Women Leading in a New Era

An interview with leadership consultant Nancy Ortberg
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Formerly on staff at Willow Creek, leadership consultant Nancy Ortberg—also a speaker and author—is currently leading on staff at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. She talked with GFL about being in churches that don't recognize women in leadership, the intersection of passion and humility, and gracefully shifting the reigns of leadership to the next generation.

Have you noticed any unique challenges faced by women leaders in the church today?

That men won't let them lead. I think a lot of women are gifted for leadership, and I think a lot of men are comfortable with women leading in youth ministries, or the children's department, or something involved with music, but as far as being equal peers and equal ministers together, I see a lot of obstacles that sometimes men put by marginalizing women over into those areas.

When women are in situations like that, how do you advise them to function within that situation?

That's a great question. To keep it simple, I really do think there are only two options: one is to stay and be a part of the change, and the other one is to go and find a church where your gifts can be fully utilized. If you choose the first one, you've got to recognize that change will definitely be slower than you want and harder than you can imagine, and it may not work.

There is a CD series that my husband did—you can find on the Willow Creek website, in their Seeds bookstore. John did a 4-part series on an exegetical study of all the passages of Scripture that deal with men and women in ministry together.

I think having a theological foundation for what you believe is important. And ask lots of questions. Why do we not have more women on the elder board? Why do we rope women in only twice a year, to teach on Mother's Day and Labor Day weekend? Just ask questions and be part of the conversation. That will be a slower haul, and a very, very frustrating one, but nothing changes without those things.

Another option is to go to a church that just totally embraces that, and there will be turbulence there too, but it will be a different kind of turbulence.

When our readers survey the landscape of leaders in the church today, are there a few to watch, to learn from? As you scan the horizon, who do you see doing leadership well?

Look for those leaders who are doing a couple of things: who are, first of all, leading at the intersection of passion and humility. That's a tension that's really necessary, but it's difficult to manage well without God. So leaders who are passionate about the force the church can be in the world, and the difference it can make, and have humility to know they don't have all the answers. They are one of us, not elevated over us.

December19, 2013 at 8:00 AM

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