Few of us will forget the great recession that began in 2007, when poor financial decisions in the US banking industry had a horrific impact on global markets. Six years later, analysts are concluding that better choices would have been made if more women had been involved in the decision-making. According to a TED talk by Jackie VanderBrug (cbeinternational.org/tedtalk):
- The more women on a leadership team, the better the team performs.
- Companies with three or more women on their boards outperform those without female board members by fifty-three percent.
- Female-owned businesses outperform those owned by men.
- Women who manage hedge funds outperform their male counterparts by fifty percent.
While businesses and organizations are now realizing the importance of including women in the highest levels of organizational decision making, the first human community—Adam and Eve—shared dominion together before the fall (Gen. 2:28). And, the earliest Christian churches were ahead of their time when it came to diversity in leadership, including slave and free, Gentile and Jew, and female and male from around the ancient world. As we try to imitate their faith and vitality, we should confidently imitate their model of leadership, in which, gender, class, and ethnicity were irrelevant. Let’s consider a few examples.
Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned frequently by the apostle Paul. This couple was a living example of Galatians 3:28—Priscilla was Roman and Aquila was a Jew and a freed slave. After meeting Paul in Corinth, they all relocated to Ephesus. Here the couple gained prominence through the church they established in their home (1 Cor. 16:19) and for risking their lives to save Paul.
Priscilla is celebrated for correcting the gifted apologist, Apollos (Acts 18:26), who received her teaching without reservation in Ephesus—the very city where Paul prohibits women from domineering over men (1 Tim. 2:11–12). Because of her godly authority and teaching, Paul refers to her as his “co-worker” (Rom. 16:3), a term he uses to identify leaders like Mark, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Apollos, Luke, and Euodia and Syntyche—two female leaders in the Philippian church.
Diversity was in the very DNA of the Philippian church, which grew out of three conversions: a Jewish business woman, Lydia (Acts 16:13–15); a slave girl from Macedonia (Acts 16:16–18); and a Roman jailer (Acts 16:19–34). They met in Lydia’s home, and Paul loved this church dearly; Philippians is the most compassionate of his letters. He supported their leadership, which included women, slaves, and Gentiles.
In Romans 16, Paul also honors an astonishing number of diverse leaders who are female, slaves, or Greek. Among them are Andronicus and Junia—a woman Paul calls prominent among the apostles. And it was a woman, Phoebe, who carried Paul’s letter to Rome. As was customary for letter carriers, she would also have expounded on Paul’s ideas. Paul calls her a deacon and a prostatis—a leader.
Finally, consider the church in Antioch, the first church established for Gentile believers. It was here that both Jew and Greek were first called “Christians,” here that Paul began his outreach to Gentiles, and also here that Paul confronted Peter for imposing Jewish law upon Greek believers. Ultimately, this conflict would be resolved at the council of Jerusalem.
The council upheld baptism, not circumcision, as the outer expression of our newness of life in Christ. Unlike circumcision, baptism was open to males and females, and was welcoming to Greeks and slaves. Not surprisingly, many baptismal fonts were inscribed with Galatians 3:28 and were shaped like wombs, representing a new birth into a new family—the church—in which gender, ethnicity, and class impart no value or authority. Gentiles, women, and slaves became leaders in the early church, and God used their leadership to build an unstoppable, global grassroots movement like the world had never seen.
At CBE’s conference in July, we, too, witnessed the power of global Christian community. Individuals from many countries joined hands to dismantle the notion that patriarchy is a biblical ideal (find the sessions at cbeinternational.org/pittrecordings). As at the council of Jerusalem, God orchestrated a great cloud of witnesses who, along with the Holy Spirit, affirmed that gender, ethnicity, and class pose no barrier to full service and participation in the body of Christ.