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When Women Lead: A Book Review

By Hannah Brzozowski


Being a woman in ministry can be difficult at times. There's all sorts of opinions on what a woman should and shouldn't do in the church. Some believe women should stay home and raise kids. Some believe women can work but shouldn't be in leadership. While others, believe women can and should lead.


So, when I introduce myself to a Christian and tell them what I do, I never know what their viewpoints are on the subject of my calling. I often find myself cringing when I say that I'm a pastor or that I help my husband lead a church. I can't get into all the reasons for that in this blog but I know that I'm not alone in this struggle. There are many women in ministry who face the same type of criticism, whether it is spoken, unspoken, or met with an "Oh really?" in a tone that you take to be less than supportive.


The other day, I was in Barnes and Noble and a book jumped out at me. It was entitled, "When Women Lead" by Carolyn Moore.


Moore starts the book out by sharing her story of church planting as a woman. She started Mosaic Church in Evans, Georgia as a "parachute drop", meaning that they moved to the city to start the church and they had no team moving with them. This is very similar to my story as a church planter so it immediately resonated with me. Starting a church is hard. The fail rate of new churches is at 32% after four years. Starting a church in the parachute model makes it even harder.


She shares about how she tried to launch "big" as other churches did. Yet, it didn't work out the way she thought. She was reaching people on the outer parts of society and not as many as she thought. I appreciated her honesty about this. So often in ministry, we can focus a lot of numbers and a lot on the types of people we are reaching. Instead of focusing on the people God is leading to come and be a part of our church. Just look at pastors instagrams right after Easter or Christmas and you'll see what I'm saying.


The question throughout the book is "What barriers do women leaders face, and what strategies will equip them to lead past those barriers so they can lead effectively?"


The first barrier is the theological one. Like I said at the beginning, everyone in Christianity has an opinion on women leading. There are Complementarians and Egalitarians.


Complementarians believe that women "compliment" men in their giftings. They take this to mean that men should lead and women should submit. This is true in both church and home. Some would even say in all aspects, even in secular workplaces. Their main arguments come from 1 Corinthians 14:34 & 1 Timothy 2:11-12. They also look at Genesis 2 when woman is called "the helper" to man in Genesis 2:18. They say that women are then to be "helpers" to men.


Egalitarians believe that women can lead in every level of the church. This means that people with this viewpoint would encourage women to be pastors, directors, and elders. Their main arguments come from the many women throughout the Bible who led men (like Priscilla, Junia, Deborah, Mary, etc...) and from the fact that God created man and woman to be equal and in partnership together before the fall (when sin entered the world in Genesis 3). They also point to Genesis 2 and point out that the word "helper" used for woman is actually the same word used for God in the Old Testament as well.


There are many arguments here. Whole books have been written on the topic. One in particular I would recommend would be Two Viewpoints on Women in Ministry.


Moore obviously falls on the Egalitarian side of things and she shares some facinating statistics as well. Nationally only 11.4% of churches are led by women. 41% of Americans believe that women should not lead religious organizations and in the South, it's even higher. The bigger the church, the less likely they are to approve of women leaders. "Only 32 percent of those attending small church (with fifty or less in attendance) disagree that women can lead, while 78 percent of those in churches of more than one thousand in attendance disagree with female leadership" (Moore, pg. 7).


"Only 32 percent of those attending small church (with fifty or less in attendance) disagree that women can lead, while 78 percent of those in churches of more than one thousand in attendance disagree with female leadership" (Moore, pg. 7).

She also talks about women's tragedies around the world. Women ages 15-44 are more likely to be raped or have experienced domestic violence than to have cancer, car accidents, and malaria. In China and India, there are 1.4 million "missing female births" every year. "Study after study shows that in every arena...the advancement of a culture depends on how the culture values women (pg. 15)." All throughout the world, women are valued at less than men, including in the church. It is within our fallen human natures to want hierarchies, instead of partnerships like God talked about in Genesis 2:18.


Women ages 15-44 are more likely to be raped or have experienced domestic violence than to have cancer, car accidents, and malaria.

In chapter 2, Moore speaks about the perception barrier to women in leadership. She gives this example of orchestra auditions. The orchestras were pretty lop sided. There were many more men than women so they started to do blind auditions. The judges wouldn't look at the person while they were playing. Instead, the musician was hidden from view. The result? Much more women were welcomed into the orchestra. Since this practice has started, there have been five times more women in orchestras around the world.


There are three predicaments that women face according to a Catalyst report (pg. 27).

