Does it seem curious to you that when the issue of leadership in the church is discussed, gender is frequently cited as a primary element to consider? In fact, when determining who may or may not serve as an elder, deacon, pastor, or church board member, gender rises to the foreground so quickly and so often that some churches are reluctant to discuss the issue for fear their churches will divide as a result.
What are the most important qualities leaders should possess, according to Scripture? Is it education, wealth, experiences, or a person's capacity to influence others? Is it a certain gender, age, or ethnicity? No! The "must have" qualities in a leader that Paul, Jesus, and other disciples focus on have to do with character. The lists below show the character qualities that Paul mentions are needed in elders, overseers, deacons, and widows (who held leadership).
- Elders/Overseers: Temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money (1 Tim. 3:2-3).
- Deacons: Serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money (1 Tim. 3:8).
- Widows: Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things (1 Tim. 3:11).
Now compare these qualities to the Fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23). Clearly, what marks leadership is not gender, but one's capacity to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. It is newness of life in the Spirit that qualifies people for leadership in God's work. By contrast, those who display the fruit of the flesh (which Galatians 5:19-21 tells us includes fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and carousing) have disqualified themselves from leadership.
What if the next time your church nominated individuals for service as deacons, pastors, or board members, you selected those individuals who best exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, regardless of gender, education, wealth, age, or ability to influence others?
What if our choice of leaders rested solely in their walking in newness of life in the Spirit? Wouldn't this best reflect the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament writers on leadership? Jesus taught his disciples that real leadership consists of servanthood. Peter said that elders are to lead "by example"-not by domineering (1 Pet. 5:2-3).
Many corporations, city councils, and school boards now require that there be at least some women serving in leadership positions. Why? Because experience has taught that women often bring some needed qualities to governing boards. These secular groups are learning what Jesus and the apostles taught long ago (although they may not realize where the teaching came from)!
Meanwhile, many churches, who profess loyalty to the Word of God and its teachings are still suffering from the lack of gifts that God gave women to use in his service. How tragic for all of us!
Mimi Haddad is president of Christians for Biblical Equality.
Read more about the rich history of female leadership in the New Testament and in evangelical Christianity in Mimi Haddad's article Empowered by God in July's issue of Sojourners.