Mainstream research supports much of what you experience. Women leaders in all sorts of contexts face many of the same issues. In many ways, we can learn from women breaking into other traditionally male-dominated fields. Certainly the church environment is (and should be) different than that of an engineering firm, but women leaders in both fields face some of the same issues, and we may be able to learn from and support one another. For instance, women in technology, engineering, and craftsmanship fields and women leaders in the church are often the first women in their role and often primarily work with men. In addition, even if women haven’t been kept out of the field intentionally, many of the men aren’t exactly sure how to treat the women who are there now. With ignorance often comes snafus that range from chuckle-worthy to cringe-worthy. Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently said in an interview with The Atlantic that, “when a position is held by men for a long time, there’s a paradigm that gets built . . . so as women move into positions and take them, then you have to change the paradigm.”
Women in the church feel this immensely. After all, few churches have women in upper levels of leadership, and even fewer have women lead pastors. Of course, theological understandings of women and leadership vary from denomination to denomination and from church to church, and these affect the leadership opportunities for women. Even in churches that affirm women in leadership, though, male leaders often outnumber women leaders. And that’s despite the fact that women outnumber men in congregations.
Knowing this, I was amazed to see on our survey the diverse ministries that you are involved in: women’s ministry, small groups, discipleship, administration, teaching, pastoring, worship, youth and children’s ministry, hospitality, outreach, missions, diaconate, arts, refugee, and more. What a beautiful picture of the church! What’s more, you expressed confidence that God has called you, and that he is using you in powerful ways. Despite the many hurdles women leaders have to jump, you are staying the course, committed to living out your calling, and I, for one, am grateful.