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One-on-One with Kadi Cole on ‘Developing Female Leaders’

“This book will educate and inspire you to better maximize the leadership potential of the women in your church.”
One-on-One with Kadi Cole on ‘Developing Female Leaders’
Image: Thomas Nelson/Pixabay

Ed: Why did you write this book?

Kadi: Over the course of my career as a leadership and organizational consultant, I have worked with churches and leadership teams in a variety of denominational settings. Recently, I’ve noticed a significant shift in the conversation around women in leadership roles.

Previously, when I would present at an event, the few women present would seek me out to get advice about being a female church leader. Surprisingly, last year, male pastors started to approach me, asking how they could best develop the female leaders on their teams.

I could tell they were genuine in their desire to learn. Unfortunately, many of the things they were trying weren’t actually helping. In fact, as I talked with the women on their teams, they often felt the opposite – that their perspective was not welcome and there was no further way for them to grow or contribute in a more significant way.

But I knew this wasn’t how their senior leaders saw them. There was a disconnect of some kind. That distance between what these high-level male leaders were doing to help women grow and what those women were actually experiencing was problematic and fascinating to me. I set out to research why this was happening and what we, as church leaders, could do about it.

After conducting in-depth interviews with 30 high-level female church leaders, surveying over 1,200 women in various church leadership roles, and collecting research from academic, marketplace, and ministry settings, ‘The Eight Best Practices’ for churches surfaced.

Ed: In the church today, we tend to divide our views of female leadership into cookie cutter categories based on denomination and theology. How do you address this in the book?

Kadi: Women make up 61% of our church population, yet they represent less than 10% of our ministry leadership roles. It’s easy to dismiss this as a theological roadblock about women in ministry. But my personal experience as a church leader and the research reveals the problem is less about theology and more about our leadership practices and church cultures.

For example, let’s say Annie is a young, female leader who recently started coordinating the weekend welcome teams. She makes sure there are enough ushers, greeters, and communion workers scheduled, points new volunteers in the right direction, and makes sure everyone is set up to do their job well.

However, when the team gathers together before service to get any last-minute information they need, Annie isn’t sure if she can lead the meeting. Can she direct the men on the team on where to stand? Is she allowed to pray or should she hand that over to one of the men, even though he is not in any leadership position? Should she “take charge” and tell the team what to do? And if so, how can she do this without overstepping her spiritual boundaries?

Many women know there is a theological line somewhere, but most are unsure exactly where the boundaries are. As a result, they tend to pull back and hand over leadership opportunities for fear of stepping over the line, even though her leaders want her to instruct the team and welcome her praying for them.

One of the best practices churches can do for all their leaders, especially their female ones, is to make sure their theology is clear and to help their teams understand how this practically plays out in day to day ministry settings. In the book, I’m not looking to change anyone’s theology, but we are missing out on some excellent leaders because of miscommunication.

The book provides language and tools to help you better articulate the theology you already have, and to communicate that with your team so everyone’s leadership potential is maximized.

Ed: What are some things women deal with on a day-to-day basis that your fellow male leaders may not be aware of?

Kadi: Most men would probably be surprised to learn how many negative thoughts and fears run through a woman’s mind. This inner narrative affects her willingness to raise her hand for opportunities, share her perspective, or even step into leadership. There is a great deal of pressure to perform, especially if they are one of the first women to lead a team or department.

This, combined with cultural and organizational messages such as “women aren’t welcome in leadership roles,” will often quietly keep women from maximizing their leadership abilities.

Those fears and pressures aren’t just about their ministry work. Women generally carry a larger load when it comes to home life, children, and caring for aging parents. It is true that the trend has shifted and men are now more involved in home life.

However, most men would be surprised to learn how many extra details and decisions a woman is thinking about on a daily basis, in addition to the work she is contributing at the office.

Ed: In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the topic of how men and women work together has become a hot topic for our country and the church. What are church leaders doing to address this?

Kadi: Movements have certainly raised awareness about a pervasive topic that has been hidden for way too long. We need ministry and leadership practices that protect women, the integrity of our leaders, and the reputation of our churches.

However, sometimes these practices limit a woman’s access to important leadership opportunities, mentoring relationships, and recognition from her higher-ups. The book explores how our safety practices need to adjust to fit the current culture, including the use of technology. The goal is to include female leaders while keeping our churches healthy and strong. We can have both.

Ed: What can readers expect from your book?

Kadi: Church leaders and teams will discover practical and helpful steps to better steward the leadership potential of the women in their church, regardless of their theological position. The Eight Best Practices are eye-opening, encouraging and practical to implement. For instance, one simple step that everyone can take is to ask, “What is your experience as a female leader in our church? What do you see that I don’t see?”

Whether you are a senior leader, a pastor, a volunteer, or a woman looking to grow, “this book will educate and inspire you to better maximize the leadership potential of the women in your church.”

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One-on-One with Kadi Cole on ‘Developing Female Leaders’