professional” counselor)

        Selected chapters from:

        Fitzpatrick, Elyse and Carol Cornish, eds. Women Helping Women: A Biblical Guide to the Major Issues Women Face. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1997.

        John MacArthur, Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

        We also reviewed basic doctrine, discussed “case-studies,” discussed how to counsel together, watched counseling videos together, etc.

        The only way this worked was because she had a drive to continue eduction, wanted to learn some of this material, and because I needed a trustworthy co-counselor.

        I created a syllabus directly for my wife that I don’t feel comfortable putting online but if you email: I can send it to you.
        This is an e-mail I just created but will not use again!

  3. I never though of the email idea but that is very good. I have heard of the others and am surprised that others don’t follow them more than they do.

  4. cherlyn says:

    what about those wife’s who thinks ever woman who walks in the church want’s her husband.

    • briancroft says:

      A greater heart issue needs to be addressed in the wife. In the meantime, a pastor still needs to care for his wife where she is and graciously and patiently help her understand that is not the case. These things described in this post are to help a pastor know how to build trust with his wife in regard to caring for ladies in the church, so that even if a woman does act inappropriately, there is a trust established between a pastor and wife where she will react godly and with maturity.

      • art rupio says:

        awesome teaching,from experience,god bless you pastor,i was ministering to a sister about the same subject as I too have been told by god to bring an older experienced sister to help,in situations,the holy spirit gives us wisdom and we follow or we learn the hard way,i ve found that as we grow sisters and brothers tend to look to us forgetting that we live as servers and it,s the holy spirit that flows through us meeting needs as they draw it is through us through their faith and we are only vessels used to promote the gospel through our gifts,love you pastor

  5. Ryan Phelps says:

    All great and helpful advice. Thanks for this.

    One disagreement. I wonder if there is a way to avoid having always to copy the pastor’s wife when sending “personal” emails. In other words, can just the husband be copied? I only say this because there are numerous problems and issues that I want to shield my wife from. Yes, she signed up to be my wife, but she didn’t sign up to bear the burden of every issue with the women of the church. Also, isn’t it possible that some women wouldn’t want their particular issue(s) shared with the pastor’s wife?

    • Jimmy says:

      I understand what you’re saying about wanting to shield your wife from having to deal with some issues but those should be minimal considering this is only for when you are e-mailing women directly.

      As for the other party not wanting your wife or others to see, if you’re going to be transparent with your wife any way, using the ‘BCC’ includes her in the e-mail without others on the chain being able to see it. It’s a blind CC.

      • Nora says:

        I’m concerned that in your effort to be transparent with your wife, you are being deceptive with your counselee. Either let your counselee know that your wife will be reading all the e-mails or work out another method of accountability, but don’t cc anyone behind another’s back.

        • Dottie says:

          I’m wondering if I missed the response to Norma’s comment? If/when I open my life to anyone, I must know who, if anyone other than the person I’m speaking with, it will be shared with. Would you please shed some light on this from both a practical and a Biblical standpoint? Blessings!

    • briancroft says:

      Great question. Yes, it is true most wives can only take so much and you need to be wise with thinking through that. I think depending on the issue, copying the husband in on it would be sufficient. However, I would also say don’t assume you know what your wife does and does not want to be copied in on. Regular conversations with her are crucial in knowing the answer to that question.

    • Diame says:

      My husband is a Pastor who is having Bible studies at a single woman’s house alone by themselves. He completely deletes all the text message conversation between this woman and him. And I am being suspecious.

