You can grow up to be anything you want to be.
There are no limits to what you can do.
These are the kinds of messages many of us parents communicate to our little girls – and little boys too. I’m less sure these days that any one of us is without limits, that we actually can do or be anything we desire. But we mean well in our attempts to show great belief in the potential of our daughters.
By the age of 7, my younger daughter already aspired to become the first woman President. Females currently exceed males in going to college. Young women are riding a cultural shift that has made space for them in new arenas, from board rooms to the military to athletic fields. The landscape for opportunity has opened up dramatically in the past 50 years.
But what happens when a young woman feels called to serve as a key leader in a local church? What if her gifts include teaching from the pulpit and casting vision, and maybe even serving as the Senior Pastor? The answer to that question largely depends on the kind of church she seeks to lead. The Barna Group recently released significant findings in a fascinating study titled State of Pastors, which also led to a more focused look at What Americans Think About Women in Power. I had the opportunity to speak with Roxanne Stone, Editor-in-Chief at Barna, about some of the revelations in this significant research.
One statistic stood out to me more than all the others. The Barna Group asked people how comfortable they would be with a woman in a Pastor/Pulpit role. The response of Americans overall showed that 84% of women and 75% of men would be comfortable. But when you look at a subset of those who are among the Evangelical group, there is a huge drop to only 39%. Clearly there is more of a glass ceiling for women in leadership when it comes to evangelical churches. What contributes to the limitations and barriers for women is a combination of theology, tradition, and just plain comfort level. All of us are influenced by what we are familiar with, by what we assume Scripture teaches, and simply by what “feels right.”
Women who find themselves in positions of high responsibility in the church can feel conflicted, or at the least, very alone. My own experience as somewhat of a pioneer in an evangelical church propelled me to seek relationships with other women who were facing similar challenges – both inside and outside of my own local church. In my network of relationships, I have seen a lot of fear and insecurity with both men and women who are wrestling with how to navigate these tricky waters. Roxanne Stone suggested to me that the way forward is most likely marked by small steps, one-on-one conversations with people who are willing to dialogue about the issue and seek understanding. Stone believes that progress will be incremental– one relationship and one church community at a time willing to explore the tension and forge a path ahead that will ennoble and empower women to bring their full gifts and voice to the table.
In an effort to help women feel less alone on their leadership journey, the Slingshot Group is sponsoring an experience that we call Coaching Circles. I will bring together a gathering of 10-12 women who will meet in person for two retreats and open our lives to one another. In-between those retreats, we will engage in both individual and group coaching calls, with me speaking into their specific leadership situations. The two Coaching Circles opportunities I am launching in April 2017 are almost full. Clearly, there is a big need for this kind of connection and sharpening.
My own daughters are now in their 20’s, finding their way as artists and leaders. If they ever desire to lead in the local church, my hope is that the doors would be open should God lead them in that direction. I long for them and other young women to consider investing their one and only life in helping to build a redemptive community of faith. The ceiling may be easier to crack in the corporate world, academia, or other arenas, but we need the minds, hearts, emotional intelligence and relational skills of young women in the church if we are going to see the Kingdom reach its full expression and potential. As for me, I will keep urging young women to dream God-centered dreams that will call out their very best. And I will remind them that they do not have to take the journey alone.
To learn more about Coaching Circles, please check out our website and apply. I look forward with great anticipation to helping you navigate the challenges that accompany your leadership dreams with confidence.
Learn more about Nancy’s 2017 Coaching Circles experience at coaching-circles.com