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motherhood the highest calling

Our Highest Calling

I have heard many Christians say that motherhood is the highest calling for women. Some even say that motherhood is the holiest calling for women. The people who say this are typically Christians who believe that men and women, simply on the basis of gender, have different roles and functions in society, in the church, and in the home. (It intrigues me that many of these same Christians do not assert that fatherhood is the highest calling for men.)

Jesus did not think that motherhood was necessarily the highest calling for women. He never encourages motherhood when talking with Mary and Martha of Bethany, Mary Magdalene, the Syrophenician woman, the Samaritan women, or any other woman. And he doesn’t encourage motherhood in his general teaching.[1]

One day Jesus was teaching a crowd of people when a woman[2] enthusiastically called out, Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you” (Luke 11:27). Jesus’ mother was blessed. She was not only blessed because of her remarkable role as the mother of the Messiah, she was also blessed because she had faith in the word of God. The Bible says about Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45).

Jesus did not accept or affirm the blessing that the woman in the crowd had shouted out. Instead, he replied with, “Blessed rather are those who are hearing the word of God and obeying it” (Luke 11:28).

Previously, in Luke 6:47, Jesus had said that a wise person is someone “who comes to me and hears my words and does them.” Jesus wants both men and women to be continually coming to him in a close relationship; he wants us to be continually hearing his words; he wants us to be continually putting those words into obedient practice.[3] This kind of discipleship is our highest calling!

The Priority of Family

If we have a family, we need to care for it.[4] One of our main avenues of ministry should be to our family members. They should be among the first beneficiaries of our prayers and of our spiritual and practical help. If everyone loved and looked after their own families the world would be in much better shape.

Parenthood may well be the main ministry of some men and women, and this needs to be encouraged. However, many people also have other expressions of their calling as Jesus’ disciples, and they have been given ministry gifts, roles, and functions to use outside of their immediate or extended families. These other ministries should also be encouraged.

What about people who do not have a family? When churches make marriage and motherhood the pinnacle and priority of Christian womanhood, women who remain unmarried or childless may be regarded as subpar or even as failures. Churches need to make efforts to ensure single or childless men and women are welcome, included, and valued in church communities.

Furthermore, some Christians choose to be single or childless so that they can serve God better and with greater devotion (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-35). The apostle Paul chose to be single and he recommended it for some (1 Cor. 7:7). Single or childless Christians could be your church’s greatest assets.

Singleness and celibacy were long considered to be virtuous vocations by the church. It has only been since the Reformation that marriage and motherhood have been persistently promoted as the Christian ideal for women.[5]

Dissuading Women from Ministry

It seems to me that many of the Christians who claim that motherhood is the highest calling for women, say this merely to placate women and dissuade them from fulfilling God’s call outside the home. (No one argues that fatherhood and ministry are incompatible.) As important as good parenting is for our children and for our society, some women may, in fact, have a calling in ministry that is equally or more important and necessary than the ministry of motherhood.

We must not let traditional or cultural stereotypes of gender roles overshadow what the Bible shows us about men and women believers being empowered and equipped by the Holy Spirit for ministry (e.g., Acts 2:18; Rom 12:6-8). Both men and women need encouragement and support from fellow believers to help them fulfil God’s purposes in their lives. On the other hand, rigid restrictions based on gender alone can hinder our high calling of being a disciple of Jesus and they limit the work of God.

© Margaret Mowczko 2011
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[1] Paul preferred singleness for men and women but realised not everyone could live this way (1 Cor. 7:7). More on the context of 1 Corinthians 7 here.

[2] Jesus had just been teaching about evil spirits. Was this woman troubled by evil spirits? Was this woman’s outburst demonic?

[3] “Coming,” “hearing” and “doing” are present active participles. This means we need to keep coming to Jesus, keep hearing his words, and keep doing what he says. More about Luke 6:47 and the parable of the wise and foolish builders, here.

[4] 1 Timothy 5:8 NIV says, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” There is no distinctly masculine or feminine language in the Greek of this verse. We are all to care for our families as we are able (cf. 1 Tim. 5:4; 5:16).

[5] The Reformation, with the resulting backlash against Roman Catholicism, brought about hostility towards monasticism from Protestants, as well as a general discouragement of singleness. Martin Luther was among the first to be outspoken in his attempts to promote the value and virtue of motherhood.

