Dear Addie,

For two years I have been on staff at a fairly large church.  Recently, several strong women leaders in the church had some complaints about the programs I direct.  Instead of coming to me, they went to the pastor.  The situation has bogged down, and now I am stuck in a messy triangle of conversation.  While I need lots of advice about handling conflict, my biggest question is why other women seem to be my harshest critics and the least supportive of my ministry role?  I just assumed women would be my very best supporters.

Feeling Stuck


Addie ProvidenceDear Feeling Stuck,

Did you ever play the “Tangled Up” game?  A group forms a shoulder-to-shoulder circle and grabs hands with someone across from themselves.  The goal is to re-form the circle without letting go of anyone.  This leads to a tangled mess, with strangely postured people facing in different directions.   Your letter makes me think about this challenging, painful, usually played once game. You need to be untangled and certain moves can help.

First, change the “messy triangle of conversation” into a circle with everyone involved.  Center the dialogue on those programs that seem to be the focus of concern.  Demonstrate your desire to make these church ministries as strong as possible.  When church conflict becomes personality-centered rather than ministry-centered, rediscovering common ground by working on ministries together often resolves situations, or moves them forward.  Is it time to re-dream the program?  Are there new ideas and interests that you need to hear? Describe your best hopes and ideas to the others.  Explain why you are passionate about certain directions and choices. Explore what you would like these ministries to help your church learn and experience.   Listen to others offer their hopes, ideas and passions.   Consider new possibilities together.  Keep focusing on the church’s ministry.  If, and when, participants share concerns, address them together in this place of constructive conversation.

Secondly, remember that effective ministry creates helpful patterns of communication rather than spreads hurtful ones.  Ministers who urge people to speak directly with those that they have issues with, and who model this practice themselves, provide rare wisdom and spiritual leadership.  In a church of your size, creating this healthy atmosphere takes effort.  If your church has a history of hurtful communication, changing this pattern will be challenging and sometimes painful.  At the same time, such leadership will be invaluable for the church.  Learning to speak the truth in love is may be the spiritual growth your congregation needs to experience most.

The word “stuck” also applies to why other women are sometimes less supportive of a woman minister than you might expect them to be.  When churches fail to see that everyone in Christ is gifted for some form of ministry, we get stuck.  Women who are not supportive of women clergy may have gifts and callings for ministry that were never encouraged or supported.  As a minister of the gospel, you have the opportunity to build up the body of Christ by holding the door open for those women who need encouragement and opportunities to offer and use their gifts for ministry more effectively.  You have a place in which to connect the strengths of others with the needs their gifts could meet.

Christ’s church grows stronger when all members share in ministry.  Those who find their place in God’s joyful, consuming, purposeful mission, usually have little need—or time–to tear down or criticize.  Those who are the harshest critics may choose that role because they don’t see another.  Could you challenge, equip and redirect them with new possibilities?




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*The photo of Addie Davis is provided courtesy of Special Collections, Jack Tarver Library, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.