  1. Women leaders are seen as being too soft or too aggressive.

  2. Women must work harder to reach the same level of accomplishment as their male colleagues.

  3. Women must choose between being seen as competent or being likable.

However, It goes beyond just the outlook of others but also ourselves. Moore states, " Our challenge is not how well we actually perform so much as how positively we are perceived and not just by others but by ourselves" (pg. 35).


Chapter three covers the next barrier for women in ministry: Resources and Benchmarks. It can be much more difficult for women to find mentors and training that is geared towards them as women. A lot of times Christian men won't mentor women because of the possibility of temptation. Because there are much fewer women in ministry than men, it makes it much harder to find a mentor. I, myself, have had this issue. In my life, there are very few women pastors and even fewer that I would feel comfortable enough to ask to mentor me as a young female pastor.


A lot of times Christian men won't mentor women because of the possibility of temptation.

There's also the issue of finances that is difficult for all ministry leaders, but even more so for women. Women aren't in those "boys clubs" where they can be buddy buds with the wealthiest men in the area. They are also less likely to negotiate salaries well because of how they might be perceived.


Chapter four was the most fascinating to me. She talks about the pastoral care barrier. Typically, women pastors tend to be nurturing than men. They often care a lot for the needs in their church and take on a lot of that burden. I've definitely tended to lean this way. I'm constantly telling Nick (my husband) that we need to check in on people, grab coffee, or have the new family at church over for dinner. This attitude is needed in the church but it can also quickly become a barrier and pretty overwhelming. If you're always trying to take care of everyone and every need, you'll burn out. Then, as your church grows, people will become upset that you aren't as attentive as your were when they first joined the church.


Moore gives a great list of what it means to be co-dependent. Here's a few: an extreme need for approval or recognition, problems with boundaries, and an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others. That one last one definitely resonated with me. I want people to follow Jesus and sometimes I can take way to much responsibility for their actions, feeling guilty that they are sinning in some way. This isn't healthy.


Co-dependency: an extreme need for approval or recognition, problems with boundaries, and an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others.

The fifth and final chapter in part one of the book, covers the ongoing conversation on how women can have it all these days. You can be an amazing mom, a rockstar wife, and a full time ______ (fill in the blank). Moore concludes that balance is impossible. You can't divide your life into little sections with no overlap. It just doesn't work. You will sometimes have a sick kid when you were supposed to have a big presentation at work. Or you'll get a phone call from a church member during date night. Moore argues that the secret is rhythm, not balance. That rhythm? Having a Sabbath and incorporating rest in your life. This section I would like to hear more on. I wasn't quite sure what the difference is between rhythm and balance.


The second half of the book is all about how to equip women to lead well. More covers:

  • Identity: Knowing Who You Are Is (Almost Everything)

  • Authority: After You've Done All You Can do, Stand

  • Equipping: Real-World Stuff Everyone Needs to Learn

  • Partnership: Why It's Okay For Men To Open Doors

In this section, instead of summarizing every chapter, I'm going to put down some of my favorite quotes and thoughts.

  • Hagar, an Egyptian slave, becomes the only person in the Old Testament to give God a name. The name? "The God who sees me."

  • Women share their power more. Men guard their power more.

  • Not only do women tend to be more transformational (or collaborative) in their leadership style, they are better respected when they lead this way.

  • Women value being seen as experts in their field...In contrast, men see career success in terms of climbing ladder and gaining influence with the external trappings of success.

  • You have a prophetic voice, and the world is waiting to hear what God would say - and would say through you.

  • What if you have been shaped precisely for such a time as this?

  • What if you learned how to listen to someone with one ear toward them and one ear toward the kingdom?

  • Women business owners are 10% more likely to fail then men.

  • If we're not comfortable ourselves addressing the financial needs, others won't be either.

  • It is dangerous not to know your own anointing or gifting, because then you will agree to do things you're incapable of.

  • Taking time to reflect, pray, and evaluate your priorities for growth will help greatly in discerning which kind of coach you need.

  • I'd argue that you need both (coach and mentor) at any given time in your ministry, but the greater wisdom here is to use discernment and intentionality when choosing who those coaches and mentors will be.

  • Women who make use of female mentors have a greater ability to succeed as leaders.

The final chapter was entitled "It's All About The Kingdom God". Moore ends the book with a compelling email that she wrote to a discouraged female pastor. She writes out all of the things that she is expected to encounter in ministry as a woman. In this, that pastor is now 400% more likely to succeed because she knows what she's in for. Her and every woman pastor who read this book.


If you're in ministry, I highly encourage you to read this book for yourself. It gives great insights into what it's like to be a woman in ministry and how we as the church can help women.


You can find it on amazon here.

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