Although there is much debate for the past centuries about women pastors and the role of women in the local church, the Word of God is clear that many women were part of Jesus’ disciples and were part of spreading the gospel in the early church. Explore 10 of the most inspiring and powerful examples of women preaching and leading in the Bible today!
Christian women continue to play an integral and essential part of the church body today–exercising a variety of spiritual gifts including teaching, preaching, and leadership. How those gifts play out in a local church today varies vastly in different churches, denominations, and cultures.
One thing I love SO MUCH about Jesus is that He always elevated and honored women in all his interactions. Remember, in the first century time period women were considered the property of their husband, could rarely own property of their own, and were unable to testify in court.
Jesus commissioned women to tell the gospel, received support from them in his ministry, healed them, spoke to them privately, was moved by compassion for them, and taught them in his larger group of disciples.
10 Inspiring and Powerful Women Preachers in the Bible
Let’s dive into the women who were preachers and messengers of Jesus through these Biblical passages and short explanations of these amazing older women, younger women, single women, and married women throughout Israel’s and the church’s history.
Female Leaders and Preachers in the Old Testament
Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.” -Exodus 15:20-21
I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. -Micah 6:4
Miriam, the sister of Moses, was designated a prophetess, spoke truth about God’s character, and led the nation in worship after crossing the Red Sea. In Micah God declares her one of the leaders of the Israelites along with her brothers, Moses and Aaron.
Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. -Judges 4:4-5
Deborah was a spiritual and political leader of Israel, during the time of the Judges, a time of much unrest for the people of Israel. Deborah supported her military leader Barak (physically going to the battle with him) as well as telling the army when to attack the enemy. After the battle she joined Barak in composing and leading the nation of Israel in worship. And then the nation of Israel enjoyed 40 years of peace under her leadership.
Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter. She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me…Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. -2 Kings 22:14-15;19
Huldah is a much respected prophet of the Lord who spoke a trustworthy word directly from the Lord to the king. Her influence and reputation as a holy woman of God who knows the Scriptures and the Lord is evident that the high priest and a group of royal advisors went to her, looking for a message from God about how to handle the finding of the scroll of Scriptures.
Women Preachers Who Shared the Gospel in the New Testament
Here’s an amazing list of women (some named and some unnamed) who were an active part of the body of Christ and shared the gospel of Jesus with others in various ways.
Samaritan Woman (Woman at the Well)
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”…Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” -John 4:28-29; 39.
The Samaritan Woman was approached by Jesus with a spiritual conversation as he and his disciples passed through a Samaritan town. She may be the first person Jesus revealed his Messiahship to you as well. She eagerly returned to her people and told them her experience with Jesus which led to many in her village being saved. I love that her example of preaching wasn’t an elaborate, theological, 5 point sermon, but simply sharing her experience with Jesus.
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. -John 20:17-18
Mary was the first evangelist commissioned by the risen Jesus to “Go…and Tell” and she eagerly did just that! Mary Magdalene was healed of 7 demons by the Lord and her life forever changed after her encounter with Jesus. She accompanied and financially supported Jesus in his ministry (Luke 8:1-2) and stood by him at the foot of the cross (John 19:25-26), even when almost all of his 12 disciples had abandoned him. Although she is not named again after the gospels, Christian tradition holds that she was most likely at the day of Pentecost, prayed for James and Peter, and was an active leader in the early church and distribution of the gospel “to all the nations”.
Mary the Mother of James
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. -Luke 24:1-2 and 9-10
Mary the mother of James is one of the other women who accompanied Jesus in his ministry, heard the message of Jesus bringing the kingdom of God, was at the cross, and went to the tomb to anoint Jesus and were told the good news of the resurrection by the angels. She is also the mother of James and John, two of the closest disciples of Jesus, and she got to “tell the message” to her sons and the other male disciples.
One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. -Acts 16:14-15
I love that when Lydia heard the gospel, almost instantly she shares and invites all of her household into faith with her. We learn later that Lydia hosts and manages a church that meets in her own household in Philippi. Even though the church there faces opposition, it appears she continues in her role as an active member in sharing the gospel and leading others to the way of God.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. -Romans 16:3-4
Priscilla or Prisca as she is nicknamed was a fellow evangelist and teacher with her husband Aquila and the apostle Paul. She and her husband accompanied Paul on one of his missionary journeys and led a house church together. She and her husband taught Apollos, who later went on to be a great preacher and leader in the church (1 Corinthians 1:12). It is interesting to note that Priscilla is named first in this couple during every one of their namings, except for one. This would potentially indicate a higher social or spiritual leadership role for Priscilla, since traditionally males names were listed first.
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. -Romans 16:7
Junia is listed in an extensive list of believers and leaders (both men and women) in the Roman church. She is called “outstanding among the apostles” along with Andronicus (most likely her husband) who have long been in church leadership and believers in Jesus. Theses by their indication of “an apostle” were faithfully “sent out” together as a messengers of the gospel.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. -Romans 16:1-2
The Greek word “diakanos” is translated as servant, minister, and deacon throughout the Bible. Jesus uses this word multiple times as the word Servant and it also becomes the moniker for minister or “servant of the church”. Paul uses this word of himself, of Timothy, of Tychicus, of Epaphras, of the qualifications of deacons found in 1 Timothy 3. As a deacon it is assumed she preached the gospel, explained the Scriptures, read letters from other apostles, prayed with people, and served those in both the church at Cenchreae
Resources on Understanding the Role of Women in the Church
I’m not going to get into the discussion about female pastors or the different roles of men and women in the church or who should hold the office of elder or pastor in a church. I’d love to invite you to personal study of God’s Word, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, and historical context research to form your own opinion on this third tier issue.
(It’s also important to remember that the office of pastor and the way *most* church gatherings function today versus in the first century were vastly different.) Here are some of my favorite resources for further exploration and study!
- Two Views of Women in Ministry
- Neither Complementarian or Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate
- Understanding Core Doctrine
- The Making of Biblical Womanhood
- Word-Filled Women’s Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church
- Lecture Series: Women and Eldership from Bridgetown Church