Category: Leadership Blogs

Thinking about leadership.

In Honour of Ms Esther Kostina

I have been wanting to post this for a while now but have needed time to grieve.

On Tuesday 9 June I received a call: Ms Esther Kostina (Mama Esther, as she was known at HOC) had passed away. 

Who was Mama Esther?  She was one of the strong foundations that helped make HOC what it is today.  She became my teacher and advisor: a strong, fearless dignified no-nonsense woman, full of wisdom. 

I met Mama Esther at HOC in June 1987.  She worked for a man that had asked us if he could cultivate a portion of our land and move onto our premises.  The farmer moved in and brought Mama Esther with him.  Soon I noticed she worked from morning to night, Monday to Monday, no time off, no day off.  I confronted the man who was dismissive and arrogant.  Mama Esther could not communicate in English; she was Xhosa and spoke to the farmer in Afrikaans.  I took one of our residents, and through this interpreter, I learnt that she was receiving one bag of mealie meal per month, some soap and bits of leftover food from his table.  The farmer attended our church’s Bible college.  After a few meetings he was expelled, still unrepentant. 

I invited Mama Esther to join us at HOC, and she did.  A few months later she travelled home to fetch her youngest son, five years old, who was being cared for by his school-going sisters and a helpful neighbour; her husband had long deserted her with no warning.  Thembelani was a couple of years older than my kids.  They grew up together, attended nursery and primary school together. Thembelani went to 4-ways High School, completed his Matric and is now a manager at a furniture store.  

In 1988 Mama Esther took me to the end of HOC’s long but narrow piece of land and pointed to a tree. Under the tree, I could see a very small tin house. A family was living there: father (Thomas), mother (Vivian) and two children, Monwabisi 4 years old and Sitembele 2 years old. Vivian was Mama Esther’s cousin.  Two weeks later the family moved into one of HOC’s family cottages.  They lived with us until the boys completed Matric, and then they bought their own house in Diepsloot.  But that is a story for another day.

Mama Ether taught me about the Xhosa culture, about raising and caring for children (our own and others’), about community, about polygamy and gender-based violence in families, about the discrimination and abuse of girls.  Mama Esther stood by me: she corrected me; she taught me about agriculture; she taught me some Xhosa phrases. I’d like to think I helped her with some English! With much laughter, we learnt together how to make strawberry jam, and she taught me how to cook ‘real pap.’ She taught me how to carry my babies on my back, and tried, in vain, to teach me how to carry parcels on my head. 

She was a disciplinarian, and Thembelani made her so cross when he would run away from her wrath! We would just hear her voice THEM-BE-LA-NI, and we knew he was in trouble, but she would end up laughing and say, “You see? I’m getting too old to catch this young one.” 

Mama Esther filled many roles at HOC at different times: she cooked for the whole community, was our housekeeper, helped look after my kids and the kids we took in as boarders during the school year. She loved to work in the massive strawberry patch the two of us had started and did the one job I refused – supervise the slaughtering of chickens every Tuesday (I am grateful we no longer have those five chicken houses anymore!). 

When Thembelani completed his Matric, Mama Esther decided to retire: “I’m tired Xana; I want to go back to my house in Queenstown, grow my own vegetables and relax.”  It was a little bit hard to see her go; I missed her strong, reassuring presence.  But we kept each other’s numbers and would phone every now and then. 

I saw Mama Esther for the last time when our family visited her in Diespsloot two years ago; she had come from her hometown (Queenstown, now Komani, in the Eastern Cape) and was staying with her cousin.  She couldn’t see very well; she was frail, but we still laughed and remembered some of the early stories of HOC.  I’m grateful for that last visit; I managed to tell her how much she had meant to me, my family and HOC. 

Thank you, Mama Esther; your life enriched mine in more ways than you can imagine.

RIP Mama Esther.  I miss you. 

