Theology

Shared Leadership in Sacred Spaces

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Women were always prominent leaders in my life.

When I worshiped at church, I watched women serve as elders, pastors, preachers, and leaders. When I went home, I saw my parents share leadership of our family. When I went to school, I spent hours on the athletic fields watching women coach winning teams. If you were to take a quick inventory of my young adult life, you would discover a long list of brilliant and effective women leaders serving as my role models.

If you were to take a quick inventory of my young adult life, you would discover a long list of brilliant and effective women leaders serving as my role models. Click To Tweet

After serving on staff at my first church, I decided to attend seminary in my late twenties with a clear call to become a pastor. Thrilled to be starting this program, I plopped into the seat of my very first Greek class as another student leaned in to chat with me. “So, are you in the right class?” he asked. Panicked, I looked down at my schedule to confirm.

“Yes, this is Intro to New Testament Greek, right?” I asked.

“It is, but why are you taking it? You know women are not allowed to preach or teach, so why are you here?”

Class began before we could finish the conversation, but to this day, I have a vivid memory of sitting quietly in the middle of that bland, beige classroom. I remember feeling confused and sweaty, twisting my hands as I looked around and realized I was the only woman in that classroom.

Up to that day, I did not know. I did not know.

I did not know that people believed women could not lead a church. I did not know about the centuries-long debate over whether or not women should remain silent. I did not know what words such as “complementarian” or “egalitarian” meant. I did not know there was an army of churches set against women doing the exact thing I knew God was leading me to do. My only prior experience of church was that it was a place filled with men and women who led together. I eventually switched seminaries and would spend the next three years working through the intricacies of gender and the church.

I did not know there was an army of churches set against women doing the exact thing I knew God was leading me to do. My only prior experience of church was that it was a place filled with men and women who led together. Click To Tweet

When Shared Leadership Is Done Right

We can argue theology or light up Twitter, we can pull verses out of context and weaponize them in any direction we please. But most people are deeply entrenched in their position on this issue, so my aim here is not to convince naysayers that women can lead. I gave you a taste of my past to demonstrate what is indeed possible when we get shared leadership in the church right: women can grow up in the church and come out as leaders.

The reason I was able to so easily discern and respond to my call is in part because I spent the formative years of my life in a context where I saw women lead, in places where what mattered most was the voice of God speaking through people (without focusing on what gender that person was). So when God first nudged me to wonder, “Maybe I could serve people as a pastor?” there was no counter-narrative telling me that it was not possible because of my gender. I knew that if I were not able to lead, it would have been because I was arrogant or unfaithful, unprepared or unsteady—and not because I was a woman. That thought never, for even a flash of a second, crossed my mind.

The Power of Shared Leadership Stories

Knowing that the conversation around shared leadership can be dicey at best, we create an online event this past Friday where four ministry teams from across the country told their stories of shared leadership. We were joined by individuals, friends, ministry staff teams, and seminary classes who all came to learn about the joys and challenges of sharing leadership. Leading together as men and women is not easy; there is no simple formula for success. But there are places where shared leadership works beautifully, where the Spirit of God has blessed women and men to love a congregation of people well together. We wanted to know more about those places and to hear from those leaders.

Leading together is not easy; there is no simple formula for success. But there are places where shared leadership works beautifully, where the Spirit of God has blessed women and men to love a congregation of people well together. Click To Tweet

We shared a fruitful time, and our hope is that these stories continue to encourage those of you who are striving toward the goal of healthy shared leadership. We invite you to join us on this journey as we curate a series of events, cohorts, and online experiences in the coming year that will engage women and men in this important conversation. My hope is that more and more young girls raised in the church will hear God’s call to leadership and trust without a doubt that the call is for them.

If you missed our #ChurchTogether event, you can access the full 90-minute experience here.

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