Beth Allison Barr writes,

Women have always been wives and mothers, but it wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation that being a wife and a mother became the “ideological touchstone of holiness” for women. Before the Reformation, women could gain spiritual authority by rejecting their sexuality. Virginity empowered them. Women became nuns and took religious vows, and some, like Catherine of Siena and Hildegard of Bingen, found their voices rang with the authority of men. Indeed, the further removed medieval women were from the married state, the closer they were to God. After the Reformation, the opposite became true for Protestant women. The more closely they identified with being wives and mothers, the godlier they became.
Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2021), 102-103. I have more on this book, here. (Available on Amazon)

Postscript July 30, 2023
Jesus’s Many Mothers

Jesus never promotes actual motherhood in the Gospels, but he does make these wonderfully inclusive statements about his female disciples which include the word “mother.” These statements are given in the context of Jesus’s mother Mary and his biological brothers wanting to speak to Jesus which would have interrupted his ministry. The idea here is that kinship ties in the new life in Christ are stronger than blood ties.

Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, that person is my brother and sister and mother.”
Matthew 12:49–50 cf. Mark 3:35.

καὶ ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν Ἰδοὺ ἡ μήτηρ μου καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοί μου·
ὅστις γὰρ ἂν ποιήσῃ τὸ θέλημα τοῦ Πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς, αὐτός μου ἀδελφὸς καὶ ἀδελφὴ καὶ μήτηρ ἐστίν.
Matthew 12:49–50

Matthew 12:50 is one of the few New Testament verses where the Greek word for “sister” is explicitly stated in the context of Jesus-followers. I have more on Jesus’s female disciples, and the context of Matthew 12:49–50, here, and more on “brothers and sisters,” especially in Paul’s letters, here.

Image Credit

Stained glass window in the Kilianskirche of Heilbronn © Joachim Köhler (Wikimedia)

Explore more

Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood, and Ministry
Beth Allison Barr on the Reformation’s Role in Limiting Women
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
The Virgin Mary
Leading Together in the Home (Honour your Mother and your Father)
Paul’s Masculine and Feminine Leadership
Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworkers
3 things wise disciples do to build unshakeable houses (Luke 6)
Chastity, Salvation, and 1 Timothy 2:15

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

22 thoughts on “Is motherhood the highest calling for women?

  1. Great post.

    One of the strange things is that the woman spoke truth, but still was corrected. Sometimes we categorize things into true and false categories and leave it at that. In this case, the woman spoke a true statement and Jesus still “trumped” her with a truer statement.

  2. Thanks Don. You make a good point.

    I do wonder whether the women who shouted out was troubled by a demonic influence. (Did you see footnote?)

    It intrigues me that the New Testament mentions several people who spoke the truth about God even when under a demonic influence. These people were silenced however, because they were a distraction.

  3. Interesting take on the call of women in the ministry. I had to answer this question as well and I heard a former employer ask about how the bible depicts women about being in the back of the church and staying quiet. He didn’t ask me and while the answer of that was back in biblical times satisfied him, I sort of wondered about that myself. What I believe is that men back then (and still some today) blame the woman for the fall of man. She was the one that spoke to the serpent and adhered to what he said. My answer, and Adam was right there saying nothing and being the head of her.

    This is a thoughtful read and I pray you have more viewers then you know what to do with. 🙂

  4. Lenora, Thank you for your prayer! It has really made my day!

    I actually think that some people have a mistaken view of church meetings in early church times. Most churches met in homes for the first couple of centuries. Some of these house churches were hosted and led by women.

    There is no archaeological or historical evidence that churches (or synagogues) were segregated at that time. Segregation happened in some churches later. https://margmowczko.com/interpretations-applications-1-cor-14_34-35/

    Thanks for leaving a comment. It’s always nice to meet a reader! 🙂

  5. Thanks for re-posting this on your facebook page Marg. As a woman married for almost 22 years and with no children (and content that way) I truly appreciate this inclusive message. You have no idea how very alienated women without kids can be made to feel in church settings!

  6. Laura, my best friend is married and childless by mutual decision. What she and her husband have done for the kingdom, each in their own way, as well as together, is amazing. I admire my friend greatly.

  7. Is it possible that this can be associated with men who are fathers spending more time away from the family? ie. by giving “highest calling” responsibility to the mother/woman. If people believe this, then men are allowed to pursue anything they want outside of the home. Including but not limited to career, a second job to make extra money, volunteering at church or other well meaning social events. In my opinion and experience, this cannot be a woman’s highest calling because it is temporary. Mothering children ( motherhood ) is temporary. When the children become adults, a mother’s role changes dramatically. What then? Is the highest calling over and everything subsequent in life less meaningful or a secondary calling? Motherhood is not a woman’s highest calling.

    1. Hi Renee,

      I agree. It is temporary. My children are grown and sometimes all my house needs to stay in order is that I load and unload the dishwasher and wipe a few surfaces; this takes less than half an hour. Am I supposed to stay home all day for this?

      The Galilean women who followed Jesus weren’t busy at home. Neither were Priscilla, Phoebe or Junia or several other women who were active in ministry.

      The instructions about keeping house are given to young women. But more than that, they are given to young women that had houses to keep, “Roman matrons”. Some young women, however, were slaves, so they may have been involved in industries other than keeping house.