  6. Angela McGraw says:

    A story: A young lady musters all the bravery in her heart and approaches her pastor with tears in her eyes and says, “Pastor…..I need to talk to you”. The pastor replies by saying….I can talk to you, but not alone…I never meet with women alone…….. Desperate for help, the young lady says okay. The pastor suggest Mcdonalds for a place to meet. The young lady had issues of past drug addiction that GOD had recently delivered her from and needed her pastor to know so he could pray for her, but she didn’t want anyone else to know about this issue. Her greatest fear was for one of her fellow parishioners to hear of her addiction and labeling her and looking down on her…… So she met her pastor at Mcdonalds as he suggested and there in a crowded dining room….she began to pour her heart out….not knowing how she would be judged…. This was such an emotional thing for her, that she weeped as she told him of her 12 year addiction to meth. A young man who was sitting across the room approached the young lady and her pastor and said that he didn’t know what was going on…but that GOD was able to fix it. This is not proper or effective pastoring. The young lady told me that her pastor has never attempted to follow up with her since this meeting.

  7. April says:

    I am wondering what Bible verses you have to support any of these ideals? I am looking for answers in this area as well but I want them to be from the Bible. I know how I feel but I need to know if it is right? My husband is not a minister yet he has reconnected with old classmates one of whom is a woman and for the past few nights they have been having phone conversations (while I am there) and I feel as if this is not right. First of all, should she be asking her husband for spiritual guidance, not mine and secondly, I feel as if I am being left out. I only hear one side of this conversation and I feel as if it is inappropriate for my husband to sit on the phone with another woman and talk for hours at a time rather than counsel to me or answer any questions I have. He has apologized to me for his lack of attention and has even made the comment that we have helped this girl find her way into the right church (for one, I don’t know this girl very well and have never discussed anything spiritual with her) and he has also said that it is our responsibility to do this and we will be held highly accountable for this but that he can “ease” off this now because she has finally found a good church. Please help me with this. I know that I should ask my husband these things but I am looking for answers from scripture before I make a big deal out of something that might not be so big. Thank you for any and all help.

    • briancroft says:

      A very tough situation, but your instincts are right in that he should not be having long conversations with another woman, especially if it is concerning you. Now that he says she is in a good church, he needs to let that church handle things from here. There are all kinds of passages that allude to these things, such as the call to be above reproach, to flee the adulterous woman and delight solely in your wife (Prov. 5), and live with your wife in an understanding way (1 pet. 3:7). He will probably be able to dismiss all these and say what he is doing is ministry, but there is a reason we are to flee any hint of unfaithfulness.

      I hope that helps. Get your pastor involved to help your husband, who could have a good motives, still see the danger in what he is doing.

  8. Dee says:

    So what if the wife don’t want the husband to know and don’t want anyone but the Pastor to know, then how do you counsel someone alone, a woman.

  9. patsy says:

    bood topic. was searching something dor fb friend who questions this same thing. I told him todays age best not to be alone with a lady. Lawsuits happen all the time ovwr this type thing. Even if man to man I would not be alone. I told him acripture qhich says no contraversy should take place in office of the church. As you said you pay for what you do..

    one thought besides cc..
    perhaps recording with permission of counselee..

    an on women counselee, or even wives.. women have a thing about gossipping as hens. Must make sure they underatand silence where it says silence. If the counselee wANsa it unknown be sure those listening edheres to that.

    An Jealousy if for God only! best thing I learned, I was so jealous of women around hubby. Once I learned only God had thw right I had no problem.

  10. Apl says:

    I am actually speechless…..I’m excited this exist…..I have been looking for this type of open and honest Christian discussion……I am an attractive single woman and a mother……I have concerns regarding this exact topic and have been trying to understand the wife s position….and, I am in awe and disbelief that they are taking issue with their husbands who are ministers, bishops, and deacons, who’s rolls require them to counsel women… is it that a wife can take issue with her husband and makes him feel guilt of some sort that he’s not giving that attention to her…..I’m thinking, how selfish……what if that woman called this minister or deacon late at night wanting to kill herself, but he did not pick up because of his wife and the distressed woman killed herself…..who is God going to hold accountable……wives know very well the duties and responsibilities to God comes first…..he should not be made to feel neglectful of his wife and short change a soul in need……with that said, I do understand the concern and sometimes necessary need to have another person present when counseling single women, but that should only happen if there is good cause to do so…..but if this women personal character and integrity had never been in question then that type of concern shouldn’t be necessary.

