Conference Organizers Tell Men: Your Wives Aren’t Welcome Here

The Shepherds’ Conference makes no bones about it: women are not welcome. This leadership conference is by men, for men, and about men because only men can be leaders by their way of thinking. Men who attend can’t even bring their wives along for company, according to the frequently asked questions:

“SHOULD MY WIFE ATTEND? Please note, the Shepherds’ Conference is specifically geared for men only. Our purpose is to minister to the pastors, elders, and leaders of the local church. We encourage you to allow us to serve these men by not bringing your spouse to the conference. We have limited space in our worship center as well as on campus. Our focus is to make this conference a time for these men to be refreshed and rejuvenated in their ministry.”

Men at the 2013 Shepherds' Conference

Men being refreshed and rejuvenated at the Shepherds’ Conference

For a question supposedly asked so frequently, the answer makes no sense.

Leadership Does Not Depend On Plumbing

Years ago I read a dialog between two lawyers about hiring an expert witness.

“I’m looking for a guy who really knows biology.”

The other asked if plumbing were mandatory.

“It’s not a plumbing case,” said the first. “I told you I’m looking someone who knows biology.”

“Not that type of plumbing,” said the second lawyer. “You said you wanted a guy, and I’m just wondering if you mean you won’t hire a woman biologist.”

It’s a simplistic dialog, but it makes the point. And that same point applies to church leadership. Women have been in church leadership from the beginning of the New Testament era, and we see the same under the Old Covenant as well: Deborah led God’s nation, Abigail advised King David, and Huldah prophesied the word of the Lord to the leaders of Israel.

Some may say, though, that conferences like this are good because the New Testament “clearly” says women aren’t to hold authority over men.

No it doesn’t.

As Gail Wallace explains in Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb, the few verses that supposedly clearly support complementarian doctrine actually do not support it at all when read in light of the rest of Scripture, an understanding of the original language in which it was written, and the cultural context pertaining to the pastoral letters of Timothy and Titus.

Here’s how people are supposed to interact with women who lead the church:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. (Romans 16:1-2.)

But rather than “receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and … give her any help she may need”, the conference organizers reject the Bible’s teaching and turn her away.

The Disturbing Inconsistencies Of The Shepherds’ Conference

The conference organizers clearly do not want women registering for the event. As the FAQ section says, the conference is for men only and “We encourage you to allow us to serve these men by not bringing your spouse to the conference.”

Apparently, men can’t be trained by other men if wives are in the room.

Men teaching men, but not their wives, at the 2013 Shepherds' Conference

Men teaching men, but not their wives, at the Shepherds’ Conference

This refusal to allow women to attend the conference alongside their husbands doesn’t make sense, though. After all, this conference is organized by people who write and preach that: a wife’s role is to be her husband’s helper, supporter and encourager; a husband is to lead and make decisions that his wife is to then carry out; and, others should respect the decisions the husband makes.

So what if in a particular complementarian marriage a husband thinks his wife should attend the conference, that this would be the best way for her to help, support and encourage him? Who are the conference organizers to say that this is not appropriate in that marriage? Why would they hinder the husband’s leadership by refusing to allow him to bring his wife along to attend the conference at his side?

Sorry, the organizers say, there’s no room.

This isn’t the first time someone told a woman and her husband there’s no room for them.

Mary and Joseph Outside the Inn, John Runciman (1744-68) (Wikimedia)

Mary and Joseph Outside the Inn, John Runciman (1744-68)

That person ended up turning away the Messiah.

I hope The Shepherds’ Conference organizers don’t discover they’ve done the same.


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46 Responses to Conference Organizers Tell Men: Your Wives Aren’t Welcome Here

  1. John Allman says:

    Same old same old, so far as I can see. Many churches have (for example) youth groups, at which adults are unwelcome, services for the elderly that are not offered to the young, ladies’ bible studies and prayer meetings from which men are excluded, and men’s prayer breakfasts. I myself attended a huge “men’s conference” last year, taking several others from my church in my minibus.

    The AME Zion denomination (at which I have ministered, as a visitor, as the only white man that Sunday amongst a mainly African American congregation, was even founded as a deliberate gesture of segregation along racial lines!

    The story of the book of Esther begins with King Artaxerxes holding a meeting for men, whilst Queen Vashti held a women’s meeting. That was when their marriage started to go badly wrong, although even this set-back was all in God’s plan, and led to the feast of Purim still celebrated to this day.

