The Real Cost of Female Leadership in Dollars (and Friends)

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Some of the first mail I received as lead pastor was from two supporting congregations informing me they’d no longer be supporting our ministry. As a campus ministry church we rely on outside support, so it was devastating news. The thought that something inherent to who I am had cost my congregation financially drills into my heart still.

I didn’t share this story with many people because I didn’t want to make it about me. But the memory (and the additional, ongoing financial burden it places on us) remains with me.

Relationship Divides

A few Sundays later I began to notice that one of my closest friends in the congregation wasn’t around as much. When I reached out to her, she didn’t return my calls. I knew her opinions on women in ministry and I had wondered how she’d respond to my new leadership role, but I thought surely we’d figure it out or at least have a conversation about it. It wasn’t until I bumped into her at the store that I saw there was a problem. Her obvious discomfort with me made me pretty sure there was something else going on, which was confirmed when she unfriended me on Facebook.

I don’t like to say “Being a female leader has cost me” because I don’t want to sound like a victim. I don’t want to make it about me, I don’t want pity. I can even see how this has stretched my faith. The reason I decided to talk about this is a practical one.

Being a female leader has its costs. @uccmandy Click To Tweet

Today as I look over what’s missing in the budget, as I look at who’s missing in the congregation I see real, ongoing ways that this divide costs me and my church. The pool of churches and friends I can reach out to for practical support and partnership is smaller because of who I am.

Quantifiable Costs

All pastors have to count the cost of pastoring. Furthermore, stepping into leadership costs women in real ways—because they’re women. And it may also cost the congregations they lead—in finances and attendance. If we measure ministry success in budgets and bodies, this may make us less likely to call women.

I don’t hold this against the churches and individuals who stepped back when I stepped up. I choose to believe it’s not personal but that these folks are living out their beliefs. If they are making hard choices out of their desire to be obedient to Scripture, I could never fault them. So I don’t write to complain about them. I write for one reason: to encourage those who are supportive of women in leadership to be truly supportive of women in leadership.

Calling Moredecais

In the Biblical story of Esther, Mordecai gave emotional and spiritual support when he called a woman to step into her calling. I’ve had several Mordecais, and without them I would not have had the courage to follow God into this work. If we truly want women to fulfill their calling and long for the church to be blessed by the unique kind of leadership women bring, what are willing to do? In addition to that emotional and spiritual help, how can we give practical support for the very measurable ways this work costs women and the churches they serve?

If you believe women should be called to leadership in the church, by all means read about it, and take part in conversations. But don’t let your support only be in theory. Don’t let this be only an opinion you hold, a cause you talk about on social media. Find practical ways to support the churches who take the risk to call women into mission. Find a congregation led by a woman (or which develops women in leadership) in your denomination or city and ask how you can support them.

Don't just theoretically support women in leadership. @uccmandy Click To Tweet

Reach out to a woman who is leading and let her know she’s not alone.


These are the sort of conversations we are looking to advance through the SheLeads Summit. We hope you’ll consider joining us in Pasadena or at 11 other regional venues across the country on Saturday, October, 28. Click the banner for more info.


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26 responses to “The Mission and GLBTQ Relations: Three Commitments of a “Welcoming and Mutually Transforming” Missional Community #1

  1. I dont think I want to say that giving up power is a power maneuver.
    But I do want to question if "giving up power" is the same thing as biblical submission. I'm not sure that it is. In biblical submission, one is not abandoning their power or pretending they don’t have it anymore, rather they are allowing their power to be put toward the good of another. We see this in how Jesus submitted to the Father – he still had the power to heal and command, but he wasn't grasping it for his own comfort.

    I'm usually suspicious of people who say they have given up their power, or that they don't have any power. What that usually means is that they are unaware of the power they still hold, and therefore can't manage it well toward the good of others. To say that you don’t have power is really just saying that you refuse to recognize and manage your power.

    If that got played out in a church, I would be very nervous for the vulnerable people in the situation because not only are they facing those with power, but they are facing those who refuse to acknowledge their power or manage it well – a far more precarious situation.

