Church Lady


I’m a chick in church leadership.

Yep, there I said it.  Kinda stating the obvious I know, but I’ve been dragging my feet about really engaging this topic.

I have such a passion for gender to not be the polarizing issue that it tends to be in the church and yet I’ve been afraid to really engage it.  If I’m honest I’m fearful that I’ll get pegged as the “church leader chick” and I won’t earn credibility with my male counterparts.  I’m afraid that I’ll ruffle some of your feathers because I have pretty strong, passionate views on the issue.  I’m afraid that some of you won’t take me seriously because I’m a woman and you’ll think I’m just trying to promote an agenda.  My list of excuses and fears goes on and on…


I can’t seem to escape it.

More and more young women in leadership reach out to me to talk about my role and how I navigate it as a woman.  More frequently I’m talking to male leaders who are trying to figure out how to involve women more effectively in leadership positions.  And every day my beliefs, passions and convictions grow, forcing me to evaluate how I’m supposed to use this influence.

I believe I am called to lead leaders (regardless of gender), but I also feel that I have a responsibility to encourage, support and champion female leaders.  I sense that God has given me this role of influence to use wisely in helping to pave the way for leaders who will come after me.  (And just to make sure I got the message, God strategically used my own Pastor to reinforce this with his message on Esther a couple of weeks ago.)

So, I’m really praying and seeking God about what this means.  I have some ideas brewing and am having strategic conversations with peers, friends and mentors.  But I would love to know from you:

What do you believe is the most pressing issue for women in church leadership?

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  • anne jackson August 12, 2009  


    because it’s easier to keep us tame.

    to have us fit inside a cultural expectation.

    so when we don’t…

    it scares people.

  • James Reyes August 13, 2009  

    I would think that the most pressing issue (obstacle if you will) to women in church leadership is tradition.

    Don’t get me wrong – not liturgy or canonical ceremony, but tradition in the sense of “how it’s always been done”.

    A church body has to be run like any other organization in order to be managed effectively. Secular companies have excelled at honing management techniques, lean process improvement and leadership development, and the church has (wisely) borrowed from many of these.

    However, on the opposite side of that, a lot of the challenges female leadership in the church face mirror those of their business counterparts.

    Women in church leadership, however, also have the added “tradition” of hundreds of years of male-driven exclusivity in church leadership.

    That’s what’s so great about the fact that Paul was very clear in stating that their was “neither male nor female” in Christ.

    Not to say that all gender roles are interchangeable; however, when it all comes down to it, we are all the “Bride of Christ”, and our place in the Body shouldn’t be defined by gender, but by gifting.

  • Jenni Catron August 13, 2009  

    @James – that was really well said! Thanks for sharing.

  • Linnae Hoppe August 13, 2009  

    learning the balance between our role and a male role. leading in such a way that inspires and helps males and females operate to their best ability.. rather than trying to overtake dominate. does that make sense?

  • lindseyreadenobles August 13, 2009  

    Glad you posted on this! And that you are in church leadership. It needs YOU.

  • Cynthia Cullen August 13, 2009  

    I have admired you, Jenni, from the first day we met at the Seacoast Conference last fall ( McAllister’s for lunch?)I’ve admired Pete’s confidence in you and the staff At CP that you serve with ( from getting to know Chad and Butch). I’ve though many times how wonderful it would be if all churches would embrace the leadership qualities of women as much as they embrace it with men. After 15 years of serving as a part of staff Leadership in church I find myself once again the only female at a director’s level at my current church. My Senior Pastor and elders have been nothing but supportive of my leadership, but my Male peers at times do not know what to make of me. I agree with Anne that fear is the problem. I would also add insecurity. A wise pastor once said to me in my 1st key role leading men and women, “Cynthia, I am confident in your abilities as the Worship Director at our church. I know that God has gifted you to do this. Just understand that the church world is the last frontier for women. When a man is a strong leader, he is praised for it. When a woman is a strong leader, she is considered controlling and full of agenda. If you can walk in the confidence of God’s calling on your life and forget what people think about you, you will be successful in church ministry.” He was right. I can’t change what people think of me. I have moments when I feel very lonely and misunderstood. But I cling to what I know is truth and that God gifted me to lead and to not do it would be going against His plan for my life. My greatest fear is not about me anymore, however.If we do not embrace the leadership qualities of women in our churches and encourage their development, we are telling the next generation of women leaders in our church that
    fullfilling your calling as a leader is best kept for a secular profession – not in ministry. That is what we should be afraid of happening.

