Women in Leadership

Diane Benge

 

Three years ago, Reality ran two articles on the place of women in the Church under the cover caption Was Paul a Sexist?1 One of the articles was a compilation of comments made by women who had written in response to my request for feed back concerning the way they perceived their role in the New Zealand Church.2

Very many of the women who wrote indicated that they were not contented and fulfilled in their church life. Further, many felt that they were under-represented in terms of leadership and that their voices were silenced. From the letters in this issue it is clear that women - and even the odd man on their behalf - are no longer prepared to sit quietly and be ignored when it comes to their place in the church. This is good news indeed!

When the leadership interview in the August/September issue of Reality was being put together it was startlingly obvious that there were no women involved. Had this not been noticed by readers I would have been very disappointed. The fact, however, that this was misconstrued as a position taken deliberately by Reality is very unfortunate.

So what happened?

Having decided that it would be a good idea to broach the topic of leadership in the New Zealand Church in Reality I invited a leading New Zealand commentator on the subject to write an article for us. After some discussion he eventually decided that it would suit him better if I interviewed him. The questions were sent to him, the cover concept was in place, but about ten days before the material was due to be laid down, he pulled out of the interview. As we were now committed to the topic, I was left with almost no time to find an alternative interview subject.

What to do?

Seeing as our 'authority' on leadership in the Church was no longer available, I looked for an alternative 'authority'. The best solution seemed to be to seek a range of responses to the questions by interviewing people who were widely recognised by the evangelical/charismatic/Pentecostal sector of the Church as 'leaders of the leaders'. It is important to point out that the intention was not to interview a representative selection of leaders. I was looking for leaders of the New Zealand Church, not leaders in the churches - a subtle yet important distinction. In particular I was looking for people involved in pastoral/discipling work, as the questions I had already set had that slant.

As I investigated possible interviewees I was saddened, concerned and finally alarmed to find no one able to name any women who fit these criteria. I went ahead with the interview with the four men, aware that it was making a statement, but believing that that statement needed to be made: those recognised as the leaders of the leaders - the people who command the highest levels of respect (and who consequently have the greatest influence) within the evangelical/charismatic/Pentecostal sector of the New Zealand church - are all male. Yes there are female ministers and elders, but it would appear that amongst the 'elders of the elders' there are no women.

Whether or not we should be thinking in terms of prominence, position and power is a valid question and one which is examined both in the editorial of the August/September issue and in the interview itself.3 But in my experience when evangelical/charismatic/Pentecostal Christians are asked to name the 'leaders of the Church in New Zealand' they will name prominent people whom they perceive to hold positions of power, and those people will be men.

We could have interviewed a 'token woman' for the sake of political correctness, but not only would this have demeaned the woman concerned, it would also have had a smoke screen effect serving only to obscure the problem.

In the last fifty years the evangelical/charismatic/Pentecostal churches have come a long way in recognising that God gives his gifts to both men and women, and that both sexes should have the freedom to exercise those gifts in the Church. More than half of the members of New Zealand churches are women. Whether or not, however, this means that they should hold more than half of the leadership positions remains a matter of considerable dispute - as does the question of whether or not it is advisable for a woman to be in a position where she has authority 'over' men when no man has authority over her.

I apologise to those readers who would have preferred a different treatment of the topic 'Leadership in the New Zealand Church'. I understand that several of you would have liked to read responses to the questions from women, from young people and from non-European people. I hope you will enjoy reading about the hopes and dreams of young New Zealand Christian leaders in this issue.

Unfortunately, no issue of Reality can possibly cover every aspect of a topic, nor does it purport to. The cover merely indicates that aspects of that topic are addressed. With an editorial staff of one half-time person (me!) no other approach is possible.

NOTES

1 Reality #24 December1997/January 1998.

2 In the light of the present discussion it has been interesting to re-read this article. You can find it on our web site >www.reality.org.nz<

3 "Stepping off the Pedestal", page 7, Reality #40, August/September, 2000. See also "Humility", page 18, Reality #40, August/September, 2000.


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