  11. Kris says:

    Maybe to write in a form that not all pastors are men, and that it goes both ways. Otherwise your article is great!!!!

  12. Sherry says:

    First let me say that I’m a Ministers wife. I have no prblem with my husband talking with other women to a certain degree. When counseling of the opposite gender, you have to be very careful especially if the issue is about being hurt from their spouse. Sometimes people can become emotionally involved even though the person that is doing the counseling is not doing anything but helping in a GODLY way. When Jesus sent his disciples out, he sent them out in 2’s becasue he understood that counseling could involve the person of the opposite gender but they would not be alone if they went out together. Also the scripture said don’t let your good be evil spoken of meaning that it’s not telling you not to counsel the opposite but to be careful in the way you do it. I’m going to say this as I close, until you have been or are in that situation as a Ministers wife or husband, you may not understand. It’s easy to say what you should or shouldn’t do until you have walked in those shoes. It’s all about respect. Don’t put anything or anyone else above GOD or your spouse. GOD ordained marriage but the enemy wants to kill, steal and destroy.

  13. S. McCaleb says:

    The issue I have as a Pastor’s wife is women single or married talk to my husband about personal things daily.It’s almost like I don’t exist to them. This has been an ongoing issue with a few women who have drama all the time and frankly are very draining. The call, email & text whenever and it’s usually over the same things, it keeps my husband in a turmoil, not sure how to break the cycle.

  14. John says:

    It has been said that the quickest way to destroy your ministry is to invite a woman to meet you alone in your office, then wait for her to run through the door screaming or crying. Pastoring is about trust and even the slightest doubt can destroy it forever.

    If a pastor must meet with a woman in his office…he should have a security camera installed with a notice placed on his door. This should put everyone at ease.

  15. Jamie says:

    I found your site when I googled “How to deal with a jealous Pastor’s wife.” After reading your blog, I have to tell you that I find it incredibly one-sided. For example, the Grandmother rule. When describing the elderly woman, you mentioned your comfort level, but when describing the single woman, you did so with an incredulous judgmental narrative. ” I feel a freedom to visit an elderly widow in her home or the hospital alone if there is a sizable gap in age, verses going to visit a needy, flirtatious, recently divorced woman who is my age, which I NEVER do alone!” “Needy?” “Flirtatious?” “Divorced.” It appears that the problem word for you is actually “divorced.” Did it ever cross your mind that maybe to that divorced woman you appear elderly? Flirtatious? Worn out? Pastor’s should understand that they will be held accountable for how they did and did NOT minister to single people….and yes, women included. I rarely hear of problems they have ministering to single men. If it’s the gender thing that is tripping you up, then you need to examine your own heart. You should see the hearts of others before their gender. If you’re not able to do that, you have some praying to do. Though you’re married, and obviously have a woman in your life who is attracted to you, don’t assume so are all the others ~ especially the “divorced” ones. No, I’m not divorced, and no, I have ZERO interest in anyone’s husband, but seriously….we single women in your churches are BEYOND tired of jealous Pastor’s wives who can’t control their emotions, and over-inflated-egos of married men who think we must be that desperate to look at them even though they’re married. Single people are marginalized enough in today’s church (I’d love to talk to Paul, Moses, Mary Magdalene and Jesus & see how they feel about that) without having to deal with stigmas perpetuated by the very people who are supposed to be leading the church. It’s disgraceful. And one last thing, don’t think when we look at you that we don’t already know the thoughts that are going through your mind. And if you can’t minister to the singles in your congregation then you are ignoring a part of the body that is NO LESS important than the rest of the body. I think you know exactly what that will entail when it comes to the day you stand before the Lord. I’ll pray for you.