  • Jessica August 13, 2009  

    Honestly I don’t know or better said, I have a thousand thoughts. But I needed to stumble across this post today because I have struggled with this issue and feel very “tired” especially when the “opposition” (the term used loosely as I’m not sure my male peers even see what they are doing) is my generation and below (mid-twenties – late thirties).

  • Casie Stevens August 13, 2009  

    Advocation and encouragement are the needs I see.

    Those in leadership who recognize women that are gifted to lead should be in their corner, encouraging them to step up and helping to create an environment for them to do so.

  • jan owen August 13, 2009  

    Oh there are so many 🙂 It really might depend on where you serve and who you serve with. Right now I’m struggling because I don’ t feel heard and taken seriously. I’ve been told “that’s your emotions or hurt speaking” when I really do not think it is. I really am concerned about some things and believe my points are valid. I feel a bit dismissed because I am a woman.

    I also feel that people defer automatically to the nearest man which can make our job so much more challenging. I guess that’s tradition or what we’re just used to.

    I think that the biggest one might just be that most male leaders are completely unaware that there is anything that needs to be adjusted or “fixed”. They don’t see the problem and it takes a very insightful and courageous man to take steps to encourage females in leadership and to look at things from their perspective and to appreciate that. I’ve found that until you walk this road of being a female in church leadership (or been a close witness) you just cannot have any idea what it’s like. You remain oblivious to the problems, to the issues that taint the church, to the subtle sexism and to the barbed remarks or lack of opportunity. Quite simply, you do not see the need or the problem. And to fix it, we must first see it. This is what I believe the greatest need is – for church leaders to see that there is indeed a need, not just for the sake of women, but for the sake of the entire church.

  • Jenni Catron August 13, 2009  

    @Cynthia – thanks for reminding me of the connection at Seacoast last year – yes, I totally remember you and enjoyed talking with you guys. I love that quote from your pastor – incredibly wise words. Keep leading my friend!

  • Jenni Catron August 13, 2009  

    @Jan – great point on seeing the need for change inside the church. Hang in there friend!

  • Jennifer Mosquera August 13, 2009  

    I understand your dilemma completely. I have felt the pressure of being a woman, called of God to lead, yet criticized by the male-dominated church leadership for 15 years now (I first felt a call to ministry when I was 17 years old. I am now 32, which is relatively young in church leader world. Today, I feel I walk the same tight rope…wanting to encourage a social minority to walk out their God-given calling without looking or sounding like I’m simply pushing an agenda. I never want to seem disrespectful to my leadership or arrogant to my peers. Because my leadership is mostly to college students and young adults, I am fully aware that a younger generation of men is watching my very move. For the most part, I see great potential in the younger generation of men to walk differently than their fathers, and I do not see them carrying the same mind-sets and attitudes towards women in church leadership. My prayer is that God would give me the grace and self-control to NOT come across as ultra-feminist. I realize that my actions concerning this subject would severely affect those who follow me. I am constantly asking myself, How do I encourage young women who feel the same call I do to be obedient to that call while also showing grace and patience to those who may not understand or down-right disagree? I think, to give one of many answers to your question, consistent and time will change the perception. In years to come, men won’t be able to say “That’s the way it’s always been done” because more and more women are deciding it is better to serve God than man and are fully walking in obedience to God’s will with grace and humility. I’m excited for the day to come because it will be a beautiful picture of what Jesus and Paul desired.

  • Randy Peterman August 13, 2009  

    Could I be so rude as to ask for you to define what you mean by ‘lead’? While I think God has set a place for gender roles (Ephesians 5:22-31), I want to make sure I understand if you’re referring to eldership, Titus 2 discipleship, or just what else you may infer.

    Resting in Him,

  • James Reyes August 13, 2009  

    @Randy – May I pose a bit of a reverse question to you? Do you believe that in any of those roles you mentioned, that there should be a distinct delineation between male and female leadership?


  • sherry surratt August 13, 2009  

    Jenni, this is a great post, and you raise a great question. Ed Stetzer pointed out at the Innovation3 conference that women in leadership is quickly becoming a forefront issue and its not going away. Churches need to talk about it instead of ignoring it. This is what I would identify as the biggest obstacle: Pretending its not an issue. God has placed incredible leadership gifts in women.I applaud women like Jenni, who know they are leaders, and appreciate pastors like Pete Wilson who allow them to work in their gifting.

