Loving Women Leaders

Lately, we have been having an interesting discussion about women in leadership among the Circle of Hope. It centers around our drive to have a woman pastor someday. And what people mean by a “woman pastor” is like the four congregational pastors, I think — the person who is the Christian equivalent of the CEO, COO, CFO, something C with an O.

I have been sharing two main responses to our dialogue:

1) We have women leaders, two of them are named “pastor,” many of them are cell leaders whose job is pastor. Why are they so invisible?

2) Women face the same roadblocks among us that they face in other institutions. We need to become conscious of those obstacles to leadership and stay conscious. Women please don’t stay invisible.

First, let’s celebrate the women leaders we have.

Hild Day was last Saturday. It gives me an excuse every year to focus on women in leadership. Hild was a great leader of the church during the 600s. In a day when women rarely led men, she did.

Below is a composite picture of some of the “Hilds” of Circle of Hope. These are just the women who are either named a pastor (Gwen and Rachel), who are leaders of the core teams that make up our network Leadership Team — all three are presently women (Vanessa, Megan, Alison), or who lead cells, the basic building blocks of  our church.

There are further women who lead mission teams and compassion teams, too! We are blessed with a lot of dedicated people. (There are probably some better pictures, too — sorry).

Second let’s keep thinking about how to get the roadblocks out of the way of our women!

I still think our recently-vinted proverb makes sense: “We are diverse in many ways and we will cross boundaries to become more so. Don’t bean count us.” Merely having a discussion of the rights and identity of women is not up to Jesus’ standards. Our equality is not measured by the world’s measure. We are growing up gifted people of both genders to be leaders and we are growing everyone down so we don’t think leaders are the most important people in the room.

But while we hope to decrease the sense of competition for power among us, acting like there is no assertion necessary to lead will likely just leave the leadership to the men, who already dominate it throughout our society. I think we all need to pay attention to what it takes to lead as a woman among us and help people succeed at it when Jesus calls them forward.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is stored on youtube  giving a TED talk about why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions. She offers three good pieces of advice for women who aspire to leadership that I think apply in our setting, too.

1) Sit at the table. Women tend to underestimate their capabilities. They are more collegial in their assessment of how they became successful. They defer instead of reach. If you need data to back up these facts, she has it – but you can usually see how we relate at a meeting and it will give you enough evidence for the same conclusions, I think.

2) Make your partner a real partner. If a woman is going to do more than make her husband’s career succeed, he is going to have to be a partner at home in a significant, mutually-agreed-upon way. This has to be true for a woman who leads the church, too. Her husband will have to help make that work.

3) Don’t leave before you leave. Sandberg mainly talks about the tendency women have: they consider what it will be like to have children and a job and then mentally opt out of working hard. We don’t hire the vast majority of our leaders among Circle of Hope, so she is not thinking about our context. But I think women react in a similar way when given the opportunity to serve or lead in the church in some significant way. They are committed to their parenting in a way that makes them feel ineligible.

Being the leader of a congregation, cell or team is not what most people are going to do. But I think we should all be ready to take on the challenge to lead when given the opportunity if we are given the grace to do so — since, as our proverb says, “Women and men are co-bearers of the image of God and therefore fully gifted and responsible to lead, teach and serve.” Most of us are not leading, we are being catalyzed, equipped and steered by leaders, and we only need a few of these crucial people. There is a lot to do; and most of us are doing it.

Women have significant roadblocks to leading us to do it. Sheryl Sandberg implies that many of the roadblocks are self-imposed. But we know that no one gets where they are going alone. If we hope for women to live and give according to the fullness that is in Jesus; we can all contribute to the success of each woman we recognize as gifted and called to serve us as a leader. If there are roadblocks, inside or out, let’s lovingly knock them out of the way.

5 thoughts on “Loving Women Leaders

  1. First of all, I am ecstatic to see this post. Thank you, Rod. I have invited others to comment here and I hope they do so.

    I agree that many women underestimate their capabilities. In fact, looking back on my own experience, women learn to do this. It is not an isolated sin, though. It takes the grace of God to see the value of yourself after a lifetime of dealing with patronizing and condescending situations, even in your own family.

    I agree that partners should take responsibility. I am blessed to have a real partner who loves me this way and genuinely loves being with his children. However, many women don’t have a partner at all and are single parents. How can we support them in leadership? Also, economic realities can complicate the ability of partners to share. What to do if one’s job is during the second or third shift, for example? We need to support people somehow.

    Finally. about “mentally opting out”: This probably happens, but it might be more complicated than suggested. Women who have children, especially young children, are working hard already. It’s not easy to breastfeed a baby or deal with a toddler all day long (or both at the same time!). For me, this was by far the hardest and most tiring work I’ve ever done in my life. I did it because my partner had the full-time job and the benefits and it would have broken my heart to put my babies in daycare. If you’re a mother with a paid job, it’s also hard. I’ve been there, too. I was terribly exhausted in both situations and my partner was as well. For me, opting out was not about avoiding work (the Puritan fear?), it was about not killing myself. The thought of doing one more thing at the end of the day was not even there. I needed to rest. Bottom line: Women face difficult choices when children are born (or to even have children at all, in some cases). We need to be aware of this. The “opt out” may not be due to fear of working hard; it might happen because women are already working very hard in ways that are not always seen or valued.

  2. I’m wondering if being collegial isn’t a positive thing. Women are great at building teams and including others. Maybe that is what is happening when a woman “defers.”. What do you think?

    1. I agree. You’ll notice that Circle of Hope is decidely set up to be collegial. Service to others, building community and a life based on self-giving love is the Jesus way; that’s what I think. It is not a male or female way. I do think women need to assert their deference, however. They often give the field over to COOs (women included) who merely exercise power effectively.

  3. I concur with Sheryl’s words of wisdom–thanks for sharing them, Rod. (Here I am sounding collegial, ha!) I’ve found that each of these roadblocks can be daunting, but God makes things possible. I’m grateful for a community that faces roadblocks.

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