  16. lynne says:

    oh wow. I guess Jesus must have been really out of line when he sat and talked to the Woman at the Well (alone)Come on now…. If you are married to a minister (I’m in ministry) and you don’t trust your spouse to behave in an appropriate manner, then you probably need to get a therapist and find out why you don’t trust his integrity or have a control issue. And isn’t it a breach of confidentiality to share what was shared with you confidentiality with someone else without telling the single woman that? Single women that want to flirt are all over the place. So are single men that want to flirt with married women. It seems like if that’s a problem, the problem is self control on the part of the Pastor. Pastors wives..jealousy is a sin. The responsibility falls on the person in ministry who is being flirted with to do the right thing, provided that is really happening and not just a false accusation because a woman is single. I don’t care who flirts with my husband. I trust him 100% and he knows that, which is why my marriage is one that we don’t have a reason to have eyes for anyone else in. Just saying. I feel bad for all the single women out there who are falsely judged. Glad Jesus talked to the woman at the well that day. Her life was forever changed. Isn’t that our goal here in ministry? Really!

    • Kristen says:

      Talking to a woman is different than sitting alone somewhere counseling a woman. Witnessing to the opposite sex is a much different scenario than a woman pouring out her emotions to a pastor in a secluded setting. Case in point:
      First, let me say I trust my husband. Like, I really trust him. He’s wise. He’s loving and I believe He wants to serve the Lord with everything he’s got.
      Second, I’m not a jealous Pastor’s wife. Ladies out in the world say things to him all the time. I get it. I’m a super blessed woman! Also, to the knucklehead saying jealousy is a sin, God calls himself a jealous God. Was HE sinning? Stop it.
      That being said, there’s a woman at a particular service we have every two weeks. She’s flirtatious with lots of men. She dresses so as to attract attention. I don’t need to see your underwear when you bend over to help someone find Psalms in their Bible. Every time, she corners my husband after service to talk. Last night she said when she was arguing with another lady He didn’t protect her like Jesus is to protect his flock. He “didn’t make her feel appreciated.” Huh?!?
      She obviously doesn’t want biblical counseling, she wants attention.
      It’s not any Pastor’s job to validate you and be your Knight in Shining armor. He’s to feed and protect from wolves in sheeps clothing. He’s to make sure if you’re hurting he can help with scripture, encourage people to serve the Lord. This is why we counsel together. It’s just wise. I also like the grandmother rule you have!

  17. Joe says:

    I agree with many of the potential issues mentioned above, but we have found it very important to let the congregation know how you will minister to everyone. Our new minister just refused to meet with any female for any reason unless his wife or another elder was present. Even after the fact, he told the Session that he always blind copied his wife on any emails and had her listen in on any calls (without letting the caller know) when these were from women.

    Our problem was that this was a total surprise to the church members and he did not offer any alternative as to how he would minister to the 70%+ members. It was assumed that women were not welcome to have conversations with him. It was very hurtful to some older women who had real needs for spiritual advice. They did not know where to turn.

    Many of these members felt that they were not trusted by the minister and even not worthy of his time. How should these members be ministered to?

    • Brian says:

      Great question. A balance needs to be found and it sounds like your pastor went too far with his caution. What each pastor’s policy is needs to be made known to the congregation so they know what to expect.

  18. Paula says:

    Sister at church keeps calling my husband to give her a lift to church although she knows he has a wife and children. She doesn’t speak to me. My husband and I have quarrels over this, he says he is being nice but I don’t trust this woman.It is happening on Satu rdays as well when they have choir,how to deal with this

    • Brian says:

      That’s tough. Keep trying to talk to your husband about this. If he won’t listen to you, I would bring in another trusted leader in the church your husband trusts to the situation. I believe your concerns are warranted and other leaders need to be involved.

  19. Mimi says:

    Here’s a thought: How about starting a women’s counseling ministry with a woman who has a graduate degree in biblical counseling as the leader? Problem solved! I’m a single woman who has suffered through many an awkward counseling session with male pastors. One of them left his office door open, and since it was after working hours, his family was there waiting for him. His kids constantly interrupted our conversation by coming into his office to ask him questions. It was so unprofessional and counterproductive.

  20. Bill A says:

    So you don’t copy spouses on admin emails? Would it be to much to just make it a thing and do this on all emails regardless of the nature? I work in a ministry with broken people (CR) and don’t want to take chances

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