DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

SMART Congregations NEED Female Leaders

Written by: on May 8, 2019

It was great to be able to read a book by one of our very own advisors in the LGP program. Diane Zemke’s book, Being SMART about Congregational Change, was easy to read and very practical when it comes to congregations making changes, and boy do many congregations need to change. As you would expect, the area I feel many congregations need to change is in the area of gender equality in leadership. Not surprising, Zemke agrees with me regarding the common discrimination women face in most churches. She states, “what occurs in many congregations is that while women do the majority of the work and makeup over half of the congregation they often have little official voice. In conservative Protestant congregations women are not allowed in leadership positions, based on both tradition and interpretations of some New Testament texts. In Catholic parishes, lay men can have more clout than lay women or even women religious (nuns), with all laity residing under the authority of a strong male hierarchy. Even within more progressive congregations, women’s voices may be devalued based on congregational culture.”[1] It seems we have more sense for this when it comes to racial equality. Most churches that have African Americans making up more than half of their congregation wouldn’t even think of having only Caucasian pastors or leaders. Most people who attend a church expect the majority of those sitting in the pews will be in some way represented on stage or in leadership.

 

Her chapter entitled Wisdom for Women was very helpful and validated much of what I have found in my research. Women often feel dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t when it comes to making changes or speaking up for themselves. Zemke says, “When women work for change they are more likely to be called marginal members than men working for change.”[2] This is ironic when many women are the most involved members of the church and are often the workhorses that are getting the ministry done. “Yet when women are considered for available leadership positions, they can be seen as too assertive or too soft, with nothing in the middle. Strong women are denigrated and culturally acceptable female behavior is seen as not appropriate for leadership. This situation is called the double bind in the workplace.”[3] I couldn’t agree more, strong women are rarely treated with the same respect as men who exhibit the same strong leadership qualities. It was interesting to learn about this type of women being referred to by Zemke as tempered radicals. She explains that “people who continue to remain in a group when their values conflict with it in some significant way are called tempered radicals. Common examples of tempered radicals in the workplace include women within traditionally male professions or minorities within traditionally White institutions. In these examples, tempered radicals work to honor their gender and/or ethnic values simultaneously with their organizational or professional values.”[4] She further explains that “tempered radicals are not chameleons, exhibiting one identity here and another there. Nor do they lack integrity or authenticity. Indeed, their integrity and authenticity are revealed as they work to honor both identities simultaneously.”[5] The fact that women and minorities have to be considered tempered radicals just for speaking up for equality is a sad state of affairs. Ironically, some people think I am a radical as well when it comes to my strong position regarding women in leadership…I’m okay with this. J

 

She also had some good advice for women in how to approach and deal with the unique gender issues they encounter in many congregations. Often women don’t even notice the extreme discrimination present in the church largely because it is the “water” they have been swimming in for centuries and it feels “normal”. For the women who have had their eyes opened have a very difficult time participating in a church where they feel like a second-class citizen. These women usually go elsewhere to find a more female affirming congregation, or they attempt to be a “tempered radical” and speak up for change. Zemke gave the following wise advice for these women: “Mid-life women, who have come through the changes in women’s roles in society, often want leadership and gender equity within the congregation. Even when that desire may not be achievable, they wish to be openly honored for what they contribute.”[6] “It’s also important to choose the battles and strategies wisely. Emotional energy is at a premium and the strain of dealing constantly with gender issues and/or male ways of doing business lessens it further. One strategy is to specifically limit the number of issues, or the manifestation of those issues, upon which to focus. This strategy is why some women don’t add addressing gender issues to their slate.”[7] As a man in the church, I will never know what it is like to swim in this murky gender inequality water, but us men can help lessen the emotional strain on women by championing for them.

 

I also appreciated her chapter about embracing dissent in a congregation. Most pastors or leaders run away from dissent like the plague and don’t understand the normal and often healthy aspects of it. Zemke had the following helpful suggestions for leaders in dealing with dissent wisely: “1) Wise leaders develop a specific discipline of listening to dissent, 2) Wise leaders realize the need for negotiation, 3) Wise leaders work to tell the truth about all of the dissent in the Bible and Christian history, 4) Wise leaders make room for dissidents at the idea table and decision-making table, and 5) Wise leaders become adept at managing conflict and decision-making.”[8] Avoiding dissent is pretty synonymous with avoiding conflict, which I ironically run into often with the couples I counsel. I often tell them it is the couples who effectively work through conflict who are the strongest in the end, the same can be said for churches and leaders. In closing, I have to tip my hand to the author for taking many subtle opportunities to highlight women and gender issues throughout her book. Like this one…“For example, saying “women should be allowed to do more” is not specific, which makes it hard for others to act on. Saying, “women should be allowed to participate in all decision-making” or “women should be allowed to be elders” is very specific.”[9]

_________________________________

            [1] Diane Zemke, Being SMART about Congregational Change, Kindle Edition, Location 1843.

            [2] Ibid., 1853.

            [3] Ibid., 1864.

            [4] Ibid., 1704.

            [5] Ibid., 1715.

            [6] Ibid., 1875.

            [7] Ibid., 1916.

            [8] Ibid., 1186-1197.

            [9] Ibid., 1197.

About the Author

mm

Jake Dean-Hill

Currently a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice. Ordained minister with 10 years of prior full-time church ministry experience and currently volunteering with a local church plant. Also working with companies as a Corporate Leadership Coach.

