As is the case in many fields, ministry has long been male dominated. In fact, women in ministry is still relatively modern, and even today, some denominations do not allow women to be ordained or hold leadership positions in the church. When I was called to ministry nearly 30 years ago, this of course crossed my mind. Thankfully, there have been truly remarkable women in the history of the United Methodist Church that helped pave the way for me and my female colleagues, and helped shape the church into what she is today.
After I graduated seminary, I spent 12 years pastoring a series of churches in the Western United States. This was capped off by a small, vibrant church in Rawlins, Wyoming. When I arrived in 1999, I was the first female pastor appointed to this town, population 10,000, including the prison population. The first Sunday I stepped into the pulpit, a hot and dry August day, the pews were filled. This continued for quite a few Sundays thereafter as people came to check out the new “lady” preacher.
Although the United Methodist Church has historically been more accepting towards women in ministry and leadership roles, I was still met with plenty of wariness and resistance. Naturally, I am a direct, decisive, and fast-paced person. During the early days of my ministry in Rawlins, my candor was not what most of the congregation was used to. Some members approved of me, while others did not. At times, I was deemed bossy and dominant, while my male counterparts (who often had the same characteristics) were considered confident. Why? Why was I stamped with these unfavorable labels while my male colleagues were praised for them?
Through trusting in God, God’s calling on my life, and trusting in myself, I didn’t recoil or lose confidence. Instead, I embraced my leadership qualities and came to see that the church needs both male and female voices, men and women who are competent, collaborative, and compassionate leaders with bold visions.
The United Methodist Church has come a long way in its affirmation of female leaders and women serving in ministry. There is, however, still more work to be done. I offer three suggestions for how we can acknowledge the strong and powerful women around us as a church and as a society.
1. Remember influential women from your past
Undoubtedly, you’ve had a mother, sister, aunt, or grandmother, who helped mold you into who you are today. Appreciate their love, support, and guidance, even when it went unnoticed. Offer thanks for their influence in your life with a thank you card, gift, or other gesture that shares your appreciation for their investment in your life.
2. Mentor the next generation of women
Just as you have been mentored by strong and confident women, mentor those young women around you to embrace their skills and grow in their confidence. Encourage them to speak up because they have something to contribute, live out of their gifts and graces, answer God’s call on their lives, and encourage them to follow God wherever God leads.
3. Celebrate successes
When you see women succeed, celebrate them! If negative voices try to diminish a woman’s success, stand proudly with her, acknowledging her success and encouraging others to do so as well. Help her not to overlook the miracle that happens when God and a female leader partner in the work of the Kingdom Realize hard work and give accolades where deserved.
If you are reading this, chances are you are a leader, whether in your congregation, community, or family. Thank you for your courageous leadership, as you have helped those around you navigate these trying days of the pandemic.
For these last few years, we’ve asked the difficult questions, such as how are we going to survive as a church, live to serve another day? How can we positively impact our communities when we aren’t sure we can keep the lights on?
If the pandemic has left you asking how you can powerfully move forward, I invite you to join me for my upcoming workshop, How to Do More with Less. In this 3-session workshop, we’ll discover ways you can be the church, change the world around you, and build God’s kingdom by maximizing the limited resources available. God is in the miracle-making business!
Excerpted and adapted from Rebekah Simon-Peter’s upcoming book, Forging a New Path: Moving the Church Forward in a Post-Pandemic World (Market Square Publishers, 2022).
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