“Leadership is Male” is a book by well known preacher, David Pawson, written in 1988, and which I read soon after, not to return to again since. There is no prize for guessing what one of the main themes of the book is and, however much I might want to soften this, I have no doubt some who read this will do so with a degree of discomfort, arguing that in the 28 years since the book was written we have come a long way when it comes to gender equality and that it would be a mistake to try and turn the clock back.
Pawson has written a lot of theological based books (which this is) and given he is close to coming from my own stable doctrinally and is a gifted communicator and an intelligent Bible expositor, with something worth listening to, my inclination has been to read and weigh what he writes. I have found he is invariably worth reading even if, as often is the case, there are things he writes that I profoundly disagree with, although not so much with what he argues in this book. As someone who feels burdened to communicate truth even if it is unpopular, on the basis truth is better than error and truth needs to somehow come out, I see in Pawson a kindred spirit.
One synopsis of the book reads: “Many will see this teaching as an anachronism, hopelessly out of date and the dying echo of a controversy that has virtually been settled. The situation may have changed, both inside and outside the church in the last two decades. But two things have not changed. God’s Word, expressed in Scripture, has not, nor has love for Him, expressed in obedience. We are not called to be credible to contemporary society, but rather, model a counted-culture of a truly healthy, holy and happy society in a world that has lost its bearings. This is not a treatise on marriage or the ministry of women (though there are implications for both), it is addressed solely to the question of leadership in the redeemed people of God, which I am thus far convinced must be male. Is the idea of women in leadership biblical or is it yet another case of Christians being conformed to the world? What is the Spirit saying to the churches? Here is one side of the debate, probably best seen as ”opposing the motion”! This is not a treatise on marriage or the ministry of women – it is addressed soley to the question of leadership in the redeemed people of God”.
In a short video, recorded in 2012, Pawson talks about the book, and his views appear to be unchanged. He reaffirms his belief that, as far as the home and the church goes, leadership should be male, but also emphasizes men’s responsibility, which all too often they fail to discharge. He argues some of the gender confusion and other societal woes we are now seeing is because society has rejected what the Bible teaches on this (and other matters), and the church has chosen to go along with the culture and ignore the Bible message.
My own church background is Plymouth Brethren and these days I am part of a Strict Baptist set up. In both those set ups, at least in my experience, despite big changes in other denominations in recent years, it has NOT been the practice to allow women to be in church oversight and, as for preaching, their opportunities to do so has generally been limited, although in other areas of church life women’s gifting has been recognised and they have come to take on greater responsibility. I also find myself working increasingly with women ministers, particularly in my role as a community activist, and I do so willingly. Many of the local women ministers that I have met, I consider to be outstanding in what they do and, without wanting to sound sexist or patronizing, I have found some of the qualities we tend to associate more with women, e.g. empathy and sensitivity, have well complemented what men have been able to offer when it comes to ministry. I don’t wish to hold any woman back, yet am compelled to understand and apply Bible teaching.
While some will strongly disagree, I would argue on scriptural grounds, at least in principle, that when it comes to Pawson’s proposition “Leadership is Male”, he is right. I regret men do not always act as the “man of the house” or “leader in the church” that they should. I sense in the past the church has sometimes done down women’s gifting. I recognise society has moved on and we cannot ignore that. Yet I have a sense of disquiet that some of the ills we do see is because society has too readily discarded some of these ideas, around God creating male and female, to be different and complementary, with men to protect, provide and pilot and, when it comes to church government, it should principally comprise of men.