Every good Christian leader must learn how to function in appropriate submission to leaders both Divine and human. This blog describes the woman who exercises spiritual fruit in a role of submissive leadership in ministry (Galatians 5:22-25). Regardless of her situation or the personalities under whom she serves, a woman can be a God-pleasing leader when she functions with the Holy Spirit’s filling (Ephesians 5:18-21).
The godly woman’s desire to love God and others leads her to work in concert with His people. She sees herself as part of the team, pursuing His purposes collectively, whether others include her appropriately or not. To love this way means she sets aside personal, fleshly, self-exalting desires, denying herself the luxury of presuming she knows best, for the sake of the Word.
She stays on her knees, motivated to love as Christ does, and knowing that she falls short without Him. Therefore, she chooses self-sacrifice over self-importance and seeks the well-being of those around her in order to reflect Christ and bring glory to God. While she sets a wise plan of action and respectable goals, she recognizes that without biblical love as the foundation, she has missed the whole point (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
The submissive leader finds joy in wisely and generously serving and lifting up those around her. She teaches by example as well as by word, and she recognizes that her attitude—good or bad—is contagious. Her joy is derived through relationship with God, so that she offers no superficial cheerfulness, but a confidence in her Lord that she delights in sharing. Even during deep sorrow or disappointment, her faith is reflected in an undaunted spirit that finds hope in a God Who is always faithful even when people are not (Psalm 43:5; 1 Corinthians 10:13).
The submissive leader values true peace. Recognizing the difference between standing on Truth versus grasping for personal advantage, she knows when to humble herself and gracefully defer or forbear. She bathes conflict in prayer, looks out for the good of others, goes to those involved, listens well, searches Scripture, speaks wisely, and seeks counsel when necessary (James 1:19-20). She remembers John 16:33 and takes heart. She knows the Prince of Peace and humbly seeks refuge in Him. As Christ forgives her every day for the ways she is unlike Him, so she humbly forgives the flaws of others and rejoices that God uses His children to accomplish His good work.
The submissive woman answers patiently; she works with diligence and graceful endurance as Christ did, knowing that God is good even when His people hurt each other. She believes the best, remembering the example of her Lord, and follows Him through the trials He has faithfully brought to her (1 Peter 2:13-3:6). She is willing to give up what may be rightfully hers, when doing so brings honor to God. She knows that this is God’s church—not hers—and she approaches it out of great respect for Him.
The submissive leader is kind to those who are harsh and uncaring, to those who don’t understand, and to those who cannot repay her. She gratefully walks alongside those less experienced or less able, to encourage them to develop their spiritual gifts. She cares more for the glory of God and the needs of others than she does her own accolades, so that she spends herself well (2 Corinthians 12:15).
The godly leader is part of the solution rather than the problem, even when personal cost is high. Her awareness of her sinful tendencies and Christ’s grace keep her at the foot of the Cross, grateful to be forgiven, ready to forgive, and careful to discern and stand for truth. Her work is steeped in moral integrity and fine character qualities which she inspires in those she leads. She would rather be criticized for doing right than admired when doing wrong (1 Peter 3:16-17).
A submissive leader perseveres with wisdom and patience, prioritizes well, holds onto what is good, and knows when to pursue change. Faithfulness to God moderates all of her decision-making. She willingly yields to her ultimate Head (Christ) and simultaneously follows her imperfect human authorities in Jesus’ name. She leads others to respect and appropriately yield to authority as well. When her human authorities fail, she does not falter or criticize, but falls to her knees with fasting and yields to God’s will. Along the way when her work is difficult and the way seems uncertain, she rejoices in the Leader she knows she can always trust.
The submissive leader is moved by the gentleness of God toward her (Ephesians 2:7), so she is considerate of the needs and perspectives of those she leads. Of course, she sets them up for success in their work, but she also watches out for them spiritually and expresses delight, gratitude, and concern for them and their loved ones. Because she recognizes human depravity (particularly her own), she is not surprised when people sin in ways that are painful for her. Spurning bitterness, vengeance, complaining, or sarcasm, she answers with gentle forbearance, patient endurance, appropriate exhortation, and faith in God’s sovereign wisdom and timing.
A submissive woman is neither a pusher nor a procrastinator. She avoids entanglement in all forms of idolatrous living, including emotionalism. Realistically weighing her options with time, energy, material wealth, abilities, and people, she keeps her eye on the eternal as she handles the temporal (2 Corinthians 4:18). The godly leader exhibits grace under pressure, and diligently seeks to build self-discipline in a spirit of meekness.
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Do such women really exist? Not perfectly, to be sure. But think about women you have known who have exercised submissive leadership, especially at church. How have they influenced and equipped others, including you? How might our churches do a better job readying godly women for biblical leadership?