A Problem to Solve | Part 3 | (Because I’m a Woman)

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Written by Stephanie Zibell

“Pastors, the lack of women in executive level leadership positions in the church is incredibly concerning to me and it should be equally concerning to you.”

This is the statement that I wanted to use to end this blog post.

My intention when I began to write this was for men working in church leadership to see the lack of women being represented in the church, and for them to decide to act on it. They would walk into their next meeting, look around, and begin to notice if the room had equal representation of both men and women.

Then I remembered my own journey towards advocating for women in leadership. It wasn’t until I stepped out of the context I was accustomed to and became curious, that I began to place a high value on the diversity of gender in leadership.

So, I decided not to write this as a persuasion piece for men who hold roles of leadership in the church, and who might be blind to what’s at stake…. I wrote it for the curious.

THE FACTS.

Recent findings in Outreach’s report on “The 100 Fastest Growing Churches in 2017″ show us that of the 100 fastest growing churches in America, ONE of them has a woman leading it, and that woman co-pastors the church with her husband.

“The National Congregations Study”, a 2015 comprehensive report conducted by Duke University, found that on a National scale, about 11% of congregations are led by women. This percentage has stalled, and remains unchanging since 1998.

You don’t need a myriad of studies and reports to believe me. Any one of us can Google search “churches near me”, click over to a staff leadership team page and confirm these findings.

To take it one step further, “The 2017 Women in the Workplace” study found that nearly 50 percent of men think women who work in companies are well represented in leadership – where only one in ten of those women are senior leaders. A much smaller but still significant number of women agree: a third think women are well represented when they see one in ten in leadership. The Pew Research Group completed a “Religious Landscape Study” and found that the gender composition of the Evangelical Church congregation is 55% women and 45% men.

What this tells us is that over half of the people who walk through the doors of a church are grossly under-represented on their church board, executive team and from the stage. And as we saw in the Women in the Workplace report above, there is a large group of both men and women who are currently “okay” with this notion.

THE WHY.

There are many reasons why churches are run by mostly men. I will focus on only one.

Like Corey has already mentioned in Part One of this blog series, there is a popular movement in many church environments where the staff holds a high value of “hiring people to do life with”. To be honest, for years I thought this was a pretty great approach.

What’s unfortunate about this approach is that churches who adopt this notion don’t realize the wealth of information, experience, perspective and wisdom they are missing out on when they choose to surround themselves with people who are a lot like them. They might not even realize that by hiring people who are friends and people they “do life with”, they will more than likely end up with a lot of other like-minded men on their staff.

I have come to believe that this hiring practice is actually a dangerous idea. The problem is, although it is veiled in community and the desire for belonging (which are both beautiful things), it breeds exclusivity.

Unintentional exclusivity is every bit as dangerous as intentional segregation.  

Corey asked me to speak about my experience as a women in church leadership, but I would be re-miss to not take a moment to say that as a women who is strong-minded, extroverted and unafraid of conflict, I am also white. Relatively speaking, it has actually been a fairly easy road for me to have a voice.

I cannot speak on behalf of the black community, hispanic community or the whole of any community for that matter, but if have felt dismissed and small and like I need to fit into a perfect little package to fit the narrative of a woman in church, I cannot even imagine the exhausting burden and disappointment a person of color, or more specifically, a woman of color, feels when entering a church with little to no representation in leadership.

THE PERSONAL.

As a woman who has worked in both Corporate America and the American Church, I have always felt that in order to get a seat at the table, I needed to downplay my womanhood.

Don’t be too strong or you might come across bitchy.

Don’t be too soft or you might come across as sensitive.

Don’t crack a joke or you might look like you are trying too hard.

Make sure you laugh at the weird joke or you might look like you are a prude.

And the list goes on…

I have spent too much of my adult life trying to sit at the table despite being a woman. I’ve positioned myself as the expert on various platforms, but never on the platform of my womanhood.

This feeling of inferiority was validated over and over by the words and actions of mostly well meaning men and the values they held.

When I am told that my income is supplementary because I was married and therefore, the offer is a lower amount.

When any administrative task is tossed my way, regardless of my job description, because the assumption is that I will be good at it.

When I am asked to co-lead worship with a man because “men can’t sing along when its in a female key”.

When I was the only female in a ministerial internship to become a pastor, and also the only person asked to baby-sit, run errands, and be a support to the wives of the men leading.

Although I was never told that I was less than because I was a woman, the narrative that I believed was this: In order to become one of the few females running a department, board, or executive team of a church, I had to be more like a man.

However, the more I became fully alive in and aware of who God created me to be, I became empowered to believe that I need to sit at the table because I am a woman. Coupling my expertise and ability with my unique female perspective and experience is the golden ticket. This perspective is needed in decision making  rooms in the church.

THE SOLUTION.

I think there are two critical keys to becoming a gender and racially diverse church.

Value and Exposure.

When something is a core value, it becomes an integral part of how you operate and make decisions. It is a guiding light of sorts. Something you will fight for even if it isn’t expressed.

If it is a personal and organizational core value that the perspective of both men and women is vital to the transformational work of the church, then how you hire, how you develop your staff, and how you create weekend programming will align with this value.

While many churches fill their meeting rooms with men, there are a lot of churches who are truly egalitarian. The church we currently attend is one of them and I am grateful for their strong example. Outside of the church, there are many organizations who are playing an important role in the advocacy for women leaders.

Find them. Read their work. Reach out for a conversation. Think of a women you respect and ask her to be your mentor. Expose yourself to people, churches and workplaces who think differently than you.

Exposure is one of the most beautiful gifts we can give ourselves and the people around us. By exposing ourselves to new ideas, thoughts, experiences, perspectives and cultures, we have the opportunity to grow in empathy, advocacy, and understanding. Exposure breeds inclusion, so expose yourself to the churches and organizations that are already there and learn from them.

I don’t think that we will experience the highest level of transformational change in our communities until we make diversity a value in the church. Inclusion and representation matters to an individual and it is time that it matters just as much to the church.

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