    I take a liberal view of these things. Although I personally, I would never offer my services, claiming to feel a calling to organise something aimed at particular demographic within my church, I try not to pass judgment on disputable matters, condemning such initiatives on the parts of others. There are plenty who do want to split the church up into groups like this, one of them being the apostle Paul himself, who wrote a passing in one of his two epistles to Timothy that, in the NIV, is headed, “what should be taught to various groups”.

    If others are less tolerant of segregation than I am, who would not propose it, then I can put of with it, but some consistency is required. No more ladies meetings either. Consistency is a virtue.

  2. Laura Droege says:

    I don’t understand their reasoning, either, Tim. I understand the lack-of-physical-space idea but then why not just limit the number of attendees, period? (It’s not like all the male pastors will be bringing more than one wife, after all.) But in my experience, the pastor’s wife plays a HUGE role in the church; moreover, there’s a huge set of expectations that go along with that role, and many (if not all) pastors’ spouses struggle with them. So why leave her out? (On a side note, yesterday my husband and I were discussing how totally unqualified either of us would be for pastor/pastor’s wife roles. Being a pastor’s spouse is as much a calling as being a pastor.)

    I’m not a fan of gender-segregated conferences in general. (Nor of gender-segregated Bible studies, though I can see a need for same gender accountability groups.) We’re not gender segregated in real life–with a few exceptions–so what benefits do one gender only conferences, etc., have? We have to know how to navigate the mixed gender atmosphere of the real world, so why not at a Christian conference?

    • Tim says:

      Great point, Laura. I’ve heard people say that men or women need time among themselves in order to learn how to better interact with each other. all that does, as far as I can see, is reinforce an us-and-them mentality. I think the time is better spent just being with each other in the first place.

  3. Kathi says:

    Well said!

    Although, technically women were allowed. But only to volunteer and serve the men. Oh, and Ligon Duncan tweeted a picture of Keith and Kristyn Getty leading songs. Apparently it’s okay for her to be there singing. Shesh.

    • Tim says:

      I thought the same things about the volunteers, Kathi. Women are equipped to serve the men who attend, but not learn alongside them. Sheesh.

      • Julie Frady says:

        And that lets the cat out of the bag. As I read what the conference leaders said, it screamed to me that they did not want women in the audience. Why not? Because some sneaky woman preacher could sign her husband up as the attendee and she could come along as his wife — and the conference leaders wouldn’t be able to tell because a lot of men *were* bringing their wives. Heaven forbid any woman preacher receive any training or help from their conference! So because they can’t tell which audience members are sneaky women with rebellious aspirations to leadership and which are innocent wives seeking to be good helpers. So, to make sure not even one Jezebel could sneak in to the conference in disguise as a submissive wife, better to say no women in the audience, period.

        The women on stage singing are known quantities. The ones in the audience not so much.

        • I think they’d be better off, anyway, The Grace concept of pastoral and elder leadership is pure poison. It’s not surprising they are finding themselves in big trouble now.

          If you’re gonna spend almost $500 a person on something (just for the registration fee), there’s probably thousands of better ways.

  4. Shannon H. says:

    “That person ended up turning away the Messiah.
    I hope The Shepherds’ Conference organizers don’t discover they’ve done the same.”

    I have thoughts that if Jesus were to bodily appear before them, they wouldn’t recognize him and anything he said to them would get him kicked out. I think that would happen in a lot of so-called Christian meetings.

    • Tim says:

      I wonder about that too, Shannon. I hope I’d be open to seeing Jesus for who he is if he’d chosen the incarnation for our generation.

      • John Allman says:

        To boldly say what’s on *my* mind, I found myself wondering whether Shannon H was a Star Trek fan. 🙂

        “I am come that they might have life, but not as we know it.” [John 10:10]

        • Shannon H. says:

          No, I only watched Star Trek sometimes on Saturdays as a kid while waiting for the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour to come on. Four channels and nothing else was on. I just googled your “not as we know it” quote. 🙂

  5. That’s the same reason I don’t do women-only conferences. I can understand why other people might like them and I don’t have a problem with other people going along to male only or female only events per se, but no, not for me (nor my husband). Something doesn’t sit right. There’s always the title of the thing that sounds like it ought to be a shampoo, and the implication that the seating will all be in pink, with ribbons… or something. Not that I know because I’ve never been. Men’s conferences seem to have names that are reminiscent of army camps or the jungle or something equally… er… active. When the women can have jungle-themed conferences and the men can have shampoo-titled conferences, then I might go. Probably not.

