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« Medals and championships | Main | How to conduct a gender audit »

September 20, 2009


Shannon Hopkins

I was a church planter in Texas (of all places to church plant as a woman) in the late 90's and I have been involved in mission leadership for 11 years. Often I think the emerging church and new forms is a harder context for women b/c it can seem like a boys club. However I think the real issue is that Women do things differently.. I think we tend to lead through teams, I think we share the stage more and often what we are pioneering in mission/ church is just one part of what we are doing. I also think we more readily minimize what we are doing and speak to the flaws rather than the successes.


From what I have seen with women and pioneering it is very much that women just get on and do it. Like Shannon says often in teams and smaller groups and very often just not recogised.
I know not just in church but with family and education it is women who get on and do and support and make things happen, though often it then has to be oked by some man and he gets to do that platform stuff as the women are just too busy doing

Pam Smith

I agree Shannon, for whatever reasons women tend to do things more collaboratively, and it's harder to identify the 'leader' in a collaborative set up. While a 'mutual' style of leadership is often culturally appropriate, it also tends to be invisible.

I also think the tendency in emerging church/fresh expressions is to shy away from designating one leader but saying the leadership is diffused through a group. So when someone is needed to speak for the group, who will be seen as the 'leader' outside, it may well be a male voice that is heard. This may not be men pushing forward but women stepping back, because there is still this culture in our society where women are embarrassed to be seen as putting themselves forward.

It's also about who is defining 'leaders'. The problem with fluid set ups where no-one is a designated leader is that unless there is a very good decision making process in place, decision making tends to be done by consensus, which in my experience can mean the most persistent and loudest voice will tend to win out. Again, for cultural reasons, this is unlikely to be a female voice - and again, this is often because women themselves often will not engage in that way, not because they are being deliberately pushed aside. I've completely withdrawn from leadership groups in the past because I felt I had better thing to do than argue every point ten times - and I have never been accused of lacking assertiveness.

There's also the issues, especially nowadays when self-publicity has never been easier, of PR. It takes time, energy and self confidence. The person who gets asked to conferences etc may not have much to do with the day to day leadership of a project but can be the person who has the highest PR profile. I suspect allocating time to raising your own profile may also sit more easily with our cultural norms for men than for women.

For example, the most prominent bloggers in the Christian blogging scene tend to be men, who are therefore seen as 'leaders' regardless of the quality of what they're doing.

As the Tao Te Ching says (v 17):

The best leaders are those the people hardly know exist.
The next best is a leader who is loved and praised.
Next comes the one who is feared.
The worst one is the leader that is despised.

If you don't trust the people,
they will become untrustworthy.

The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly.
When she has accomplished her task,
the people say, "Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!"

- though maybe this is not a relevant quote for talking about Christian leadership, but it does sum up why effective leaders in emerging church contexts may be invisible! :D


Interesting coversation topic and a huge passion of mine!

From my experience many of the women I know wouldnt consider themselves as "leaders" or "planters" more as people who in the words of a friend "do life with others" in my eyes they are indeed pioneers, planters, leaders, disciplers and much more as and when needed. However the simplicity in their approaches, the humility they possess and more importantly their lack of backing by a recognised denomination often leads to them blending into the background whilst "profession employed to create an emerging culture" take the centre stage.

Small rant over I am pleased that we are engaging in this, if your a fellow woman "doing real life with people" speak up!


Great conversation and comments. I am not a church planter myself but on a more practical note, I wonder whether Mission 21 has childcare facilities?... If it doesn't this may be a barrier for some.

Claire Farley

In a slightly brave move I will state that I think I am a pioneer when it comes to church based youth work. I came to my first youth work role through frustration at the state of the youth ministry and built it up into a fairly sound structure which provided paths in and through to adult discipleship. I took my current job because I saw the potential of the church and have seen even faster development in the 18 months since I arrived than in the 7 years I spent in my previous role. I think God uses me as a high energy start up link in a chain of developing youth ministry. Anyone else see this in themselves? Go on be brave.

Jo Fitzsimmons

Enjoyed reading this conversation - thanks ladies!
I'm currently Church planting in Birmingham with my husband with Urban Expression. As an movement there are many women in leadership in UE, the large majority quietly getting on with it in a local setting. And i agree it an earlier comment that there are women doing this but perhaps just not as forth coming.
The child care issue is interesting also, because the 'events' that are held around the Church planting issues do not have childcare and therfore it often limits us mums. However the Urban Expression gatherings have childcare for all ages! Horah!
Maybe the biggest pioneering move we can make as women is addressing the childcare facilities at all Christian gatherings! Now there's a revolution waiting to happen! I wanted to attend a large national conference when my daughter was about a year old, on enquiring if i could take her to a session with me, i was told she'd be removed if she made any noise - a paradox when this conference was about inclusion of women!!! Maybe the Church planting movement, which has many women, will be the catalysist for change?

james hawes

Just making a point about childcare... it is assumed in Jo's comment that childcare is the womens work, and that women should automatically miss a session, programme rather then the man. Is this assumption about women naturally look after the kids one of the reasons why more women are not seen in the pioneer/ leader role?


Thanks for all your comments - all great observations. Pam, your comments about women not putting themselves forward and colluding with the cultural norms are really important - I think it can be tempting to paint ourselves as victims when perhaps we need to take more responsibility for our own growth. Gems, you highlight a really important point about who we value and why - only those who have a title and books to their name or those who are just getting on and doing the work. I think Christians can be as much in thrall to celebrity as anyone, when surely we should be more counter-cultural.


Wow, I'm so pleased to read and take part in this discussion!

From my own experience, many of the men in leadership of 'conservative' churches are extremely uncomfortable working with women leaders, especially if they are below the age of 50 and not in a catering or childcare role. I have been in churches that still do not allow women to minister, and others where they say 'the right things' but there still aren't any women visible in the structures.

(Btw, WTC have just started a part-time cert in Kingdom Theology which is very low cost and accessible and includes a lot of leadership and ministry training.)

I think we often tend not to tackle it or fight it head on because no-one wants to be divisive and at the end of the day we want to get the job done that we see needs doing, so we maybe circumvent it and so it never gets addressed in some churches.

I also see that mentoring and development still often take place in a 'lads together' atmosphere that women can't access very easily and so confidence and development are slower. The courses you are running are a literal Godsend and I will be accessing some soon.

Thanks for doing this, it is a very practical and helpful site for us girls. I set up and run several mission projects.

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