Why We Need More Women In Ministry

Women are leaving the Church faster than men—and it’s time to bring them back.

In 2011, Barna released findings that shook people’s assumptions about religious life in America. Women, traditionally considered the more spiritual sex, were leaving the Church faster than men. A requisite month or so of uproar followed. Experts dissected the research, the blogosphere exploded and various theological traditions were blamed for the exodus.

A few provocateurs claimed it was a necessary correction, blaming "the feminization of the church" for the demise of Western Christianity. Then a book was released on the subject: Jim Henderson’s The Resignation of Eve: What if Adam's Rib Is No Longer Willing to Be the Church's Backbone?

Henderson’s zinger of a title summed up the problem. The church has always relied heavily on the contributions of women, from the female disciples who traveled with Jesus and funded His ministry out of their own means to the nameless grandmother who showed up early to brew the coffee you swigged down before church last week. But women are growing increasingly disenchanted with the Church, and even when they do show up, they’re sure not going to brew your coffee. Female volunteerism plunged 31 percent over the past 20 years.

The fact that a growing number of committed Christian women are fading quietly into the pews, then out the back door, should concern us.

“Well, of course,” you may be thinking. “Women have careers now. They don’t have time for all that stuff.” And even though women did, in fact, have careers back in the early nineties, there is some truth to that. Today’s women are too busy to throw themselves into unpaid church work the way their grandmothers did, even if they wanted to. Which, it seems, they don’t.

Henderson names this movement in The Resignation of Eve as an “epidemic of quiet, even sad resignation among dedicated Christian women who are feeling overworked and undervalued in the church.”

It’s not so much that women feel the Church doesn’t value the contributions they do make; it’s that they don’t see opportunities or don’t feel the freedom to bring their whole selves to the table.

Younger women especially have a hard time reconciling the opportunities the secular world affords them with the limitations they face in the Church. Uncertain about whether the Church would consider their gifts, education and abilities an acceptable offering from a female, and not wanting to create controversy, many women consciously or subconsciously side-step the issue. They opt to minimize their church involvement and pour the best of their energies into their careers. Besides, what’s a marketing consultant supposed to do on the decorating committee, anyway?

And then there’s that pesky detail about needing to earn a living. Fifty years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for ministry-minded homemakers to volunteer 10-plus hours a week at the church down the street. The pastor’s wife was practically on staff, expected to provide leadership and pastoral care to the women of the church. Church provided an outlet for women to use their gifts, but as the secular world held out opportunities that eclipsed the church’s stained-glass ceiling, volunteer work became less of a priority. Churches compensated by hiring staff—specifically, male staff. The gulf between professional and lay ministry widened, and women were left with fewer female leaders to look to as role models, or go to for counsel and encouragement. The pastor’s wife had her own career to manage, and the respected Sunday School teacher’s daughter was too busy teaching ethics at the local college to take up her mother’s mantle.

It isn’t all gloom and doom, of course. These trends have resulted in many positive changes as well, but the fact that a growing number of committed Christian women are fading quietly into the pews, then out the back door, should concern us.

The body of Christ requires a balance of male and female leadership to remain whole and healthy. To allow one half of the body to atrophy while the other carries the weight (whether it’s men or women doing the heavy lifting) results in a lopsided image of the Church that is frightful to behold.

So, what can the Church do to let women know they are welcomed and needed just as they are, and to empower female leaders for ministry?

The body of Christ requires a balance of male and female leadership to remain whole and healthy.

First of all, we can respect women’s education, experience and career obligations, instead of expecting them to fill traditionally female roles. If the CEO of the local bank loves making cupcakes for the Women's Banquet, fine, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to ask her to chair the finance board. And don’t grumble about the oncologist not taking her turn in the nursery rotation. Humility is great, and every church needs people to make the coffee, dust the pews and staff the nursery, but if you’re constantly tapping women for kitchen work while passing them over for roles that might be a better fit, don’t be surprised if they feel undervalued.

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Second, male leaders can intentionally seek out female input. Women have an incredible wealth of wisdom, insight and parallel perspectives to offer the Church and the world—as men do. Imagine what the Church could look like if it paired the contributions of both together. And pastors, many of the women in your congregation are just waiting to be asked. Be intentional about including women among your advisors, and prodding for female attendees' perspectives.

Last but not least, churches can hire women. About half of the students in seminary nowadays are women, which makes a powerful statement about women’s desire to bring their whole heart, mind and strength to Christ's service in the Church. Even churches that are big on male leadership should be able to see the benefit of having called, gifted and theologically educated women on staff to minister to other women. There are some things women simply don't want to talk about with a male pastor, and that a man will not be able to speak to like a woman can.

It is not good for man to be alone, and that holds just as true in the church board room as it does in the family. Let's work on building a church that isn't just hushing one side to hear the other, but where both men and women are encouraged to bring their whole selves to the table, using every gift God has given them for the sake of the Kingdom to the glory of God.

