Women in Secular Leadership


Should women hold leadership roles in companies, organizations or governmental institutions outside the church?


The Bible indicates that women may hold leadership positions over men in many areas of life. Restricting the office of elder ordinarily to men, and affirming male headship within marriage, are the primary examples of leadership roles withheld from women.

Perhaps the most interesting basis for the leadership that women may offer is the creation account. Paul affirms that this account installs creation ordinances that are binding in many implicit ways, in part by arguing from the order of creation in his instructions against women's ordination to the office of elder (1 Tim. 2:11-14). But besides teaching us that women normally ought not to be elders, this same creation account indicates many positive things about women's authority.

For example, Eve was created in order to rule alongside Adam, not in order to serve him (Gen. 1:26-28).  Yes, she was also subjected to Adam, but not as one who was inferior. Consider also that Adam called his wife "woman" (naming was an act indicating Adam's authority over the woman). But in naming her "woman," he used a marked form of the word for "man." That is, he gave her a name that was distinct from his, but that was equal in kind. It was a name that recognized the authority that she also bore. Moreover, Eve was provided by God to help (Genesis 2:18) Adam "cultivate" and "keep" the garden (Gen. 2:15). As a word pair, "cultivate" and "keep" were technical terms describing the work the Levites performed in ministering to God. Eve was to share with Adam not only the job of ruling over creation, but also the job of ministering to God and administrating his kingdom on earth. Hers was a leadership role: she was a priestess and a queen.

Scripture also indicates that women may hold leadership roles in other contexts. For instance, Proverbs 31 indicates that a woman may be active in commerce and business, as well as in charge of her household (under her husband).

Lydia, in Luke 16:14-15, appears to have been unmarried and in charge of her own household, as well as in charge of her own business. The Bible offers no suggestion that this was inappropriate, and implicitly praises Lydia for her righteous leadership (her whole household is baptized).

King Solomon acknowledged and honored the queen of Sheba when she visited him (1 Kings 10:13 // 2 Chron. 9:12). Apparently, she was either the sole or co-ruler of Sheba. Solomon's affirmation of her status as queen indicates that women may rightly hold even the highest offices in civil government.

Female prophets also appear in Scripture, such as Deborah, who was also a judge over Israel (Judg. 4) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14ff. // 2 Chron. 23:22ff.) who commanded kings. These affirm the high roles women may hold in society and government.

In exceptional circumstances, women may even hold offices of authority that are usually restricted to men. I have already mentioned Deborah, who judged Israel during the time of the Judges (Judg. 4-5). She did a far better job than her contemporary Barak, by the way.

Women are also typically restricted from the military (Deut. 22:5). But during the time of the judges, Jael took military matters into her own hand and defeated the enemy general Sisera (Judg. 4:17ff.). She was praised highly for this action (Judg. 5:24).

One might hypothesize many other situations in which the normal pattern of male headship in church and family might also be altered. For instance, this might apply if a husband is absent or mentally incompetent, or simply refuses to lead. It might also apply when qualified male candidates for eldership are not available.

You might also find the Q&A Women in Leadership helpful.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.