Many women ask me how I handle misogynistic, biased, prejudicial and sexist attitudes, comments, brick walls and glass ceilings. I’m about to give you the real-real, for those who want some insight from a female leader who has dealt with these issues for 38 years and not only survived but thrived. I could tell a bazillion stories (we’ve all got them!) but for the sake of time, I’ll tell only one. I was at a meeting at the district office years ago, in a different district than where I serve now. One of the district officials said these words to me. This is not a paraphrase of the words he said. It is not an “in so many words…” he said. These were the exact words: “Women in leadership are like whipped cream. A little bit on top of a piece of pie is delicious but a whole bowl of it makes you sick.”
No. I. Am. Not. Kidding.
And he was not kidding! (Even if he was, it still wouldn’t have been appropriate.)
I left there feeling totally defeated that day.
In a place where I and other women should have been lifted up, we were tolerated.
What do you do when life gives you whipped cream? You make cream puffs.
Something I share that younger female leaders have a hard time understanding (because we are at a different place now although things are far from fixed) is that at this point in my leadership journey, I would rather deal with the whipped cream guy than one with unconscious bias or one who operates as a benevolent sexist. Until you have walked in leadership for this long you sometimes don’t realize how hard it is to overcome the latter things, being that it is next to impossible for that person to understand what they are doing and why it is wrong, and it’s also harder for innocent bystanders to recognize the damaging behavior. Microaggressions and bias are harder to identify and rectify than outright bullying.
Every woman addresses these issues differently, and I don’t judge. I am aware that within the varied responses and ways of handling it, most female leaders are just trying to find their way in a man’s world. It is wearisome to face misogyny from individuals as well as institutions, particularly in the evangelical space. Within institutions, it is even more challenging because the brick walls have been fortified over thousands of years, with millions of people — both men and women, contributing to their fortification. There is no judgment from me toward women who are merely trying to exist in the arena to which they were called, let alone flourish.
What works in one context will not always work in another. Although I can only speak for myself I do so with the hope that something I share may help another woman. There is nothing that lights my fire like helping women flourish and advance, particularly for the Kingdom of God. Because as women step up to do Kingdom work and as they advance in those places, it literally amounts to life and death, heaven and hell. Women leading affects ETERNITY.
One question that I can’t get away from is this…how many souls are burning in hell today because half of God’s army was relegated to the bench for thousands of years, sidelining half of the workers on the field who could have openly preached the Gospel, proclaiming Christ to unbelievers? We could have been getting double the work done. There will be those who have to stand before God and answer for this in eternity.
I realized a long time ago that defending myself never worked. So I stopped doing that back in my 20’s. If someone asks to meet with me to ask me to defend my call, I decline, knowing that Jesus has already affirmed what they are demanding I defend. (Strangely enough, there were many people over the years who would come to the churches we pastored and ask my husband, or me — or the both of us, to have a meeting with them to talk about this, asking me/us to defend my call. So weird. I wondered why they would come to our church in the first place, or stick around if they didn’t agree with women leading. It is amazing the people who will stay and try to fight it.)
Trying to change minds that are fixed has also never worked, for me. Most people don’t approach you with an open mind, only a desire to debate and correct you. There are much better uses of time than this. There’s a world dying and going to hell and people who desperately need to be encouraged and I’m not going to waste a moment trying to get someone – particularly a Christian – to change their mind on something God has already decided.
Preaching about these issues has also never worked with great success for me so I’ve always chosen to avoid it. When given a preaching opportunity, I’d rather preach the Gospel and make as big an impact as possible than get up and grind an ax and not affect anyone for eternity. It is of note that I have seen men who are our allies get more traction when they preach on these issues.
I know that misogyny is a searing wound to a woman’s soul. There is no negating that all of these sins I mentioned imprint our lives in a painful way and the effect of that is completely misunderstood by most of the world that is not female. I’m not downplaying the ramifications of it. While I’ve never let ’em see me sweat in public, or cried openly about it, like most women in leadership I’ve shed my share of tears in private. With that said…
Addressing these SINS (that’s what they are, sins) during a preaching opportunity or a meeting with critics has always been futile for me. I respect my sisters who believe otherwise and some of them are amazing at laying out not only a theological but a practical argument, but I choose to spend my time doing something else to try to change it…
I focus on succeeding.
People can say whatever they want to about whether women should lead, but it’s hard to argue with what’s actually working.
My modus operandi is to succeed at whatever I’m doing wherever God has placed me. And I encourage all women to do that. Whatever it is that you do – give it all you’ve got, and don’t stop!
“But I haven’t been given anything…” you say.
Don’t wait for someone to give you something.
Quit waiting around for a pulpit. The WORLD is your pulpit!
What if Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore, or Lysa TerKeurst waited for someone to give them a pulpit? All of these women started ministries from scratch that didn’t exist before. Every one of them now has millions of followers and multi-million dollar Christian organizations with hundreds of employees. Their ministries dwarf the size of most of the churches — some of them being led by the very pastors who have criticized them.
They didn’t wait for someone to tell them it was okay to go ahead, lead and succeed.
So, take responsibility for your personal growth.
Stop waiting for someone else to care.
Courageously start something brand new.
It’s hard to argue with LIVES CHANGED.
It’s difficult to dismiss TRANSFORMATIONS.
People look downright silly when they try to dismiss souls saved.
You don’t need a church, a title, or a position to see souls saved. I know those things help, but you don’t absolutely have to have them to make an impact. And most women who have had a big impact did not wait for those things to start. So get out there!
