Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Church Leadership: A Theory

I used to think that women in church leadership was a bad idea. It didn't make sense to me. Most of my experiences of female leadership within Christianity had been slightly off-putting, so I drew the conclusion that that's just not the way it's meant to be. I don't think that way anymore. While the bad experiences have out-weighed the good in terms of frequency, the good experiences have been good. I have learned and grown through the ministry -- through the leadership! -- of women, therefore to illegitimize such ministry and leadership would be to cut myself off from a vital means of God's grace.

Yet the bad experiences remain. What to do with them? Here is my theory:

Many problems with women in leadership stem from the reality that church leadership looks exactly like world leadership. If you are a leader in the church, there is a good chance that you are a leader outside the church, should you have such a life. And the simple truth is that world leadership -- and consequently, church leadership -- is geared towards a particular vision of manhood. That is why often the women we see in leadership seem to be in an unnatural position. We have defined church leadership with a particular type of man in mind, and so the women who've made the cut are women who've danced to our tune. But their dancing looks forced and unbecoming of a lady. When men dance to the tune, it generally looks right.

The crux of my theory is that the tune is wrong.

Any bad experiences I've had of women in leadership is not down to women at all. It is down to the kind of leadership that exists within the church. If the church really adopted leadership in the mould of Jesus, nothing would seem more natural than a woman in church leadership. Not because Jesus was more feminine than masculine, but because he brought the two together and made them one...sort of!

We have created a church structure in which women have to become more "masculine" in order to lead. It is little wonder that in such a structure a woman in leadership is generally off-putting. But all this does is highlight the fundamental flaws in the way we do leadership. If we really knew what leadership looked like, we would know that a woman is as capable of embodying it as a man.


  1. Just to throw my two cents in, I've had what must be a relatively unique experience in that most of the church leaders I've dealt with (Rectors, chaplains, parish ministers) have been women and the overwhelming majority of them have been terrific.

    They've been thoughtful, dedicated and genuinely caring, community focused and inspiring.

    I had one who wasn't the greatest preacher but she knew it and was humble enough to know her weaknesses and compensate for them as a good leader does. She had assistants who preached beautifully and they did the sermon most Sundays.

    The idea that a woman shouldn't lead in a church would never have occured to me without someone bringing it up and I'm glad things have changed enough that women are permitted to lead. It would have been such a loss to me to have never been spiritually guided by these women.

  2. Women do lead differently than men, however, I have never felt that the women leaders who have been 'successful' in church have been masculine in any way. To infer that the male leadership in the church are also those who are leaders outside the church is to show a very limited experience in viewing leadership. Many church leaders are ordinary working men and women in a variety of spheres and professions. They have one thing in common though, they are called by God to a noble work and usually humbled by this privilege and responsibility.