Approaching Gender and Leadership – Part 2

25 Oct

In the previous post, we looked at how our Greek mindset affects the way we view gender. In this post, I want to look at how it affects our view of leadership. We don’t even have to look at the history of Greece to get an idea of what the Greeks thought about it — Jesus told us. “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them” (Mark 10:42). When we do look at history, though, it completely agrees with this witness. Even the myths about the pantheon told the story of one massive power play after another, with gods and heroes clambering for domination and glory. Although Greece is hailed as the birthplace of democracy, the rulers there held their realms with an iron fist. Getting to be top dog meant having lots of fame, money, and honor, not to mention slaves who were compelled to do anything your whim dictated. Greek (and later, Roman) rulers had the power of life or death over their subjects, and there was no stopping them if they exercised that authority arbitrarily or corruptly.

However, this is not what Jesus shows us about leadership. The true leader in the Kingdom does not put their foot down and say, “I’m in charge around here!” Leaders in the Kingdom aren’t supposed to relax in the benefits of the sweat and service of their lackeys. They aren’t supposed to fight to the top of the pecking order so that they may finally take it easy and have others do their bidding for a change. Rather, they are supposed to extravagantly serve those under their charge. I can attest to so many leaders here at IHOP-KC who strive to do this, and because of their servant hearts I have benefited greatly from their leadership.

Jesus said it plainly, “But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Mt 23:11). He Himself, the greatest Person among us, served intensely. He spent hours upon hours ministering — remembering that this is in ancient Israel, with no air conditioning and masses of people with limited hygiene — laying hands on the sick and healing them (Matt 12:15, 15:32). He washed feet (John 13). He took time for children (Mark 10:14). He gave His life (see all four Gospels 🙂 ). He showed us what it means to lead by serving.

Paul followed this example. Like a good parent, he would gladly spend and be spent on behalf of the church (2Cor 12:14-15). He was daily burdened in his heart with concern for them (2Cor 11:28). He labored, as if in childbirth, for Christ to be formed in them (Gal 4:19). He worked hard at his trade in order to support himself, and it was on top of that he preached, taught and mentored (2Thes 3:8). He never touted his own name, but he spoke of the team he led with extreme honor and care (Rom 16:1-2; Php 2:19-30; 1Cor 16:17-18, just to name a few). He, a former Pharisee, adapted himself to all kinds of cultures, becoming a servant to all kinds of people in the hope of saving them (1Cor 9:19-22).

Suddenly, one has to wonder why we are so hyped up about whether or not it is proper for women to serve. That’s really what leadership amounts to — at least in a godly, meek leader who patterns their life after Christ’s. If a woman may serve the church by doing any number of administrative and hospitality jobs, if she may deeply spiritually invest herself into children and youth, is that really so different than serving the church by sharing her insight into the Word of God with those who need to hear it? Is that so different than caring for the church as a loving parent, as Paul did?

So often, this debate rages around whether or not it is proper for a woman to be in a place of authority over a man. The idea is that it’s wrong for her to take the high rank while he takes the low. But in reality, that’s not how God views leadership in the first place. While I will affirm that there must be organizational structure within a body of believers, and thus a certain “chain of command”, it is not the case that one stands as a superhuman figure to the rest. There is not one big cheese whom everyone is forced to follow simply because that person can throw their weight around. There will be one person at the “top”, of course, but in a godly leadership system, this is not the authoritarian boss. It’s the servant-hearted leader who is pulling for their entire team and congregation to excel in walking in the grace of God. It’s the person who is shouldering the biggest responsibility to make sure the church/organization runs smoothly, and to see that each team member is flourishing in their walk with the Lord. It’s the person who is laying down their life for the ones they serve, pouring out a great deal of energy, time and resources to do so.

To put it another way, if we really understood what leadership was, viewing it through a biblical lens rather than a Western one, we would fight a lot less about who got to do it.

If we truly understood biblical leadership, we would also be looking for a vastly different profile of leader. We still tend to be impressed by college degrees, age, resumès, and a dozen other outward signs of strength — including things like appearance, stature, voice, and even gender. In so doing, we forget that God actually chooses the weak and foolish things (1Cor 1:26-29). He’s not looking for impressive people. He’s looking for willing hearts. David, one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history, began his journey as a shepherd in the middle of nowhere, with no prospects and no experience in politics. His only qualification was being a man after God’s own heart. Peter was a fisherman with only the most basic education, a commoner whose only qualification was that he was willing to leave his boat to follow Jesus. Esther was a nobody, an orphaned captive in a foreign land, yet the Lord thrust her into the political arena. Her only qualification was her faithfulness to God and her willingness to put her life on the line for the sake of His people. God isn’t looking for the strong and capable; He’s looking for those who will lean on Him and lead in accordance with His heart. Or to quote the saying, “God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.”

Of course, people who support excluding women from leadership draw their theology from several key New Testament verses. Shouldn’t these render everything we just discussed as moot? I do want to address those verses exegetically at a later time, but for now I will say this: We have to interpret them through the whole lens of Scripture, including the teachings of biblical leadership.

