Question: In light of this week’s reading and the maternal references in Paul’s letters, how would you describe Pauline leadership? Is it egalitarian, hierarchical, or, as Gaventa argues, might Pauline leadership be shaped by apocalyptic theology?
Paul and those who saw him as leader were living in a time during which they understood that they would see the return of Jesus in their lifetime. Leadership in light of this would most certainly be influenced by apocalyptic theology. Paul was striving to create and maintain a group of churches separated by distance and custom because each group would have formed, to a certain degree, their own style and understanding of the message as it pertained to their local context. The goal was to create a unified body of believers that would be prepared and ready when the Day of Judgment came (i.e. the second coming of Christ).
I think that Paul’s leadership transcends what normal leadership in that day would have entailed. Firstly, Paul was leading a new religious movement for which norms were not yet established. With the main focus on ‘spreading the Gospel’, it would have been normal and expected of Paul to be hierarchical in his leadership style. Otherwise, he would not have maintained his status as leader in the general group. Notwithstanding that the majority of those in the house churches would have been women; there would have been men to deal with and from that honour to hold onto so that his hierarchical style again would have fit in quite well with that segment of the population. There would also have been instances in forming the church, the ‘body of Christ’, that would demand a more egalitarian approach, one that would have been more inclusive and inviting than the hierarchical style that would have been used with men and women in their own authority positions.
Regarding the maternal images and references, it is clear from our readings in ‘A Woman’s Place’, that women and children and all of their related interactions throughout the life cycle would have been present and somewhat predominant in the culture of the house church. It aids Paul’s mission to speak in terms that would have been understood and appreciated by these women. This was also the time when Paul could further educate these women and foster a positive relationship with the group so that the lessons could be passed on to the children and other members of the household. In this way, I think Paul becomes ‘part of the family’ and leads from this perspective too. The use of maternal images by Paul could indicate a keen understanding, observation or intuition of the way in which the women in the church showed leadership that, for Paul, would seem transformational. Identifying with the audience with whom you wish to engage is a key element in being a successful leader.
In summary, Paul’s leadership style met the needs of the particular moment and audience in order to accomplish the goal of establishing the church.