Reading Developing Female Leaders was a breath of fresh air. While I’m grateful so many leaders have invested in me and entrusted me with opportunities to lead, being a woman in church leadership has also been challenging, isolating and disheartening at times. It’s validating to know that the inner wrestlings and practical challenges I’ve encountered are not unique to me but common to many women in ministry. And it's encouraging to hear workable steps that can be taken to navigate them and equip women to thrive in ministry.
Kadi Cole brings not only her own wealth of experience, but also a survey of over 1,000 women in ministry and interviews with many of them, and she organized key themes into eight best practices for churches who want to equip and release women to minister. It's everything I've wanted male leadership in my church to understand but haven’t been able to communicate—plus a wealth of things I hadn't thought about.
The theology of women in ministry
Cole recognizes that there is a range of theology regarding women in ministry and is respectful toward all of the theological views. She does not take a stand for any of the views on women in ministry—that isn’t the purpose of her book. Her goal is not to push a particular theological framework.
Instead, she spends a chapter outlining each of the major viewpoints, how various church leaders interpret Scripture about women in ministry and simply encourages churches to clearly define what they believe. This not only releases the women in your church to freely lead where it's open for them but also protects them from the stress of wondering when someone is going to question their position as unbiblical.
“Most godly women are very aware there is a line somewhere, and because they are concerned about overstepping that line, they will often stay way below what you believe they have an opportunity to do. This gap is one of the places where you have incredible untapped leadership potential” (p. 18).
I've heard from other women in ministry who described their church as a bit of a minefield where, even though they were doing exactly what church leadership asked them to do, they never knew when they'd run into someone who felt they shouldn't be doing it. Most of them would greatly appreciate this kind of clear expectations and concrete feedback.
Though I wouldn’t use her book to defend or explain the complementarian view as understood by the EFCA, she doesn’t argue against it. She simply presents the views from her best understanding, asks churches to be clear in their expectations for women and then dives into more practical way to equip women in your churches.
Understanding and encouraging
Cole encourages church leaders to truly seek to understand the challenges of women in ministry. Many of these challenges are outside the radar of male pastors who have never had to internally wrestle through whether their calling and their gender are compatible, whether their title will generate protests from church members, or whether their presence at leadership events, if the only person of their gender, could call issues of propriety into question. As one example, she writes:
“One of the biggest challenges unique to female leaders is feeling 'comfortable' in their leadership. Most feel caught in what is known as the 'double bind'—as if they are 'too much' or 'too little' but never quite right...In fact, there is staggering research from the marketplace that shows the more successful a man is, the more 'likeable' he is. But it is the exact opposite for a woman...This often leaves female leaders with an impossible choice: Do I want to be liked or respected? Unfortunately, few women leaders experience being able to have both, at least at the same time” (p. 62).
Cole delves into the very tangible realm as well, noting that from her survey, 42% of women had been given titles that either didn't reflect their responsibilities or didn't match male counterparts doing the same work, which often led to challenges in doing their work effectively or in having a marketable resume, as well as to discrepancies in pay. She also devotes a chapter to creating an environment of safety (for both men and women) in light of the sexually-charged climate we live in.
An essential resource
The book offers a wealth of good questions to ask, valuable metrics for tracking church progress and practical next steps, with flexibility to personalize toward your church's beliefs, needs and goals. There are suggestions for how to identify leadership-level women in your church, be a champion for their leadership development, protect women from harassment and take on your church's culture.
Most EFCA churches embrace a complementarian view of leadership, which on paper is a celebration of the unique strengths God has gifted to men and woman and the way He designed us to function together, bringing strengths that complement the weaknesses in each other. In actuality, though, many complementarian churches function without female leaders (or at least, without a clear strategy for developing them) and thus miss out on the strengths women could bring to the team and the opportunity to develop women's spiritual gifts and skills to maximize their work for the Kingdom of God.
I highly recommend this book to all pastors and church leadership teams who have women in leadership that they want to better understand and support (or who wish they did). If you read it with a heart to care for the women you shepherd and to make your church a place where they can use their gifts without fear, I believe our churches will be stronger for it.
The EFCA has recently launched a new program called Prepared, a gospel-centered, two-year cohort for women in ministry leadership or preparing for ministry leadership. You can learn more at the website.
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