Women in Church Leadership

Female pastors have always been my heroes. In the five years I’ve attended my church, we’ve always had at least two women on our pastoral teaching staff. It’s one of the main things that drew me to my church. And the opportunity to talk with, learn from, and witness the ministry of these wise, caring, educated, gifted teachers is one of the things that has kept me there, and encouraged me to invest my time in our church community.

But when I was growing up, the reality women in church leadership was something I’d never experienced. In theory, most people around me agreed with the concept. But to actually hire a lady pastor? Haha, that’s cute. Yes, we interviewed some women, but the male candidates were better qualified. You wouldn’t want us to hire a less-qualified women just to make some sort of a statement, would you?

In my church upbringing, women pastors were given the same treatment as ethnic diversity. Nobody disagreed with the concept — you just never actually saw it in practiced on a noticeable scale. We all knew of women pastors. We all had a couple of black friends. (Oh, and did we mention we helped local refugees sometimes?) Look, we definitely weren’t racist or anything like that.

We just didn’t ever take the scary, messy, confusing, challenging step of leaving our white, male-led, upper middle class bubbles. But we were more than happy to celebrate people who did.

That is the church tradition I came from. (In the years since I’ve left home, the community has grown and changed. It’s become more diverse, and is experiencing new and exciting growth I wish I could have been a part of when I was younger.) But many things I experienced back then — especially in certain Bible studies I attended — were really fantastic people who love God, but who were planted firmly in their familiar programs, structures and social circles. They weren’t intentionally hurting anyone or anything. They taught, inspired, and challenged me in so many ways. They work hard to keep Christ at the center of their lives. I respect and admire their faith and the depth of their commitment to God. They are wonderful.

I just never quite felt like I fit in their happy, evangelical Christian bubble. So I’m trying (with varying levels of success) to step outside of it.

Like any good kid at my church, I went to a private Christian university. But I went to the “wrong” private Christian university. I went to the really liberal one.

By the time I graduated, I aligned more with the Democratic Party that I had before. I felt concerned about racism — and the ways people of color still faced discrimination and inequality — especially in ways that were hidden from plain sight. I was interested in social justice, in combatting homelessness, and addressing disparities in education. I wanted to work for an international relief and development nonprofit. Oh, and my favorite TV character was gay.

To be sure, in my general church social circle, this was cause for concern. But most people just grinned and bared it. Clearly, my faith was still strong. I went to church every Sunday and was a small group leader in my in-depth, conservative Bible study. Let me embrace my naive liberalism in my 20s, I’d get a more practical grip on reality by my 30s.

But I love where I am at right now. I love that my faith is different than when I was in high school. I love that my Christian Scriptures minor taught me to study the Bible academically — and that faith and intellect both matter deeply to me.

I love that I go to a church with two female pastors, including one who preaches and teaches just as often (if not more) than our male pastor.

My church isn’t very multicultural. And that bugs me. But I’m looking for ways to engage in multicultural communities and have discussions about privilege when I can.

I know I don’t have life figured out. I know I don’t have faith figured out. There is so much more I still want to learn: to be aware of, intellectually, and to experience by spending more time with people outside of my bubble — people with different life experiences than me — and to engage in the messy, confusing work of being in community and taking ACTION to love people like Jesus did.

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One thought on “Women in Church Leadership

  1. Out here, one of the egalitarian churches is looking for a new pastor. They had four applicants, one was a woman, so her application was automatically placed on the bottom of the pile. Just because the other three are men, they will have priority consideration. The justification is that like Deborah, this woman can lead if and only if every other man is not qualified; but they will go out of their way to see to it that every man is more qualified than any woman is. They’re really invested in the idea that only men may hold the offices of pastor, elder, and deacon and will go to any lengths to keep it that way. So the churches that are bold enough to hire women, to give them a chance, really impress me as well. When I was a little kid, my pastor was a woman. I didn’t know there was anything “wrong” with it. She preached out of the same bible the exact same way saying the same things as pastors who were men. Besides, I didn’t think that the Word of God was so fragile that a woman reading from it and preaching it would return void because she was a woman and only had extra power if men were reading from it and preaching it. The churches also aren’t very diverse. There’s a mostly African-American church in town and most others churches are almost entirely Caucasian. My last three churches in a row were all the same – when anybody different shows up, they see that there is nobody like them and they leave.

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