One of the hardest things for me is when I see talented, amazing, gifted, educated, passionate, articulate, creative women who over the years have found that they have no place left in the church.
They gave it their all.
They showed up again and again and again and again.
And in the end, the system just didn’t value them. Didn’t embrace their gifts. Didn’t ask them to be part of leadership beyond support and helping roles. Didn’t “get them.” Didn’t make room. Didn’t care that they had so much to bring. Didn’t bother to wonder why they left.
As I was sitting across from a friend in Phoenix this past weekend, I couldn’t help but feeling a sad, deep pit in my stomach as I heard her share her resignation that after years of trying, she really had decided to move on. That her dream of pastoring a church was over, and she was making peace with the reality that it was time to quit hoping for power-held-by-the-men to change or for the “emerging church” to be the answer or for someone to see what she had to bring to the body. Instead, she is looking forward to nurturing her art and finding life on the other side, attending church once in a while but giving up on the possibility of really being part of one again.
She’s not the only one.
I know so many amazing talented women who tried–I mean really tried–and are finding life and passion and purpose outside of the confines of church.
I realize there has been some movement over the past chunk of years, and even since I became a full-time pastor 11 years ago, more women are sitting at leadership tables than ever before. I am so glad for that!
But while things are slowly moving in the right direction, we have a long, long, and long way to go.
Most every church structure I know of–even in some churches I know are really truly trying–are filled with patriarchy beyond what they even know.
Power still begets power, and that means that those with it play with others that have it. Deals and hires and programs and plans get made on the golf course, and let’s just be honest–for the most part women are never invited to those games (11 years and hasn’t happened yet, ha ha).
They’re always looking for the right teaching pastor or leader with experience but because women rarely have the chance to do those things, it’s hard to meet the qualifications even though their gifts and talents are bubbling underneath.
People lead with friends and since we have so little skills and encouragement for women and men to be true friends, alongside each other in close and healthy relationship with each other, men keep asking their male friends to come plant with them, lead with them, play with them.
The result–even though the wheels are still spinning and the church is still alive, we also know it’s dying, too.
This is part of the reason so many women (and other marginalized groups, too) are becoming more and more “done” with church (but they still deeply care about so many important things). Inequality and completely-imbalanced-power and unhealthiness everywhere-we-look is part of the reason why.
As I was riding home on the plane Monday night, I couldn’t help but think–the minds that got us into this mess can’t get us out.
Yet, the church leadership conferences are still packed with male voices (with a few females and people of color sprinkled in). The reading lists missional networks pass around are still filled with male authors (publishers don’t like to publish material that won’t sell, and little known female practictioners, even with amazing & innovative ideas, just aren’t going to get church-leadership kinds of deals). Pulpits rarely have women in them in so many churches, even the new most supposedly progressive ones.
Church leaders want new wine, but often keep trying to put new wine into old wineskins.
We just don’t make proper spaces and places and platforms for creative minds to come forward and participate and truly collaborate in change.
I am glad to know some really amazing people planting new trees with good seeds. I also know some other leaders working their tails off to change their structures to empower women. It always makes me so happy.
However, throw tomatoes at me if you want to because it needs to be said: they are still few and far between.
Patriarchy is alive and well.
Women’s gifts are still so undervalued in the wider church.
We keep trying to solve this bleeding-church-problem with the same minds that created it.
“On earth as it is in heaven” is pretty rare even though Jesus said it was possible.
The truth is that the solution is not “out there” somewhere in the next cool conference or a new book or a new church coaching network.
It’s available now–right in front of everyone’s eyes: Women, people of color, LBGQT men and women, the poor, the marginalized, the young, the voices we’ve never heard.
Yep, they have the minds and ideas and hearts and passions and imagination and practices to get us out of this mess.
The question is will the church be smart enough to let them?