Male Headship: The Theological Basis

A summary of the theological reasons for believing that men and women have different ministries in the Church was provided by Andrew Brewerton in a paper prepared for the Diocese of Sheffield entitled ‘New norms, new beginning.’ It is reproduced below.


  1. The Bible affirms that men and women are of equal value in God’s eyes and in particular celebrates their equality of status in the Gospel as God’s children, co-heirs of the promise, and belonging to God through faith in Christ (eg Galatians 3:28).
  2. The Bible also presents a consistent pattern that men and women are to have different complementary roles within marriage and family life and in the leadership of the Church.
  3. These different roles are rooted in God’s good purposes in creation and furthermore, the nature of the relationships between men and women is designed to reflect something of the complementary nature of the relationships found between the members of the Trinity.
  4. The Genesis accounts reveal a deliberate ordering in creation, in that the man was formed before the woman, with each made to complement the other. St Paul picks up this creation order in terms of role and responsibility in his New Testament letters (eg 1 Cor 11 and 1 Timothy 2).
  5. These differences in role are expressed in God’s good pattern for Christian marriage: the husband is to sacrificially love his wife in the same way that Christ loves the Church; the wife is to submit herself to her husband’s love in the same way she submits herself to the Lord’s love. In St Paul’s language, the husband is ‘the head’ of the wife (eg Ephesians 5), not lording it over her but offering to her a form of servant leadership after the pattern of Christ.
  6. In the life of the family, the husband is to sacrificially love his wife and children by protecting them and providing for their needs, leading them into faith and godliness and teaching them the Scriptures. The role of the wife is as collaborative helper, sharing the management of the household and family while respecting the husband’s overall responsibility.
  7. St Paul extends these themes in his teaching in the life of the leadership of the local congregation, seeing the church as a ‘household’ or family of faith, where the appointed ‘head’ of the congregation should be male rather than female. His role is to take the lead in protecting the congregation from error, providing for their needs, leading them into faith and godliness and teaching them the Scriptures. St Paul does not exclude the ministry of women within the local congregation, but he does assert male headship, especially when talking about elders, overseers and deacons.
  8. The headship pattern is further modelled within the relationships between members of the Trinity. St Paul writes that, ‘the head of the man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.’ (1 Corinthians 11). Within the Trinity there is at the same time equality and submission. Father, Son and Spirit are all equally and fully God, yet the Father is the head of Christ. Furthermore, the members of the Trinity have complementary roles: for example only the Son has the role of God incarnate, whilst only the Father has the role of sender of the Saviour; likewise the Son demonstrates loving and willing submission to the headship of his Father in saying, ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’ Within their equality, each member of the Trinity has a different and complementary role.
  9. In terms of practical church ministry, a complementarian theology would usually entail :
    • The appointed leader of the local congregation being male, supported by both men and women in his ministry team; many complementarians would welcome the ministry of permanent female deacons
    • Mixed congregations being taught the Scriptures primarily by male preachers
    • Those who hold this view being unable in good conscience to receive the ministry of ordained women priests or bishops, either as a visiting minister or local incumbent.
    • Celebrating and encouraging (as many/as most already do) the ministry of women in many different spheres of church life and teaching, except that of head of the local church or presiding bishop


The desire therefore to be served by a male bishop, ideally one who both understands and shares this same complementarian theology.