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Making Mission Possible

CPAS enables churches to help every person hear and discover the good news of Jesus

Developing women leaders

We long to see women leaders exercising leadership in the Church with confidence, competence and courage. But many women find they face particular challenges.

Many women leaders in the Church face discouragement or opposition.

Yet if God calls both men and women to serve him as leaders, how can we ensure that women's gifts are used to his glory?

This page identifies some of the issues for women leaders. You can jump to an area by clicking on its link below.

Challenges for women leaders in the Church

Women in leadership in the Church today face a variety of challenges, even if their denomination allows women to hold positions of leadership. Within the Anglican Church, there are continuing debates, both on the subject of women in the episcopate (i.e. as bishops), and, within evangelical and anglo-catholic traditions, about whether having women leaders accords with Scripture or with the tradition of the Church.

These are some of the key challenges for evangelical women leaders:

  • Is it right to have women in leadership? Is it biblical? To read more, click to go to the following articles: The Bible and Women's Ministry and Women Leaders in the Church: a discussion paper – designed for churches considering whether to have woman incumbent.
  • What difference does women's leadership make? Do women lead differently from men? Do they bring 'different' gifts? If they do, will women leaders 'feminise' the church? How does study of male/female difference help us to answer this question? Is patriarchy inevitable, or itself a product of culture? Are apparent differences in leadership style due to nurture or to nature, and what significance does this have? Read more in the article Doing leadership differently?
  • How can the church ensure it makes best use of women's leadership gifts? How can women be given more confidence?How can women find role models? How do women cope with existing male models and structures?

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Research into women and leadership

Recent years have produced a huge amount of research into women as leaders in the business sphere, and much can be learnt which will also apply to the church.
Some current research areas:

Do women lead differently?

In the past it has been argued that women bring a different style to leadership, perhaps more collaborative and relational approaches. Helen Fisher's research in the 1990s followed this line:

'On average, women and men possess a number of different innate skills ... Women have many exceptional faculties bred in deep history, a talent with words, a capacity to read non-verbal clues, emotional sensitivity, empathy, patience, an ability to do and think several things simultaneously.. a penchant for long-term planning, a gift for networking and negotiating, and a preference for co-operating, reaching consensus, and leading via egalitarian teams.' (Helen Fisher, The First Sex)

However, ten years later a new consensus was emerging. Differences in leadership style have more to do with personality than with gender.

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Are women effective as leaders?

Here, secular research is mainly around increased profitability (which is what companies mainly want to measure). But it proves that woman can lead effectively when they are given leadership positions. Current research, summarised in books such as 'Through the Labyrinth' (book of month April 08) shows beyond doubt that women are effective in leadership but still encounter more difficulties in traditionally masculine settings.

There are some provisional conclusions from research in the Church (for example, by Bob Jackson, in The Road to Growth), that women are proving to be effective leaders and are leading growing churches.

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What are the barriers to women's equal deployment?

Women in the Church, as in wider society, are aware that there seems to be stained glass ceiling to be broken – or a labyrinth to be navigated – when it comes to senior posts, leading larger churches, or sometimes even in finding a stipendiary post at all.

Research in the Church echoes what has been found in professional and business contexts, including:

  • Prejudice: treating difference as weakness.
  • Lonely, unsupportive working environment for women in senior roles.
  • Lack of organisational savvy - i.e. how the system works.
  • The challenge of balancing career and family.

Women in the Church face additional obstacles:

  • Theology: biblical passages which appear to prevent women leading in certain contexts.
  • The legal situation (such as two 'integrities' in the Church of England).
  • The hidden culture of acceptance in theory but not in practice: the 'male-as-leader' norm dies hard in some situations.

Read more in articles on Women clergy and deployment (March 2011) and Women and senior church appointments. (March 2011)

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Identifying women as Leaders

Some tips:

  • Women often don't see themselves as leaders - so they are less likely to volunteer to lead. They need to be asked.
  • Women are sometimes self-deprecating, and their initial reaction may be 'I couldn't do that.' Only the opportunity to try will show if this is true - or if they could do it.
  • In a mixed group, women are sometimes more reticent about participating. Again, a generalisation. But it's worth asking, 'Are the ideas of women heard?' Women tend to be less likely to interrupt or butt in during a meeting to get their point across.
  • Whereas for men, opportunities to lead may come early, giving arenas in which to develop in confidence and competence, sometimes at the expense of character; for women, the challenges of life may bring maturity, but women may lack competence and confidence, and will value the opportunity to grow and develop in these areas.

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Developing women as leaders

Some pointers:

  • Women need to be proactive about their own development as leaders. Even if they don't always have easy access to courses and developmental experiences, there is much they can do to ensure they are making good use of the gifts God has given. Click here to read the article Looking ahead: dreaming and developing.
  • Leadership courses or programmes, such as Arrow, provide excellent training for a lifetime of Christian leadership.
  • Mentoring is one of the most-mentioned tools to help women to grow in their confidence, skills and abilities as leaders.
  • Networking - formal or informal - can provide support in what can be a lonely place.
  • Role models are important for all leaders. What role models are there for women who are in leadership or who aspire to be leaders?
  • Ensure women are involved in long-term planning. According to leadership expert Sally Helgesen, a desire to focus on long-term sustainability is a primary characteristic of women who have been successful in leading organisations. Are women heard when we are thinking vision and big picture in our churches?
  • Women who know that God has called them to leadership need encouragement to be the best they can be for God, and to find opportunities to develop their gifts and acquire a variety of leadership experience.

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Our dream

I have a dream....

I dream of a church
where women and men work together
in leadership and evangelism;

Where women use their gifts,
discover new ones,
and empower other men and women;

Where men and women
are seen as fellow-workers together
and fellow-servants of each other.

I dream of a church
which is seen by outsiders
as one where women are affirmed,
encouraged and fulfilled
in their God-given callings;

Where men and women working together
reflect the image of God,
and, in Christ,
overcome the 'battle of the sexes'.

I dream of a church
which proclaims to women and men
the good news of true liberation in Christ.

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Links to other sites which provide resources for women leaders

  • Awesome (ordained evangelical Anglican women clergy) -
  • WATCH (Women and the Church) -
  • CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality) -
  • Sophia Network (for women in youth work) -

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Women in Leadership articles


CPAS Stories

Chris Martin, vicar of four rural churches around Whimple, Devon, attended the 'Servants and Stewards' leadership course in Exeter…


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