    Having said that, the dynamic changes in a group when it’s all-female. I’m thinking of my crochet circle. We’re all female. It’s not that men aren’t welcome, but men do tend to veer towards other crafts – things that involve banging and grunting and sharp things, whereas women, so it would seem, tend to like baby clothes, blankets, cushion covers and cardigans. There is a lovely atmosphere when you get a small group of women of a certain age together. It’s really special and there’s something almost primitive about the way we interact. The dynamic changes as soon as a man comes in. I can see how the same may be true for men, but I don’t think it applies to large groups such as occur in conferences. The last conference I went to was in 2012, when I was at the Celebrate Recovery European Conference. That was great – and everybody was welcome 🙂

    • EricaM says:

      “I don’t think it applies to large groups such as occur in conferences.” You make a good point here. A conference on how to be a pastor to a diverse group of people should not be “man cave time”!

      Although, if there was a male shampoo-themed conference, they would most likely have everything in Old Spice colors. 😛

    • Tim says:

      “When the women can have jungle-themed conferences and the men can have shampoo-titled conferences, then I might go.” SNORT!

      On group dynamics, I remember the quilting group at church where the man who did church maintenance decided to join. He was awfully good with his hands. The group quilted blankets to raise money for the local crisis nursery center, and his were as much in demand as most quilts. The women said they loved having Walt along.

  6. Heather says:

    There are occasions when sex-segregated spaces are protective, healing, or otherwise conducive to the growth (spiritual, emotional,) of the members of said space.

    This is not one of those spaces.

  7. Jeannie says:

    The sentence in the promo “Our purpose is to minister to the pastors, elders, and leaders of the local church” makes it clear that women cannot possibly be permitted in any of those roles, even “leader.” I think that’s a narrow view. Women actually probably DO have leadership roles of many kinds in the churches this conference is geared toward, yet the organizers are clearly not acknowledging them as real leaders — only men can be real leaders. And I tend to agree with Laura that not acknowledging the important role of the spouse of people in these roles (by not even allowing them to attend) is a problem in itself.

    I’m currently (finally!) reading Karen Swallow Prior’s book Fierce Convictions, which is about the writer, abolitionist, and reformer Hannah More. This book has so many great examples of what women and men can accomplish when they work together and encourage each other, sharing their personal gifts, abilities, talents, and circumstances to meet needs and effect change. It’s so inspirational — and this was in the 1700’s and 1800’s! Having a leaders’ conference that permits only men to attend is, I think, backward-looking.

    • Tim says:

      That’s what I got from their language too, Jeannie. It’s for leaders, and that (in their minds) means women can’t attend.

  8. Egalitarian Man says:

    I saw the “no women” bit last week and it made me sick for at least two reasons:

    1. It suggests that some Bible teaching is not for women. Surely women have as much right to hear the teaching at that conference as men? And what if a church has a lady as a women’s pastor? Why can’t she attend to learn from these preachers, the great and good of evangelicalism? If she’s only teaching women, complementarians would have no problem with that.

    2. What we see here is a ruling class using their power to self-perpetuate their own vested interests. The men in leadership, who decide the theology, have decided that the theology says that only men are to be in leadership and women aren’t allowed. It’s no different to the way slave-owners defended slavery from the Bible. Quite frankly, it stinks.

    • Tim says:

      Good points, both of them. The first one falls into the category of the inconsistencies in how they live out their doctrine. The second is just flat out where I part company with their doctrine.

      • Egalitarian Man says:

        Thanks Tim.

        I’m not from the US, so I’d love to have an idea of the demographics. This event was sold out with thousands attending. The big-names in evangelicalism are complementarian – MacArthur was able to summon many of them to this conference (like he’s the evangelical pope), plus others like Carson, Keller, Piper, etc. The Gospel Coalition (complementarian again) also has a high profile and seems to attract a lot of support. This approach seems the dominant force in US evangelicalism. It makes me both sad and scared. But how representative is it?

