Margaret Mowczko is on the executive committee of a newly-formed CBE chapter in Sydney (Australia). She writes on the subject of biblical equality for her website Newlife.
* * * * *
Some Christians believe that being a leader is a man’s role, and that it is unfeminine for women to be in leadership. These Christians dismiss female leaders mentioned in the Bible as rare exceptions and anomalies. They maintain that God does not generally allow women to be leaders in society, in the church or even in their own homes. Does the Bible teach that leadership is masculine? Or that leadership is unfeminine?
The Apostle Paul was an impressive and influential church leader. Interestingly, in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul describes his apostolic ministry (and that of his colleagues’) using the metaphor of a woman breast-feeding her infant children. Paul writes,
“As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, as a nurse [i.e. a breast-feeding woman] cherishes her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7, NIV 2011).
Few images could be more womanly than a mother breast-feeding her baby; yet Paul states here that he ministered in ways that he himself identified with womanhood.
One of the greatest leaders in the Bible was Moses. Moses’ complaint to God in Numbers 11:12 indicates that God wanted Moses to lead in a maternal way:
“Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse [i.e. a breast-feeding woman] carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors?” (Num. 11:12, NIV 2011).
From Moses’ words, we can see that God does not necessarily associate leadership with masculinity; and that God did not want his people to be led in a purely paternal fashion.
After describing his ministry in maternal terms in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul goes on to speak about his ministry using the metaphor of a father.
“For you know that we dealt with you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God . . .” (1 Thess. 2:11-12a, NIV 2011).
If Paul, as a man, can lead and minister in both a motherly and fatherly manner, does it seem unreasonable to suggest that some women can lead and minister in both a motherly and fatherly manner? Is it only fatherly men who can encourage and comfort believers and urge them to live lives worthy of God?
Generally speaking, men and women are different, and they tend to have different leadership styles. While there are many exceptions to these generalizations, women tend to be more relational, collaborative, and flexible in their leadership than many male leaders. They also tend to be more sensitive, intuitive, and nurturing in their dealings with people. These qualities are considered advantageous in leaders within post-modern society; especially when leading and mentoring people belonging to Generation Y.
Many women leaders have also demonstrated that they can be assertive and goal-oriented; qualities often associated with male leaders. Moreover, women have shown that they can be successful, effective leaders without necessarily compromising or losing their femininity (which seems to be a concern of some.)
The church needs spiritual fathers and mothers in leadership. Just as families benefit when they are led by both a father and mother, churches benefit when they are led by gifted and called men and women, who are able to minister according to their gifts and abilities and are not constrained by traditional roles.