Women in Ministry: A Spectrum of Positions

In Episode 14 of Rethinking Youth Ministry, we talked about the unique challenges that women face in ministry and leadership. Our goal wasn’t to argue the theology surrounding women in leadership or define what roles women could/should serve in, but to acknowledge the real tension that female leaders face—whether they’re employed by the church or not—when they try to do what God created them to do.

Listen to Episode 14

Regardless of where you land theologically, there’s something we can all agree on: Women are a valuable part of God’s family, and their voices are incredibly important in our ministries. Because of that, our conversation on the podcast focused on how we (churches and specifically youth ministries) can get better at giving women opportunities to use their God-given abilities and gifts.

In this episode, we mention the “Spectrum of Positions on Women in Leadership.” What we’re talking about are the ways that churches and individual leaders respond to the roles women might play in their ministries.

Here’s a deeper look at those positions.

Disclaimer: We all understand how unhelpful labels can be. These labels aren’t intended to be a definition of who we are. These are simply general categories designed to help leaders identify where they personally land on the “women in ministry” spectrum.

1. Opponent

Opponents disapprove of women in ministry in any context. Usually, it’s because of the theological background and understanding they have, prompting them to question a woman’s call to lead. Opponents also squelch or disapprove of opportunities women might receive that would give them influence or positions equal to or greater than a man’s.

2. Resistor

Resistors also disapprove of women in ministry or leadership, but they don’t actively oppose or speak out against it. They will generally remain quiet on the subject unless asked to give their opinion.

3. Acceptor

Acceptors are resigned to women in ministry, but their preferences are for men to fill leadership roles and be the voices heard from the stage. Acceptors wouldn’t visibly protest a woman in leadership, but they wouldn’t likely view her as on the same playing field as a man.

4. Supporter

Supporters affirm the idea of women in ministry and leadership positions. However, they might have some tendencies they’re unaware of that create barriers for those women to lead or have their ideas communicated.

5. Ally

Allies work well alongside women in ministry and respect them in leadership positions. They would vote for or hire a woman if given the opportunity.

6. Advocate

Advocates aren’t just allies but proponents. They not only work side by side with women in ministry and respect their leadership, but they also speak up for the needs of women in those positions. They hold the body accountable for their thoughts and actions toward women in the church.

We don’t know what we don’t know, right? We share this list to bring language to an issue that can be tough to talk about. But we can’t ignore this just because it’s difficult to talk about. The truth is,  the level of opposition women face in your ministry affects the number of women who serve—and their comfort level while doing so. So this needs to be talked about.

After reading through this list, take a step back and think about which category you land in. Depending on the situation, you may find yourself fitting into more than one group. Or perhaps you feel passionately one way, but your ministry lands on the other end of the spectrum. That’s okay. Simply recognizing where you are is a helpful and necessary first step, no matter where you fall on the spectrum.

Feeling a little unsure about what to do next? Consider asking the women you work with, lead with, or serve with how you can help them do what they do. Look around and see who is advocating for women in your church. What does that look like, and how can you do what he/she does? Remember, even small changes matter and can have an impact.

Was this list helpful or insightful for you? We’d love to hear your thoughts below!

*Special thanks to Ann Brandon, Erin Taylor, and Steve Rennick for the language of the “Spectrum of Positions on Women in Leadership.”