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. This is 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 at the heart of every pastor’s approach. So then, here are four 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:
1) 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, versus 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.”
2) 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 can be copied in it. It can be in the (cc) section so all corresponding can see the spouse’s involvement. There are certain private counseling matters that would prevent someone else to be copied in on email, but this is a good practice in general. This may seem tedious, but can be a helpful accountability when appropriate.
3) 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 borne 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! I’ve learned that in my own marriage. Something else I have learned is that sometimes a wife is not comfortable sharing some things with her husband in the room, which is why another woman or even another trusted pastor can be that extra person in the room. This even becomes essential for marriage struggles where a husband is controlling and domineering and a wife is afraid to share openly. If I am trying to care for a single lady, my wife is 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.
4) 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??