    1. Isn't that the point. Jesus submitted to the Father in the sense of Phil 2, and then in essence was used to accomplish the Father's will not out of His own earthly power, but out of the Triune activity of God by the Spirit. He divested of power (that was rightly his – again Phil 2) and in so doing entered the world humbly accomplishing nothing out of His own power, but in and through Him, God accomplished His work for the world.So I have to push back on your statement – "To say that you don’t have power is really just saying that you refuse to recognize and manage your power" – I would say the act of submitting one's power to the Lordship of Christ and in submitting to another in Christ, is both to recognize one's own human propensity to abuse and sieze power … and it is a refusal to be the final manager of that power.
      This way of power confounds, subverts and turns on its head the way the world exercises power. The world wants to keep clamouring and reaching for more power. Having said this, I admit, this "way" can be used as a tactic if there is not a community of confessional relational accountability, where everyone, especially charged leaders of a congregation, are not "willing to yield (James 3:17).
      Peace DF

      1. Jesus didn't cling to his power for his own sake. But it would be incorrect to say that Jesus had no power. He had power to heal, to teach, to draw people to himself – he wasn't doing these acts agaisnt hisown will, as if they were the Father's will only, and not his at all. Jesus retained power, he just harnessed it for the sake of others.
        When a leader says they have no power, they are not submitting to the community, they are putting a burden on it – asking them to manage the power of the leader in an "invisible" way.

        When leaders can name their power and be aware of it, they are able to put it to use in service of God and the vulnerable. When they can't, they are still using their power, but without awareness they can't manage it well – and even in a confessional, relational community abuse of unacknowledged power is a verry dangerous thing.

        I would much rather be led by someone who is aware of their power, but harnesses it in the way Jesus did – not by pretending it doesnt exist, but by using it for the benefit of others.

        1. Although this off the topic here, let me say that Jen, that I see you using power in a way I'm not, in fact, the way I see it, I think the very root problem is your description of power – power as something leaders can name and put to use … but, because we wondered off the topic here, can I suggest we can carry on this conversation elsewhere? Would that be alright?

          1. I think Jen is right. People who claim they have no power, or claim to not use their power aren't submitting to anything because in order to submit you have to have something with which to submit. A false humility is more hypocritical than out right pride. People who don't own their own power are much less likely to acknowledge their sin because they have convinced themselves that they didn't have any influence upon the situation.

  2. As you describe it, I do not believe it is a power play. This is how we have functioned at Little Flowers Community. However, I can see a dual risk that we face. On the one hand, I can see our community using such a practice to avoid ever addressing certain aspects of desire- that is, this approach could be used as a guise of faithfulness hiding an unwillingness to ask certain hard questions. On the other hand, this approach could be used as a guise for faithfulness while ultimately still perpetuating the same power dynamics of exclusion as are currently the norm.
    That being said, neither of these possibilities are inherent in what you are suggesting, but rather inherent in our own human sinfulness. So I fully affirming the direction you are suggesting, only citing how easily this approach could also be abused.

    1. Jamies, insightful, the dual risk is real … I have hope it can be avoided because the incarntational dynamic continually pushes us towards discerning the issues in our midst … thanks!

      1. I agree, which is why this only works in the context of the other aspects of ecclesiology, etc. that you have explored in other posts (and your book). This "approach" won't work without asking some fundamental questions about our presuppositions and practices. You've done this well here and elsewhere.

  3. David, nice post. I've been following this series with great eagerness.
    Honestly, I'm not sure how what you're saying squares with Paul. Specifically 2 Co 13:10 – "This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down." Clearly acknowledged authority (power?) put to use for the sake of the individual/community, not "given up" or divested. In fact, this is love. It is the love parents have for their children and put to use when regulating the household and engaging in acts of discipline. Right?

    So are you saying that as a pastor (pastoral team?) you UTTERLY don't use "power" in your relationships with those entrusted to your care. What if a person is abusive to their wife but wants to serve in X, Y, or Z capacity on Sundays? Do you let them? (No power?) Or do you use the authority God gave you for pointing out sin and preserving the body?

    My concern is that we avoid duplicity in our dealing with LGBTQ folks. It seems duplicitous to all of a sudden (with them) start claiming we have no power or are "laying down" all of our power with regard to them, when in fact with other things we might more readily acknowledge as sin, we are ready and willing to use it (rightfully so).

  4. Andrew,Can't go into it in detail here, but Paul models the use of authority as servant … in submission… in things like he not demanding a salary, instead working as a tent maker, not demanding, but putting his leadership out there … to be recognized and engaged in … sorry I don't have all the references handy and am in the middle of some things here at my work. But I'll cover em in detail here in future.
    None of this however assumes we do not exericse our authority in the giftedness that God has given. The power ios in Christ, the authority is exercised within a givenness of the community a a sphere of the Spirit (1 Cor 11). To note how this works communally .. see my post here – http://j.mp/aIMlZl – hope this helps. I know this model of authority is unsettling the normal ways of authority as conducted and concieved in the evangelical church.