If we take a handful of verses to assume God doesn’t want women to lead, we must ask the question, “Why not?” Now, the Lord is sovereign. In areas where His opinion conflicts with ours, He is always right. But even in acknowledging His “rightness”, we must seek His heart behind what He says, in order that we may wrestle through the issue in our own souls and get ourselves on His side.

As we saw in the last post, there is no universal physical, mental, emotional, or personality issue that naturally disqualifies women from leadership. And as we observed in this post, even if there were such deficiencies — or more accurately, if it seemed like there were — that’s not how God picks leaders in the first place. There is nothing inherently unfeminine about being a leader (see last post), and nobody would say that there is anything unfeminine about servanthood (see this post). Objectively, purely from the Scriptures, there is no characteristic of leadership which is bad for women, and no characteristic of women that is bad for leadership.

The alternative, then, is to assume that God set things up that way purely arbitrarily. In other words, although women could legitimately lead, He just says they shouldn’t. Yet this flatly contradicts what we know to be true about Him: God does not show personal favoritism to people based on their physical makeup (Acts 10:34; Galatians 2:6). 

So if there’s not something inherent about women that makes them unfit to lead, there’s nothing about leadership that is incompatible with femininity, and God is not arbitrarily preferring one gender over another, then this subject demands a deeper study. We have to reconsider our assumptions. To the best of our ability, we must let the Word speak for itself as a whole inspired text. We must draw our beliefs about women from the Word, and we must draw our beliefs about leadership from the Word. Otherwise we will never understand what the Bible has to say about women in leadership.

More to come in the next weeks. Look for posts in the category “Women in Ministry.”


Posted by on October 25, 2008 in Women in Ministry


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5 responses to “Approaching Gender and Leadership – Part 2

  1. brianbeattie

    October 25, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    This is so priceless: “if we really understood what leadership was, viewing it through a biblical lens rather than a Western one, we would fight a lot less about who got to do it.” Thank you thank you thank you for putting this so clearly and succinctly. I totally agree.

    I think it is so ironic when a rule denies the pulpit to a woman for all reasons, but permits her to serve in the nursery or clean up after the potluck. This rule basically reserves the place of greatest servanthood, and therefore the “greatest-of-all”, for the dames! Take that, self-promoting empire-building insecure … uh, OK, not meaning to offend any specific men I have ever known, but really, come on 😉

  2. Mark Cahill

    October 27, 2008 at 8:45 am

    I hesitate to take a stance on this issue because my view on the matter puts me diametrically opposed to a culture that is syncretistic with feminism. It is impossible at this point to remove that bias from our culture. I just hope that isn’t the motivation for these posts.

    My only reservations about women in church leadership come from the Word. I see a consistent pattern of inclusion of women in the ministry, but exclusion of women from church governance. From my reading of the Word, I see the shepherd role as being reserved for men – “the husband of one wife”.

    Now I’m not one to be contentious in the matter. As I said, my only reservations on the issue come from my understanding of biblical teaching on the matter. I really look forward to your exegetical analysis of these key passages. Perhaps you may be influential in changing my thinking. I may study the issue out as well and post an article on the matter after reviewing your next post.

    Thank you, as always, for not being afraid to tackle difficult issues. I enjoy reading your blog, and look forward to more articles like this.

  3. Amanda Beattie

    November 1, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Mark: I’m very glad that you are so opposed to the syncretism in this culture. By the grace of God, I strive to be also. Part of the reason I’ve waited a while to post these is because I’m wrestling through how to communicate what’s on my heart regarding this issue. Kowtowing to the expectations of society at the expense of the Word of God is always a really bad idea. Trying to adjust the Scriptures to be politically correct is disastrous, every time.

    I actually used to believe that women shouldn’t minister without the covering of a male, that women certainly shouldn’t preach and definitely shouldn’t be pastors. We were in a church situation that harped on those verses a lot and I resigned myself to, “If it’s in the Bible, then I certainly can’t argue with it.” However, some months later after a lot of detrimental fruit coming forth in my family and in others around us, I began to wonder if there was more to this than met the eye. And thus began my journey.

    I’m definitely reserving the exegesis for a later post (working on that clarity of language again, because I absolutely don’t want to write anything contrary to the Word). But I will say a couple things for now: 1) The passages in question are actually difficult to exegete for either side of the argument. 2) In my opinion, a thorough exegesis of the passages in question actually favor a more egalitarian approach.

    And thank you so much for commenting. I very much appreciate how open and kind the tone is, and I look forward to your thoughts about future posts.

  4. Brian

    November 23, 2008 at 4:15 am

    I’m with Mark on this one. Although I can see possibilities for women to minister in most areas of body life (including preaching), I have yet to see conclusive biblical evidence to show that women may exercise the governance role of elder. Like Mark I dont want to be contentious but from my reading on the subject, as I have looked at both sides of the discussion, I believe the bridge holding up the women-as-elders theorem is a bit more wobbly than the one supporting the men-only application.
    Having said that I would respect the conclusion a church may have come to on the subject and submit to the elders in accordance with scripture.
    Like Mark, I look forward to being open to further reflection in my thinking.
    Thanks for your thought provoking post.


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