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Band of Sisters

How I moved from a lone ranger to intentionally amplifying the work of other women leaders

My first foray into ministry as vocation wasn’t with a church, but rather as a guest preacher and worship leader, filling the pulpit or leading worship for pastors who were away for a week. I referred to myself as the lone ranger. I’m not really a fan of the masked man; it just felt like most days I was going it alone, and it was lonely. Regardless of gender, this sort of work can be isolating. As a woman offering pulpit supply, however, it was even more so. I didn’t know any other women doing what I was doing. I would travel and preach a sermon or lead worship, or sometimes do both. Afterward, I would engage people in mostly surface conversations before returning home. Although the people I met felt connected to me, they didn’t really know me, and I certainly didn’t know them.

For a while, the lone ranger title felt like a badge of honor: I’m the only woman out here doing this. And then, one day, those words weighed heavy on my soul: What if I’m really the only woman out here doing this? All of a sudden, it didn’t feel like an honorable thing to be alone. I needed to know others who followed the same path—and not just other men. I needed to find some women. That’s when I entered seminary.

In seminary, I met other women who were pursuing similar goals. Most of the time, we were friendly and supportive of one another. But there were also times where I sensed tension. I overheard whispers and hallway conversations in low tones about women who were discouraged over not finding a place to serve. Graduation was around the corner for a handful of these women, and most still had not been offered a ministry role. These women were competing against one another because only a few churches in the area would seriously consider a woman for the ministry roles they were seeking. “There aren’t enough jobs to go around for the women graduating,” many worried aloud.

I began to worry, too. What if there were too many talented women and not enough opportunities in the churches in my area? What if I put years into seminary-level study, but never landed a role in the church?

The Scarcity Mindset

The scarcity mindset can quickly take root in a woman’s heart. Scarcity tells women that there aren’t enough jobs, not enough pulpits open, no other women with which they can walk this road. Scarcity says, “You’re all alone out there.” In the next breath, scarcity points at other women and whispers, “There’s your competition.” When women start to listen to this voice and adopt this mindset, they view other women as competition instead of comrades on the ministry road.

The scarcity mindset hurts women both individually and collectively. Those leading through this lens will hold more tightly to what they already have and eventually stop opening doors for others. Many women have experienced this firsthand in the church. When a woman with power shuts doors for other women in an effort to gain more opportunities for herself and solidify her position as a leader, she isn’t really leading at all. That behavior is about guarding what one has, and it stems from the idea that there is never enough. With this faulty mindset, the risk associated with sharing outweighs the reward of holding a door open for another sister.

Realigning Our Hearts to Abundance

Scripture shows us that God is not the God of scarcity, but rather the God of abundance. Everything is possible with God, and nothing is too difficult for him! Jesus multiplied a few loaves and fish and fed a huge crowd, a miracle so important that each gospel tells the story.

Thinking in terms of abundance is challenging when opportunities seem limited. It requires supernatural strength and the daily renewing of the mind. Though it’s difficult in our humanity to shift the lens from scarcity to abundance, we should not look at the “loaves and fish” of ministry opportunity and think, There’s not enough to go around! Rather, we are to look at what seems limited and remember that God is limitless.

Those whom God has called, God will use! It’s time for women in ministry to stand confidently on our calling and work as sisters to gain opportunities and a voice in a male-dominated field. Perpetuating the idea in conversations and on social media that there are too many qualified women for the roles that are open only increases our plight by furthering the scarcity mindset. Instead, let’s look together for how God is moving on behalf of women everywhere to fully use their gifts and fulfill their callings. If it isn’t happening for you right now, it’s happening for someone near you. We must think bigger about how God is changing the landscape for women ministers as a whole, and we must work together to change the conversation.

The Joy of Amplification

There are two ways to move ideas forward in this world. One way is to share and promote your own idea: self-promotion. The other way is for someone else to share and promote your idea: amplification. This may seem like a small difference, but the outcomes are staggeringly different.

