Our Mutual Motherly Ministry

When I was at Synergy conference in Orlando, I gave a plenary address and chose a tricky topic. Kris said “Why?” and then said “Be careful.” My answers, “Because it’s in Paul” and “I will, real careful.” And I tried. And I think it worked. 

But first: great to meet Carolyn James and her husband Frank; wonderful people. Then so many, many others, including outstanding an outstanding talk from Michelle Loyd-Page. Just before I spoke I was upstaged by an outstanding performance by Susan Isaacs, and I’ll be saying more about Susan on this blog soon.

Now for the topic: I was reading Beverly Gaventa’s very fine book Our Mother Saint Paul

when I said to myself, “Perfect. To an audience of women who are interested in ministry, I said, ‘Let’s talk about the motherly images of ministry that Paul uses for his own apostolic ministry.'”

So, here are the points I made, and I really thought the theme worked. One leader even suggested it would work on Mother’s Day. (I don’t know about that.)
1. As mothers, our mutual ministry means nursing
1 Thess 2:7-8 although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; instead we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children, with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

1 Cor 3:1-3: So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people?

2. As mothers, our mutual ministry means birthing.

Gal 4:17-20: They court you eagerly, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you would seek them eagerly. However, it is good to be sought eagerly for a good purpose at all times, and not only when I am present with you. My children – I am again undergoing birth pains until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be with you now and change my tone of voice, because I am perplexed about you.

3. As mothers, our mutual ministry means participating in cosmic re-birth.

Romans 8:18 For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. 8:19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of God who subjected it – in hope 8:21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 8:22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 8:23Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 8:24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 8:25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance.
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  • Ann

    Excellent! Thanks, Scot.
    I’ve also been mentored by Paul, as a woman in ministry. I consider myself to be among friends in the historical line of women whom Paul also mentored, including Phoebe, Lydia, Junia, Priscilla, Euodia & Syntache. As a mother of a boy and a girl, I appreciate Paul’s balance in conflicts & mentoring of both men & women.

  • Jim


  • Scot,
    And these very images usually were in a context where others were being “bossed around” by the ‘so-called apostles.’ The relational dynamics of the church are intimacy-oriented, taking into account the fragility and immaturity of the new-born in the family. Great, pastoral heart in your main points. Way to go!!

  • Thanks for the work you do, Scot, to bring healing to women wounded by people in the church. Your posts and books often give me confidence to be a leader and thinker in the church and overcome what I’ve been taught in the past about myself as a woman.

  • Thanks so much for this post. It’s quite simple but means so much to me as a woman and I can feel it’s richness as a mother.

  • Peggy

    Scot…well done!
    This is just another way that Paul undermined patriarchy and used himself as an example of what his cultural “peers” would have considered weakness … and which Paul consistently used to show that our God calls us to be weak in the eyes of the “world”, that we would show forth the strength of God’s cHesed toward us.
    It is in the long, slow processes of gestation, labor, birth and nurturing that we see the hand of God most clearly. I have many times stated that I believe God’s greatest attribute is restraint.
    We need the images of mother to balance the images of father … and both need to be transformed by God’s example of them, rather than human examples. Certainly, becoming a mother has completely transformed my understanding of who God is and how “they” function — in my own life, in my family, and in God’s family.

  • yes, the Bible is full of beautiful mothering images in reference to God and to how we do ministry. It is hard though to use them sometimes though – there is a fine line between bringing us back to a more wholistic view of God as both mother and father and simply shoring up the stereotype that women can just be reduced to the nurturing mother image. We have limited God and our approaches to ministry in our restricting the biblical metaphors we deem worthy of dwelling upon, but women have been constrained by the nurturing mother image as well. We need both – but while granting freedom in both cases.

  • dopderbeck

    Why does someone as established as you are have to be “real careful?”

  • Dana Ames

    Excellent, Scot. And what Peggy said.

  • Scot, this is good– very good. There is something about seeing these texts together in one place that is very powerful. These texts and your comments are very powerful pastorally. They reflect the core of ministry which is always relational. Thanks.