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.