Being a woman ain’t easy. Being a woman in church leadership, well that is a whole other thing. However, this is no pity-post. Because while there are significant challenges to talk about, there are also significant opportunities to be seized, as well.
Here are some thoughts on both the problems & possibilities I encounter most regularly being a woman in ministry, and specifically in leading leaders:
Leading Other Women
“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” -Madeleine Albright
Challenge: This one is probably really shocking to everyone. At first pass, we’d all think that women would be the biggest supporters and fans of other women in leadership. Sisterhood and all that. But we can get awfully territorial and jealous and insecure and threatened by each other at times, unfortunately. And even in the best of cases where there is no suspicion or mistrust, there are relational sensitivities that plague us, especially in the face of conflict.
Opportunity: Women can get a lot of stuff done once we are on the same page and committed to the cause/person. It can just take some work to overcome initial roadblocks (see Challenge A above). Women can be very protective of each other and care for each other really well. Because many of us do invest emotionally and relationally in everything that we do, there is an all-in mentality that makes working with women really fulfilling and highly productive.
Facing condescension and hypocrisy with grace
Challenge: I work in one of the most egalitarian and supportive church environments a woman could hope for. Still, not everyone in ministry and if I’m honest with myself, probably not everyone within my own church, has acclimated to women in church leadership.
My favorite is when my Pastor introduces me to other ministry leaders outside of our community. They are all very kind and warm when he starts with “This is Tracey Rouse, my Executive” and then he finishes his sentence, “Pastor” which they immediately translate into “Assistant” until they realize those 2 words don’t sound anything alike and that they heard him incorrectly. They quickly try to either mask their shock that a woman would have the second highest seat of authority in our church and play it cool OR they play up their shock in an attempt to provide some levity in the awkwardness. Sometimes there is a bit of “girl power” rhetoric like women’s suffrage happened 5 minutes ago and we are so radical.
Pastor Jonathan: “This is Tracey Rouse, my executive pastor.”
Traveling evangelist: “Executive PASTOR?! WHAT?! You go, girl!”
Me to myself: “If he tries to fist bump me I might punch him.”
Me: “Hi, I’m Tracey Rouse. I’m the Executive Pastor here at Renovatus.”
Visitor: “So, you and your husband do that?”
Me: “Nope, just me. He stays home with our 2 daughters and also runs a theater & film company.”
Visitor: Blank stare. Long pause. Does not compute. “Oh… that’s great!”
Opportunity: What an enormous exercise of grace & faith! Grace for the ignorant- some people have honestly never conceived of women in pastoral roles, let alone met & worked or cared for one! Grace for the close-minded- I wasn’t the one to close it and am not responsible for opening it either. Grace to believe the best in others. Sure, sometimes the condescension is overt. But most of the time it is unintentional. People don’t usually recognize their own preconceived notions of gender roles and while women in leadership isn’t novel or new for the corporate world, it is for the Church, which is typically a few decades behind the broader culture anyway. There will always be generational hurdles to jump, theological minefields to cross, and social expectations to handle. In those times, I want my response, both in my heart and in my speech, to be full of grace.
I walk by faith in my calling because I know and trust the One who called me. I am convinced that the Lord alone is my Justifier. Each time I face condescension I have a choice to make. I can either attempt to defend and explain myself OR I can trust that the Lord alone qualifies me and let that be more than sufficient. I will believe that I am included in the “we” referenced in 2 Peter 1.3 and that I have been granted all things that pertain to life and godliness by my gracious Father. What else do I need?
On a bad day, all of these things, all of these scenarios can make me see red. They can make me question my gifts and vocation. Luckily, those days usually happen in the company of the most amazing staff who encourage me and follow me faithfully. On good days those stories become good laughs. I wrote a post a few months ago called Reluctant Pioneer. It’s my actual life title. Some people get to end their signatures with things like MD or PhD or Esq or DMin. I’m going to try out Tracey M. Rouse, RP. I’m not the first woman to be in church leadership and there are godly women in ministry facing far more daunting circumstances than anything that I will ever come across. But nevertheless, it still feels like pioneering out here and the wild west doesn’t know quite what to do with us “little ladies” who are leading with strength and conviction.
A leader and a woman. It’s intimidating, I know. But you’ll see soon enough that the proof is in our work and our worth is not found in the hands of man, but in the face of Christ.