On Women

womenIf ever there were a tough gig it would be leading a Christian church as a woman.  The more I have reflected on this the more I shake my head in both disbelief and admiration of those who do it.

As a bloke looking on it appears to me that the challenges are enormous for women seeking to develop and serve in this way.  Obviously I write this as a man and with a limited perception, so feel free to correct me ladies or add your experience of this conundrum.

The first challenge I observe is obvious – finding a church that is willing to take you on as a leader. Some churches see value in a female ‘associate’ pastor,  but very few in my own tribe (let’s call us ‘evangelical’ ) are willing to take the ‘risk’ on a woman as a team leader/senior pastor or whatever language you prefer to use.

If a woman is willing to be an associate then there is a reasonable scope for finding a role.  It wont be as broad a scope as the roles available for men,  as many churches still don’t accept women in eldership / teaching roles, but if the role is purely pastoral, kids or youth then it might be ok.  She might be called the ‘children’s worker’ rather than pastor but then she ought to just be happy to have a position… right?… To find an associate role is definitely possible and often this is as far as churches are willing to go.

But what of those women genuinely gifted as leaders and communicators? What of those women whose best fit is a senior leadership role? Do they simply have to accept that they will only ever serve in a secondary capacity (or be missionaries?… because the same rules don’t seem to apply cross culturally…)

I say ‘secondary ‘ not to lessen children’s / youth ministry but because to be unable  to be who you are is always going  to see you being in a ‘secondary ‘ space.

Again the biggest challenge is to just get a gig.  How many churches have a theology in place that see women as potential senior leaders?  Not many… not many at all. I’ll guess 20% would accept this theologically, but even fewer would be able to accept it culturally. The ‘leadership is male’ paradigm is too strong to break.

So a woman would firstly need a find a church in her tribe,  (or a neighbouring tribe) looking for a senior leader that is theologically and culturally placed to consider her. Already the field has narrowed considerably.

But the challenge continues.

Most churches are institutions and institutions tend to play it safe.  It’s a safer bet to choose a man. Church leaders are more often seen as men so it would be an easier route for most churches to go. When new faces appear on a Sunday morning, ‘church shopping’, some will likely be ‘put off ‘ if they discover the senior leader is a woman, because they have been used to male leadership. Put bluntly if a church chooses a woman as a their team leader then they risk narrowing the ‘market’ they appeal to. (Yeah – I know that’s crappy language but for the sake of the illustration…)

We have been conditioned in this way so its going to be a while before that changes significantly.  A church that simply wants to get more bums on seats will be ‘smarter’ to go with a man as a team leader because the appeal is more generic. Sad but true I’d suggest. Of course if a church is confident and secure enough in its identity then it won’t care and it will move with its convictions, but those churches are few and far between.

My guess is that women will also be under more scrutiny from those on their teams and those in the congregation. ‘Is she really up to it?…’

That has to be ‘wearing’. To have to prove yourself,  time and again… to know that some may not believe in you because of your gender. That can create a sense of insecurity in a leader if they know they are constantly being evaluated in a way a man wouldn’t be. I imagine it would also be hard not to be in ‘fight’ mode often as a woman leader or not to get gnarly at throwaway lines and flippant gender related comments.

Then there’s the challenge of recruiting other staff.  The same problem applies as when a woman is seeking a role.  Some men will have theological objections to female leadership, while others will simply find it too much of a cultural stretch to have a woman in the lead role.  This inevitably means that the staff possibilities diminish and it can then be hard to develop a strong team and a thriving ministry.  If you can’t easily recruit co-workers then what do you do?

I think we have a long way to go before we will see a significant shift in the landscape and I applaud those women who have cut the path in some very hard ground – who must some days look up and wonder if they have actually got far at all. The reality is that the ground has been broken, the moulds are being re-cast and in time we will see this pioneering work bear fruit in churches that are led by the person who is called to the role irrespective of gender.

At the moment Danelle and I share the leadership role in our church and we are the team leaders. Some days that means my communication, leadership gifts come to the fore and some days it means her prophetic, people gifts come to the fore, but we’re able to discern who is best placed to lead as needed. It isn’t a function of gender but rather a recognition that we are gifted differently and we function best when we allow one another to do what we do best.

I only know of a few women in team leader roles across Australia, and they are all women who are certainly very deserving and highly capable in their roles, but I can only imagine it aint easy.

Thanks for your leadership and courage ladies and for not shying away from the challenge.

3 thoughts on “On Women

  1. Simple question: in heaven do women have full rights? Yes? So why not make is so in our churches? The church is the embodiment of the KOG right?
    The church should be leading the world in so many areas… emancipation of women, Indigenous leadership, justice….

  2. So what can a woman say? Until men, and women, who hold leadership positions actively and consciously create and hold open spaces for women, not much will change without great pain. Kudos to those who do. It must be active and with a reverse bias, just to make the space real. For example….
    This week gone, in a conference, the male keynote speaker refused to take two questions in a row from males. Because the room was about 80% male, that meant the women had to ask more questions each. He held his ground and I am very grateful. Gifted women asked great questions in that forum. If he hadn’t done that, their voices and minds would not have been exercised in the rich way that they were.
    Cheers to those who make straight paths for women, and other under-represented humans, to lead…..

  3. As a woman I’m actually not that keen on women as pastors. I haven’t completely reconciled my theological position on the issue. I simply don’t think enough women are qualified (seminary trained), or are prepared to preach in away that reaches men as well as women. Maybe part of the problem is women haven’t been given the opportunity or practice so they aren’t as polished (being male certainly hasn’t meant good preaching though!). Calling someone a “pastor” who has no qualifications is a bit ridiculous regardless of gender, the position might be pastoral but that doesn’t help in knowing what their quality is. What’s wrong with just calling someone a admin assistant, or childrens church/ youth leader ?
    Having attended women’s conferences over the years I’ve noticed the focus of these conferences are different from what men preach within churches – relational issues dominated by family & children, often other issues are a token gesture (aging, singleness, careers, identity is Christ not defined in relation to others). The speakers also seem to have some need to bond (“I’m like you”) with the women in the audience, men seem to have a more of a “I know something & I want to teach you” attitude. What men’s conferences are focused on I’m not familiar with. But I’m sure the differing perspectives impact the preaching.

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