I was twenty two years old and this was the first time I had realised
that gender alone could be a reason to deny me a job I felt called to
do. I grew up in a family were being a girl had equal standing to being
a boy. My parents shared the decision making, the house work and caring
for us kids, although I guess if pushed I’d say my Mum took the lead in
most areas and was encouraged by my Dad in all she did.
I attended an all girl’s senior school where being a woman was to be celebrated. As a “Davison Girl” we were encouraged to pursue careers and make a positive contribution to life. At fourteen I became a Christian through a school’s mission and then started attending an Anglican church. Again, being a young woman I saw no difference between the roles men took in my church and roles women took. So when I went to Bible College in my early twenties the church gender debate shocked me. Maybe I was naïve, or even sheltered from the whole issue as I had no idea that being a woman was an obstacle to pursuing my calling in Christian ministry.
Although I loved my days at Bible College, looking back I cringe when I
remember my emotional response to the role of women in the church. I
got involved in many heated debates with men and women from
churchmanship where men made the decisions and women made the tea.
During my final year a key leader from a growing denomination came to
college to talk to us about job opportunities in his denomination. At
the end of his talk he opened the floor to questions. Someone asked
“what employment opportunities are there for women in your
denomination?” After much waffle we concluded that there were few paid
opportunities for women in this denomination and no opportunities to
lead a ministry.
A few months later I started work as a Youth Pastor for a free evangelical church. The leadership of the church at the time were the Elders and the Pastor, all of whom were men. Mistakenly and perhaps presumptuously, I thought I as Youth Pastor would have a role in this leadership team. I worked hard, led a large ministry in the church and felt I had a valuable contribution to make in leadership decisions. I was wrong. When the Elders had prayer days I wasn’t invited; when they had retreats and meetings I wasn’t invited. When our Pastor left, the Elders had a leaving dinner for him and again I wasn’t invited. I was hurt and couldn’t understand why my contribution wasn’t wanted.
Then one day it became clear. Having a brave moment, I asked one of the Elders if they were to have employed a male Youth Pastor would he have been an Elder. Yes, was his reply. I couldn’t believe it. It felt like blatant discrimination. It wasn’t what I had to say that they were concerned about; it was the body the words came out of that was the issue. The irony of it was that the founder of this church was a woman.
“That night after I’d cried long enough, I made a decision. I would
not cry again over other’s prejudice. Sure, what people thought or said
about me might hurt as well, but I would not carry their
narrow-mindedness or bias as my burden. Life isn’t always fair and it
is different for women than men. I decided to accept that reality and
refuse to be diminished by it. I would accomplish all I was capable of.
Some, perhaps even many, might believe I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do
what I chose. That would be their problem, not mine.”
Carly Fiorina the former Chief Executive Officer of Hewlett Packard in her book Tough Choices
Big girls do cry!!
I have a brilliant boss and only the other day I was saying that if he had £1 for every time I’d cried in front of him he’d be rich. It’s taken time in our working relationship for us both to understand that when I cry it doesn’t mean that I am having a nervous breakdown or that the world is coming to the end. Usually when I cry in my boss’s office it means I am under pressure, I’m really tired or really moved about a pastoral situation. We’ve also learnt that I don’t necessarily want my boss to fix things but just to listen to what’s troubling me. Usually after a few tears, a cup of tea and a listening ear, I feel much better and get on with the task in hand. It hasn’t always been this way…
During my first year as a full timer I am sure I kept Kleenex in business. I cried many tears of frustration, pain and uncertainty. Tears are healing and an important way to express emotions. However tears can also spill over at inconvenient moments. Many of my tears were shed in front of the Eldership team or my line manager. On these occasions the five Elders would look at each other or look at the floor. Looking back now I wish one of them had said “Would you like a moment alone to compose yourself” or “It’s ok to cry Emma” or even have offered me a tissue but instead it was excruciating, they were as embarrassed by my tears as I was.