    1. Agreed that it's unsettling, and no doubt Paul models "authority as service", etc etc. I'm a Yoderite and you and I are in substantial agreement on many things here. I'm just curious to see how the "philosophy" of WMT translates into a workable pastoral "convention" that leads people towards the truth of our sexuality in Christ and away from sin. What does it actually look like in practice? And is this intended to be a thoroughgoing way of dealing with our many "brokennesses", sexual and otherwise? If a person wants to meet with me b/c their issues with anger are getting the better of them, do I all of a sudden start confessing my sins with anger/contempt to them? Is that wise or even helpful to do? And if I'm having such struggles with anger/contempt, am I really the best person to be having this conversation with them?
      Forgive me if my comments are overly focused on the concrete. Just hoping to gain a few handles on how we actually make conversations such as this work…


  5. Is the very giving up of power a power maneuver?
    This question brought a wry smile, as I have occasionally run across similar questions arising from the language of bondage and dominance. Is a person’s “submission” to the “control” of another actually a form of controlling the controller? I’ll leave all that alone, as I think the question and comments about power here are more relevant at the moment.

    It seems to me that the term “power” often ends up being limited in its application to situations focused on social and political power, when in fact, it’s far more complex than that (in my opinion, at least).

    I process information in paradoxes and fractals, so I see socio-political power as a sort of external and corporate expression of a parallel internal and individual process – that of self-protection. This kind of self-protection involves all aspects of our being, and that is why it is so difficult to break through. It relies on:

    * Intellectual denial of the truth that we are all sinners and that God has no “skyscrapers of sin” – it’s all a flatline horizon of death and debt – and we all need the transforming power of the gospel.

    * Emotional self-deception that refuses the painful reality that we, too, have a problem with brokenness in our gender/sexuality to deal with (which EVERY person does, to a greater or lesser degree, even if they/we don’t feel like dealing with it).

    * Relational posturing in ways that puff us up to appear superior. We inflate our self-importance while we deny the ultimate humanity of others, such as through negating their entire being by overfocusing on one aspect of their behavior or through denigrating their responsibility for their own lifestyle decisions by marginalizing their social status.

    * Super-spiritualizing the situation, where we select particular verses that support our view while practicing selective reading that ignores passages that identify our own problems and forms of brokenness.

    So, self-protection turned inside out in power plays creates some form of self-promotion for a group that also “protects” self … toxic … vain imaginings.

    But, when we adapt a “welcoming and transforming” stance and truly work to integrate into all aspects of personal and social life, we choose to break the mental, imaginational, emotional, social, etceteral systems that perpetuate a toxic overpowering of others. Seems to me the WTM stance requires continual attitudes of personal repentance, corporate repentance, and relational perseverance. Maybe that means humility and meekness – power under control – are at the polar opposite end of the power scale from the proud and misused kinds …

    P.S. My favorite quote on power comes from Frank Herbert, the author of *Dune.* To paraphrase, “It’s not that power corrupts, but that power is a magnet that draws the corruptible.” So, I’d suggest if we work at multiple levels of our being to reverse personal and social corruption, we are transforming the problem of power.

  6. If I understand the question to be one posed to the GLBTQ context, and acknowledging that your next post will likely address this question directly, approaching a group that apparently has felt powerless for so long and asking them to now release what remaining power he/she/they may have to define for themselves what is appropriate, even to a group that features a flattened authority structure and is avowedly seeking mutual transformation, may seem like a situation fraught with power. “This is not to say apriori that all our desires are corrupt and inappropriately ordered. It merely acknowledges that there are desires in our lives that are broken and in need of healing, and we do not always know which ones these might be.” Maybe a quibble, but a priori aren’t all of our desires corrupt because they are not appropriately ordered? By asking that seemingly simple question, an element of power comes into play as it assumes there is an answer to what is appropriate and what is not. Even by pointing to Christ is setting forth potential answers to that question, and stating the table is flat raises issues not only of credibility (at least to the one who is releasing power) but also of a concern as to when will the power emerge and by whom from those sitting around the table. From what I gather from the earlier posts the question isn't whether we have power or whether we legitimately give it up but its do we use it within the appropriate bounds.

  7. As you have presented it and as I understand it, the WMT posture is not a power play. An honest recognition that we all come to the community messed up moves us from trying to manipulate someone's sexuality to our own version of sexuality. It submits myself and my sexuality to Christ and invites others to join me in the pursuit.
    However, I can see there will be some who try to use the WMT posture as an attractional tool to win over gay/lesbian individuals to being straight through Jesus. They'll go through the motions of what you've described, but the real motive will be to change others' sexuality. At this point it ceases to be WMT as you've described it.

