Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Women leading larger churches

This issue has been going around my head!

I really want to find some answers - and even better, some solutions. Yesterday I came across a fascinating article, which refers to research on 'breaking through gender barriers'.

The article refers to a sociological study by Edward C. Lehman, based on the Presbyterian Church (in the USA) and published in 1985. Another denomination, a few years ago - but the issues look strangely familiar.

So here goes, some of the insights from that research:

  • members of large, wealthy multiple-staff churches were more resistant to clergy women than were members of small churches.
  • the more a church is seen as 'important' or 'prestigious', the greater the likelihood that its members will expect and assume that its senior pastor will be a man.
  • members of large churches have generally had less experience of women clergy.
  • the higher the church values leadership/management skills, the greater the likelihood of its strong preferance for male leaders.

In addition, I also came across Fulcrum's Forum Thread on 'Developing Evangelical Women as Leaders'. This raised the following additional barriers:

  • perception that women are deaconesses and deacons, rather than leaders
  • conservative evangelical theology of 'headship'
  • lack of role models for women in leadership
  • evangelical women unable to do curacies in evangelical churches (sometimes out of fear that they 'might want to jump into bed with the vicar')
  • and then unable to find a evangelical parish because they have not done their curacy in one
  • there is still a perception that 'male is norm'.

So what are the answers? Action on the part of three groups of people: men who are leading larger churches, those involved in appointments, and women themselves:

  • those who lead larger churches could be better advocates of women, appointing women as curates, visiting preachers, or to lead special events.
  • those who are involved in appointments need to ensure that processes are fair, and that overt or covert sexism is addressed.
  • women need support in applying for posts, knowing that they will often be rejected. Further thought (and research?) is needed on the relationship between women's leadership style and the operating style of larger churches. Perhaps when that leadership is more about partnership than hierarchy, we will see more women leading larger churches.

What do you think?


Mr Gnome said...

An excellent, worthwhile, provocative post.

But will it be seen by the people - ok, by the men - who need to read it and be challenged by it?

Possible to work up as an article for CEN/CT?

Karen Springer said...

Excellent post.

I wonder, however, if the the top down approach ought to be augmented by a bottom up approach?

Since 1993 the education of laity regarding the biblical origin of the Church's decision to ordain women has been neglected.

The issue of Jesus' and Paul's groundbreaking work with women which broke societal precedents rather than upheld them has never been sufficiently exposed to lay people.

Mr Gnome's suggestion is a good one, however CPAS conferences on this subject, held in Cathedrals, advertised in the local secular press(to circumvent those vicars who won't tell their congregations about meetings/talks/publications in support of issues they personally disagree with) might reach more lay people with these truths.

Many of these large evangelical ministries, as well as some of a more parochial size, rely on laity ignorance to cushion their sexist agendas.