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Five Myths of Male Headship

Five Myths of Male Headship

The Evangelical myths of “male headship” teach that men have some sort of authority over women in the Church, community, and home, but the Bible itself does not give men an over arching authority over women.
Written by: Kate Wallace

I sat down across the table from her. We hadn’t seen each other in a while and I was excited to catch up. She was a youth pastor, one of those with an obvious call on her life for ministry.But as I looked into her eyes, I could see she was worn out. She explained to me that she had been having some problems with her boss. She told me that every time she had a disagreement with him, he would tell her that she had a problem with “male headship in the Church”.I sat there, shocked that a pastor would know so little about headship in the Church, that he would use it to get his way with his employees. I think I blurted out my response before she had finished her sentence:“Yes! You should have a problem with male headship in the Church!” We took the rest of our lunch to talk through the theological error this man had fallen into.I have to admit, since that conversation I have been on high alert for every mention of “male headship” in Evangelical churches. I have heard it in many different contexts, and every single time it was used to elevate men over women – in the family, in marriage, in the Church.It occurred to me that although Evangelicals are known for diving into scripture and analyzing it word for word, we have failed to do this with “headship” in scripture. Someone tells us it is synonymous with “authority” and we leave it at that – no word study, no look at context, no observing original language.This has led to 5 myths about “male headship” that have weeded their way into our theology. Although I am far from being the first to write about this, my hope is that this post will help bring false thinking to light and challenge us to dig a little deeper.

Myth #1 – Male Headship in the Church

The Bible never teaches that there is “male headship” in the Church. Yup, you heard me right. Now, the Bible does talk about headship in the Church. But do you know who takes that position? That’s right – Christ.According to the Bible, Christ and Christ alone is the head of the Church. Men are never given that spot. In fact, to insist on male headship in the Church would be to place men in the spot of Christ, and that verges on heresy.Sometimes people use the language of “headship” when they are actually talking about leadership in the Church. This usually stems from a specific interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12, a verse that never mentions headship. This is actually a different theological topic all together. The confusion of the two topics can lead to significant false teaching.

Myth #2 – Man as the Head of the Household

Did you know that the Bible never says that the man is the head of the household? That phrase is so common in our culture, and even though some of us assume it is taken out of scripture, it’s just not in there. So what does the Bible say?There are two places in scripture that refer to a husband’s headship: Ephesians 5.23 & 1 Corinthians 11.3. When you read them, you see that these verses are specifically speaking to the marriage relationship between a husband and a wife. They do not say that all men are the heads of all women. They also do not say that men are the heads of Christian communities.You will also notice that neither one says that the husband is the “head of the house”. In fact, the only thing the husband is called the “head of” is the wife.So what does it mean for a husband to be the head of the wife? Some believe it has to do with leadership, but…

Myth #3 Headship as Leadership

Did you know that the Bible never says that the husband is to “lead” the wife? People who teach this are actually giving their own interpretation of scriptures that talk about the “headship” of the husband. They are assuming that the Greek word for “head” means “leader”. This is a common assumption because in the English language, “head” can be synonymous with “leader”. But not all languages equate “head” with “leadership”.French, for example, is one language in which their word for “head” has no connotation whatsoever with “leadership”. Interestingly, Greek is another language that does not commonly equate leadership with headship. In Greek, headship can mean “source”, as in the “headwaters of a river” (1 Corinthians 11.3 seems to be an example of this, considering verses 11 & 12 of that chapter). The meaning of “head” in Greek is usually a metaphorical one, which can be understood through context of the specific passage.If we read these passages without bringing our Western, English understanding of the word “head” into them, they look pretty different. But then how can we figure out what “husband headship” means in scripture? The second part of that verse holds a huge clue.“The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church…”If we want to understand “husband headship,” then we must understand Christ’s headship of the Church. So, how is Christ the head of the Church?Christ’s “headship” in relation to the Church is mentioned 5 times in the New Testament:

  1. Colossians 1:18 – Christ is metaphorical head of the Church, source of life after death
  2. Colossians 2. 18-19 – Christ as metaphorical head of the Church, to help her flourish
  3. Ephesians 5.23 & 25 – Christ as metaphorical head of the Church, saving her, loving her, giving himself up for her
  4. Ephesians 1:20-23 – Church is metaphorical body of Christ, Christ provides for Church’s growth
  5. Ephesians 4:15-16 – Church is metaphorical body of Christ, Christ equips the Church for growth through love

How is Christ’s headship of the Church described?

  • Giving abundant life
  • Helping her flourish
  • Saving her
  • Loving her
  • Giving himself for her/dying for her

What don’t we see in these passages?

