How Can Women Lead in the Church?

“Lead with the confidence that comes from knowing you have humbly submitted yourself to God and that he has your back.”

Excerpted from “Just Lead! A No Whining, No Complaining, No Nonsense Practical Guide for Women Leaders in the Church” (Jossey-Bass, 2013)


I (Sherry) listened with interest as a well-known pastor outlined why he didn’t believe in women filling leadership positions in his church and had a rule that no women could be in leadership over any male past the age of twelve in his church. He wasn’t being mean or hard-hearted and spoke with conviction, backing up his opinions with what he though were justifying scriptural texts. I respect this pastor tremendously. I just don’t happen to agree with him in this area and feel just as strongly that the Bible outlines a strong case for women leaders.

As I listened to this pastor, I was reminded that there are wonderful godly men in his congregation who share these same beliefs with their pastor. What if some of them come to work for me in the Christian organization that I now run? Will they struggle under my leadership because I’m a woman?

Perhaps you find yourself in a situation like this, working with a man who perhaps reports directly to you that has strong theological beliefs about women in leadership or feels you shouldn’t be leading as a woman. If you lead in a church setting, we can assume your pastor affirms your leadership, but you may get negative feedback from other staff members, perhaps even other women. What should you do?

Take the High Road
Theological debates can be interesting but also exhausting and usually not productive. I love the way Jenni looks at this. She says that our goal as believers working together is to reflect the picture of beautiful biblical community, as Psalm 133 lifts up: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” This is what God designed us for, and it’s critical for us to grasp this in relationship to our leadership and influence with men.

How true! I don’t think it’s our job to convince others of what God has called us to do. I do think it’s our job to face honestly our own questions and wrestle to the ground any uncertainties we may have about the leadership God has called us to. Exercising our giftedness as leaders is an important part of us as we help to create this biblical picture of community. If the men on your team have theological issues with your leadership, you can respect their views without moving aside in your leadership. Invite them to share their views with you and acknowledge them, but don’t fall into the trap of false agreement or debate. Pray together, ask for wisdom, and then agree to disagree.

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Don’t Apologize
If God has called you to leadership, don’t apologize for it. Be boldly humble. Acknowledge that not everyone is going to agree or affirm your leadership. Lead with the confidence that comes from knowing you have humbly submitted yourself to God and that he has your back.


Certainly all leaders need to feel respected, honored, and trusted, and these affirmations are especially needed when it comes to leading men. With women, it’s important to communicate that not only do you respect, honor, and trust them as a leader, but that you truly like them. With men, it’s often in reverse order. I (Sherry) always try to communicate that I enjoy their friendship, but primarily I respect, honor, and trust their presence at the leadership table, always trying to communicate the ways they bring value to the team. I’ve noted that many women on my team are often looking for a level of friendship, and they receive value from our work relationship. The men on my team are often looking for fulfillment in the work itself. Here are some affirmations that a wise leader will pay attention to when working with men.

They Need Our Respect
I (Jenni) continue to learn the value of respect in my relationships, especially with leading men. Respect is most gained when it is frequently given. Currently, I lead a team of four men, our executive team at Cross Point. Most of my formal leadership life has involved leading men rather than leading women. Probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about developing a relationship of mutual respect with the guys I lead is that respect is earned, and it’s earned over time. I can’t expect every man I lead to instantly respect me. For many of the reasons that we’ve discussed in this chapter, both sides face hurdles in developing healthy relationships working across gender lines. Every time I enter into a new working relationship with a guy, I have to remind myself not to expect instant respect. I have to prove to that individual that I am worthy of his respect by first respecting him.

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