Submissive and Subversive Leadership

American Christians are mostly accepting of women in practically every leadership role imaginable in our society. However, the two discussions that generate the most controversy within the American church in 2022 revolve around the ways that women ought to lead in the home and in the formal structure of the church.

While I(Jonathan) would argue that there are very few passages in Scripture that that dictate what formal church leadership roles are prescribed or proscribed for women, there are several passages that discuss how women should exercise influence (otherwise known as leadership) in the home. 1 Peter 3:1-6 is one such of those passages.

The reason passages like 1 Peter 3:1-6 tend to lead to controversy in America because it speaks to two words that have become abhorrent to our culture: submission and subversion. As Christians we need to realize that leading and submitting are not opposing actions and values. In fact, for a Christian, the path to leadership is through submission.

Subversion likewise might seem like a strange word to describe leadership. But subversion in fact is a primary feature of Christian leadership. Followers of Jesus have the ability to influence people in ways that the people don’t even realize they are being influenced. Listen to how Eugene Peterson described his own leadership as a pastor.

“I must remember that I am a subversive. My long-term effectiveness depends on my not being recognized for who I am as a pastor. If the church member actually realized that the American way of life is doomed to destruction and that another kingdom is right now being formed in secret to take its place, he wouldn’t be pleased at all. If he knew what I was really doing and the difference it was making, he would fire me.
True subversion requires patience. You slowly get cells of people who are believing in what you are doing, participating in it.” – Eugene Peterson

So how does all of this relate to Peter’s instruction to wives? 1 Peter 3:1-6 is set in a series of instructions to people who do not hold positions of obvious power. This would describe the position of nearly every woman in the first century. Wives were not viewed as equals in the first century home. Married women were not accorded the place of honor in a pagan home that Christian ethics required should be given them.

But just because a woman does not receive the honor that she is due does not negate her function as a force for good and an influencer for Christ. Peter describes a submissive and subversive form of leadership.

1 Peter 3:1-6

Notice several things about this passage.

  • A wife being subject to her husband is under the category of things Christians submit to “for the Lord’s sake.” (1 Peter 2:13)
  • Other Bible passages speak of the headship of the husband in the home not in terms of his worth or ability, but in terms of the order of creation to be reflected in orderly functions in the home. (1 Timothy 2:11-13)
  • Good conduct and respect has the power to be used by God to change the hearts of others. (1 Peter 3:1-2)
  • A woman’s true beauty and worth is found in her “hidden person of the heart…and gentle and quiet spirit.” We can surmise that a woman’s beautiful inner character is what is reflected in her respectful and pure conduct. (1 Peter 3:2-4)
  • Women have matriarchs of faith to whom they should look as role models. (v. 5)
  • A Godly woman is a bold woman who does not have to live in fear. (v. 6)

Discussion Questions

  • What does the word submission mean as it is used for Christians?
  • How can subversiveness be a positive characteristic as Christians influence others?
  • Why is our culture poised against submission?
  • Do you think the world has a different understanding of submission than Christians do?
  • How have you seen people in real life use submission and subversion to influence others?
  • What sorts of influence do wives have other their husbands?
  • How can a wife use her influence for either Godly ends or selfish ends?
  • Do you have a story of a wife who submissively and subversively won her husband over to faith in Jesus?
  • How are you focusing on the true inner beauty that God commends?
  • How can we teach men to honor women for their true beauty?
  • Who are the matriarchs of faith that you seek to emulate (both men and women should answer this question)?