Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"Faith and Leadership: A Resource for Clergywomen to Make Connections"

For the next several weeks, Shepastor will focus upon networking resources for clergywomen. Today I’d like to share highlights from, “Faith and Leadership: An offering of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity”

In the article, “Clergy women make connections,” author Natalie Gott writes,

“Women have been entering into ministry in large numbers for decades. But few women lead congregations, and those who do are likely to lead small congregations.”

A couple of months ago, I attended a seminar on female clergy “Breaking the Stained Glass Ceiling.” One of the presenters made a profound assertion. “Women don’t ask.” The basic point of her message was that women, because of our proclivity towards nurturing, supporting and “making do,” tend to accept less and are expected to expect less in terms of salary, benefits, church growth (numerically) and opportunities.

Our presenter made a distinction between “sinful ambition” and “holy ambition.” Sinful ambition was described as selfish and self-centered in nature – the “it’s all about ME” attitude – my goals – my desires – my benefits etc. “Holy ambition,” on the other hand was described as a desire to grow, thrive and obtain not only for self-interest but for the furthering of God’s Kingdom.

In other words, holy ambition has a view towards increased resources for increased opportunities to do ministry. This does not suggest that it is sinful to desire opportunities commensurate with education and experience – it is not sinful to desire a decent pay, benefits and a vacation! Nor is it sinful to desire to serve in a larger venue if you feel led or called to do so.

To further expand upon these considerations, Let’s look at excerpts from Ms. Gott’s article mentioned above…

February 16, 2010 | For women who aspire to leadership positions in church organizations, the career path can be a lonely one, with few role models and mentors.

Overall, women lead about 8 percent of congregations, and only about 5 percent of American churchgoers attend a congregation led by a woman, according to the National Congregations Study. The study also found that women who work as pastors are less likely to report satisfaction with their jobs than their male colleagues.

Although the official barriers to leadership have fallen in many church organizations, women clergy still face challenges, including how to thrive personally and how to build networks and friendships that can sustain them, said Barbara Brown Zikmund, who is ordained in the United Church of Christ and is a former president of Hartford Seminary. She is co-author of “Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling.”

“The challenge is how to do the job in new ways,” she said.
Women have responded to this need in different ways, including conferences, formal church programs and online chat rooms and blogs. In these formal and informal spaces, women clergy are coming together to connect with and support one another.

Ms. Gott goes on to describe four examples of clergywomen networking with each other. One I found particularly interesting (and relative to our earlier discussion of holy ambition) is the “Lead Women Pastors Project.”

Appearing to be an extraordinary program, the project is designed to identify female clergy who desire and have the potential to lead large (1,000 +) congregations. The process is described below…

The Lead Women Pastors Project

The Rev. Karen Oliveto has served in urban and rural settings, as a campus and United Methodist parish minister, in New York and now, in San Francisco as co-pastor of Glide Memorial Church’s 11,000-member congregation.

Through it all, she has leaned on others for insight, inspiration and encouragement. But she has found that it has become harder to find mentors the longer she has been in ministry.

Through the United Methodist Church’s Lead Women Pastors Project, Oliveto will help fill that mentoring void for other women. The project pairs 25 women such as Oliveto who serve at churches with 1,000 or more members with 25 women who have the potential, as determined by United Methodist bishops, to one day lead a church of that size.

The coaches will connect with their partners at least once a month for two years. The project started in April. The coaches have participated in both group and individual training sessions and will work to help the promising pastor determine if her gifts are suitable for leading a large church.
“What I hope to offer is to help another clergy woman come into a fuller sense of her own power and authority,” Oliveto said in a recent interview.

The coaching program is the second phase of the Lead Women Pastors Project. The church first surveyed both female and male senior pastors at large United Methodist congregations on a variety of issues in 2008, focusing heavily on leadership styles. The results showed that women who lead large churches still are pioneers: Nine out of 10 were the first women to lead their churches. Further, the study showed that 77 percent of lead women pastors developed their leadership style by having role models, which the coaching project is designed to foster.

Of the roughly 1,200 United Methodist churches in the United States with 1,000 or more members, 94 had women as lead pastors, according to October 2008 data. Twenty-seven percent of all clergy in the church are women, even though the UMC’s membership is nearly 60 percent female, said HiRho Y. Park, director of continuing formation for ministry at the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

“It is only logical to me that leaders should represent the constituency that they are serving,” Park said. “If the church is there to disturb the marginality of God’s people, it will be a justice consciousness that will spring up through the cracks. To me, the Lead Women Pastors Project represents the core mission of the church.”

Completing the coaching program is one indication that the woman being coached may be ready to serve as a lead pastor in a large church, Park said. Bishops and district superintendents will be informed when the clergy woman completes the program. Park says she is hopeful that they will consider those clergy women to be appointed as lead women pastors, Park said. One goal is to increase the number of lead women pastors at large churches by 10 percent to 15 percent by 2012. Park also hopes the program will promote and facilitate a focused discussion on clergy women’s roles and leadership styles with the bishops and the cabinet and that it will help strengthen a support network for lead women pastors.

Oliveto says she is happy to be part of the project because she is committed to growing new church leadership and she hopes to build relationships with other women clergy participating in the program.
“I just think the church needs the skills, the creativity, the enthusiasm and passion for ministry that women bring, and I love helping cultivate that,” Oliveto said.

What a wonderful opportunity for female clergy! It is my prayer that the idea of mentoring clergywomen to the lead pastorate role for larger congregations will blossom and spread beyond churches that appoint (hierarchical in nature) to churches that have the call process (congregational in nature).

For more information on this project as well as other resources for female clergy, visit,

Do you have recommendations for websites, resources such as articles, books, organizations etc., to help female clergy to learn, grow and thrive? We want to hear from you! Post a comment or send me an email at

Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

1 comment:

  1. Dear Shepastor Readers, one of our friends,Linda Pischke has introduced a wonderful site,concerning Prison Ministry.

    I encourage you to check it out.
    Thanks Linda for sharing!

    Pastor Chris