Build a team from wherever you are.
Don’t wait for an office.
Don’t wait for a title.
Start a team online, in your living room, or at Starbucks.
Lead from your social media. Everyone has a voice here. Committees and boards and people with fancy schmantzy titles cannot shut you down here.
So go for it.
Start sharing. And please, for God’s sake, if you’re going to do that — be real. Be bold. Be authentic. Don’t give a watered-down version of yourself. We want all of you.We want the real-real.
People show up for what’s real.
Stop waiting for permission to lead.
Lead RIGHT THIS MOMENT.
It’s also challenging to discredit an effective team that a woman has raised up from nothing that is changing lives for eternity and making history.
It’s harder to cancel who and what people are actually responding to.
It’s a formidable task to argue with a job well done.
It’s difficult to dismiss followers. And not just any followers, but amazing, quality followers who have good sense.
Not that everything is about numbers (it’s not) but it’s also harder to argue with numbers. There is a moment when you have led well consistently for a significant amount of time and you make a difference to a degree that can’t be ignored. There comes a time when you shift culture right out from under your critics. And if they choose to minimize or dismiss you when that time comes, it will be evident that they are the ones who are out of touch.
I’m not saying that you should be the focus, or that Jesus should not be center stage. I am NOT saying God should not receive glory. Please don’t get it twisted. This is not a discourse on who or what should be focused on in a church service or event or who should receive credit, it’s a commentary on leading and opportunities to do that and the power of effectiveness. I’m speaking of something every man has the ability to enjoy by default, but women will always have to contend for. And if you say, “That’s just not true…” YOU are part of the problem! And… I realize you might be a woman. That’s a BIG part of the problem…complementarian women who don’t think there is a problem. They believe we have “come so far,” and are just “so grateful” for “what they get to do.” Sigh. It’s disheartening when women gush over receiving crumbs that have fallen to the ground from tables they are not really welcome to sit at. But they continue to gush because they are hoping and praying for more crumbs. And men tend to be liberal with crumbs with women who gush about crumbs.
Now that I realize I have probably offended at least 1,457 of you….I have digressed. Back to the central point.
Stop chasing after crumbs.
Bake your own bread.
It’s a challenge for your detractors to dismiss a home run and it’s even more of a burden for them to dismiss repeated home runs. When they try to do that, it is not a good look for them. Their irrelevance, bitterness, and jealousy can’t help but be exposed. Let God deal with that. You don’t have time and it wouldn’t work anyway if you tried.
Additionally, don’t negate the power of your influence. Your influence and effectiveness behind the scenes every day is something they can’t control especially if they don’t even realize all that hard work you are doing that they don’t even know about that goes on behind closed doors. Women sometimes complain (and I’ve been guilty of it too) about being an influence rather than an authority and that they are tired of being relegated to behind-the-scenes work. I understand that sentiment but keep one thing in mind…even when you have a title or an office, behind-the-scenes work is where you’ll gain your greatest influence and your biggest wins. So work the daylights out of it!!
If you’re like most women, your detractors are in the dark about all the resources you are taking advantage of to experience personal growth in the place where you feel hidden. (They don’t know because they don’t care and right now, they think you are nothing to speak of. They are wrong, but still — that’s what they think.) If you’re like most of us, your critics are also unaware of the number of people you are networking with, both women and men. They are clueless about all the ways you work hard online, on phone calls, in coffee shops and everywhere else. You are building a ton of leadership muscle in that hidden place. Over time, your steadily-built influence begins to give you authority whether your detractors grant it to you or not. They don’t know that Jesus is molding and shaping and moving you forward, right under their nose.
In my experience, it’s best to work in silence. Do not try to get their attention or attempt to gain their approval by sharing your work. First of all, they won’t care, and secondly, if they do care at all it may be to try and stop you in some way. It is harder for your critics to defeat you when you work quietly.
(Here’s the forumula: work in silence and launch loudly.)
When you work in silence, they don’t even know what to attack!
I just gave you leadership gold whether you realize it or not.
I’m going to repeat that one more time. Work in silence, and launch loudly. When you work in silence, they don’t even know what to attack!
Once they realize what you are accomplishing, it’s too late for them to stop it. When they show up it’s like they are batting the air because they are so caught off guard by your latest endeavor. They don’t know what to do with you. By the time they catch up to you, you’re already on to your next project. My husband has often joked, “You can oppose what my wife is doing, but first you’ll have to catch up to her…” (Bahahahaha!)
You, putting your hand to the plow, chin up, face forward, getting work done every day without announcing it is a lot more persuasive than a sermon on equality and how wrong they are. Keep in mind this is more than just archaic thinking you are dealing with…these folks are caught in a demonic stronghold. You didn’t get them into it, and you won’t be the one to break them out. The enemy has a foothold on them that has been fortified by centuries of cultural norms. Freeing them of this bondage is a job for Jesus, not for you.
There are times people trapped in these sins can affect you in some way, and you’ll get your share of cuts and bruises from running into brick walls, and hitting glass ceilings, but for the woman who doesn’t quit, it’s just a blip on the screen of life. Again, hand to the plow, chin up, face forward, and GET THE WORK DONE.
GIVE GOD THE GLORY!
MOVE FORWARD TO THE NEXT THING GOD CALLS YOU TO DO.
And remember…work in silence, launch loudly.
Just succeed, friend.
At the end of the day, you’re striving to please an audience of ONE, and you can take comfort in the fact that the audience of One is egalitarian.
You got this, sis.
I believe in you!