Last week I met with hundreds of women and pastoral leaders from around New Zealand at the first Dare Mighty Things conference at Carey Baptist College in Auckland. The first half of the week I met individually with women leaders, brainstormed with a group of female academics on how to address the dearth of leadership on Christian female leaders, and spoke with a group of (primarily) men training to be pastoral leaders. The conference itself was a great success—registrations exceeded expectations and we spent two and a half days tackling three of the ten challenges I discuss in Dare Mighty Things.
I’ve been home less than 48 hours (with a massive case of jetlag to boot), but I’m already processing the stories and heartaches of women I met. Their stories raise several large concerns (and maybe others, as more time for reflection goes by) regarding the work before us, which I will cover here over the next few weeks. One of the most pressing matters is the way we unintentionally (not to mention intentionally) silence the voices and giftedness of women in our churches and parachurch organizations.
We unintentionally silence women when we support women in theory but not in practice. Officially, on paper, churches may support women leaders but fail to fill official leadership roles with gifted women. Many churches in both New Zealand and the U.S. have come a long way by changing their official position on women leaders, but this needs to be followed up by proactive decisions to identify and train women for leadership roles within those organizations.
All of the churches I have attended in my adult life are theologically conservative churches who say they support women leaders—but the first time I preached from the pulpit on a Sunday morning (in two theologically conservative Baptist churches) was half a world away and aside from one church I attended early in my seminary career, I’ve never seen another woman preach, either. It is still far too rare to see a woman preach the word of God on a Sunday morning, especially in theologically conservative churches.
We unintentionally silence women when pastoral leaders fail to make supporting women into leadership a priority. As a seminary professor who has taught hundreds of young and aspiring pastors over the years, I know that part of the issue is simply busyness. Pastors have many competing demands on their time, and though they fully believe in supporting women in this way, more immediate demands consume their time, the issue falls to the back burner, and women will not bring it up for fear of being seen as arrogant or demanding.
However, there is also an issue in not wanting to upset the older “stakeholders” in the congregation. As one young man said last week, “I know there are gifted women in the congregation, but honestly, they’re just going to have to go somewhere else. We need to wait until some older members die off.” Either you believe the spiritual gifts aren’t gendered or you don’t, and if you do, you have a moral imperative to steward the spiritual resources of your congregation as well as you would the financial resources, regardless of how busy you are or how some older members might feel about it. There are wise ways to slowly incorporate this change, but it is a change that must be a priority.
We unintentionally silence women when men are not taught to support their wives. Most (if not all) of the married women leaders I have spoken with over the years have attributed much of their success to supportive husbands. They spoke of husbands who not only believed in them but also pulled more than their fair share of household and childcare duties as they worked overtime to achieve their ministry goals. But not all women get that support. Last week far too many women told me, through tears, of how their husband was dismissive of their desires to go into ministry—they grunted, laughed, or put them down. Some were shunned by their whole family simply because they chose to go to seminary.
If we support the giftedness of women leaders on paper, in theory, we must also be committed to follow through and support them in practice.