If we support the giftedness of women leaders in theory, we must also be committed to follow through and support them in practice. Churches either believe the spiritual gifts aren't gendered or they don't. If they believe God gifts women to lead, they have a moral imperative to steward the spiritual resources of their congregation as well as they would the financial resources, regardless of how busy they are or how some older members might feel about it. There are wise ways to slowly incorporate this change, but it's a change that must be a priority.
Women Holding Back
While it may be true that women simply aren't being selected for the position of small-group pastor, it's also true that women aren't putting themselves forward for the position. A few years ago, internal research at Hewlett Packard revealed that women only applied for a promotion if they believed they had 100 percent of the listed qualifications; men applied when they believed they had 60 percent.
Some researchers attribute this to a crisis of confidence. "There is … a vast confidence gap that separates the sexes," write researchers Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. "Compared with men, women don't consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they'll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities." Kay and Shipman may be on to something—perhaps a lack of confidence is the root cause for women failing to put themselves forward. But there may be other reasons as well.
Perhaps one reason is the competing demands on Western women. On one hand, women outearn men when it comes to obtaining college and graduate degrees. Since 1982, women have earned ten million more degrees than men. Yet, statistics show that despite these educational attainments, more women are choosing to stay home with young children.
These women are part of the first generation that was told from birth that the scope of their goals was broad, spacious, and limitless. They could do anything, be anything, and have it all. This is also the generation who discovered it wasn't so. The demands of family and a career are difficult, if not impossible, to manage. An investment in one sphere always means a deficit in the other, and rather than try to juggle both, many women are just opting out.
Another reason women hold back is the lack of female role models. Our aspirations are part visionary—they're a dream of what is possible, and what we deem possible is often driven by role models, people who have walked the way before us. It's the chicken and the egg scenario—there is a dearth of female small-group pastors, resulting in fewer role models, resulting in fewer women aspiring to become small-group pastors, resulting in a continued dearth of female small-group pastors.
Changing the Trend
The lack of female leaders in small-group ministries is a deeply complex, multi-faceted issue that must be intentionally addressed by faith communities. Here are three important, proactive steps:
Clarify the Issue in Your Own Community
The first step is to discern what's happening in your faith community. How many female leaders are currently on staff? If there are few or none, clarify why that is the case. Is it the result of church policy on female leaders, simple oversight, lack of female talent, or some other reason? Acknowledging and clarifying the issue brings it to the forefront and provides an opportunity to advance the conversation about women serving in ministry.