Women in Leadership: Not a Pedestal but a Pulpit

BIBLE INSIGHTS in 500 words

Women In Leadership:
Not a Pedestal but a Pulpit.
Richard Leslie Parrott

In the mid-1800s, the church honored women in one of two ways.


  • Many churches honored women by placing them on a PEDESTAL. A woman’s place was at home, her task was to provide a sanctuary, and her hand was to rock the cradle. Thus, you take her off the playing field, you silent her voice, and you dismiss her opinion.


  • At the same time, another group of Christians believed the dignity of women was found behind a PULPIT. These Christians believed and encouraged women who received and followed a call to preach, teach, and lead the church. One such person was Phoebe Palmer.


                  Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874)

Phoebe and her sister began a Tuesday afternoon women’s prayer meeting. Six years later, a man joined the group. Other men followed. Eventually, her prayer meetings inspired others around the country. Phoebe became the most influential woman in the largest, fastest-growing religious group in America. Under her leadership, missionary work was initiated, camp meetings grew, and an estimated 25,000 Americans were converted. She often preached these words in her sermons:

“Earnest prayers, long fasting, and burning tears may seem befitting, but cannot move the heart of infinite love to a greater willingness to save. God’s time is now. The question is not, what have I been? Or what do I expect to be? But, am I now trusting in Jesus to save to the uttermost? If so, I am now saved from all sin.”

Her ministry gave rise to The Church of the Nazarene, The Salvation Army, The Church of God, and The Pentecostal-Holiness Church. (https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/moversandshakers/phoebe-palmer.html)

Let me introduce you to her namesake, the Phoebe of Romans 16:1

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church . . . she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

Paul’s most celebrated theological letter, Romans, was placed in Phoebe’s hands to deliver to the church. Paul considered Phoebe a pastor and leader in the church. Two words describe her leadership.


  • Deacon” (Greek – DIAKONOS) means “servant.”* This is the same word used in the rest of the New Testament to describe a leader, preacher, and minister of the word. It is the same word used to describe the work of Paul, Timothy, Titus, Apollos, Tycicus, Epaphras, Stephen, and Phillip.


  • Benefactor” (Greek – PROSTATIS) is often translated “helper” or “benefactor” which conjures an image of an assistant. In truth, PORSTATIS means, “one who stands before or in front; to set over, to appoint with authority, to lead, protect, govern, preside, superintend, direct, rule, stand before others, set over others.”


Phoebe was the pastor, leader, teacher, and preacher of the church. The fact that Paul goes to this length to introduce her and recommend her may mean that there were some on the church in Rome who were resistant to a woman in leadership. Phoebe was not honored with a PEDESTAL. She received God’s call to stand behind a PULPIT.

This article is 492 words.


* Remember, Jesus rejected all leadership titles and choose the role of “servant” as the highest. The Apostles used the same word to describe themselves. Most English versions of the Bible translate DIAKONOS as “minister” when it refers to apostles, pastors, and teachers. The King James Version (KJV) translates the word DIAKONOS 18 as “minister,” 3 times as “deacon,” and only once as “servant” – here, in reference to Phoebe. When referring to Phoebe, most translators reveal their bias by rendering DIAKONOS as “servant” or “deaconess” because they can’t imagine that Phoebe, a woman, was a “minister.” But, that is what Paul writes. DIAKONOS, as found here in Romans 16, is not used as we find it in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, where it means lay leader. In Romans 16, regarding Pheobe, Paul was not referring to her as a lay leader; she was the leader of a church. It is the word Paul uses to describe his inner core of associates, those to carry forth and preach his message.



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