–Daniel S. Ferguson
Yesterday was International Women’s Day, marked by protests at Trump Tower and a nationally organized work boycott by women around the globe. The whole point was to show the world how much women contribute to the economy, society, and culture. I’m totally behind that, particularly in a world where the President of the United States has at least claimed (if not acted on) the belief that women exist for his personal entertainment. (That’s not a political statement; it’s a fact statement.
I grew up with a mother as a minister. In the Southern Baptist Convention. In the ’90s. It was trying. I and my siblings went through significant trauma because of the issue of a woman being in church leadership. My mother never thought of herself as a pioneer, but she really was. She paved the way for women to lead ministries in ways that were impossible just thirty years ago.
However, it’s still difficult for women to lead at churches. My mother, in thirty years of ministry, has never once had the title of “pastor.” Churches have instead favored the terms “minister” and “director” as her title.
Not one of the nation’s largest 100 churches are led by a woman. Granted, some women co-lead major churches with their husbands, such as Victoria Osteen, and some have had significant impacts on Christian living resources, such as Joyce Meyer and Beth Moore.
But still, where’s Captain Janeway?
What gives? Is it sexism? Maybe. Is it the glass ceiling? Possibly. Is the Bible itself standing in the way? At least somewhat.
I can’t help but notice the church’s total silence on most women’s issues. The church is strongly opposed to the only women’s right it seems to comment on (abortion). Other than that, it’s mostly dead silent. On equal pay, equal respect, rights of parentage, rights of property, domestic abuse, rape, etc., the church is strangely quiet. Sure, the church is against those last two happening, but they don’t exactly handle them well.
And, as seen above, there is demonstrable evidence that leadership in church is one of the toughest glass ceilings in America.
But instead of just talking about the problem, I’d like to profile some of the most impactful women leaders in the church today. Here are three really cool ones.
1) Nadia Bolz-Weber
Nobody does it quite like Nadia. She’s a hardcore Lutheran minister who founded the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. She mixes hard theology with tattoos, in-your-face preaching, and a high level of grace that would even make Andy Stanley blanche. She survived alcoholism and drug addiction to become one of the premier and burgeoning speakers of the Millennial church, and she’s not going anywhere soon. Fully one third of her church is LGBT, a community the church has struggled to interact with for decades. One of the ministers at her church is even a drag queen, the “Minister of Fabulousness.” This isn’t to stick anything in anyone’s eye. It’s to show how open the Gospel really is.
Nadia writes regularly for Christian Century and Sojourners and has published a handful of books on Christianity and Christian practice. She was covered in More magazine in 2014 and on NPR in 2015 for her best-seller Accidental Saints.
2) Christine Caine
It’s possible to say that Christine Caine has done more to put an end to human trafficking than any individual in recent history. She’s certainly in the top ten. It’s surprisingly not that, however, but rather her advocacy for women’s rights and empowerment that’s really given her a name in Christian society. She founded Propel Women, which specifically seeks to raise women up to the calling Christine feels every woman has. Christine has authored an astonishing TWENTY books in just 14 years, several of which have topped the Christian markets.
If you’re looking for a woman to look up to, Christine’s definitely a good candidate. In my opinion, she has a better sense of God’s empowering and equipping looks like than not just any woman out there, but anybody out there at all.
3) My Mom: Lori Ferguson
This isn’t just a son’s affection. My mom is a serious badass. She’s been pushed, shoved, and bruised by churches for over thirty years, just because as a woman, she looked like a target. But she gets back up every single day and leads like a machine.
My mom’s made a thirty-year career out of being the very best leader behind the cascade of befuddled pastors under whom she’s served. She’s out-led them, out-taught them, and out-ministered them for three straight decades, and she’s showing no signs of stopping.
It hasn’t mattered what her title was, or whether she was full-time or not, or even what denomination she’d gotten herself into. My mom is among the very best in the business, and if in my ministry I’m only a tenth as influential or effective, I’ll consider myself a complete success.
Who are your favorite women leaders in Christianity? I’d love to hear all about them. Post away!