      It does seem that some Christians teach that we are to restrict the “sphere” of women to the home, but that the men are free to pursue careers, hobbies, ministries, and social events outside the home in the “public” sphere. This is exactly what Aristotle, an influential pagan Greek philosopher taught.

      Here’s a list of Bible women who weren’t “keepers at home.”

      1. It is so refreshing and liberating to read more and more articles on what a woman should/could be—and not those old tired “biblical gender roles” of wife, motherhood, housekeeper, silent submissive, etc as God’s only role for women.

        For years I carried guilt from the influence of teachings of Bill Gothard and other patriarchy proponents because I did not want children, I went to college and taught in public school, along with being an artist, riding horses, rescuing cats and not liking girly things.

        Fighting deep depression, It took an actual 3 day fast to reach God to where He told me He had made me with all my personality, likes, dislikes, quirks, and yes even my faults, etc and that my only sin was not living that life by faith in him.

        My husband did/does NOT want to be a leader, nor make decisions, he wants me to be my own person —. He has also suffered many illnesses in our 44 years of marriage that I had to be the leader, decision maker anyway.

        What is so ironic is that many patriarchy followers gave me a pass because of his illnesses, implying that working outside the home is acceptable in cases of husband death or illness….so that means women who want to have a career with a healthy husband are sinning or going outside the perfect will of God….they can only work outside the home if hubby is dead, gone or ill….

        My question then if that is true then why did God give the knowledge to those 3 black woman in Hidden Figures that got the astronauts safely home and not to men whose wives stayed at home?

  8. As a divorced woman, I hesitate to go to church because of the misconception that I’m just going to church to ‘find a man.’ Based on this blog post, I can start to go boldly to church and say that the man I’m most interested in finding is Jesus! Thank you for this revelation Marg!

    1. So glad this post was useful and liberating for you, Tracey. 😀

  9. As a daughter of a mother who thinks that becoming a mother is ‘the highest calling’ this is so refreshing to hear. I never have had the desire to have children and I feel inferior to my mother because of how she thinks and doesn’t accept my way of thinking. I feel called to be a counsellor and I am so excited to start my journey that god has called me to. I don’t like the phrase ‘high calling’ cause I think it actually makes one feel they r better then others and as Christians we know there is no one higher than god himself. If this “high calling” is not put onto men does that mean they could say that becoming a pastor is a “high calling”? So any man who doesn’t become a pastor has reached the highest part of their life. So unrealistic! We can’t all be called to the same thing we need everyone to be different and in different areas for god to use us.

    1. All those who are pushing you into motherhood or claim that is God’s only will for you….ask them will they take responsibility for your life if it all goes wrong if you go down that path? Of course not! As a Christian, the life you lead, the decisions and choices are s between you and God —

      . Did you know the bible is full of “one onlies”?—- the one creation, only one garden of eden, one moses, one crossing of the red sea, one David slaying that giant, one Jonah in the belly of the whale, one Daniel in the lion’s den, all those one only events leading to the one only jesus, who by his one and only sacrifice on the cross led to the one only way of salvation?

      —-nature is testament to how God also has the ability to do more than one onlies? In that one creation there are millions of different species, different life forms, and all the different ways those life forms reproduce, eat, live out their lives, how they act yet all show the glory of god) such is the life of a Christian, God’s plan for your life will not look anything like mine or anyone else’s life.

      ——I pray god brings you many blessings and success and may god unify his people in love and mercy.

  10. I’ve been told all humans have an obligation to reproduce and propagate the human race because God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful, the only exception to the rule is if you work in ministry. I don’t know what to feel about this – was that command only applicable to Adam and Eve? I’d love to get married but I not sure I want kids, and I’m not a missionary.

    1. Hi Stephanie, The mandate to be fruitful and multiply was given to humanity in Genesis 1:26-28, along with other mandates like being stewards of the animals (and by extension, their habitats).

      Adam and Eve don’t appear until Genesis 2, and they are not told to be fruitful and multiply. Their job in Eden was to care for the garden. Sex and procreation was not part of the Eden experience.

      Humanity has successfully been fruitful and multiplied. Mission accomplished. We may even have taken it too far. (And some humans should not be procreating, as they are unfit for the important, lifelong role of being a parent.)

      Commonsense and kindness should be included in the way we interpret and apply scripture. And you don’t have to decide anything now. But if you do make a decision, I can’t see that Genesis 1 should be an influencing factor.

      1. Thanks Marg. My apprehension on pregnancies steamed from the large number of maternal deaths every year. I thought women were cursed with pregnancy pain, and men with hard labor because we have different roles.