  • authority over
  • leadership
  • decision making
  • rulership

Many other times when Christ is called the “head” of something, Scripture adds language to explain that he is also in authority over that thing. This “authority over” language is missing in every single instance of Christ being the head of the Church. Christ’s headship of the Church has nothing to do with leadership or authority, but with love, sacrifice, death, and giving of life. Likewise, a husband’s “headship” of his wife would refer only to giving himself up for her, sacrificing for her, to give her a flourishing life.For clarity’s sake… Was Christ a leader? – Yes. Is Christ the ruling Son of God seated on the throne? – Yes. Are those the traits of Christ that husbands are called to mimic as “heads” of their wives? – No.This is a servant role, not a leadership one.

Myth #4 Headship as Decision Making

Fun fact: scripture does not give husbands any sort of decision-making authority over their wives. In fact, the only scripture that addresses decision making in the husband-wife relationship instructs them to make that decision together equally (1 Corinthians 7.1-6).Let me say this one more time, because I think it’s important – The only spot in scripture that explicitly addresses decision making in a marriage calls the husband and wife to make that decision together equally.Scripture doesn’t give the husband a “trump card” in decision making. He doesn’t get the final say, according to the Bible. If we follow the example scripture sets, husbands and wives would make decisions together, through prayer.

Myth #5 Headship as Being in the Driver’s Seat

Too many times have I heard people equate a husband’s “headship” to authority because “someone has to drive the car”. Guess what? Marriage is not a car. Marriage is a covenant relationship. Plus, you can always pull over and switch drivers.While there were no cars at the time the Bible was written, interestingly there is a vehicular example in the Bible of what two people coming together in this covenant relationship should look like – two oxen, equally yoked, pulling a cart or a plow. They must be equal, or the cart will be pulled off course.In the scriptural example, we are not the drivers of the marriage at all. We are the oxen. The oxen do not decide where the cart goes – the farmer does. We put in the effort to make it work, and God decides where He will take it, and what He will use it for.Men don’t belong in the drivers seat. Neither do women. God does. Remember, we are called to live differently.


The Evangelical myths of “male headship” teach that men have some sort of authority over women in the Church, community, and home. I believe the prominence of these myths stems from a failure to study the topic thoroughly. The Bible itself does not give men an over arching authority over women. In fact, it tells us that a husband is to show his wife the life-giving sacrifice Christ showed to the Church.The world favors men. The Bible tells Christ followers to favor others – husbands to their wives, wives to their husbands, believers to one another. In this way, everyone is sacrificially loving and being loved. Egalitarians speak to this in their theology of mutual submission.My youth pastor friend made a great observation during our lunch together. “If Christ followers are generally called to self-sacrifice, servanthood, and humility, this grasping for male authority doesn’t seem to fit.”As Christians, we are not called to exert authority over people. We are instructed to love, serve, and lay down our authority as Christ did.In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Phil.2:5-8

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Follow the Leader

Written by: Wilma Luimes

“No. You can’t play. I am the boss of this game.” Johnny shouts. Sarah turns away dejected. It’s standard ‘modus operandi’ on playgrounds around the world. The struggle for power, status and prestige. Johnny declares a new game. “Follow the leader,” he announces. Those who are ‘not allowed’ to play watch from a distance. And all the other boys and girls line up behind Johnny in their full stature of Velcro shoes, pigtails, ribbons, cartoon crested t-shirts and begin their march around the playground, over the monkey bars, through the tunnel… And for a while, all the children are enjoying the new game.

Eventually, Tommy is brave enough to ask, isn’t it time for someone else to be the leader? Tommy kicks his new sneaker against the ground impatiently.“No!” Johnny shouts. “I am the leader.” Tommy looks around disgruntled and continues playing for a few minutes but eventually goes off with a ball to go and play soccer instead. A few of the other ‘followers’ join him; leaving the line much shorter than when the game began.

A short while later, Christine takes a few of her friends out of the line to go and play with a skipping rope. Soon ‘the boss’ mentality leaves Johnny all alone on the playground. Ironically often organisations don’t behave much different. The predominant male belief that ‘we are the boss of this church’… is an echo that has and still reverberates from many a church building through the ages with a blatant disregard for the fruit that spirit produces. And while the male-dominated spirit is still prevalent in many a church today, somehow, I seriously doubt that God agrees on the outcomes… because when it’s about power, status and prestige; God is not in it!

The love has disappeared.

And often the difference between good leadership and great leadership is the ability to know when to step forward and when to step back!

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