I knew a woman once who, with super-spy-like verbal finesse, single-handedly took down an entire church. Ka-pow! The congregation exists no more.
I knew another woman who waged a stealth war to get her church secretary fired. Before the campaign ended, the secretary quit, left the church, lost most of her friends, and entered into a deep depression.
Oh, and I knew another woman - a stately matron of the church - whose "helpful ideas" (i.e. biting critiques) so discouraged a new Christian eager to get involved in ministry that her sense of personal value will be devastated for years to come.
What did these three women have in common? They were women's ministry leaders.
I like to call women like these "church-harpies." The Harpy is a figure from Greek mythology, succinctly described by Dictionary.com as "a ravenous, filthy monster having a woman's head and a bird's body." Outside of the mythological realm, the dictionary defines a harpy as a scolding, nagging, greedy, bad-tempered, predatory woman.
None of the three women I mentioned appeared to be harpies at first glance - they were women's ministry leaders, respected wives and mothers, Bible study and prayer group leaders, and long-established members of their churches. And certainly none of these women viewed themselves as harpies! They volunteered long hours in their respective ministries and their church involvement was the centerpiece of their lives. I believe that, in their way, each of these women loved Jesus very much and always felt their motives were justified and right.
The truth is, church-harpies can be hard to spot! Their behavior can be so surreptitious that the damage is done before anyone realizes who did it! And often church-harpies are blind to their own harpy-ness. Their patterns of thinking and behavior are so deeply ingrained that they're unable to recognize the danger of their actions.
So how can you tell the difference between a church-harpy from a good leader? Consider the following distinguishing marks of a harpy - and reflect on how you can avoid developing harpy-ness in your own life:
-Church-harpies hold tightly to power. They grasp onto their leadership roles and often feel resentful of new ideas, preferring to do things their way. Because of these behaviors, church-harpies are usually surrounded by women primarily their own age and of like personality. Their lack of openness to younger (or older) women's perspectives often drives women from other generations away.