He was beet red in the face when he cornered me in the snack shop after chapel.
I had just led the singing at Boys’ Camp, a woman directing a totally male audience. And this preacher was not having it. “Women are never to lead men,” he informed me, flinging a few Bible verses at me to prove his point. Reduced to tears, I saw that I had inadvertently overstepped a line. The camp resumed without a competent song leader for the rest of the two weeks.
Does God want women to lead? I have since found many indications in Scripture that He does. In the four different lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament, not once are any of the gifts limited by gender. Women are commended by Paul for their leadership in several of his letters. Even in the Old Testament, women like Deborah, Hildah, and Miriam led males and females alike. Leadership is a spiritual gift (Romans 12:7).
We don’t get to choose our gifts. Paul writes that
“…one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing [spiritual gifts] to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:7 NASB). It is the Holy Spirit who imparts the gifts, including leadership.
What does it mean to be a leader in the kingdom of God?
A kingdom leader is foremost humble. In God’s economy, being a leader does not mean being more important than others. Jesus described the religious leaders of His day:
“They do all their deeds to be noticed by men…they love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the market places…” (Matthew 23:5-7 NASB).
In contrast with those proud leaders, He then commanded the future leaders in God’s kingdom:
“Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader; that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:8-12 NASB).
Jesus Christ was the greatest leader of all time. He gave up the glory that was His in heaven, and
“… emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross…” (Philippians 2:6-8 NASB). God in the flesh gave us a perfect example of a humble leader.
In Philippians, Paul specifically addresses two women leaders: Euodia and Syntyche. He calls them co-workers and urges them to put aside their differences to adopt the humble mindset of Christ for the sake of the gospel.
A kingdom leader leads by example. She does not flaunt authority or seek to control. Peter qualified what leadership should look like in his first epistle.
“Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness, nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3, NASB).
Jesus led by example:
“For you have been called for this purpose, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you would follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NASB).
Junia is mentioned by Paul to be exemplary in leadership (Romans 16:7), calling her “outstanding among the apostles”. Her reputation was well-known.
A kingdom leader works for the benefit of others. Paul clarifies that spiritual gifts are not for our own benefit. They are given to build up the church. “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good…” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
Leading should give us a sense of responsibility to work toward the good of those under our influence.
We earn the right to lead by investing in the people God places in our path.
Again, Jesus demonstrates this kind of leadership:
“Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her…” (Ephesians 5:25-27 NASB). Priscilla worked for the benefit of others. Paul wrote that she risked her life for his sake and faithfully ministered to bring others into maturity in their faith (Romans 16:3-5).
Is God calling you to kingdom leadership? Are you naturally a person of influence?
As with every spiritual gift, leadership may come naturally, but it will also require further development.
“He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6 NASB). God is at work in us always, slowly conforming us to the image of His Son, the perfect leader (Romans 8:29).
Being a leader in the kingdom of God may look different than you might have imagined, but when we lead God’s way, with humility, by example, and investing in others, God will use us and our gift for His glory. There’s no greater honor than that.