I just returned from Denver. I went there by invitation of the ECC: Evangelical Covenant Church denomination who invited myself and other women Covenantchurch planters to attend a conversation about how to best support women church planters and how to make church planting more accessible to a greater number of women.
It was an honor to be included in this group. Seven leaders from the Covenant ranging from the head of Church Growth and Evangelism to the new head of Church Planting to the chair of Compassion, Mercy and Justice to the only woman superintendent were present. We had 12 around the table, but only five of us are actually planting Covenant churches.
The small number was the reality for our conversation.
Church planting is actually one of the best ways for a woman in ministry to be a lead pastor.
In the Covenant denomination, the decision making process for a church is through congregational leadership. This means that even if the conference superintendent and other leaders are very encouraging towards women leadership, the trickle down effect to the actual church is rather slow as people on search committees have less openness to hiring a lead pastor who is a woman. I believe this is because we are most open to what is most familiar to us. Women senior leaders are not very prevelent in evangelical churches, so the change effect is slow.
In church planting, the decision making process is different.
In order to become a church planter, you must be invited to the church planting assessment which is a three day rigorous process where just about everything you do is evaluated and then a team of people discern if church planting is the right call for you.
Pastors are either given an unconditional acceptance which means that you are seen as being able to go anywhere to plant, or a conditional acceptance which means that some parameters are put around the call: such as continuing to work on leadership skills, relational challenges or geographical areas.
Or, you receive a no, which is a closed door to church planting. These no's are actually gifts in disguise because starting a new church is hard enough, but not having the gifts and call to do it tend to make it a very negative experience.
My fellow planters and myself come from a variety of backgrounds and their churches are in varying levels of developmental stages. One woman is married with an adult daughter and has been planting for 7 year. Another woman is just beginning to plant as a co-pastor with her husband in Oregon. Another is recently married and has just started weekly services in Detroit. The other woman is single and has been planting for four years.
The most open conversation about the reality of our struggles came at the end of the two day session. Feelings became raw and open as we felt safer with one another. Frustrations in lack of leadership options surfaced, and yet across the board, we expressed honor and delight at hearing that the Holy Spirit was bringing the initiative for more women to plant to the top of a list of priorities for the new head of Church Growth and Evangelism. This explains his organization of our time together.
I met Alan Hirsch at the beginning of May. Alan is currently one of the most recognized voices for the missional church movement both in church and academic circles. He also told me that he senses that it's time to surface the women in ministry issue in the US because to quote him, "Male treatment of women in ministry is abysmal."
I left our time together very encouraged. I am always happy to be part of the bigger picture of what God is doing in specific ways with specific people at specific times. I feel strategically positioned for such a time as this in both my gender and the structure of Missio Lux being a dispersed missio community model.
I can't wait to write the next segments of God's story in me.