Top Comments

Dirk the Dragon Slayer

72

Dirk the Dragon Slayer replied to Ian McKerracher's comment

That's silly. Women are not dismissed from certain roles becuase men need egos boosted. I'm sure that happens, but is not the reason. Most churches express a view called Complementarian which means they view women as equal in worth, but different in roles; complementary roles, to be exact. To just say that anyone that dismisses a woman from a role because of her gender is wrong and all roles should be open as right is shortsighted and not well thought out. It is far easier from Scripture to hold to a Complementarian view than an Egalitarian view; which is why most Evangelical churches do so.

Abigail Visco Rusert

1

Abigail Visco Rusert commented…

I am a female pastor, married to a male pastor. We work in different churches, mainly because we are different denominations. I think this article speaks to a lot of women who are like me. There is one comment that talks about encouraging women to fill a Titus 2 role. I agree that it's unfortunate that our society can often look down on women for choosing to stay home. That being said, the church has done a great job at defending women who make that choice (to stay home) for years. What the church hasn't often done is learn how to work with those of us who sense a call to something different- any kind of full-time (even part-time!) paid position. The other pastor at my church is a man, and he was very intentional about encouraging the church to hire a female pastor precisely so that we could compliment each other in our ministry to the wider congregation. Mothers, stay-at-homers and "career" women have often found themselves coming to me for pastoral care before they'd approach the other pastor. There are some men with whom I've worked on boards or committees that I am also better able to relate to. All in all, the model for ministry that Armstrong is envisioning can be done- and women of all kinds (homemakers and "career" women) can find their gifts being used.

63 Comments

Michelle Covington

1

Michelle Covington commented…

"Even churches that are big on male leadership should be able to see the benefit of having called, gifted and theologically educated women on staff to minister to other women."

As one of the single female seminary students, I find the above statement somewhat offensive. Not just because it reinforces churches who stringently maintain this male-leadership view, but that it in no way defends the opposing view. Nowhere does it defend the right for women to be in leadership or teaching roles on a broader scale than "womens ministry."

I think women are leaving the church because too many of them have become boys clubs (especially here in the south). Women are allowed to minister to other women, but don't even think about letting her be in a position where she might actually teach something to a man.

There were female deacons and even pastors in Paul's time, so why is it so taboo now for women to take on these roles?

Historically, women had significantly less educational opportunities, much fewer job opportunities, and so were relegated to very menial positions in the church. They did it with amazing grace and humility, truly showing the heart of Christ. They gave all they could where they could. They used the skills they had to serve the church.

Now that women are on average more educated than men (http://www.forbes.com/sites/ccap/2012/02/16/the-male-female-ratio-in-col...), we're no longer allowed to give all that we can to churches that maintain the antiquated male-leadership model. Highly educated women are still relegated to their grandmother's roles in churches. These are no longer the typical female skill set. We're treated as though we are inherently less intelligent and less capable by a male-dominated system that has not adapted to the incredible progress our society has made toward equality of the sexes (something God intended all along).

Different churches have different views on the role of women, and to some extent, that is healthy. It maintains the dialogue of where women fit into God's plan for His Church, which is a very important dialogue. But the sad fact of the female exodus from the church is proof that too many churches come down on the repressive end of the argument and far too few stand up to empower women to use their intelligence, their social networking abilities, their teaching and managing skills for the church.

This is the new American Christian woman, celebrate her, don't relegate her to the kitchen!

Hannah Allen

1

Hannah Allen replied to Michelle Covington's comment

Hi Michelle,

I would love to read where you got the information that about female pastors in Paul's time.

"There were female deacons and even pastors in Paul's time, so why is it so taboo now for women to take on these roles?"

Do you have a citation for this information? Thank you!

Jim Henderson

1

Jim Henderson commented…

As the author of the book referenced I'm honored to be able to provoke people to " love and good works". The " we need more godly men" ( to marry and lead) argument is the voice of those who sense they are losing a grip on power (aka men) hoping women will be naive and subservient enough so as to not see through it. But as witnessed by the comments - women do see what one indightful woman calles the Driscoll kool- aid). As David Kinnamas research points out " 59% of young adults over the age of 18 will drop out of church" most of those millennial drop outs will be women. This article and comments illustrates why

Forgive typos - on plane - on iPhone

Red

10

Red replied to Jim Henderson's comment

Hi Jim. Thanks for follow up comment re: the article and my post. I appreciate the agreement, but I am a man. No worries! Have a safe flight!

elizabeth

1

elizabeth commented…

Or you can solve this dilemma the way I (and many other women) have, by leaving the "Evangelical" church and moving to a more traditional denomination. My Lutheran church is happy to have my involvement and there are women who serve at all levels and in all positions. Our current pastor is a woman as are several members of the finance and building committees. I just got tired of the struggle to be heard.