  8. Our brokeness humbles and unites us in our need for Christ and must continue to be our confession. I agree with Craig obove on your question. It can be perceived/misperceived as such, especially if it is merely an "attractional tool" which can then be deceiving as well. However, I think power is something we who are the body of Christ are given. The Gospel is power, the descent of the Dove comes in power, preaching and healing are done in power, etc. That to me is the struggle we face. The misuse of power by the church and in our world today (not to mention each of us individually) has made us reluctant to relate with power and love to a lost and hurting world. We need to repent and forfeit many "power plays" that are being used today in the church, and, we need to recover the paradoxical definition and expressions of power in the Gospel.

  9. I'm not a missional person, so I lack the background necessary to appreciate all the tensions felt by participants in this debate. (I'm an Anglican, which is to say that I have no idea what I am at present.) But I still can't wrap my mind around how the WMT approach would play out in real life. It feels to me like a duplicitous approach: One believes there is a standard for sexual morality (otherwise, how could one confess to being broken?), but one is agreeing to set aside all rights? all ability? to interpret that standard in hopes of getting GLBTQ individuals to engage in deeper dialog. At some point in that dialog, though, is one not going to return to the question of just what is the standard for human sexuality? Or is the WMT approach a tacit agreement to never return to that conversation?Isn't it easier to state up front what one understands the standard for human sexuality to be and then agree to engage in respectful dialog with people who have a completely different understanding? Maybe you will never come to a meeting of the minds, but at least you are being frank up front about what your a priori assumptions are. I'm using the power I have to interpret the standard for human sexuality to the best of my ability; I am allowing others to use the power they have to make what are to them equally valid interpretations. If we're not able to engage in civil dialog, the difficulty is not with our sexuality but our civility.
    Or am I completely missing the point here?

    1. Ugh … I think the whole issue here with me, which I hope to make clearer in the next post, is that we don't know what we are affirming by simply making statements on sexual standards for/against same sex relations. "Heterosexual" says minimally what Christians believe about sex, or what God is calling us into … in fact this is the whole problem with evangelical pronouncements. We simply don't know what we mean when we advocate for chastity, or hetersexuality. So for sure, as again I hope to clarify, there is historically embodied wisdom of the sexual redemption made possible in Christ that we must not desert. I suggest this wisdom in Scripture and Christ which rejects same sex relations is aboit much more than the simple prohibition. Indeed the prohibition all by itself might miss the point. Communicating it, living it, embodying that redemption in a world of sexual confusion or at the very least a lack of broad cultural consensus, requires we inhabit and relate and engage humbly from who we are in Christ.When missionaries went into some parts of Africa, they encountered the regular practice of polygamy. They found that the worst approach for the witness of the gospel was to pronounce "no polygamy" without some serious engagement of the social forces and impact and embodied translation of what the Christian call to celibacy and monogamy was all about … in the process of engaging this issue over many years, there were many things that the missionaries did not even realize and in fact learned about the full implications of the Christian call to faithfulness within monogamy … This in no way denied the Christian norm of monogamy, it just meant communicating the depths of the wisdom of this norm made possible in Christ, took a humble posture of witness and learning as well.
      In some ways, the situation is the same within the culture that has become America … for I do not even believe many know or understand what GLBTQ … might mean ?…even those who claim the label – How then do we deny it or affirm it? I hope to show that even for those who would "welcome and affirm" GLBTQ, it would almost be impossible to define what that would mean.

  10. I think this is really good. As others have said, the difference b/n a power play and whatever change may happen through authentic interaction is love, which is a case by case, day by day pursuit.
    A good friend of mine had a double life exposed a few years ago. He (a PK) was married with two kids for about a decade when it came out that he had been seeing several different women for almost the entirety of his marriage. He had led worship for his church. My point for this discussion is that just before it all came out, I had been reading a lot about addiction and God had me realizing how many idolatrous relationships I had with all kinds of things and people, and the multitude of motives that led me there. Now, almost all of my addictions are socially acceptable, so they lack the shock and awe of, say, a double life. But I was convinced that my personal strategy of choosing a diversity of acceptable idols didn't make them or me any more holy. My friend asked me at one point early on how I wasn't just appalled at him and just rejecting him out of hand. I told him that when I looked at him, I saw myself, which was the truth. There's more, a lot more, to this story, but I know that part of this discussion is that when evangelicals see someone who identifies as GLBTQ, far too few see themselves and their own brokeness, sexual or otherwise. That's part of what I see in Dave's "We all come broken" point.

  11. When I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get four emails using the exact same comment. Is there any way you can eliminate me from that service? Thanks!

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