God Leads Like a Midwife
By Libby Tedder Hugus
Understanding how God leads like a midwife inspires us to lead by invitation.
When I was preparing to give birth to our first child, we chose the midwifery model of care for prenatal through postpartum provision. We did so for many reasons including a belief that birth was not something “done to the mother” but rather a cooperation of the mother with the miraculous power of her own body to birth in a way she was designed to. We researched, interviewed and hired a midwife who jived with our values when it came to birthing. She had a practice of having an assistant midwife attend every birth: one tends to mother; one to baby; both team together toward a successful labor and delivery.
We also hired a doula to assist during and after our pregnancy as well. I remember the first time I met her, shook her hand and we smiled into each other eyes; it was clear this woman would be a powerful witness and servant in my birthing experience. A doula’s role is to nurture, support and offer expert guidance to a mother, her partner, and other family members in the birthing transition. Where a midwife’s care is medically and physically centered, a doula’s is emotionally and practically centered in evidence-based information.
On a bright and early summer’s morning, our little one was born at home under the watchful care and witness of our birthing team. We bonded with her as sunlight poured through our windows. Our birth was a mutually empowering shared experience. I was free to cooperate with my body giving birth, unrestricted and well supported by a team of expert witnesses. They were able to provide direct assistance at every step of the way, while not forcing my body to do the work of birthing our child from my womb. In the blissfully high oxytocin-soaked first moments postpartum as a newly emerged mother, I was able to celebrate what I had accomplished by the power of my own body while acknowledging how necessary the presence, knowledge and physical support of each women in the room had been.
I sense that this is exactly how God leads: like the trifecta of a midwife, midwife’s assistant and doula. What if we reimagined the relationship God shares within Godself this way? God the midwife, God the assistant and God the doula. What a team they make! What beautiful, powerful presence they offer to those they are in relationship with.
Open and relational theologies affirm that God interacts in an uncontrolling, mutually empowering, cooperative way with all God creates. A midwife enters the particular story of a mother and growing baby to work with that person in her current circumstances. She does not assume or force practices that are outside the scope of a mother’s needs or desires. She listens, suggests, monitors, provides, and cooperates with the mother’s specific experience. A doula comes alongside a mother and family to listen, ponder, question, suggest and participate with the family’s needs during pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum. She does not coerce, dominate, or lord her power over them. Devoting herself to the particularities of this mother and partner and baby in this birth leads to a participative, shared experience for all involved.
This kind of leadership is invitational and cooperative. This kind of leadership loves. This kind of leadership necessitates a posture of alongside and with not over or against. God leads like a midwife and invites us to do the same.
Community Organizers follow a model of leadership that defines a leader as anyone who invites another to the table. The table may represent a shared goal or need, or a shared community or identity. Anyone is invited to meet said goal or fill the gap between need and provision. Leadership is not understood as the hierarchical model of someone in charge who hoards all the authority. It is not a buck-stops-with-one-dictator kind of leadership. Leadership is engaged as a shared kind of power that engages the capacity, ability and willingness of others to act cooperatively. Power is shared and built together in order to accomplish a common goal. Leaders may have different abilities and capacities to share, but each one matters in the movement toward the shared result. Along the way, participation by each leader in knowing and exercising their own power is more important than who is in charge. Shared power is greater than the sum parts of any one authoritative leader. The common goal is collectively discerned and decision making found among all the leaders at the table. In this way, authority is shared and mutually agreed upon. A question often asked by such leaders is, “who is missing? Who haven’t we considered as a possible leader toward this goal?”
Through the lenses of open and relational theology, God comes alongside each individual and community to share power with all willing participants. The ability to act toward a whole and peaceful creation belongs to all of us. This is ultimately God’s desire for creation: holistic well-being for all, in all spheres, in all ways, across all spectrums. Genesis chapter one affirms that all of humanity, every single human being, is created to reflect God’s image. We are imbued with the very essence of God’s own heart and given agency to steward and lead on earth.
We can all lead in God’s kin-dom. “Kin-dom” offers an alternative to the more widely used kingdom. Kingdoms are dominions where power is hoarded at the top of a sliding scale of power. Kingdoms determine who carries the power based upon birthright, sexual identity or gender. In kingdoms, the power only trickles down from those who hold status, wealth and ideal social pedigrees. Kin-doms are realms were all perceive themselves as siblings in God’s family, sharing the power to act and influence and change and cooperate amongst each other. Every sibling in the kin-dom knows their inherent worth and dignity, because they are created in God’s image. Inside kin-doms, power is identified according to creative capacity, imaginative ability, and enthusiastic willingness to respond. In the peaceable kin-dom, like a trifecta birthing team, God as midwife, assistant, and doula enters the particularities of a given individual’s or community’s experience to listen, influence, and support the shared goals of the whole gathering.
Perhaps this model of leadership doesn’t settle easily with you. Perhaps you prefer the idea of a determined future where God is in control. Perhaps it is easier to respond to an authoritarian leader who wields the power from a throne on high. Perhaps recognizing the responsibility required of those of us who love and desire to imitate God in a model like this is intimidating.
But how does it replenish your love for, and desire to cooperate with, God when you consider God like a midwives and doula team? To consider God coming alongside of you, joining you in your particular quirks, desires, joys, and hopes to assist you in an end goal—like birthing a new dream into the world? What if God’s leadership is invitational and cooperative, not domineering and controlling? What if this is how God woos each of us to lead as well?
God leads like a midwife. God’s leadership is not authoritative, coercive, or determined. God leans with us into an open future, with possibilities as endless as we have the capacity, ability and willingness to help co-create. God joins with us by relating to us inside the experience of our humanity. God invites us to lead alongside others in the kin-dom who desire to realize God’s dream for shalom on earth.
Who is missing from your life right now? Who haven’t you invited to help give birth to God’s creative, imaginative dream for shalom on planet earth? Maybe it’s you. Maybe you have been hiding behind a non-relational view of God and waiting for God to act unilaterally. The leadership of God is opposite of this kind of view. God is extending the invitation to you. God is establishing a reign of peace on earth, and wants your responsive, cooperative participation.
St. Teresa of Avila lived in Spain in the 16th century. She was a participant in the Carmelite order of sisters and wrote prolifically on prayer, despite physical ill health and struggling against earthly attachments. One of her best-known prayers is below. You may want to consider praying this prayer and to ponder Christ as “The Midwife’s Assistant.”
Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
Compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good
Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world
Yours are the hands
Yours are the feet
Yours are the eyes
You are His body
Christ has no body now on earth but yours
God the midwife, God the assistant, God the doula is extending their hand to you right now. “Lead with me,” God says, “Let us bless the world together.”
Libby Tedder Hugus is founding Pastor of The Table in Casper, WY. She is co-author of “Marks of the Missional Church” and contributing author to multiple anthologies. She is a pastor, wife, mama, coach and obsessive podcast and audiobook consumer. She believes there is always room for one more around the table and generous hospitality will heal the world.
To purchase the book from which this leadership essay comes, see Open and Relational Leadership: Leading with Love.