So what changed? Well I have learnt some important lesson about tears; tears are healing; tears are a valid emotion; God values our tears. I have also learnt to control my tears and that’s no mean feat. In those early days I shared my frustrations first with my employers, which often resulted in tears and embarrassment. Over the years I have found a few trusted friends who I can share with and cry with. Friends who will listen and offer advice. When my tears are “spent” I am in a much better place to be able to speak to the Elders without the risk of tears.
Over the last few years I have also noticed that men are emotional beings too. They demonstrate their emotions differently perhaps, but I have come across many professional men who are unashamed to shed a tear. I bet they don’t get accused of being hormonal!!
Champions for Women
“We cannot always choose the hurdles we must overcome, but we can choose how we overcome them.” Carly Fiorina, Tough Choices
An inspirational woman to me is a lady called Sue Barnett. Sue has faced many hurdles as a woman in ministry but the way she handles them has taught me much. Sue grew up in a Brethren Church and has been a pioneering woman all her life. She is a gifted leader, author and international speaker. The first time a woman prayed out loud in our church it was Sue. Before she’d said Amen, a man of great standing in the church left the church in protest. At that time if a woman needed to share from the platform an Elder had to be on the platform with her. Sue didn’t get involved in the debate as to whether this was fair or unfair she just kept carrying on doing what she felt the Lord had asked her to do. She challenged the men through just being, through demonstrating a quiet, strong leadership. Sue started many outreach ministries in her living room at home. These ministries are still successfully running twenty years on now in our church building.
Women pray out loud all the time in our church now. Women preach in our church now without anyone storming out. I think this is because of Sue. She pioneered the way for us. Where I would have made a song and dance about the injustice of it all, Sue used the framework in place and year after year showed the church she was gifted by God, despite being a woman. Sue now speaks all over the world and is greatly respected for her leadership.
There is another champion for women who I’d like to honour, Clive
Burnard. Once a month the leaders from the churches in our town gather
for prayer and encouragement. The first time I attended this meeting
there were ten men and myself in attendance. I felt a bit out of place.
Clive called the meeting to order and welcomed everyone. He then said
“I particularly want to welcome Emma. It is exciting that Emma is the
first lady to join us as leaders and I am delighted to have a woman on
board.” He then asked me to open the meeting in prayer. I was elated.
Clive did in a few minutes what it would have taken me months to do; he
not only welcomed me but affirmed me as a woman in church leadership.
Six years later there are three ladies who attend these meetings.
Another area which women working in a male environment have to consider is their relationships with their colleague’s wives. Think about it, if you work full time for a church where the Pastor is a married man the chances are, you are going to see him more than his wife does in a working week! Therefore we need to honour and safeguard these relationships. Furthermore we need to be open and honest about the issues involved to prevent harm and misinterpretation of our actions.
We all know that affairs wreck lives, not just those of the people directly involved but of those who have been ministered to by them. Take the case of a youth pastor who left their wife and family to start a relationship with someone they worked with. The damage was far reaching. Teenagers in their youth group were left reeling and asking questions as to the validity of what their youth pastor had taught them over many years.
We all recognise that an unguarded working relationship can become unhealthy and detrimental to ministry and family life, not always sexually but more often perhaps, emotionally. How the enemy loves to come and wreck marriages and ministries and he does so subtly. There are no simple steps to follow to prevent emotional attachments forming but we are told to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves in these matters. I ask myself what could be done to prevent such incidents happening. Who could give advice and counsel to a Youth Pastor facing these dilemmas? What boundaries should be put into place?
I have found having accountable relationships with other women really helpful in keeping my relationships with male colleagues healthy. Regular times where I am able to be honest and be asked challenging questions about my relationships both at work and out of work. I have also found it important to spend time getting to know my colleagues’ partners and their children.
I am now thirty one and I know that gender alone cannot be a reason to deny me a job I feel called to do. I know that the Church needs both godly men and women to lead and to lead well; we continue to need men and women to pioneer the way to help the Church recognise the importance of male and female partnership in leadership. This is Biblical, necessary, exciting, challenging and rewarding.
Emma Darby, youth pastor, Twynham Church for the Community