Silas D

3

Silas D replied to elizabeth's comment

I am very sorry, as it sounds like you probably suffered at the hands of evangelicals. I do want to suggest, though, that this sort of experience is not intrinsically tied to evangelicalism. That is, there are evangelical churches where women are welcome to serve in all roles and capacities.

righteousradio

3

righteousradio commented…

"the nameless grandmother who showed up early to brew the coffee you swigged down before church last week. But women are growing increasingly disenchanted with the Church, and even when they do show up, they’re sure not going to brew your coffee."..
I was this grandmother.. although under 30 at the time. When the 2,000+ church and I disagreed about the 'opportunities and freedom' that I thought I had (myself = quite disillusioned) they silently waved goodbye. Never to be heard from again. I could be a greeter, do the powerpoint, brew the coffee and clean it up, and even work a cash register. But anything beyond that, I'd get a firm phone call, reminding me of my place.
Thankfully, I found a new church who took me in. But it is still hard to be a now 30-something female who has a career and many years of experience in the working world and to apply that AND get respect in the church.
*Thank you for this article*

Wes

19

Wes commented…

I can get on board with much of what this article discusses on a pragmatic level, but somehow I feel like it approaches the issue of women in church from the wrong angle.

I fundamentally disagree with the premise that men and women should achieve some sort of ministerial self-actualization in the Church. The Church doesn't exist so we can utilize our gifts and talents to the greatest degree among a community of believers. It exists to glorify Christ. I believe God wants us to utilize all of our gifts and talents, though, but the primary sphere for that is the world. A CEO at a bank is not entitled to do CEO-like things at church (not to say that she shouldn't or couldn't, just she shouldn't get upset if not given the opportunity).

That said, it certainly seems plausible to me that the "i'm a special snowflake who deserves to do what I want" mentality may be driving some women (and men) from the church. This might not be a problem, so long as they are leaving "a church" rather than "the Church." If someone forsakes the community of believers (Heb. 10:25) because they don't get to choose their ministerial position at the church, then they are placing their own desires, pride, and whims above the Body of Christ and clear biblical commands. The problem is primarily with them, not the Church.

But as I said, I don't see any problem with efforts to include women in ministry. The assertion that the gap between lay and professional ministries has widened rings true, and it would be nice to see more women involved in less "traditional" ministries. However, if we're going to do it, let's do it for the right reasons: to glorify Christ, not to make fair-weather "Christians" feel good about themselves.

Deborah

7

Deborah replied to Wes's comment

This sounds right, but ...
We honor Christ by following His lead- He leads us to become like Him &to do what he says. Sometimes we have to leave a place to do that. I serve no one, not God or my brothers and sisters by waiting for permission to do and to be what I'm called to be.

Wes

19

Wes replied to Deborah's comment

We also honor Christ by following God's Word, which says we are to be a part of the Church. If pursuing your calling leads you from one church to another, that's probably fine. However, if your calling leads you out of the Church--which is what the article is warning against--then you are plainly mistaken about your calling, as God does not call people to do things contrary to his Word.

Michael McClendon

6

Michael McClendon replied to Wes's comment

Wes, I think you miss the point. It's not about entitlement. It's about women feeling valued for all that they can offer. God created us with skills and talents. And He is glorified when his creation works as he made it.

Wes

19

Wes replied to Michael McClendon's comment

Michael, I respectfully disagree. Women (or anyone) who leave the Church because they don't get to dictate what role they have in ministry are glorifying themselves over Christ. God gave us skills and talents, but He is glorified whether you use them in Church or in the world. I'm not saying women can't use specific skill-sets in church, but I will say that anyone who thinks "I'm a good public speaker, therefore I must be given the opportunity to speak in church (or I'm going to take my ball and go home)" is approaching the Church with an entitlement attitude. God is glorified when his creation works as he made it; but show me in the Bible where we can conclude that He expects each individual to use ALL of her skills and talents in the church. Also, you must contend with scripture: (1) women aren't to hold teaching roles, and (2) believers aren't to forsake the Church. If a woman's is "called" to use her skills or gifts in a way contrary to God's word, then she is simply mistaken about her calling.

Michael McClendon

6

Michael McClendon replied to Wes's comment

Thank you for replying. As you can probably guess - I would disagree with your interpretation of scripture on woman in the church – teaching in particular as mention.

I think the writer is talking about the collective subjugation of woman's God given abilities. They feel regulated to second class. And feel like the church is preventing them from exercising that which God has given them. Or really, how God made them. Denying their core.

It is not a question of pride – or taking my ball and playing with someone else. It is deep and rooted in their soul. They feel God created them one way. And the church is painting the opposite picture. And they‘re trying to figure out why. What a terrible place to be.

Surely you can relate. Have you ever been a situation where you felt the tension and humiliation of being undervalued and underutilized? And that the system was pushing you down?

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