I remember the first time I found “my people.” I had been invited to present several workshops at a conference for women ministry leaders. It was the first time I was exposed to a group of people just like me. Women! And not just women, but women who were leaders! In ministry! In the large group sessions, in the workshops, and in the speakers’ room—these were my people! I left the conference with a full heart, my spirit buoyed by the heart-to-heart conversations, like-minded camaraderie, and new friendships. I didn’t know how thirsty I was until I found a well.
Then I went back home, back to my male-heavy world of ministry. I knew I needed to develop a better support community for myself as a female leader, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. As women ministry leaders, we need a support network, but it can be challenging to find that support when there aren’t a lot of our species in the population. It has taken me 25 years of trial and error to learn how to develop a solid web of supportive relationships.
The Challenges of Finding Community
Ministry leaders—both male and female—are subject to a construct called “power distance.” This means that most members of the general congregation view those in authority as special or separate from the rank-and-file. Even if you are a leader who tries to be more “of the people” and down-to-earth in your interactions, many under your leadership will still view you as somehow separate. It’s hard to build true community with those who put you on a pedestal. Some in your ministry may also have trouble dealing with the reality that leaders have struggles, too.
Another difficult dynamic is that “power distance” can also result in the opposite: people are attracted to those in authority to be identified as part of your inner circle to increase their own prestige or sense of self-worth. These types of people may promise friendship and support, but are actually “fans” and not true friends.
The most natural source of community would seem to be fellow leaders in your organization or ministry area, however, even in these relationships there is often a power dynamic. Either you are subject to the authority of these leaders, or you have some type of authority over them. A former pastor I worked for said he was taught in seminary to never become friends with his staff members because one day he might have to fire them. This perspective is partly generational and I know many churches where the staff enjoy deep relationships, but it is still true that power dynamics complicate relationships.