Public Women's Business

Well, I've been kept somewhat busy lately with events. The Churches of Christ Vic/Tas AGM and minister's retreat were held last Friday and Saturday. The "Inspire" conference for women will be held at Ballarat next weekend (see http://cofcaustralia.org/cofc-cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=56&Itemid=118&PHPSESSID=6044b43e1c542cedd6c8b37d2026a75d for for details.) And on this Monday night I'm conducting a lecture at CCTC (Churches of Christ Theological College) on women in the church.

In preparation for this lecture, one of the things I've done in the past couple of days is tally up the statistics for women employed in local churches in ministry positions. I suspect these are a good "litmus test" of the capacity of women to exercise their gifts fully at a local church level. At the moment, 25 % of our ministry employees are women, which suggests a marked trend of improved participation. There are considerably fewer ordained women than men within our system; however, a slight majority of ministry employees are lay ministers (a growing trend in independently governed church systems, as well as an historical quirk of Churches of Christ). Where women make up a more substantial minority is as solo church ministers (16%) and as senior ministers of teams (only two women, who in both cases are joint senior ministers with their husbands). Although small numbers are involved, it is interesting that a majority of specialist worship pastors are women (6 women to one man)... I wonder if this reflects "Darlene syndrome"... ie the power of a strong role model? An encouraging statistic is that 62% of CCTC students are women.

(I should add the proviso that these statistics were tallied over a cuppa in a noisy coffee shop, as I escaped from an even noisier office undergoing renovations, so they might not be 100% accurate!!!)

What do you make of statistics like this? Does the culture of your local church encourage (or repress) the participation and leadership of women? How about for your broader denomination? What do you think are the important issues for women in church life? What are the important issues for women in society?

(I'll let you know how the conversation proceeds from Monday night...)

Comments

Matt Stone said…
I think it is important to talk about cultural repression rather than just male oppression. I have found women sometimes hold themselves back even when actively encouraged by some men. I get the sense there is often some internalization of masculine cultural values going on even when men aren't enforcing them. Power of positive role models is potentially significant here. In my own church we have one woman of the diaconate, so the glass ceiling has been broken but not shattered.
Janet Woodlock said…
I totally agree Matt, and it can be more overt than hesitancy... sometimes the biggest opponents of the leadership of women in church life are other women!

I think the "male oppression" language is alienating and unhelpful... church culture, lack of female mentors and role models, and particular theological views that delegitimize the ministry of women are the big issues. Even where mysogyny may be a factor, it's hardly solved with a bitter approach... Christ does call us to love our enemies! There's something about the "aroma of Christ" in a person's life that can chip away at prejudice over time...
AbiSomeone said…
During my days in leadership at the Women's Forum at Hughes Aircraft Company (many of the members were engineers), one of the biggest challenges was to get the women who were successful to support their women colleagues. But too often they were seen as competition for the too few opportunities. It was quite brutal, actually ... sigh ... so it isn't just in the realm of "church" that this is a problem.

We need positive role models among both the men and the women if we are to make significant headway.
Janet Woodlock said…
Yes... a DIVERSITY of role models is important. I think this is not only around gender, but also around personality... sometimes the first women to crack the glass ceiling are incredibly "gung ho" women. They've probably needed to be... but it may be the "quiet achievers" are overlooked (or alientated) because they don't fit the "gung ho woman" stereotype!

The willingness to act as mentors for others is important for all leaders... probably especially for women in spheres where their leadership is "under-represented" (ie the church... and the aviation industry by the sound of it!)

For Christians, our job is the expansion and continuation of the true church of Jesus throughout all generations... so hopefully we'll find less resistance to this than in the aviation industry. Actually, I've found great willingness for women to be mentors to others in my work, which is wonderful.

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