Imagine your god-daughter heads off to University and joins a student friendly large Anglican church. Or perhaps the girl you’ve always admired in the youth group moves to a big city and joins the well known church you recommended to her for the courses they run. What will they have in common? Well If it’s a ‘larger’ church with 350 or more people then they’ll almost certainly be run by a man.
At a time when over 50% of archdeacon appointments and 40% of Bishop appointments have been women, I’d be gobsmacked if many of the currently advertised larger charismatic churches end up appointing a female incumbent. Only three of the churches with more than 350 adults currently do. So what’s going on?
Supply and demand
These male led larger churches are fantastic at producing ordained vocations among young adults. Unsurprisingly 78% of young vocations are male. (About 73% if you include those selected in their Twenties and thirties combined). If you’re looking for a safe-ish forty something year old incumbent with one/ two previous vicar jobs experience the talent pool is looks very male to start with.
Although HTB (here 2014) and New Wine (c. 2007 John/Anne Coles referenced here and here) have both (eventually) publicly affirmed women’s ordained ministry the modelling of ministry is massively male. Although many/most of the larger churches are presented as being co-led by a couple in ministry, it is usually the man who has the theological training, title and ordination.
Despite pronouncements from the leaders of NW and more tempered ones from HTB, these gathered churches are often a multidenominational eclectic mix. For the sake of some who may still be opposed to women in overall leadership, it may be felt safer not to appoint a female incumbent. When leadership has always been modelled as male, (and often alpha male), it can be hard to conceptualise an alternative way of doing things.
Some of the key evangelical churches in the CoE are very much influenced by evangelical patronage trustees. A little bit of reflexivity about the male, stale, make up of these boards is long overdue.
The Student Issue – how we filter out potential women leaders early on and the time lag it takes to redress the balance…
When I was at University Bob was (IMHO) the outstanding leader of my student generation. Her real name was Barbara. She held together diverse and opinionated young adults in a college format, and had an exemplary role collegially leading a Christian Union bigger than 99.8% of Anglican Churches today. All this when she was 20-22 years of age.
Then there was Anna and Ruth who ended up serving God in tough situations in the UK and abroad. I remember sitting with these girls over a meal discussing women in leadership. They each belonged to church circles where women’s leadership and teaching gifts weren’t nurtured and were decidedly happy with the status quo and humbly willing to serve in a system that precluded them from using many of their evident gifts.
All of our church leaders in student churches were men, and women were barred from the presidency of the Christian Union. There was even discussing about banning the internationally renowned missionary Jackie Pullinger from speaking at our 500 strong Saturday evening meeting.
In the post-Fusion world the student scene has changed considerably but still in these ecumenical/parachurch settings there are considerable strong voices that squash and silence the development of young women in their preaching, teaching and oversight ministry. Many of the ordained women I spoke to in my study who had got ordained later in life had taken up to 20 years to rebound from this sort of teaching to get to the place where they were clear that they were called to step up to ordained leadership. They admired the churches and visionary leadership that they came under in those student years. They were often the churches full of life, and other young adults. But they were also churches that chose not to grow them in their ministry at that time. One lovely exception noted was Michael Green at St Aldates Oxford who helped some impressive women clergy to get going in their student days through his encouragement and mentoring.
Not upsetting the minority
Most Anglican evangelical churches will draw together an eclectic mix of denominational backgrounds in their pews and PCCs. If the fear was that 10-20% might not want a woman vicar the cautious tendency might be to avoid that appointment that might impact of numbers and giving. In practice there are countless examples of intransigent campaigners against women in ministry who are turned around 180 degrees when they start to experience that ministry. But it is often perceived as safer to appoint women to the auxiliary roles in a large staff team (associate/ curate). I remember a parish rep confiding in me ‘I don’t know if we’re ready for a woman [incumbent] yet’, despite the fact that his church had been very successfully led by a woman through the interregnum.
