Why Women Can’t Lead in Your Church

Include women at the highest leadership level of your church

Who could you add to your leadership team, your deacon board or your group of elders? I am not suggesting you change your theology if it does not allow for women elders. You can add women to the group without designating them as voting elders. I’m pretty sure Paul never limited who could attend or participate in elder meetings.

I’ve been told that including women on leadership teams “changes the dynamic in the room.” The inference is the discussion is more authentic and fruitful when only men are present. Imagine saying the same thing about Latinos, African Americans or Cub fans. If the reason you are excluding women is because of dynamics, then the dynamics need to change. 

Coach women who may be new to leading with men

A few years ago I noticed a woman who’d recently been asked to serve on the Directional Leadership Team was always very quiet in meetings despite her obvious leadership skills and strategic thinking. After one meeting in which she had silently taken notes without speaking a word I asked what was going on. She said it was often difficult to get a word in with the men constantly interrupting and talking over one another. “Besides,” she said, “I’m not sure my opinion is really necessary.” I shared with her two observations. First, in rooms full of men if you wait to be asked you will likely never be asked. For good or bad, you have to speak up. And second, if your opinion wasn’t necessary you wouldn’t be at the table. The church needs your input.

My wife co-authored an excellent book to help women learn how to lead in a church with a predominantly male culture. I love the title: Just Lead: A no whining, no complaining, no nonsense practical guide for women leading in the church. Its a great resource to help women learn the nuances of leading with men.

Coach men who struggle leading with women

Don’t expect men to intuitively figure out how to effectively work with women leaders. Men who haven’t spent time in the marketplace may have little or no experience in an environment where women lead. Here are a few tips to get them started:

Listen: Women often have a more nuanced communication style than many men. They are more likely to include context, emotion and relationship into the discussion. Dismissing this more complex texture is a mistake. Ingrained in the narrative is the perspective men, left to their own devices, will miss.

Don’t interrupt: Men often interrupt one another, especially when the conversation becomes emotionally charged. While this is always rude, it makes it especially difficult for many women leaders to engage in the discussion.

Ask clarifying questions: It is always helpful to ask questions for understanding, but it is especially helpful when men and women are leading together. We perceive the world differently and reach conclusions in different ways. Rather than dismissing an opinion you don’t understand, ask for context.

Trust: Women who are new to the leadership table at your church have to know that you trust them to lead. Do not treat them like junior partners or children who need to be protected. Trust women to lead as intelligent adults and reinforce that trust through your words and actions.

Root out misogynists (people who dislike, despise or are strongly prejudiced against women)

There are likely men, and possibly women, on your team who do not think women should lead. They may hide behind a screen of selective scriptures or the guise of paternalistic care, but in the end they have a chauvinistic view of men over women. They should be challenged to grow in their view or find another church in which to serve.

That may sound extreme, but  would you keep a racist in leadership? Would you tolerate a leader who treated African Americans on your staff differently than everyone else, undermining their leadership? If its not OK to discriminate against a race then its not OK to discriminate against a gender.

Do you have the courage to change?

Here is the bottom line for me: Your mission of bringing the Good News of the Gospel to a lost and dying world is too important to hamstring half of the leaders in our church by treating women as less than. Fully engaging women in leadership is hard work and controversial. Not everyone in our churches will agree that women can lead in the context of church, and we will face pushback. Do we have the courage to face the opposition and do the hard work of leveling the playing field for women leaders? For the sake of the Kingdom I certainly hope so.

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Geoff Surratt
Geoff has served on the leadership teams at Seacoast Church and Saddleback Church, and as Managing Director of Exponential. He is the author of several books, including Together: A Guide for Couples in Ministry written with his wife Sherry. Along with writing, Geoff coaches churches and leaders around the U.S. and in Europe. Geoff lives in Denver, Colorado. Twitter: @geoffsurratt

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