How men can support women leaders

The story is often told of a time when Bill Gates was speaking to a group of Saudi Arabian businessmen and political leaders. Most in the room were men; any women present were veiled and sat in a separate section according to custom. After his speech, Gates took questions, during which time an audience member commented on the rank of Saudi Arabia in the field of technology, asking what Gates thought might lift his country into the top ten globally.

“Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country,” Gates responded, noting the paucity of females present, “you’re not going to get too close to the top ten.”¹

It is not news that women lag behind men in leading in both secular and sacred arenas. What may not be so obvious is that the progress of women toward narrowing that gap has slowed and in some cases stalled in recent years. This is just as true in the business sector as in the religious sector. Consider the results of these studies:

  • According to the 2013 Catalyst Census conducted by Fortune Magazine, there was no increase in the number of women in executive positions, with women holding less than fifteen percent of executive roles.
  • According to The National Congregations Study conducted by Duke University, pastors in America are becoming more diverse and older but since 1998 they have not become more female.
  • Dawn Wiggins Hare with the Commission on the Status and Role of Women reports that the number of women clergy in the United Methodist Church has not increased since 2009.
  • A National Congregations Study reports, “Despite large percentages of female seminarians and increased numbers of female clergy in some denominations, women lead only a small minority of American congregations. Moreover, we do not detect any increase since 1998 in the overall percentage of congregations led by women.”³

Here’s the real irony: in a field dominated by men, it is male spiritual leaders who have the most opportunity to influence the next generation of women called into leadership. What can men do to affirm and encourage women called and gifted to lead in ministry? Here are a few places to begin:

Root your decisions about leadership in a Wesleyan understanding of scripture. Having a well-researched, well-prayed-over egalitarian theology will help you make more confident choices about giving both women and men leadership responsibilities. An egalitarian view says that while the Fall (Genesis 3) is responsible for setting men and women against each other in an antagonistic or hierarchical relationship, the intended purpose at creation (Genesis 1 and 2) was for men and women to stand together as equal partners. If this is true (and I believe it is), then we want to operate and make decisions that support a pre-fall view of human design. In other words, we value people based on gifts and call and do not exclude them because of gender.

Commit to making decisions that reflect the values and spiritual maturity of an elder in the New Testament Church of Jesus Christ. What motivates your leadership choices? Are you so spiritually formed that you can maturely mentor, hire and encourage women without fear or intimidation? Have you done the spiritual spadework needed to develop strong mental and physical boundaries? This ends up being an important piece of the puzzle. Unless we are emotionally and spiritually mature, our discomfort with the other gender will keep us from confidently leading. Remember that the gospel clearly calls us to take responsibility for our own minds and bodies, not to ask others to bear that weight.

Give women who are called and gifted access to every level of leadership. Are there places in your church where women are excluded? Are there tables to which they are not invited? Please understand that a lifetime of experiencing subtle biases has given most women a sensitivity to those places where we are excluded. That may be something we have to deal with and heal from but nonetheless, we know when we’re not welcome and it makes a difference in how we live out our potential and contribute to the coming Kingdom.

Pray for God to give you an urgency to welcome and advance the Kingdom of God on earth. As God answers that prayer, you will become more attuned to those he has placed in your community who are ready, willing and qualified to lead along with you. When you find them, take authority over your role as apostle and pastor by pouring into them as leaders, whether they are men or women. Genuinely qualified women leaders are starving for solid, qualified, Kingdom-minded mentors and coaches who care so much about Kingdom priorities that they will do whatever it takes to make sure that cause is advanced.

 

1. Dale, Felicity, et al. The Black Swan Effect: A Response to Gender Hierarchy in the
Church. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007, kindle loc 882.

2. Leach, Tara Beth. “Dear Bill Hybels and Other Men Who Affirm Women in Ministry.”
MissioAlliance. August 10, 2015.

3. National Congregations Study. “Religious Congregations in 21st Century America.” http:/
www.soc.duke.edu/natcong/Docs/NCSIII_report_final.pdf

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“Mama, can boys be preachers, too?”

One day as we were driving, my daughter called out this question from the back seat. “Mama, can boys be preachers, too?”

She was five years old at the time (she’s 24 now). We were in the car on the road from Lexington to Wilmore, Kentucky, where our family lived while I was in seminary. In the year prior to our move I was beginning to preach, so for virtually all her life a “preacher mama” is all my daughter has known. Our closest seminary friends at the time happened to be a couple with a make-up much like ours: the wife a preacher, the husband a public school teacher.

“Mama, can boys be preachers, too?”

clergy-barbi4My daughter could not have known how unique a question that is. For centuries, the Christian church has been concerned with the other question: Can girls be preachers, too? Does God’s design allow for women to be part of spreading this story of grace?

The answer is in the story itself. Women were last at the cross, first at the tomb and first to be told, “Go and tell.” Priscilla, Junia, Tabitha, Lydia — all were leaders in this new movement of God. Any woman who preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ stands in that great tradition. It is not a call reserved for one gender or 50% of us. It is the great commission of all God’s people: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

So what does this mean for both men and women?

1. All of us are empowered to share the story. All of us. Steve Jobs was once talking with a group of high-ranking officials in Egypt. He was sharing business principles with them and at some point, someone asked him if he thought Egypt could ever be a viable world leader. Jobs response was, “Not as long as you are using only half your population.”¹

Of course, God can do anything he wants with whomever he chooses but sometimes I wonder if he looks at the Christian Church, hears our prayers for the Kingdom to come and thinks, “Not as long as you’re using only half the population.”

Earlier this year in India, a few hundred girls went through a re-naming ceremony. These girls all carried the Hindu name Nakusa. It means “Unwanted,” a common name among girls in India. Someone decided to issue an invitation to girls carrying that name, offering them the chance to choose a new name. Literally hundreds of girls showed up for that ceremony — girls tired of being called “Unwanted.”

This seems to be part of our unredeemed nature. In many places in the world, cultures oppressclergy-barbi3 girls. In many places, females are made to feel like runners-up in the gender contest. This is not a Christian teaching. Paul said, “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.”

As followers of the gospel of Jesus, we believe everyone is wanted and gifted in some way for sharing the good news. John Wesley once said, “God owns women in the conversion of sinners, and who am I that I should withstand God?”

2. We have a unique call. After years of dealing with my own insecurities, I now claim God’s call to take authority and preach the gospel. God is using me because of how I’m made, not in spite of it, to be demonstration of the Kingdom. I am not a runner-up. I am God’s choice, called to serve a world that desperately needs Jesus in all the ways and through all the people Jesus can be shared.

3. Engage the real question. The real question is not, “Should women lead or preach in churches?” That is a freedom question but ultimately, that is not a salvation question. The real question is: “How many people does God want to reach, and how many people is he willing to use to reach them?” What if all God’s people who are equipped for the work are called to humbly proclaim Jesus to a lost and hurting world?

All his people … including you.

“Mama, can boys be preachers, too?”

It is a beautiful question, reflecting the movement of God who has given all kinds of people the call to preach, who has given every one of us a platform to suit our spiritual gifts. This is great news! Because Jesus sets people free, he is able to redeem us from the pits we’ve dug for ourselves so he can call us forth to spread the good news of freedom through Christ. As we come, He is able to present us before His glorious presence without fault.

He is able to present us before His glorious presence with great joy!

He is the only God, our Savior. He is glorious. He is majestic. He is powerful. He has authority in this world and in the world to come. He is our Master and our Redeemer. He Who Is, Who Was and Who Is To Come is Truth Eternal.

Who wouldn’t want to share that news? And who wouldn’t want to hear it?

 

1. Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2013.

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