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Models of Women’s Leadership in the Bible (Part 4/4)


In our current Western societies, women are no longer (technically) marginalised from power structures and access to power. They are certainly no longer legally defined by their relationship to men but are autonomous individuals who are free to make self-determining decisions within their community. Unlike women of the Old Testament, they have independent rights and are responsible for their own behaviour. Therefore while women may have been excluded from official public roles in the Old Testament, this situation is no longer the case. So the challenge is not for men and women to ‘cut-and-paste’ the (patriarchal) culture of the biblical community onto our contemporary culture, or to capitulate to attitudes that lessen the contribution of women. Instead, they are to retrieve models of women’s leadership from Scripture that can be applied to our contemporary post-feminist world. The participation of women in the leadership and management of the biblical communities suggests various models that can be retrieved by the contemporary church. These models include the public, formal leadership of women in the Old and New Testament communities. It also includes the private and informal influence of women. Throughout the biblical text we find a dynamic expression of women and examples of leadership that can be applied to the raising of female (and male) leaders today. Through this biblical theology of women’s contribution there are two models that I would like to particularly highlight for closer scrutiny; the model of local pastor and teacher.

However as we begin to explore these models of local pastor and teacher we have to recognise the gap that exists between some of these positive models of women leaders from the biblical text and the current opportunities and roles adopted by women in the contemporary Christian community. How do we raise women leaders for the roles of pastors and teachers? While the reasons for this gap are complex and explored elsewhere in this book, I seek to retrieve models that can begin with the current contribution of women in private roles and build their confidence and courage to participate in more public roles of influence and leadership. We can raise women leaders by beginning with their current experience and build their skills so that they can explore greater opportunities to serve and build the Christian community. To provide an avenue for the raising and releasing of women it is crucial for women to begin to identify their skills and opportunities for applying their gifting. By beginning with the models of private leadership of the Old Testament, women can be empowered. In particular, in the process of raising women to be leaders, we can begin with the experience of many women in the private role of household manager. This is a model that can connect to the everyday reality of many women in the contemporary context as they also manage homes, albeit smaller, and raise children.

By beginning with the experience of some women as household managers it can open the door to the valuing of their contribution. While essentially a private function in the Old Testament, the model of household manager has some important implications. Most contemporary leadership studies recognise the importance of management to leadership. While leaders and managers perform inherently different tasks, many of their goals and mission are the same. If leaders cast vision, managers ensure the implementation of that vision. This involves an ability to manage complexity through mutual cooperation, team building, clear communication and logistical co-ordination. This is demonstrated in the Old Testament texts through the managing of the household by the mother. However as Wilson notes, in the contemporary situation, the cultural ideal of mother is not valued outside the home.[1] She writes

Motherhood, often used as an excuse to keep us down, is actually one of the best sources of our power. It is not only the place where our authority and ambition go unquestioned, but it is also a profession that breeds ability, and not just for stain removal.[2]

The skills of household management are transferable skills that can be greatly utilised in the public domain of the Christian community. Yet to ignore this model is to de-value the skills of many women and limit the contribution and role of management. A retrieval of this model can create new expectations of what the participation of women can look like in the contemporary context. The model of ‘household manager’ can provide a picture of leadership for women that is both achievable and accessible. This example of household manager can forge a new model of managerial leadership to inspire women. It can also be a means of opening the door to women. However the model does not stop there.

As the role shifts from the Old Testament to the New Testament, women can explore the development of this role. In the New Testament, the household manager takes on new meaning. It shifts from being a role of unofficial power to a public role. The household manager moves from the private influence of the family to the public leadership of the Christian community. As the role transforms in the New Testament to public roles, women can build on the skills and confidence gained, then begin to apply them to the public role of leadership. As women discover their skills and calling they can also develop their leadership capacity. As the role transforms from manager to leader, so can women transform through the Spirit of God. Women can retrieve the models of pastor and leader of local congregations. Their authority need not be limited to the home, but can be exercised in the public realm as the Spirit enables. Women in the contemporary Christian community can recover the rich tradition of women and men divinely called and empowered for ministry and leadership.

A second model of leadership that has emerged in this biblical theology of women’s contribution is the role of ‘teacher.’ Through education and instruction, women of the Old and New Testaments have influenced future generations. Although mostly a private function in the Old Testament, this role becomes a public opportunity for women in the new Christian house church movement. Yet while the role of teacher has come to be dominated by men, the role of female teachers from the biblical text may look remarkably different. The model of teacher in the biblical text is primarily relational. In the Old Testament it occurs in the context of the home. It is driven by a concern for the development and nurture of others that lack wisdom, skill and knowledge. This context of the home creates a picture of the teacher that includes coaching, empathy, the transfer of life-skills and cultural values as well as cognitive learning. This is a leadership that encourages collaboration and inclusiveness; it does not dominate or impose authority. While the formation and mentoring of the successive generations may seem to have little prestige, it has long term potential to directly influence future values and community culture.

As women retrieve these models of leadership, they also retrieve a memory of Spirit empowerment regardless of gender, race or