        I always thought Genesis 1 & 2 were about the same story from different perspectives, and who else is God talking to except for Adam and eve?
        I find it strange to think Adam and eve weren’t intimate. Isn’t the purpose of the sexes a one-flesh marriage leading to reproduction (malachi 2)? It’s not like they were given the ability to reproduce so adam and eve could be saved later through Jesus. This is a new concept, I’ll have to think about it. 🙂

        1. Hi Stephanie, God did not curse Adam and Eve. He continues to help them. Only the snake and the ground are cursed, but God revokes the curse on the ground after the Flood.

          Genesis 1:1-2:4a was written by a different author than Genesis 2:4b ff. And Genesis 1 has a completely different purpose than Genesis 2-4.

          There’s no mention of Adam and Eve having sex until Genesis 4 which is after they were expelled from Eden.

          Also, while I had excruciating period pain as a teenager, the delivery of my first child was completely painless. Both my deliveries were shortish and relatively trouble-free. I know other women who have had painless childbirths, but we don’t talk about it much because of the pain and difficulties our sisters have endured.

          I see no theological reason why women have to have children.

          I’ve written about the first few chapters of Genesis a few times: https://margmowczko.com/category/gender-in-genesis-chapters-1-3/

          1. okay, I’ll look into this. I’ve never heard genesis had different authors, it’s quite interesting. i just don’t get why God would not let them have kids in paradise, and instead allow them to procreate in a world where every descendant will suffer/be punished because of their sin. Do you mean to say God is still helping Adam and Eve by helping us? But why help after doing that? Why do women suffer in labor if it’s only given to Eve, and why are we subject to hard work, patriarchy, *and* labor pain? Why don’t we get only hard work, just like men? sorry if I’m ranting, it’s sometimes hard to think about those 300,000 deaths per year and millions in history, all because of Adam and Eve.

          2. Hi Stephanie, It is very hard to think about the way humans have suffered and continue to suffer. I think the author of Genesis 2-3 also struggled with this. One way of reading Genesis 2-3 is as an aetiology: it’s how the ancient Israelites explained why human existance can be hard and painful.

            In developing countries there are plenty of women working hard in agriculture. However, we’re not supposed to just accept hardships associated with childbirth and agricultural labour. We should be doing all we can to alleviate suffering.

            You said, “I just don’t get why God would not let them have kids in paradise …”
            It could be that we are meant to uderstand that Adam and Eve were devoted to caring for the garden in Eden. Many scholars believe the garden in Eden was a sacred space and that Adam and Eve had a priestly role in caring for it. Whatever the case, there is no hint in Genesis 2 or 3 that they had sex or kids in Eden.

            You asked, “Do you mean to say God is still helping Adam and Eve by helping us?”
            I mean God helped Adam and Eve. After the couple sinned, God made clothes for them (Genesis 3:21). And in Genesis 4:1, Eve states that Gpd, YHWH, helped her to have Cain. Generally speaking, you don’t help someone you’ve cursed. God helped Adam and Eve, and he helps us, because God continues to care for humanity.


            In Hebrew, it’s obvious that Genesis 1:1-2:3 (or 2:4a) and Genesis 2:4-3:24 were written by different authors, but we can also see this in English translations.

            In Genesis 1, God is simply referred to as Elohim which is typically translated into English as “God.”
            [See Genesis 1:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (twice), Genesis 1:11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 20, 21 (twice), Genesis 1:22, 24, 25 (twice), Genesis 1:26, 27 (twice), Genesis 1:28 (twice), Genesis 1:29, 31, Genesis 2:2, 2:3 (twice).]

            God is never referred to in any other way than Elohim (“God”) in Genesis 1:1-2:3.

            Beginning in the second half of Genesis 2:4, God is then consistently referred to as YHWH Elohim. This is usually translated as “LORD God.” YHWH is sometimes pronounce Yahweh or Jehovah.
            [See Genesis 2:4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 3:1, the snake refers to God twice simply as Elohim in Genesis 3:5, the narrator then continues with YHWH Elohim in Genesis 3:8 (twice), Genesis 3:9, 13, 14, 21, 22, 23.]

            With the exception of the snake’s speech, God is not referred to in any other way than YHWH Elohim in Genesis 2:4-3:24.

            In contrast to the snake, Eve refers to God as YHWH, God’s holy covenant name (without Elohim), in Genesis 4:1. However, YHWH (without Elohim) is what is used for God throughout Genesis 4.
            [See Genesis 4:3, 4, 6, 9, 13, 15, 16, Adam refers to God as simply Elohim in Genesis 4:25, but YHWH then reoccurs in Genesis 4:26.]

            With the exception of the Adam’s speech in Genesis 4:25, God is not referred to in any other way than YHWH in Genesis 4.

            In Genesis 5, God is referred to mostly as Elohim or the Elohim.

            The different ways God is referred to is just one indication that different authors were behind different stories in Genesis.

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