12 responses to “SMART Congregations NEED Female Leaders”

  1. mm Mike says:

    Jake,
    Nice “Marvel” theme for your introduction. Sometimes I wish I had her “truth” lasso for my leadership tool bag. Instead, one must learn how to interpret people and their communication through a variety of sensory means. You must have a lot of good body language interpretation experience from your clinical practice?
    Dr. Zemke is wise when she advises to “choose your battles wisely”. Compared to many of the countries I serve in, the US is far ahead in the gender equality challenge. Like other forms of spiritual warfare, many principalities and powers work to divide and discourage the positive egalitarian advances achieved. I encourage you to stand firm, keep your armor on, and wear your belt of truth like your hero in your introduction does.
    Stand firm,
    Mike w

    • Thanks Mike, I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. Yes I agree WW’s truth lasso would come in real handy in my work as well, and yes I have become quite attuned to body language and what that is communicating compared to their words.

      I can appreciate that you have served in countries that are overly oppressive to women, but when the US ranks 51st in the world on the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report and continues to go down on the list, this is a battle worth fighting and we should be living in a country that is at least in the top ten. You would be surprised to see the 50 countries above us on the list (I have included a link to it here: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2018.pdf.)
      Keeping my armor on!

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jake,

    Here we go, you get another week of “right up your alley” reading and discussion (grin). I have to stretch some books to include my topic…

    Wonder Woman! One of the best two Marvel movies in my opinion, also including “Black Panther”.

    Why was it I enjoyed the portrayal of Wonder Woman over the portrayal of Captain Marvel? Both with female leads, both with quality story lines, both highlighting all that is good about both genders. But for some big reason I felt Captain Marvel was done only for the sake of making the point of women in a lead role….

    Have you seen both movies? Thoughts?

    Jay

    • Well Jay, I guess you should have chosen women in leadership as your topic so you would have had more material to use (double grin back atcha) 🙂 Yes I would have to agree with you, I enjoyed the WW movie over the CM movie by far. It seemed like they had to throw a movie together to introduce her since they were planning to have her play such a significant role in the last film, but I don’t think they spent enough time developing her story and I can see where you would get that about the female lead. But I don’t think they cared that she was a woman, but that the character was introduced. Just my two cents. Thanks for your fun comments.

  3. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Great post Jake. I really enjoyed reading your take and additonal input on the wisdom Diane brought to women in leadership.

    • Thanks Kyle, I thought her book had tons of practical insights for leaders in congregations and I was not surprised she had some good nuggets in there for female leaders. Blessings my friend.

  4. Jake, as soon as I perused the chapters, I knew that you would create a compelling argument for women in leadership. Great job!

    You mention, “Most churches that have African Americans making up more than half of their congregation wouldn’t even think of having only Caucasian pastors or leaders. Most people who attend a church expect the majority of those sitting in the pews will be in some way represented on stage or in leadership.” I recently met up with one of my best friends who happens to be an African American minister. When I spoke of the continuous glass ceiling, she was shocked. She couldn’t believe that some churches were still excluding women from leadership roles.

    You also assert, “For the women who have had their eyes opened have a very difficult time participating in a church where they feel like a second-class citizen. These women usually go elsewhere to find a more female affirming congregation, or they attempt to be a “tempered radical” and speak up for change.” One of the most difficult parts of ministry is being a single woman in ministry. Even affirming churches are leery of trusting the words of a woman without the “covering” of her husband. One of the greatest barriers amongst Millennials and Gen Z is this lack of equality and lack of individuality. What are ways that the church can lean into the dissonance of women within the church regardless of denominational values? What Quadrant is most receptive to women leaders?

    • Thanks Colleen for your thoughtful comments. I’m glad to see our country has progressed more when it comes to more equality with racial leadership. It is still very sad that our country ranks 51st in the world and going down according to the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report. This is a battle worth fighting and we should be living in a country that is at least in the top ten. You would be surprised to see the 50 countries above us on the list (I have included a link to it here: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2018.pdf.)

      I can only imagine how hard it is to be a single female leader in the church. You have multiple strikes against you just because of your gender and marital status. This is wrong and a gross injustice and I would encourage you to find churches and organizations that value you just the way you are. Most mainline denominations have resolved the issue of women in leadership long ago, but often their worship style can often be more conservative. All churches need to listen to the dissent of women, the problem is many of them are afraid to speak up. 🙁

  5. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jake,

    I think you highlighted most critical areas of this text for churches of all makes and descriptions. The areas of the role of women in the church (as well as minorities) and working through dissent are issues that too often go unaddressed in most congregations, even those that appear to be functioning at a high level. I find it interesting that those denominations that have largely embraced women in leadership are also the ones that appear to be in the greatest decline and though there are historical/theological foundations for this it is still curious. I think some of the more conservative branches misguidedly equate the 2 and thus assume that it is a result of a non-biblical coalescing to societal pressure. I am in one of those denominations and am trying to work through it myself but have no clear insight as yet. Any ideas?

    • Thanks Dan, I also think that is curious as to why the denominations embracing female leaders are declining. If you are wanting to help your church explore egalitarian beliefs I would start with casual conversations and with your personal story on the subject. I also like to talk about how Jesus treated women in the face of a very patriarchal culture. Blessings to you my friend.

  6. Chris Pritchett says:

    As always another thoughtful and timely post. I love your advocacy for women and the inequality is just so ridiculous. You are doing a good thing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *