Sunday, October 10, 2010

Female Leaders: They're Fantastic!

I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. – Romans 16:1-5

Today’s Reading: Psalms 97-99; Romans 16

At the end of Romans Paul starts giving shout outs to random folks in the church. I’ve always found these chapters to be fascinating as they reveal to me hints about how the early church worked. In these shout outs he leads off by giving all kinds of props to women. In fact a third of all the shout outs are to women.

The women must have been holding it down jack!

When I look at the passages above it is clear to see that women held important leadership positions in the church. The church at Rome was told to assist Phoebe in whatever business she had need of them. The Romans were told to greet the church in the home of Priscilla and Aquila.

Paul clearly viewed these women as powerful assets to the church and as people worthy of authority.

So what happened? How come so few of our churches are led by women? What happened to this very visible presence of female leadership in our community?

Sure, there are many women who are pastors and leaders in churches. I am not trying to pretend that female leadership does not exist at all, but at the same time let’s not front here. Don’t Paul’s shout outs indicate a role of leadership for women that for a LONG time disappeared in the church?

I think so.

I’m no Church historian so I can’t break down exactly why this may have happened. I’m sure it is some mixture of age old sexism, pulling out individual passages in the text to substantiate said sexism, and many other factors that have led to the perpetuation of our male dominating society.

But one thing is clear… women are clearly as capable of leadership as men are. Holding women back from these positions is not only wrong, but also detrimental any organization, entity, or society that chooses to do so. According to the World Bank “societies that discriminate by gender tend to experience less rapid economic growth and poverty reduction than societies that treat males and females more equally.”

Must this not also be true for churches and other religious institutions? Wouldn’t it be more efficient, not to mention just and right, to utilize 100% of the potential human resources rather than roughly half?

Some might say that men hold the majority of the leadership positions because that is precisely what the people want. They would rather follow a man than a woman.

That’s hogwash.

This is a paradigm that can and needs to be broken. I can’t wait to see what the church will look like when women are granted the leadership roles they deserve. I imagine that so much of what we hold true about our faith would be changed by this shift. By becoming more loving and accepting of women we will naturally become more capable of loving and accepting others as well.

So I just want to take a moment to thank Phoebe for all that she did some two thousand years ago. Her life is a reminder that we have a lot to learn when it comes to how we view women in our communities.

Let’s continue to grow and learn by acknowledging everyone’s potential to contribute to the good of all. 


  1. Thank you Clarence Mitchell for being a man who honors women and believes in our leadership ability with celebration.

    Again, Thank you :)

  2. Hi Clarence! I agree with you in that women played a key role in the early Church and I'm also, disappointed that now they have more the role of followers rather than leaders in the Church. I really would like to know if there is something "substantial" to keep things this way.
    Something that I would like to add is that accepting women will not only let "us" accept and love others, but will help "us all" by accecpting and loving ourselves completely, our feminine and our masculine side.
    Thank you for bringing this out :)

  3. Great points Jen! Thank you for your comments. I totally agree on the help us all point.


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