Invite me to apply
Anything verging on a gender stereotype is heavily contested and controversial but there is some evidence that if a parish profile is daunting (some) men will look at it and go ‘I can do most of that’, whereas (some) women will look at it and go ‘that’s not for me’. The suggestion here, picked up by Rosie Ward in her Growing Women Leaders book is that women need encouragement to apply. Just today I had a conversation with a talented clergywoman who said she might not apply for a job that she is eminently qualified for as she wasn’t sure about the current quality of her devotional life. That sort of humility perhaps should be considered an asset, rather than an impediment to ministry (assuming she is continuing to work on her devotional life!)
Is there an argument that women are less ambitious in church ministry (or that their ambition is less likely to be mono-focused)? All these years after the women have been ordained it’s hard to point to examples of churches that have grown prolifically under a female incumbent. Most of the headline leaders of the large New Wine / HTB churches “grew their own churches” – albeit, almost without exception, added and abetted by a ministerial proficient wife. Many of the interviews with female clergy with a family suggest that they have a more rounded perspective on family life and priorities than some of the men, particularly in a previous generation, who worked all hours to grow a church, while their wife raised the kids, ran the home and built up several church ministries at the same time. The number of husbands willing to do the same thing (think about the kids constantly, serve hidden in the background, keep the home) seems anecdotally few and far between. And female clergy are divided on whether they would want that role from their man anyway. Ambition may be no less high than men, but perhaps for many that ambition is likely to be worked out through family as much as through work. This may also have a factor in the jobs that women apply for. Some are more likely to look for manageable sized job that can be fit around child responsibilities.
If/when that’s true is it a bad thing for the church?
A thousand times no! See my post on motherhood and ministry for more. Experiences gathered around bringing up a family can be a thousand times more useful in ministry than sitting on another dull trustee board that might be seen as valid experience to ‘further a career’. Training and teaching a child to read and write (discipling) can be a thousand times more valid than popping out yet another paperback pamphlet with a limited print run that almost no-one will read but looks good on a ministerial CV. Evangelism at the school gate, children’s parties and church based activities can be a thousand times more fruitful in ministerial development than being the chaplain to the converted – a role that is easy to slip into as an unintentional, busy vicar. Of course this works for men as well employing a blended ministry.
Mentoring and Selection:
Leaders of larger churches need to be intentional in giving significant ministerial opportunities to younger women, and promoting an ordination route for them. This includes preaching opportunities. Experience suggests some of the best young women candidates will only emerge if you actively recruit them rather than wait for them to come to you. This needs to start from the youth work onwards. Last year we had a 15 year old girl preach and she shone.
We need to understand that if the senior leadership is currently male they are not starting from a level playing field as the young men. Most of the modelling will have been male. You need to counter that. Like Michael Green at St Aldate’s find ways to take women on team for mission trips, involve them in leadership at all levels and invest in them. If a woman has been called to ministry it seems eventually that calling will come out. If that involves a 20 year time-lag and a journey away from evangelical theology to find space to outwork her calling because she got no encouragement from you then that’s on your head. Deal with it.
Overall there is gender equality in the number of vocations to ordained ministry. The fact that there is a twenty year time-lag for many women coming forward most likely means we are missing some of the most dynamic years of service those women might offer. That is a tragedy for the church.
Parish Reps need to have courage of conviction. The best person for the job is the best person for the job. Do not make appointments out of fear. If God is in it he will validate the appointment whether that’s a young inexperienced man with the allegedly ideal young family, or a back to work woman vicar with lots of life experience.
Bishops and Archdeacons probably already do, but should certainly, actively review the biases and blindspots of patronage committees. If they fear that ‘patronage dinosaurs’ are filtering out women, or not giving appropriate credit for other life experiences that might otherwise be dismissed as a gap on the CV they should name that and call it out.
