17 September 2007

How to be a (Woman) Minister?

This post has been inspired by a number of different blog posts and articles I've come across recently about 'women ministers' (scare-quotes because 'men ministers' isn't an issue for anyone). Some of these have been positive, others have been negative, others have been seeking opinions. These are my musings and come with the caveat that I'm still very much aware that I'm learning to be a minister.

One of the posts, and one of the articles (from the same 'stable') were asking the question about how women in ministry would change patterns of leadership. This is a complicated question and one I'm not sure I can answer with much certainty. I did comment on the blog post that, from my experience in business, patterns of working in the secular world have already moved to emphasise 'team-work' rather than top-down hierarchy. I don't know if team-work is more 'feminine' or 'female' than hierarchy. Certainly, my male colleagues when I was in business worked as happily in teams as did the women; I really didn't observe what I thought to be much differences between the genders in 'ability to work in a team'.

What does seem to be the case, though, is that many people who voice negative views about women in ministry - at least in blogs and internet discussion groups - often seem to express a vision of ministry that seems to assume that the role of the minister is to be the congregation's 'Commanding Officer' or 'CEO' and that his main roles are: 1) to shape congregants with his teaching and preaching into good soldiers for Christ and 2) to branch aggressively into new 'markets' and activities with his Spirit-inspired Lone Ranger Vision Thing.

My impression is that many of the men who are voicing these opinions are relatively young, often in their twenties or early thirties. How experienced are they with leading groups of people? 'Even' in business - where employees are paid to do what 'bosses' tell them - it can be difficult to lead people, especially if one does not attend properly to the 'softer' issues. Within a voluntary organisation the 'soft' issues are everything because people don't have to be there if they don't want to; even more than in a job, people can and do vote with their feet.

The above is one issue. The other issue is that preaching and 'CEO strategizing' are very small parts of the 'job specification' of a Christian minister. Visiting people, listening to people, just 'being there' for people is a very big part of the job. I think that historically, women have valued listening to people and just being there for others more than men have done; there might be something 'genetic' in this, but I'm convinced that men can do these 'listening jobs' just as well as women do if they value them.

Action is also important and men have probably been historically better at this than women. But, I think the 'action' of a Christian disciple should be oriented toward helping other people. The 'helping' might be at an individual level and it might be at a strategic level (e.g. campaigning for trade justice), but I don't think it should ever be directed at building up a church simply for the sake of being 'a successful minister.' Too often, the vision of 'successful ministry' that we seem to work with is the vision of 'growing congregations'.

I suspect that the Gospel is too subversive to ever be popular with the masses; it really does ask us to 'become like little children'. But it doesn't just ask us to 'become like little children' in order to be saved; it asks us to recognise our total dependancy on God every moment of our lives. Including the belief that honouring God's commandments will bear fruit even if they don't meet our own criteria for 'success'.

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