  • Randy Peterman August 13, 2009  

    @James – I do believe there’s a distinction, but I’m not looking to flame or cause a stir, but instead more fully understand Jenni’s post.

  • Rick August 13, 2009  

    Your biggest obstacle is… the Word of God. Takes some serious parsing and bending to even come close to making it fit.

  • James Reyes August 13, 2009  

    @Randy – I completely understand and respect what you are saying. I just enjoy hearing all sides and opinions, even when they disagree or conflict with what I believe. I am confident that in the Body of Christ, there is room for disagreement and healthy dialogue about issues such as this.

    @Rick – Are you saying that women shouldn’t lead at all, or simply in ordained offices or positions? What specifically in the Word do you believe supports this?

  • Rose August 13, 2009  

    I’d like to hear the same thing Randy asked: “What do you mean by ‘lead’?…I’m a single woman and have been a Christian and an avid student of the Bible for 36 adult years. I know that God has given many gifts to women, and churches should be open to receiving and celebrating those gifts, but I don’t believe His calling is ever for a woman to have _spiritual and/or governmental authority_ over men in the church. I will categorically never join a church that allows women that kind of authority (as a bishop, a pastor or an elder.) That’s my understanding of the Word of God. One of my friends goes to a church that demonstrates the ultimate absurdity: both husband and wife are ordained pastors at the same church, but the wife has been appointed bishop by their denomination. The man’s wife is also his bishop… How warped is that? But the door to that was opened by allowing women to serve as as pastors in that denomination…

  • Billy Williams August 13, 2009  

    Great subject, Jenni, and some very thoughtful and well spoken responses.

    I guess the real question is Egalitarian or Complementarian. I personally have no problem with women in any role when it comes to the Christian church. My grandmother was a Pentecostal preacher and traveling evangelist. She held this position and ordination until my grandfather died; at that point the church said she was no longer under the headship of a man and they could no longer let her speak…what a travesty. She was a brilliant and Godly woman, though a bit on the Hell fire and brimstone side.

    I have quite a few books on the Egalitarian/Complementarian subject in my library. Both sides have great points, but greater minds than ours continue the debate. I am glad there are women in ministry; we would lose out on so much Godly wisdom without their input. I think it is time for the Church to embrace the ministry role of women and quit pushing back.

    I would also caution women in ministry not to follow an agenda as they work to change the current mindset, but to follow the leading of God. Agendas only cloud our vision and obscure what God is doing.

    I say Bravo to you, Jenni, for following God’s lead and your heart by going into leadership.

  • jan owen August 13, 2009  

    I love what Sherry said!

  • James Reyes August 13, 2009  

    @Billy Williams – “I would also caution women in ministry not to follow an agenda as they work to change the current mindset, but to follow the leading of God. Agendas only cloud our vision and obscure what God is doing.”

    That’s good! Not just for women, but for anyone called to lead in the Kingdom of God in any capacity. I like that a lot.

    @Rose – I do understand what you are saying; however, what then do you do with women from the Bible like Deborah, who ruled as a judge over Israel?

    Or in the New Testament, women like Eunice and Lois (relatives of Timothy, both of whom there is contextual evidence were important figureheads in the NT church), or Priscilla, who not only was a leader in the NT church, but also quite possibly authored the book of Hebrews?

    Now please understand that I do speak for myself, and Jenni, if I have spoken out of turn, I apologize.

    However, I do believe that a lot of the perception on women in church leadership comes from the cultural writings of Paul’s letters (specifically to Corinth), as opposed to the theological subjects. The “housekeeping” portions, if you will.

    The culture at the time was definitely one of a patriarchal society; therefore it would be natural that the context of Paul’s writings were from that perspective.

    Additionally, the letters that we hold in our cannon now were originally personal letters to the leader’s of the NT churches, so Paul naturally addressed specific situations pertinent to that particular church, along with his expositions of theology.

    Otherwise, should we still make sure that women wear a head covering at church (1 Corinthians 11:3-15)? Is it okay for men to have more than one wife at a time, as long as they are not in church leadership (1 Timothy 3:2)

    And should we not only accept slavery, but encourage slaves to return to their masters (Philemon)? Also, we seem to have dropped the practice of being baptized for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29).

    I just think that we lose so much of the richness and fullness of the Word and heart of God when we only devote ourselves to the cursory text of Scripture, without balancing it with the spirit and intent of what God is trying to express.