One of the most prominent HTB church planters recently said to me he couldn’t find many women in the congregation willing to preach. This despite a social make up with loads of talented young women to choose from. If the charismatic world is going to remedy this crisis there’s going to need to be a lot more intentionality than that. We need conference speakers who are on platform in their own right (not spouse of). We need stories of ministerial ‘success’ that are more integrated into the rest of life working too. We need to take a lot of risks and allow people to speak with their voice and their style to people just like them. On my Alpha table this term the women there wondered why the only pre-recorded talks they had heard a woman do was on ‘how to resist evil’! They’d missed the excellent previous one we had also shown, but they were clearly wanting to hear the gospel from a woman’s voice and perspective too. While academics may dispute if gender even exists, (in Durham theology they are talking about 7 genders at the mo!) for most people it is a reality. We need male and female voices representing the God who surpasses gender. The crisis we are facing is of our own making. Let’s remedy it now.
This blog post is part one of a series of posts outlining the results of research conducted in 2015. This involved extensive semi-structured interviews of key gatekeepers to ordained ministry, open questions on a Facebook forum for ordained women, a literature review and a survey of those exploring/training for ordained ministry in the Diocese of London.
Let me add an interesting point. From the Wikipedia entry for Eric “Bash” Nash, who was responsible for bringing many of today’s evangelical leaders to faith, including John Coles.
“Some have noted that Nash created an “oddly male, oddly elitist, and oddly simplistic world.” In 1969, it could be said that much of the leadership of the British Evangelical Church had been Bash campers. King goes on to say that in order to understand the Evangelical mind, therefore, it was necessary to understand the “Bash camp” mind”
I think that’s a very pertinent and valid observation, which describes evangelicalism very well. Many evangelical leaders are Oxbridge educated and upper-middle class, and their culture has traditionally seen leadership as male.
BUT, at least we should be thankful that charismatics are open to female clergy and have not constructed a theology to exclude women from leadership, unlike the conservative evangelicals. It’s also worth noting that Soul Survivor (effectively the youth wing of New Wine) has run a few conferences under the title “Equal” to promote and support women leaders.
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Bash himself (d. 1982) wasn’t an Oxbridge graduate, and didn’t even go to quite the kind of school he aspired to be influential in. His ministry did touch a chord, but that was then and this is now: it’s really no use blaming him for where evangelical leaders are at today.
Thank you for this, I hope you get lots of engagement and replies. I will also reply on Pete’s FB post
As a Anglo-Catholic Charismatic (I will shorten to Cathomatic following +Paul Bayes) I think we are seeing more female leaders take more senior and responsible posts. Although we don’t have the ‘big’ churches in the same way I know of a number of Cathomatic female leaders in cathedrals and minister style churches.
There is certainly less expectation in our expression of husband / wife teams. My wife and I are both in full time ministry in different churches (denominations!) and this is not unusual. We do minister together at times but it is exception rather than rule.
Cathomatic’s have had to be clearly on one side of the fence or the other on the issue of ordained women due to our sacramental theology. So the majority of parishes are clearly either in favour of ordained women or not.
Cathomatic parishes are smaller. We only seat 150 and are growing to fill our building, running Alpha, looking at new expressions in the wider community. I am not arguing that big churches are a bad thing (Soul Survivor are my neighbours and friends) , but that there is a different more accessible and manageable culture of success.
As a networker within Cathomatic circles I see a number of charismatic ordained young women showing an interest in our expression of church. This is partially because of an interest in the sacramental and an awareness of the wider (Roman) catholic charismatic movement (through ++Justin and Alpha), but also I suspect because of the opportunities and models found in the movement.
