Despite a plethora of female group leaders, few small-group pastors are women.
Editor’s Note: Think you have no power to change these statistics? Think again. As leaders in small-group ministry—whether you’re a group leader, coach, director, or pastor—we all have a role to play in helping to identify, develop, and support women in small-group ministry. We should constantly be asking God who in our midst has leadership potential and working to develop the people he puts on our hearts and minds. The more we personally identify women with leadership skills, the more we suggest women for the role of coach or director, and the more we ourselves are willing to develop the capable women leaders around us, the more we’ll see this trend begin to shift—and that benefits us all.
Roughly 1 in 3 of all MDiv students is female, according to The Association of Theological Schools. This trend spans back several years. And yet, as Barna reported, less than 10 percent of all lead pastors are women. Of course, women lead in various ministries apart from the role of senior pastor. Even so, the trend of men outnumbering women in official church leadership roles holds across church leadership, including the role of small-group pastor.
Though women are at the helm of many small groups, it’s rare to find a woman appointed as small-group pastor. But why is this the case? Through the research I’ve conducted with women around the globe, I believe there are two reasons behind the lack of female leaders we see for these ministries.
Supported in Theory, But Not in Practice
The most obvious reason for a dearth of female small-group pastors and directors among a surplus of women small-group leaders is simply that they’re not being selected for the job. This occurs often in churches that support women in theory but not in practice.
Officially, on paper, churches may support women leaders but fail to fill official leadership roles with gifted women. Many churches in the U.S. and around the world have come a long way by changing their official position on women leaders, but this needs to be followed up by proactive decisions to identify and train women for leadership roles.
For example, all of the churches I have attended in my adult life are theologically conservative churches who say they support women leaders—but the first time I preached from the pulpit on a Sunday morning was half a world away in New Zealand. Plus, aside from one church I attended early in my seminary career, I’ve never seen another woman preach. Just like it’s difficult to find a female small-group pastor, it’s still far too rare to see a woman preach the Word of God on a Sunday morning, especially in theologically conservative churches.
We unintentionally silence all the women in our churches when we fail to put women in leadership roles. As a seminary professor who has taught hundreds of young and aspiring pastors over the years, I know that part of the issue is simply busyness. Pastors have many competing demands on their time, and though they fully believe in supporting women in this way, more immediate demands consume their time, the issue moves to the back burner, and women don’t bring it up for fear of being seen as arrogant or demanding.
Beyond busyness, however, many pastoral leaders don’t want to upset the older “stakeholders” in the congregation. As one young man recently confessed to a colleague of mine, “I know there are gifted women in the congregation, but honestly, they’re just going to have to go somewhere else. We need to wait until some older members die off.” In other words, pastoral leaders may recognize the giftedness of some female small-group leaders, but they aren’t willing to rock the boat to assign them an official position in the congregation.