This year, through Baptist Women in Ministry, I had the privilege of mentoring four first call female senior pastors. In my tribe, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, only 6.5% of churches have female pastors. Unfortunately, once women break through the stain-glassed ceiling, many of us discover that leading while female isn’t easy.
At First Baptist Church, Columbia, the congregation has welcomed my leadership, but did you know that female leaders who break through the glass ceiling must beware of the glass cliff? The glass cliff is a term coiled by British researchers who studied female leaders in the business world. The research revealed that once women break through the glass ceiling their experiences are often very different than their male counterparts. Specifically, women are more likely to be in positions that are precarious and thus have a higher risk of failure, and because women are often selected to lead organizations in crisis, they can face significant opposition to their leadership. These factors can push female leaders toward the glass cliff. I don’t know if any research has been done on the glass cliff in churches, but my gut says female pastors deal with many of the same issues as women in the business world. I also know that if we have learned anything from the past year with the #metoo and #churchtoo movements it is that sexism is alive and well in the workplace and in the church.
This year has been empowering as women have spoken truthfully about the sexism they have faced. At the same time, it has also been disheartening. I wish churches were further along. I believe that Galatians 3 is part of God’s dream for the world. We are called to co-create a world where “there is neither male and female” where all are one in Christ Jesus. I believe this. But this year, I have felt a little like the man in Mark 4 who says to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
Mentoring four incredibly talented first-call female senior pastors THIS year has been a gift. Our mentoring group has been a place to talk about the challenges of pastoring and the specific issues of leading while female. It has been a place to celebrate the joys of ministry and to process the mixed emotions that have arisen this year, and I am grateful.
Carol McEntyre is pastor of First Baptist Church, Columbia, Missouri.