Paul’s Leadership: Masculine, Feminine

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.

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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.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://chafeescribe.wordpress.com/ Rev. Kim W. Chafee

    Thank you for presenting some of the (many) Scriptures that describe God in what we might term “feminine fashion.” These Scriptures present attributes of God that are not often spoken of, nor cherished within the Church…or at least, in some churches. Far from being meaningless or humorous to those of us who minister within congregations who still prefer the male imagery of God, I say “thank you,” and keep up the sound exegesis. God is always bigger than we realize, or than we can describe.

    Grace and Peace,
    Rev. Kim W. Chafee

  • Terry

    I usually do not post comments on other people’s blogs. And usually, I am impressed with the flow of information from this blog. This article, however, is poor. To use the passages mentioned above for proof that women should be in leadership roles is a misunderstanding of the passages at hand. Paul was not saying that he was the same as a female leader, rather, he is talking about the temperament with which he led. Sometimes leaders are more gentle (like a nursing mother), sometime more stern (like a father). To jump from this picture to “doesn’t it seem reasonable” is a stretch. Just because something is possible does not mean it is permissible. I am not saying that women in leadership is wrong (or right for that matter). For the time, I will keep my convictions to myself. I am simply saying that the author of this article needs to find a new line of argument.

    And more than that, why do we feel the need carry the label “leader” when it comes to our service of Jesus Christ. Should we not be happy simply being a servant of Christ? Not having a title does not mean we cannot serve. Our reward is not in a paycheck given for our service here, or our title. Our reward will be given when we are with Him. So lets stop writing articles about why it is okay for different people groups to serve, and just serve.

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com Kristen

    Terry, I think most women would be happy to lead as they are gifted and called, without any titles, if men in the churches would reciprocate by laying down all their titles. Why should women be the only ones faulted for seeking to be recognized as leaders?

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com Kristen

    PS. It also seems a bit disingenous to say, “stop talking about why it’s ok for different people groups to serve” when we all know the only group being told, “You can’t, and it’s wrong for you to even ask!” are women.

  • Cam R

    @#2 Terry,

    Don’t you think presenting the feminine aspects of leadership or pastoring is relevant when many are arguing that leadership or pastoring is inherently masculine?

    I agree with you about titles especially when Jesus warned against calling others father, teacher, etc. (Matthew 23) but isn’t it worth speaking out if some are teaching the opposite of Jesus was teaching–that we are all equal; maybe to serve, as you put it, in what ever role the Spirit equips us for?

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com Kristen

    I also have to address this: “To use the passages mentioned above for proof that women should be in leadership roles is a misunderstanding of the passages at hand.”

    Ms. Mowczko was actually using the passages to answer this question: “Does the Bible teach that leadership is masculine? Or that leadership is unfeminine?” which she bolded at the beginning to make clear that this was the question. Read carefully, her point is not that these passages, in and of themselves, are conclusive proof that women should be in leadership– rather, that the argument that leadership is inherently unfeminine, or that (as has been going around the blogosphere) Christianity is intended by God to have a “masculine” feel because of its male-only leadership, holds no water.

  • Terry

    Kristen – I have not told women “they can’t and are wrong to ask.” I never said women can’t, I was very clear on that point.

    When you read from the second bold statement to the end of the article, it is clear the author is arguing for women leadership roles. There are other passages to better argue with.

    By the way, I am a Pastor, but go by Terry, not Pastor. I am simply a Christian serving. When someone calls me Pastor, I always say, “Terry is fine.” So, I, as a male, have no desire for titles.

    And at last, this is why I do not post. There is never enough time or space to adequately argue all the points, and often what is written is misinterpreted.

    Grace and Peace.

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com krwordgazer

    Terry, you are right about the misinterpretation. I did not say you were the one saying, “You can’t, and it’s wrong to ask.” What I said was that the only group hearing this message was women.

  • Kyle

    Terry,

    If someone, as in this article, already holds a conviction, then not every article written must be a “winner” prooftext passage. The point of this article is to show that masculinity and femininity are not clearly designated into the leader and follower role/category in scripture as many would like it to be. The point is to point out the feminine aspects of leadership. Sure, there are stronger passages, but that doesn’t mean an article can’t talk about aspects in other passages.

    Also, if you are a pastor and just don’t want people to call you that, it doesn’t change the fact of your role in leadership. At your church, if someone else just gets up and starts teaching, preaching or leading your church in a different direction than you, would that person be considered the new pastor? My point is to say that an ethos of “no labels” seems more like a way for a leader to say “we’re all leaders” while actually being the only real leader. You probably don’t mean it that way, but it sounds kind of like a way to manipulate people into accepting traditional roles and silencing any arguments to the contrary with a cool, moderate ethos. Again, I don’t think your trying to be like that, but I think this is the effect of waving the banner of an ethos like that. I think people who are arguing about roles in leadership are not in it for labels.


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