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I’m going to leave a very detailed reply here because of my experience in a different denomination from the CofE.. I have been turned down for formal ordination twice in a more conservative setting where some churches are flourishing but many are very small and some are dying. I was told that I am too soft-hearted. I am told that I would not cope with the rigours of leading people who might all be against you. I am told that
Yet I have led, do lead and continue to pioneer new teams. I pastor my team. I reach out to the hurting. I am theologically trained and teach and preach in the limited situations where I am invited to. I have been affirmed hugely by two male senior ministers who have afforded me every opportunity to lead, have written numerous references for me and even put themselves on the line at times to affirm my call to ministry. Yet they have had to sadly admit that I am being measured against a ‘male’ set of characteristics that does not allow room for tender heartedness. One of them even wrote a letter to the denominational leaders to ask questions and did not receive a reply. So I am left now not knowing where to turn. Having been rejected twice I cannot face that rejection again. The call to ministry keeps me awake at night and I am outworking it the best way I know how, without the support the males in my denomination have. It breaks my heart yet if I am to talk about it then I am viewed as having ‘issues’ or ‘unforgiveness’. What am I to do? If you feel moved to pray, please do.
Sorry to hear your story. Understanding leadership can be well exercised in different ways to the style we model is a hard step for most leaders. But it is important. Are you called more to ordination or more to your role in your denomination?
It reads to me as if s/he’s called to lead & serve. There’s more ‘shape’ than just pastor-teacher and some of the difficulties people seeking ordination face is that they are square pegs going into round holes ….some denominations only recognise the traditional ‘one person does everything’ model. Trouble is, we often only offer ministry support, training & funding to the round holes people when the reality is we need the square pegs to bring fresh thinking and new models of ministry irrespective of their gender.
Thank you for all of your work on this subject and your obvious concern that women do not miss out on all that God has for them.
I was interested that in your article there wasn’t an engagement with the relevant scriptural passages? Is that because in your circles these passages have already been explained to mean something other than the understanding that I have come to? I thought that the exegesis of these Bible verse were the main reason for objections to female leadership in the church, rather than cultural conditions around it.
Perhaps this article wasn’t considered the place for discussion of the texts as conclusive interpretations have already been reached by the author and their churches?
Thank you again for a clear and accurate article. I’m praying that I can understand your position better as a fellow brother/sister in Christ.
Thanks for the comment. The point of the article was to point out the continuing gap within churches where we say that we support women in ministry, but haven’t yet fully realised the possibilities that that will bring. It’s a very different article to go through the scripture reasons back in this which I’d love to do sometime
Rev Ann Mclaurin leads, St Barnabas in Cambridge and is doing a great job, having been assistant at St Thomas Philiadelphia, in Sheffield. So there is a role-model out there, both of these churches have many students and are broadly of the style of church you mention.
But this is a problem.
I lead a church of this style and of 5 ordained leaders, 2 are female. I have a gifted ministerial spouse, who hates the idea of ordination, much as we both have antipathy towards the model of vicar and wife we are offered.
Our exploration of ordination group is roughly 50:50, over the past couple of years 2 couples have gone forward for ordination. One couple are now completing their curacy and the others are still in training. The future is looking better, but it might be some time coming.
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I don’t think it is reasonable to assert that these churches have a “crisis of leadership”? Unless it’s just that you mean that you dont like the gender mix, In reality, their leadership seems to be doing a good job; they are well run; they are encouraging everyone to engage in ministry and leadership; and they are thriving compared to most on-message liberal churches.
BTW Have you checked leadership of the largest liberal CofE churches? I looked at the largest churches in the Episcopal Church USA ten or so years ago – that paragon of liberal virtues – and guess what, I only found one or two of the top forty(ish) churches whose leader was a women (though some only gave an initial so it wasnt possible to know their gender).
Well my large-ish “liberal paragon” (we’re actually very middle-of-the-road—but maybe not on an HTB scale!) Episcopal parish is on its second consecutive rector-who-happens-to-be-female. “We ain’t what we oughta be, but [also] we ain’t what we was” (even 10 years ago. FWIW, we’re coming up on the 10 year anniversary of the election of our first female Primate. Don’t see THAT happening any time soon in the CofE!)
I’d simply add to this that when I was archdeacon in an archdeaconry with 6 churches in the 350+ bracket – only two of which were charismatic evangelical, and all of which were enthusiastically supportive of the ministry and leadership of ordained women – we found that women candidates rarely applied, despite encouragement.
