Paul’s Masculine and Feminine Leadership

Written by Margaret Mowczko.
Margaret Mowczko is vice president of CBE-Sydney. She has a theology degree and is currently studying for a master’s degree with Macquarie University, specialising in early Christian and Jewish studies. Margaret writes on the subject of biblical equality for her website Her work has appeared in several publications of CBE-International, and one of her articles recently won an award in the 2014 Evangelical Press Association Awards held in Anaheim, California. Margaret is a leader of her church on the Central Coast where she regularly preaches.


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 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 breastfeeding her infant children.

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle[1] among you, as a nurse [i.e. a breast-feeding woman] cherishes her own children. 1 Thessalonians 2:7

Few images could be more womanly than a mother breastfeeding 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? Numbers 11:12

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 or masculine manner.[2]

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, encouragingcomforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God . . . 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12a 

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 generalisations, 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 a 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 gender roles.


[1] The earliest Greek manuscripts of 1 Thessalonians 2:7 have that the apostles became “infant children” nēpioi, rather than “gentle” ēpioi.  (Epioi may be translated as gentle, mild or kind, etc.)
The NIV (2011) translates 1 Thessalonians 2:6-8 as: We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children (nepioi) among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God  but our lives as well.

[2] God describes himself using maternal metaphors in the Old Testament; as did Jesus in the New Testament (Mat 23:7; Luke 13:34).

© 7th of July, 2010; revised 17th of May, 2012; Margaret Mowczko

This article was first published at here.
This article was also published by Christians for Biblical Equality (International) in their Arise e-newsletter on the 15th of June, 2012.  
(Arise archives)

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