Several years ago, I served as the treasurer of a small church. In this congregation, the treasurer was required to sit on the church's governing board, which didn't allow women. My husband, however, was on the board, so as a workaround for providing monthly treasurer's reports, I would prepare all the financial information, and he would present it. I would explain to him what all the numbers meant and what to say, knowing that he understood the basics but that financials weren't necessarily his skill set, nor did he have in-depth knowledge to answer significant questions that might arise.
Although the situation seemed unfair and ridiculous to me, I knew the structure of the church would not change. Instead of fighting it, I decided that I would do my job to the best of my ability. My goal was to help the board make good financial decisions whether I was in the room or not.
Many churches are male-dominated. While women may assume leadership roles, they may not be able to exercise their authority because of the structure of the church. If you find yourself in this type of church culture, you can still thrive where you are and be a kingdom asset. Here are some ways I learned to work well with our male-only pastoral team, church board, and financial committee at my former church:
1. Be true to what God has called you to do. Colossians 3:23 says, "Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people." I haven't noticed any exceptions listed before or after that command.
2. Don't try to be someone you're not. Trying to be "one of the guys" doesn't work. It only leads to constant struggles in your interactions with the men on your leadership team. Instead, be who you are. Communicate authentically, and don't worry about how you will be perceived. God has made us all different for a reason.
3. Support the entire team. If you do your job well, it will be evident to those around you. Better decisions will be made as a result of your work, and people will begin to seek you out when there are decisions to be made. Whether you are in the room or not at that time, you will have an impact.
4. Build good relationships with the people in charge. Senior pastors are not gifted in every area—for example, some are not gifted in finances or administration. They rely heavily on others. If you're involved in the financial area of your church, train your senior pastor in the basic financial information that will help him lead effectively, and develop a good rapport with the finance committee chairman. Understand what information is helpful to the committee and review it with the chairman before the meeting. Make sure he is able to answer the questions that might be raised. If your pastor struggles in other areas that you're particularly strong in, offer to come alongside him and teach him how you stay organized or manage other administrative duties.
Ultimately, if you are unable to work within a system that doesn't allow women into key leadership positions, it may be best for you to use your talents in another ministry. Learning to serve within the structure of a male-led ministry can be challenging. But adapting to the culture and using your gifts with wisdom and grace can be a powerful example to the men and women in your church. Don't discount the opportunity you have to be a vital player in your church's mission just because of its leadership structure.
Vonna Laue is a CPA and partner with Capin Crouse, a national accounting firm for churches and nonprofit organizations. Vonna is an editorial advisor for Church Law and Tax Report and Church Finance Today, both sister publications of WomenLeaders.com.