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.