I’ve led two “Open Catholic” churches in the 350+ bracket (including my current post) where people have been immensely supportive of the ministry and leadership of ordained women but that has failed to cash out in recruitment processes. Indeed the key leadership team I inherited here is all male, for the first time in my 28 years of ordained ministry.
There are some deeper paradigms that need shifting….!
Indeed I remember being in a liberal Catholic context where an outstanding female applicant (now in a very senior church position) was deliberately ignored by parish reps for the most senior role in the team despite the fact that many of the other clergy were women… It must be tough to keep putting yourself out there to apply for things if you sense that what seem to be the most prominent or interesting jobs will be very picky on a gender basis
Just a word from another perspective, having worked on uccf staff for 5 years in the uk and ifes abroad, I personally don’t know a movement doing more to train and nurture women into ministry than uccf. On the London staff team I was part of for 5 years, blokes were always in the minority. At one point I was the only male in a team of 9. Now I must say, we didn’t always see eye to eye on theological matters – ironically, some of the most exceptional women on the london team were in church traditions who taught that women oughtn’t be preaching the gospel, and felt disqualified in ways I longed for them not to be. But there’s some terrific movements raising european evangelists (e.g. the FEUER movement initiated by Michael Green, with Ann and Lindsay Brown) doing great work. If you look around the UK UCCF teams you’ll find, as I did, some of the most gifted, godly, gracious and evangelistically adventurous people I have ever come across, with deeper training, opportunity and ministry experience than they’d be afforded in many churches. And most of them are women.
I grieve the crap that the church has taught and normalised about gender, as I grieve the crap that everybody else in society has normalised. I genuinely *can’t believe* some of the crap that women ordinands I know have been told by so-called ministers of the gospel. E.g. “you might lead me astray…” or that “1 timothy 2 means that “women are more prone to deception”. For heaven’s sake… And I know some people have had screwey experiences of student christianity, and especially CUs, but I just wanted to say that (a) the caricatures that often come out about wife-beating christian union baby eaters have just not been true to my experience. Even back when I was a student in bristol 2001-5, the mission which set a benchmark for the next 10 years’ outreach was with amy orr ewing leading the mission. (b) 19 year olds are 19 and usually just need to get over themselves – we used to have a saying on UCCF staff, that “people who don’t take the living god seriously take themsevles far too seriously”. If only that was only true of 19 year olds…
grace to you, and all power to your elbow,
Thanks Chris, great perspective and wonderful to hear about the continued discipleship work at UCCF which both my wife and I benefitted from. I helped on the Bristol Mission while you were a student btw. Keep up the great work.
The article speaks of a crisis and an imbalance in leadership in these churches. Yet if you look at the health of these HTB type charismatic churches, you will likely find much better spiritual health than other churches. It begs the question: if there is a problem in the leadership or the assumptions in your crisis.
When the Christian churches esp. the C.O.E. stop trying to turn themselves into businesses and return to the responsibility of “preaching the “whole” gospel and making disciples” we shall see the fruit. This obsession to have equal m/f numbers of Clergy, bishops etc. (50% & 40% as quoted is the evidence that numbers not gifting is the criteria) is absurd and stems not from a Divine calling but the desire to be as the world. Male and female are of equal value in the Lord’s eyes of course. but they are NOT the same. The feminist movement has done a great damage to society, let us not allow it to destroy the church. I am not anti female by any means ( I have preached etc. for many years but using one’s spiritual gifting is one thing, ruling is quite another! There is a proper order and we do well to remember that. BTW Church leadership demands a deep spiritual maturity which is sadly lacking in many young leaders, male and female. And that statement won’t make me very popular!!
I’m interested to know exactly what damage the feminist movement has done to the church? Really keen to know the evidence/stats of this. It’s quite a sweeping statement.
Vicky- what damage can feminism do? Galatians 3:28