As women in ministry, it’s important that we’re heard and recognized at the table as serious partners with something to contribute to the conversation. Too often, we try to accomplish this by turning to self-promotion. We promote ourselves on social media, sharing our successes, our new book, our latest sermon, or our next project. Often, we apologize first by saying something like, “Shameless plug coming for my book!”

The problem with this is that self-promotion comes from a mindset of scarcity. We think, My work may not be discovered; I may slip into obscurity. I better let people know what I’m doing, so others know I am still working hard and contributing to this conversation. The effect is the opposite of what we desire: it makes women in ministry look a little desperate. Sharing our own work ad nauseam simply causes others to tune us out, rather than take notice and listen.

But the issue still remains: We need a way to raise awareness of the gifted women in ministry. This is where amplification offers a new way forward. This concept was recently made well-known when The Washington Post reported how female staffers in the White House adopted the strategy of amplification to help their female colleagues be heard. In amplification, one woman shares a great idea and her colleagues then repeat it, naming the originator of the idea once more in the process of sharing it, giving her and her idea credibility. The women unify around the message to raise it above the other noise in the room. The great news is that this simple idea works!

What would happen if, instead of promoting our own successes, we began promoting the ideas and work of other women in ministry? What if, when one woman brings a great new ministry idea to the table, writes a book or an article, or has an opportunity to minister, other women shared this, celebrated it, and credited the woman by name? Pam Durso, the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, thinks this could be a way forward for women in ministry. She says, “What if we publically affirmed each other’s words and gifts? What if we intentionally credited each other and spoke the names of those with good ideas out loud? What if we boldly recommended one another to pulpit committees, conference planners, and book editors?”

While self-promotion can devalue the personal brand of women and reduce their efforts, amplification can help women truly be heard. Let’s commit to bringing a new idea to the table: someone else’s. Let’s speak her name and put her work out for our other colleagues to consider. If we can do this, we can change the way ideas are perceived and heard in our ministry contexts.

Putting It into Practice

In Cooperative Baptist life, February is known as Martha Stearns Marshall month, and women are invited into pulpits across the country to preach as a way of highlighting their giftedness and changing perceptions about women in the pulpit. For a number of years during seminary and in an associate ministry role, I was seeking places to preach as a guest. While more churches join the effort each year, opportunities at the time were few and far between.

So, this year when I had my own pulpit, I knew immediately what to do. I called around for names of women in seminary in my area, and opened the pulpit to another woman who will graduate in just a few short months.

After hearing her sermon, it was my privilege to publicly affirm Robbie in her ministry call and gifting in the pulpit. I believe it made a difference for her, and I know it filled me with joy to amplify the voice of another woman who is called to minister.

The Art of Celebrating Success

Andy Stanley has written and taught about different states of the heart which impact leadership. One negative state of the heart he addresses is jealousy. The antidote to a jealous heart, Stanley asserts, is celebration of the one toward whom jealousy is felt. It is impossible to feel jealous and to celebrate all at once. Choosing celebration rather than envy helps to recalibrate the heart.

It isn’t easy to celebrate the success of another, particularly if you sense that their success means your missed opportunity. Oftentimes, especially in ministry life, women will be in candidate pools head on against their closest friends—particularly women just graduating from seminary. What is the right approach in those times?

“Be invested in the searches of other women, so you can celebrate and mourn together,” Durso advises. Honesty and vulnerability when women are under consideration for the same role can result in less jealousy and more celebration when one of the women succeeds.

Let us live from a place of abundance, honor one another’s successes, and amplify great ideas, even if they’re not our own. Ultimately, we must remember this: the success of one woman is the success of every woman.

Christy Foldenauer is the Senior Pastor of Tomahawk Baptist Church in Midlothian, Virginia. You can read more at ChristyFoldenauer.com, or connect with her on Facebook or LinkedIn.

April27, 2017 at 9:00 AM

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