A Reality Check Regarding Women in Senior Leadership

I’m not really a glass-half-full kind of person.
But I’m also not a glass-half-empty person.

You see, I’m not so much an optimist or a pessimist, I’m typically just a realist and a vision-caster.

Glass of WaterI like to say, “Look, there’s the water line. Now, where do we want to go from here? Fill it up? Absolutely! We can make it happen. Let’s make a plan. Drink it down? Awesome, there’s value in there that we can soak in – let’s go for it.”

So when in conversation of late with church leaders regarding women in senior leadership, I am getting weary of overstating the facts about how full or lamenting about how empty the glass seems these days.

Most of all, I want us to be honest with women coming up in the ranks, young leaders and students of the Word who have callings on their lives. Let’s not say to those looking for positions, “You have the same senior leadership opportunities guys do”… because they don’t. One day, with some planning and some action and some heart changes and education along the way, I pray we get there. Don’t get me wrong. I know this will change, that this will get better. I dream of those days for my daughters. But we’re not there.

So let’s just say how much water is in the glass and be realists while we cast vision about a better tomorrow.

Ladies, if you want to be a senior pastor, in the majority of instances, you have two options right now: Plant a church, or revitalize a church. It would be really great if healthy, growing, self-sustaining churches were all willing to interview female candidates, but we’re not there yet. You may find some who are – that’s awesome! But the current waterline just isn’t super high in that category.

1. Plant a church.

The Assemblies of God, my tribe, is supportive at the highest levels for women in church planting. You may face some difficulty at the ground level, but so does every single planter out there. The Church Multiplication Network is a wonderful organization. I hear that others, like ARC, are starting to get on board with funding female planters. When you plant a church, you get to create the culture, and people aren’t going to start questioning whether or not you have the credentials (read: male anatomy) some may require to be a lead pastor. Just like every single other planter out there, you’ll need to figure out creative funding models and how your family is supported. Don’t rule out planting because of finances. Ask God what He wants, and then get to it. Our movement’s history is FULL of women who planted some of the greatest churches still thriving today. Stand in their footsteps and pioneer.

2. Revitalize a church.

Not everyone is a church planter. If you have a strong heart for the pastoral care of a community, you should really consider taking on a church revitalization. In many districts the executive leadership can use their power of appointment to help place female leaders into churches that are district-affiliated. Get to know your District Superintendent, Assistant District Superintendent, District Secretary-Treasurer, Presbyter, and others who help in this process, and share your heart for ministry. Be willing to move, and find creative funding models for your personal expenses in case the church is unable to support a full-time pastor. Be willing like thousands of pastors in our movement to be Bi-Vocational (Korista’s written some awesome stuff on that life!). The Church Transformation Initiative is a great place to start for being resourced. One of my favorite moments so far as a senior pastor was the day a person put on our connect card how they heard about us. He had written, “childhood church.” That day he returned to his childhood church AND the faith in Jesus he had first learned as a boy. I’m so honored to be part of God creating new life and a new church family in a building that has stood as a church for 75 years, but was so close to dying.

If you instantly want to throw away both of these options, your journey to senior leadership is very possibly going to be a lot harder and a lot longer than you desire. I wish that were not the case, but I want you to look at what IS possible, instead of just what isn’t. Both of these are IMPORTANT avenues of leadership for the Kingdom.  

If you have any questions about connecting into any of these opportunities for ministry, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I don’t have all the answers, but I can get you connected into some great directions.

[image courtesy Kalyan Chakravarthy, used under creative commons license]

  1. Kathy, this is mostly right. If you are A/G or of another “supportive” denomination. But there is one that you missed if you are willing to look beyond the A/G (which is admittedly the context of the author and most readers). Join a denomination that is ACTUALLY supportive…or at least a little farther down the road. My wife was appointed to a 600 member church after just 9 years of ministry. She was a final candidate for a megachurch senior pastor role just before this appointment. The United Methodist Church is begging for women with leadership ability and creating wonderful opportunities for those that do. They are trying to create a world where women are equally considered at even the largest pulpits and are doing so by giving women with leadership ability the positions that will make them ready for it. My wife isn’t alone. I could name a dozen women in Indiana alone that are on the same path.

  2. Jeremiah – So true. You’re right, I was writing this with the A/G in mind, as that is my tribe and where I interact the most. I don’t think I have ever actually considered leaving as an option, since my roots are so firmly embedded in this particular movement and tradition.

    Are you seeing this around the country in the UMC? From my growing friendships in the Young Clergy Women Project, I’m learning it really seems to be by each district or presbytery (for the Episcopals) for how supported they really feel. And of course the call/appointment process is so very different. That governance makes a BIG difference, don’t you think?

  3. While I believe this post is truth, I don’t agree that we should accept this reality in the AG church or really in any evangelical Church. If a woman feels called to be a lead pastor, she should not have to plant a church to do so.

    If we accept this as the reality, women who feel called will simply leave the AG church. If this is the best we can do for them, then we should be pointing them to denominations that will hire them at already established churches.

    Planting a church is a special calling and not for everyone.

    My hope is that we begin to change a broken system, rather than just pointing women elsewhere.

    This is an issue of justice and oppression and “accepting the reality” is not good enough for me.

    I am over at jorymicah.com advocating daily to change this reality. I would love to see this blog do the same for our sisters!

    Lots of love! Xo

    1. Hi Jory – thanks for reading and commenting. I think Leila nailed it below when she talked about the two perspectives of personal and systemic. And it may simply be a matter of semantics, but I don’t believe that ADMITTING reality is the same as ACCEPTING reality. I don’t think we can cast great vision and develop an appropriate plan unless we have a realistic view of where we stand in the moment. You use the term “accepting the reality” in your comment in quotes, yet I never used that term in this post, and I certainly don’t want to keep the water line where it is, which I think I communicated clearly.

      I also agree with you that planting a church is not for everyone. I work with many planters, and serve as an assessor, so you’ll not hear me argue on that one. I do think, however, that more people could successfully plant than we may think at times.

      You mention hoping that we not just point women elsewhere- I’m not sure if that’s in regards to this post, as I’m not advocating for that. If women are called to local church pastoral ministry, I am trying to connect some dots and help them find in-roads to do so within our fellowship. We’re on the same page there.

      Thanks for linking folks over to your site. You clearly have an advocacy calling on your life. I believe strongly that there are many fruitful ways to change the current reality. One of those routes is advocacy, and another is modeling. We need to normalize a woman serving well in leadership roles, on and chairing committees, being at the table, and pastoring her community. Because I serve in a local church currently, I believe (as does most of our cohort), that God is calling us to steward our influence through modeling and connecting others. That’s why on this site you’ll see more of the praxis and leadership conversations, devotional items, etc.

  4. I have come to look at this stuff in terms of two perspectives: personal and systemic.

    What Kathy is really addressing is the personal stuff. The system is messed up, no doubt. Is it okay that planting and revitalizing are really the only options for women? Absolutely not! We are working hard in our various ways to see this change, for our daughters and nieces and friends…and maybe even for us.

    But meanwhile, we have to take whatever opportunities there are–even if they are less than ideal–to really see God use us. That’s personal, and that’s what she’s talking about here. Sure, the line on the glass isn’t where we want it to be (systemic), but then the question is, how do I utilize the little bit that’s inside the glass (personal)?

    I love the blog–I love the mix between the realism (that’s where the line is, for real), and vision (so how do I move to the next step?). It’s a great reminder to get moving, wherever we can.

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