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.

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.

62 Comments

Peg Roy

2

Peg Roy commented…

Reply to Mike Page:
It is good of you to point out that "the Scripture is quite clear you should not be preventing anyone, man or woman from using those gifts." Spiritual gifts do not come in hues of pink and blue. And all too often this is the case as certain Pauline writings are interpreted in this way and women are restricted from using their spiritual gifts for the sake or benefit of the entire church and world and from fulfilling God's calling to ministry especially in the area of church leadership. There is also wide spread interpretation of Scripture regarding roles for women and roles for men where it is not addressing roles. In fact, Scripture has very little if anything to say about roles and gender. My experience in the church over the past 50+ years is that it's practice and orthodoxy is unknowingly and strongly influenced by and a reflection of cultural norm and ancient philosophy rather than being determined by and a beautiful reflection of Jesus, our risen Savior and the Head of the church, His body.

Pamela Pepper Tennant

1

Pamela Pepper Tennant commented…

Amen! I have volunteered and feel so underused. I have 3 years of pastoral training and been in ministry since I was 3-42 yrs, and many pastoral positions. I am in a younger, male dominated church, I look like I'm 30 but feel like my sex and age are a huge reason. I have much to offer and a huge vision. I know as I continue to pray and fast that God will open doors.

Shalanah Dawson

2

Shalanah Dawson commented…

I had a friend that did a ton of free video work for my church, filming and editing, for years. Then when it came time to hire someone, and she applied as well, they picked a man that didn't go to the church. It just summed up everything wrong with church. How many slave women hours have paid for the church and its male employees?

David Drury

1

David Drury commented…

Great article
sharing!

FYI: the barna 31% stat link appears broken

Priscilla Hammond

1

Priscilla Hammond commented…

Only challenge I have to this post is the way the author throws a bone to non-egalitarian churches by saying, "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."

This actually proves the antithesis of her argument. If I wanted to be a woman's counselor, I'd get a degree in psychology and make a lot more money in the world. Women use their talents and gifts outside of the church and are recognized and paid accordingly, and are considered equal to men. In the church, those same gifts get marginalized to women's ministry (not that it isn't important, but what about women with a teaching/preaching/leadership gift?)

Karla

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Karla replied to Priscilla Hammond's comment

I agree! For the most part I appreciated the article...but there was just something that didn't set right with me as I continued to read. It think you said it well. But, I'm always thankful for the conversation these articles bring.

Anna Bourke Morgan

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Anna Bourke Morgan replied to Karla's comment

The suggestions that Ms. Armstrong made are interesting but in my experience, not always practical.The dynamics of church leadership don't work like corporate environments.

Every church member, male or female, will probably have to spend some time serving in non-influential roles before they get more significant opportunities.This gives church leaders time to get to know that person and make sure that they are who they appear to be.Church leaders learn people's skill sets as they serve and volunteer.Those roles are only demeaning if we give ourselves permission to view them as less important.They are a necessary part of the leadership journey.On the other side of the spectrum, that process also gives people time to decide if the church is a good fit for them.This means that both men and women may serve in roles that underuse their potential for a season.

I don't believe that fast-tracking women to places of influence just for the sake of getting women into influential roles that befit their education or experience is going to be helpful to the church or those women in the long run.Women should be chosen to lead because they are gifted and skilled leaders, not because girls need a stronger female presence on leadership teams.Appointing women to roles that they aren't well suited for will lead to resentment on their teams.

I do agree that when men have an open perspective about feminine leadership, ministering to women is much easier. As leaders watch for and reward female successes with higher levels of opportunity, the process will feel unforced and organic.

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