  • Cathy Lamb August 13, 2009  

    I am new to ministry as a 50yr old after being a stay-at-home mom. For me the most pressing issue is the subtle sexism that the men don’t even recognize. My church openly and actively affirms women in pastoral leadership, but there is a subtle prejudice that exists “below the surface.” If I were to point it out, the response would be “what are you talking about?” I also battle my own insecurities having grown up when there were lots of things I couldn’t do because I was a girl. I love mentoring younger women who don’t deal with that because their world has been a different place during their formative years.

    Keep calling attention to this issue and please continue to encourage us, Jenni. Just knowing you are in the place you are helps me persevere.

  • Jenni Catron August 13, 2009  

    @James – you’ve articulated well some of the very things that I have been studying in the scriptures.

    To all of you who have commented:
    I understand that many of us have come from different backgrounds that prohibited women in certain areas of leadership in the church, including myself. However upon further study and understanding of context of scripture I’ve found that I too quickly accepted what was told to me rather than studying and understanding for myself.

    A great resource for me has been “Beyond Sex Roles” by Gilbert Bilezikian.

    I know this is a tough subject and it’s not easily resolved, but I hope that each of us would be committed to studying and understanding the scriptures for ourselves. I really appreciate your comments and discussion and pray that God would continue to provide us with clarity on this subject.

  • brandiandboys August 13, 2009  

    you’re my favorite woman in church leadership! 🙂

  • John Ireland August 14, 2009  

    jenni, this is a topic that i am very passionate about – and not just because my wife is a campus pastor at a college. 🙂

    too many churches in too many denominations have formed their doctrine regarding women in ministry/leadership through the “male” lens; reading too much of Scripture as prescriptive rather than descriptive.

    our generous God pours out the Holy Spirit on all who come to Him; and, He gifts men AND women in too many ways to count.

    that means that women, no less than men, are equipped to serve the Church at every level…EVERY level.

    you have a big-time supporter up here in Wilmore, KY!

  • Andy Depuy August 14, 2009  

    God has given you a mission,and that mission is in leadership and if anyone says that you don’t belong doesn’t know our Heavenly Dad. Jenni Men can all they want about women not been in leadership but look at all the women in the Bible that was a leader. God chooses those that he wants to lead His church and God has chosen you to be a leader. I’m not a member there at Cross Point but i know most of all the ministers there and I see how they respond to your leadership. So never be afraid what other men might think or say, just remember that God chose you and that is the only thing that matters. Jenni you are an amazing leader and I’m proud to call you my friend. Also I prayer for the leaders and pastors of the churches that I love and you and all the pastors of Cross Point are on that list. great Job in doing the ministry that God has put before you. What God puts together let no one tear it apart.

  • gina August 15, 2009  

    I don’t think I could add anything to the theological conversation already addressed here. So I’ll come from a different angle. I’m interested to hear from you in the future on the practicality of women in leadership. Personally, I’m a kids pastor and by MBTI standards I’m an a high ‘feeler’. I gain more ground with my male peers and leadership when I function as a ‘thinker’. Though personality traits are not gender-specific and generally most people will fit in more among leadership as a ‘T’ as opposed to an ‘F’, being a high ‘feeler’ can be detrimental to a woman in leadership b/c she is automatically categorized as emotional/hormonal, etc.

    You can ask Bergstrom, I laugh at myself and my own tendency to get teary eyed. But striking the balance between learning how to function in the leadership circle I’m in and leading them to understand that tears don’t equal weakness… it’s a challenge.

    How would you respond to this?

  • Tracey Smith August 17, 2009  

    Stay focused and lead! Never forget who put you there…”for such a time as this!” You are doing an AWESOME job for the Kingdom!

  • Jenilee LeFors August 19, 2009  

    I think for me, its several parts:

    fear, and the tendency of those I have worked with to have a “big boys” club mentality, and leaving the females out, due to lack of understanding and appreciation for the various ways that females lead – because its not identical to males.

    Jenni – as a female in ministry, I have appreciated your blog and twitters, and knowing that there is a female out there that is passionate about leadership, and in the way I feel like I am, but haven’t been able to fully walk in that calling because I was a female, and trying to be a leader, but constantly walking in insecurity and fear because I wasn’t the typical female. I appreciate what you have to offer and am blessed, so, thank you! 🙂

  • tam November 29, 2009  

    every time i see a clipboard, i think of you. i think of you posed so confidently in the foyer of cross point, clutching your clipboard. i wanted to steal it and read what was attached to it…but i didnt. i stood and admired you from afar. took mental notes on how to be a poised, beautiful woman, confident in her calling.

    youre a great leader.