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The Role of Women in Ministry Leadership

Christian missionary Elisabeth Elliot is famously quoted as saying, “[T]he future of the Church belongs to the next generation of women in the Church.” Considering that 53 percent of Gen-Z women, sometimes referred to as “the Moxie Generation,” say they are strong leaders and would not be afraid to tackle a leadership role in their workplaces or local communities, I’d agree with her statement. And if that’s true, the church needs more women with influence in ministry to bridge the gap between the different views of women’s roles in the church. When it comes to the topic of women in church leadership, I think it is important to keep a humble attitude, firmly rooted in scripture.

Empowering women in ministry roles should not become a social justice issue, otherwise, we risk losing the true purpose of Kingdom work.

Let me preface this blog with a word of caution. Promoting women leaders in the church should not become a social justice issue. We should not be seeking to promote women to leadership roles because they “deserve” equal positions or “deserve” to be treated like men. Sorry, but that is not the direction this blog is headed.

Men and women are not equal, and I am grateful for that! If every human being was just like a man or just like a woman, our world would be incredibly dull. I thank God for wonderfully and perfectly creating men and women in His image—to be different. Men and women have distinctive skills and traits, and God created us uniquely like that. At times, things may seem “unfair,” but from Scripture we learn that God didn’t choose fair. If He did, we would all receive that which we deserve—His eternal damnation and wrath. Thank you, Jesus, for not being fair, and instead giving us that which we do not deserve—grace and forgiveness.

What I hope this blog will express is my perspective on how I feel the LCMS church has been at a disadvantage by failing to recognize the unique gifts, perspectives, and leadership styles women can bring to the table and how encouraging more women in leadership roles can help us recover Kingdom ground lost to the enemy. Identifying the unique leadership strengths in both women and men, as well as when to engage them, will have a huge impact on all of our ministry work.

Women offer a unique perspective and different leadership styles to ministry.

It’s no secret that women have been historically underrepresented in leadership roles, and church ministry is no exception to this. In part, this is largely due to women preferring to take on the greatest responsibility of managing their homes. Speaking from personal experience, I knew from a young age I wanted to be available to meet the needs of my children, my husband, and my home and that being a stay-at-home parent was my calling. That alone has

been a full-time job for me and many other women, especially when our children are young and have greater needs. But recent years have seen a surge in the number of women taking on leadership positions outside of the home, bringing a new element to what it looks like to lead.

Studies have shown that these female leaders tend to be more democratic in their style, meaning they are more likely to encourage open communication, collaboration, and creative problem-solving. Generally speaking, women use more of their interpersonal skills to actively instigate discussions in order to reach a consensus on decisions. They tend to avoid confrontation through encouragement and compromise and show greater concern about understanding people and seeking to develop them. In turn, women leaders favor a participative approach to growth and discipleship. This is not surprising. It’s our nature to nurture, and women are more likely to view leadership as a collaborative process. The downside is that women leaders are more likely to micromanage and sometimes can be less effective at delegating tasks.

Conversely, research shows that men tend to gravitate toward transactional, individualistic command-and-control leadership styles. Transactional leaders manage by either active or passive “exception” rule. Active leaders continually evaluate the performances of employees, while the passive leader is more hands-off until a problem needs intervention. These styles are typically a result of the way men are taught to view leadership as a means to an end, which focuses on “End Results” and can be very effective in certain situations.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with either leadership style, the way men tend to lead can sometimes create an environment where women feel pressured to lead like they do, focusing on results rather than a collaborative growth process, which counters their natural leadership styles. When women are not given opportunities to lead or are not given the same level of responsibility as their male counterparts, they can be left feeling discouraged.

Empowering women in ministry leadership can lead to greater Kingdom expansion on this side of heaven.

The good news is that there is a growing awareness to change the view of women in ministry leadership. As it is written in Luke 10:2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” We need to ask ourselves this question: How could we help expand God’s Kingdom if more women were encouraged and empowered to become ministry leaders?

I remember the challenges I faced as I navigated into ministry work later in life, after spending over a decade focusing solely on my family. I looked for other women leaders in ministry as mentors, but the pool was very shallow, and most leaders were in areas where I did not feel called. When I looked up the chain, I didn’t see myself. It made me question whether I could grow in leadership in the LCMS ministry context, or if I would constantly be hitting a political glass ceiling. Would my efforts be more openly embraced in another ministry setting? This breaks my heart to think how many other women, young and old, face the same discouragement, or perhaps even left the LCMS church because of this.

I recently listened to a great discussion on this very topic on our Lead Time podcast with Dr Mary Scott. Jump in at about the 24-minute mark where Dr. Scott is asked about her own leadership experience within the LCMS. I've seen her experience echoed among many women who, too, never saw themselves as leaders until a male leader pointed out this skill in them. I too am forever grateful for those mentors who had "ICNU" (I see in you) conversations with me to point out my own leadership abilities.

Women are strong, capable leaders who have successfully performed leadership roles in both their careers and local communities for many years and so it only makes sense that the Church would benefit from more women ministry leaders, who could, in turn, encourage younger generations to become involved in ministry. This could cause a shift in the way ministry leadership is practiced, with a greater emphasis on collaboration and creativity. Women are great communicators who are deeply committed to their faith and possess a natural ability to build relationships. All of these qualities can help your church grow and thrive.

I’d love to hear your perspective on this. Does your congregation currently encourage and empower women to take on leadership roles? Or does your congregation take an opposing stance? Have you found ways to encourage women to assume leadership roles by having ICNU conversations, or does your congregation struggle to bridge that gap? Let’s start a conversation. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

At the ULC we encourage open lines of respectful communication that leads us to healthy Christ-centered discussions. Let’s start the discussion in the comments below!

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