Scott and Derek chat to Cathie Heard about developing female leaders. 

Cathie Heard is a mother, a grandmother, she’s on the ministry and maturity team at EV church, and she’s also one of our coaching directors of the Geneva Push.

From your experience of talking to women who you’re developing as leaders, or pastors who are developing women, what’s the one thing we need to do to set women up well for leadership in the church?

A big one is visioning women to think about how they could use their lives for gospel ministry in some way. I think the natural default for all of us is to be on a bit of a treadmill, having kids and then thinking through “what do I do now? Obviously go back to work.” Interrupting that process of thinking in some way and saying “is it possible? Are you in a position where you could use your gifts and be part of a church ministry in a big capacity, in a big way?”

Why is finishing up with the kids and then going back off to the workforce the default?

It’s partly cultural, it’s partly because we’re sinful and our temptation is to just think about me and what I want in life, it’s partly due to need – culturally, life has got harder with one wage. Most families are finding they need two, so that’s a real thing. But I think too maybe churches aren’t quick enough to step in and say “actually there’s a whole career you could have if you like in volunteer ministry, serving in our church, in quite significant leadership roles, would you be prepared to think about that?” We’re not very quick to get in there and have that kind of a conversation with our women.

Beyond those initial, vision-setting conversations, what are the other things we need to talk to women about regarding ministry?

One of the other aspects is being more creative with the kinds of roles we can offer women. A lot of churches have a couple of options for women, and then find it hard to think beyond that. I think we could do better than that. There are heaps of things that our churches could be doing, if we were creative and thought about it, that would strengthen their reach into the community and would provide way more variety for the kinds of gifts and skills that women could bring to the table. So I think that’s a big one.

But when you have identified those, and you’ve got women who are agreeing that they would give themselves, it’s then about setting up well. Don’t just dump and run. Don’t give them the role and never see them again. One of the things that is important to think into is: what will help women get better in their role and keep going in it?

Let me just put it out there: most roles of women in church you generally see are administrative roles, ministry support roles, or they’re the women’s worker who meets up 1:1 with a whole bunch of women, or maybe Sunday school.

So what do those other roles look like?

Here are four examples:

  1. Lots of spaces that we do our ministries in are really ugly. Have we actually thought of which women in our church are gifted in making the place look good? Make it look better. Make it appropriate to the demographic we’re trying to reach. So there’s one.
  2. Lots of new people coming to church need following up. Have we got people who are phoning them, talking to them, inviting them around? Have we got women who aren’t just doing it, but also maybe leading the whole church to do it? They’re setting up systems where people are providing hospitality for new people and existing people. So there’s another idea. 
  3. Community events. One thing we’re trialing is having a lunch straight after church. It has been great. People hang around then for a long time. New people find it easy then to stick around. So having women think into that. You’ve got catering. And women that can lead teams – when you’ve got catering teams, you’ve got women who can lead teams of men and women doing this together and pooling their ideas to come up with a great eating gourmet experience.
  4. Women can also bring good organisational skills. So sometimes sitting in meetings, women can bring in the question, “that’s a great vision, but what are the steps that we need to do to get there?” So they can bring that aspect. Women in meetings can bring in, “that’s a great decision, but how will it impact people on the ground emotionally, relationally, what’s this going to do?” So having women as part of decision-making is helpful. Having women identify all the gifts that your congregation have and part of that is personally interviewing each person to find out what are they good at. In their workplace what do they do? What could they bring to church ministries? And sitting down and working out, “how do I match-make what this person is and who they are with the ministry needs in our church?” Women can bring great strengths to that.

Why is it we consistently keep limiting women’s roles, and how do we get out of that mould?

It’s partly because we get stuck in a rut. So we do church, we know what church looks like because we were in one, and the person who trained us was in one, and we’re copying it. But let’s break out of that and think from the ground up. What do I need to do to reach my community? Start there and then be more creative.

Do women need something different to men in being raised up, being encouraged into leadership and continuing in it? 

It can be a dangerous question because you end up going into generalisations, but I’m going to go there. I think there are generally differences.

Women can be less confident to step into a leadership role, and so may need more encouragement to do that. It may be too that women are more relational. That means it will be important to be part of a team where they can process their thinking, where they can feel their responsibility is shared, it’s not just on them, that they’re part of a group and there’s a relational camaraderie with other people doing the ministry. So meetings need to happen. I think that’s really significant for helping women stick at it long-term and not get lonely in the job. Now I’d say the same for men, but maybe more significantly for women.

Women might need more affirmation. They might be a little less secure or confident in the role. They might need more affirmation that what they are bringing to the table, what they are doing, they are doing well. I think women have to be careful not to need that too much, not be needy. Both men and women need to keep working out their identity in Christ and being sure of that. But I think it shows itself in that kind of insecurity for women, of needing a lot of affirmation, so they have to be careful.

They need to be trusted – this is the flipside. And have a sizeable role, not be micro-managed. Be allowed to make mistakes, and that’s ok, pick yourself up and have another go. Be prepared: women can be more conscientious sometimes, so helping them be prepared not to be 100% perfect. 80% is good enough. Helping women have that mindset.

Again, these are huge generalisations, not every woman is like this.

Women can sometimes go into the details, which can be a helpful part to bring to the table, but have to be careful to zoom back and see the bigger picture as well. I think the ideal is to be able to be a person who can zoom in and zoom back out.

How important is the senior pastor who models this? What things can a senior pastor or church leader do to encourage women in their teams?

They can model an expectation that women need to be part of this, can be part of this, and we’re looking for those women that can be. Just that mindset will permeate a lot of meetings and permeate the rest of the staff, so that’s helpful.

Then in meetings, being aware: are women speaking? Are they sitting back or are they part of the conversation? Are they being given a turn to talk? Women can either talk too much or they can sit right back and not talk enough. Both of them are probably from insecurities, so drawing that out.

So is that a conversation offline: “Hey Cathie, I noticed you didn’t say anything today, what was going on?” Or is it, in the meeting: “Cathie, what do you have to say?”

Both work well.

I think too, the main pastor may not be the initial overseer, the layer of leadership directly above each woman. So it’s about having the layer of leadership above each women being able to meet with them, help them process their thinking, and keep asking them “what do you want to do next in your ministry? Where do you want this ministry to go?” So asking good questions. But having meetings so that she’s got a place where her work matters, and someone is pushing her to think even more about what she could do next.

Any other random thoughts, comments you want to throw out there that you think people need to hear on this?

One of the aspects of being a woman too is that you may have family at home. You may be juggling lots of things, and we need to have that recognition that she will sometimes need flexibility in her role. Being respectful and gentle enough to allow for that is helpful. Some women can only stay in roles for a couple of years before they need to just duck back out again, and then come into it again. So there probably needs to be more flex for women. That’s my random thought.

What’s the one thing that we should be taking away when it comes to raising up female leaders?

From what we’ve been saying, I’ve got 3:

Firstly, find women. Find them, they’re out there! But bring your gospel conviction conversation to the table with them, and not just one but probably a few. Work may not be their only option if you were to give them another one. So find them.

Secondly, think more broadly about what ministries your church could be running and which women could be involved in leading them.

Thirdly, I guess it goes back to visioning. So find the women and vision them. Vision, vision, vision. That’s what keeps you going serving the Lord.