One of the biggest hurdles to women in ministry is men who support women in ministry. In the age of slacktivism, it’s far too easy to like a Facebook post or RT a call to action without taking any real action to engage women in actual ministry.
We still live in an age where men in the church wield far more authority than women – often even if those women are pastors. This means men hold a privileged position of power in the Church. If like me, you are a man in church leadership who believes women are equally gifted and called in the Body of Christ, we have the opportunity to use our position to wedge open the door and leverage our privilege to force it open for the sake of our sisters. We can create spaces for women to lead.
Here are four practical ways men can create space for women to lead in our churches:
1. Read Female Church Leaders
Giving lip-service to egalitarian gender roles is easy when you’re a man in leadership. Take a week and look at who’s informing your faith. How many women are you reading? How many female preachers are you listening to? Consider Mildred Wynkoop, whose Theology of Love is one of the best Wesleyan systematic theologies.
You’re already reading Jory Micah (unless you aren’t, in which case, don’t leave when you’re done with this article!). Read Tara Beth Leach. Read Grace Sandra. Follow Christena Cleveland, Rachel Held Evans and Christine Caine. Listen to Tara Thomas Smith and Heather Gerbsch Daugherty on the Feminist theology podcast In All Things Charity (of which I am the third cohost).
If you’re not listening to female voices, you’re not a feminist because a feminist believes all voices matter. If you’re not learning from women, you’re not really egalitarian, because an egalitarian believes women have as much to contribute to a life of faith as men.
Which female church leaders most inform your faith?
2. Praise Female Church Leaders All The Time
The old adage is familiar because it’s true: What gets rewarded gets repeated. Quote women all the time. Praise their books, their insights, how they informed your teaching and preaching. Encourage your people to read them. Share their blog posts. Comment and engage them online.
In other words, act like you believe female voices matter.
Act like you’re aware a woman speaking up in the Church has to speak louder to be heard, and offer her your platform. Model for your people how egalitarian theology is lived out. Make it normal and unremarkable to quote Deb Hirsch, Margaret Feinberg or Brenda Salter McNeil as much as C. S. Lewis, N. T. Wright or Augustine.
3. Create Spaces to Give Female Leaders Visibility
If you’re in church leadership (vocationally or as a lay person), you have influence. You have a platform. Use that privilege to create spaces for women to lead – and not just in the Kids’ Ministry or on the Hospitality team.
You may not be in a position to hire, but that doesn’t mean your hands are tied. At Catalyst Church, where I co-pastor, I created a lay preaching team, and we currently have two women preaching regularly (3-4 times per year each). Several more women are part of the team that edits each of my sermons before I preach them.
Our leadership team has 2 women of 5 total members and we regularly feature video stories of men and women in our congregation sharing how they are responding to God’s calling in their lives.
Spotting a woman who is ready to lead isn’t difficult. They attend your church. If you can’t think of any way to equip them, ask them. Say, “What do you wish you could do as a part of our Church?” Then work together to figure out how to make it happen.
4. Get Creative
If you’re in a denomination that doesn’t ordain women but you are committed to breaking the glass steeple, you’re going to have to get creative. You could just go to another denomination (full disclosure: that’s what I did), but that is not a decision to make lightly.
God may in fact call you to stay in your denomination and fight for justice where you are. If that’s you, you’re going to have to get creative, to create ways for women to lead while working in and around your church’s theological hang-ups.
The first church where I was vocationally employed was Southern Baptist – a denomination that still actively denies women ordination and often even leadership roles in ministry.
My senior pastor was a strong believer in women in ministry. His first hire was a woman to be our Director of Education – and she was considered ministerial staff. By the time I was hired, he was nearing the end of a 2-year process of leading our church leadership through a rewriting of our bylaws to restructure our polity.
Like most Southern Baptist churches, all the leadership authority was located in the pastoral staff and the board of deacons. And being a complementarian denomination, women couldn’t be deacons. With the exception of our Director of Education, women were locked out of leadership by the structure of the church.
My senior pastor could have forced the issue of female deacons, and he probably would’ve won by a narrow margin. At that point in the church’s life, it would’ve split the church. So instead, he led the deacons in reorganizing the church structure.
He moved power to a leadership team comprised of subcommittees that oversaw five separate areas of the Church. Each subcommittee had a team leader, and gender was not a factor in who was qualified to be a team leader.
Within a year of implementing this process, four of the five team leaders were female. By changing the structure of the Church, my senior pastor created ways for women to lead without splitting the Church.
Does Whatever a Spider Can
Uncle Ben told Peter Parker that “With great power comes great responsibility.” If you’re a man who has influence in a church, you have great power – greater power than the women in your church. If you are committed to the work of justice for men and women, then you have a responsibility to leverage your position to empower the women around you. Lead by example, and work with the women around you to mobilize them to live out their God-given calling.