        Another concern of mine (going off-topic) is that inerrancy, the subject of this conference, equals young earth creationism. Mohler and MacArthur (and probably many more) have said as much. An wise old preacher, now in glory, once said that being a christian doesn’t mean leaving your brain behind. But that’s what they are saying by telling me that science has got it wrong.

        • Tim says:

          Young Earth Creationism seems to coincide often with comp doctrine, but it’s not always lockstep from what I have seen. Happily, YEC is not as widely adopted as the YEC people would like.

  9. Karla Holton says:

    We have coined this phrase in our family: it’s the ‘PPFL’ the Penis Principle For Leadership 😉

  10. Kathi says:

    I’ve been thinking about this all day. I wonder if the real issue of why women could not attend wasn’t to “bless the men,” but to make sure that the women don’t learn. Because if a woman learns something of theological value and tells a man what she has learned, then she would be teaching a man. That certainly can’t happen.

  11. As someone who is from the complementarian “camp,” I would say that not all of us agree with how strict MacArthur is on women’s roles in the church. Although I believe the role of elder is restricted to men, I think it’s also pretty clear that women were active in leadership roles in the early church. But I also agree with what you say here, Tim, which is that women should be able to learn alongside their husbands. Wives of elders in the church are especially vulnerable and certainly need teaching and training themselves.

    • Tim says:

      Those are excellent observations, Ethan, thanks. Spouses should not only support each other in their ministries but at times join together in the work even if the ministry is usually done by just one of the spouses most of the time.

  12. Pastor bob says:

    From Heather:
    “There are occasions when sex-segregated spaces are protective, healing, or otherwise conducive to the growth (spiritual, emotional,) of the members of said space.”

    I have seen other times when growth is best segregated, men learn about being a better husband, while the ladies learn about being the better wife. I have seen SO many times when the women will not talk with mean around, or say very little. Some men will not open up women around. There are times when this not only appropriate, but necessary.

    I will draw the line at “leadership.” Sticking my neck out with this: should a man lead the women’s bible study? NO, but her role is not limited to this ALONE. The education director at my church is a woman, and very talented. I bring a unique set of skills to the whole of the education department. Could she be the pastor of the church? Only one reason why not – same as me – lack of calling. Some churches do not really understand the roles, nor do they want to change, and if the membership is comfortable with this, let them.

    However, as for me and my house we will serve the Lord as He has enabled us, prepared us, and opened opportunities. Gender should limit 98% of ministry, only skills and abilities. (the other 2% is alluded to above).

    We have other fish to fry, this is not one of them.

    Blessings to all~!

  13. Josiah says:

    When women hold a conference for women only, nobody cares. When men hold a conference for men only, everybody loses their marbles.

    I served at the conference, and I’ll tell you, there were women everywhere, serving alongside men. On stage singing in the choir, in the orchestra, around the church in the bookstore, in the (dare I say it?) kitchen. I know that even MacArthur’s wife served. Likewise, when there are women conference at our church, and we do, everybody serves as well, and we have women teach women.

    Some of your accusations of Grace Community are without research.

    • Tim says:

      I don’t care if men and women have separate conferences, although I think it should be a rarer occurrence than events held together. But that is neither her nor there because I never accused anyone of doing wrong by organizing a men’s conference.

      What I did criticize is someone organizing a leadership conference that excludes women from attending. Some of your accusations about this post are without careful reading of the post itself. 😉

  14. It is really a matter of love. I listened to John Piper at the Gospel Coalition say that Christians should let justice be a minimum, that we are to go beyond the minimum. Way beyond the minimum. I forget all his syrupy words because all I could see is that every one of these conferences such as this have as their focus the elevation of males and the subjugation of females. Jesus did not do that. We cannot have even the minimum justice when we teach and preach that females cannot preach and teach. There is no love. It is meanness and cold-heartedness. Suppose complementarians are right. Suppose women should not preach to men. There are 7 billion people in the world who need the gospel. Would their salvation if it came about through the influence of a woman, be any less complete salvation? What does God want? The Word spread or the Word withheld? If I were a complementarian – and thank God I am not – then I would risk it!

  15. Abbi says:

    I see that the speaker line up is really diverse as well. 😉 Old white males, young white males, middle age white males. If I was male, it would be awesome to hear from such diverse backgrounds. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      It pains me to look at the picture as being representative of their group. It’s not like they are in some small homogenous enclave somewhere. Get some women and get some color on that stage and you’ll really see what the Body of Christ looks like.

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