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August 10, 2007

The Black Hole of Fear



Within the past 12 months, I've been going around in my travels having casual conversations with groups of Christian women and asking them to list the women leaders they can think of who don't seem scared to them. No one ever answers immediately, except to say, "They're aren't any!" Typically it takes about 20 seconds before someone comes up with a serious suggestion.

So I clarified the question: "Can anyone think of a woman who leads both women and men in a sphere that isn't traditionally led by women and who doesn't seem afraid?"

Silence.

Once, however, someone suggested the late Mother Teresa. Unlike other prominent women in society, Mother Teresa seemed to lack the usual markers of underlying fear. Think about it. She didn't hold back from speaking her mind in public. (She spoke boldly against abortion at Harvard.) She wasn't worried about her looks. She didn't have an eating disorder. She didn't resort to coarse humor. She wasn't edgy. She didn't over-apologize. She didn't take pains to assure other Catholic leaders that "she really didn't want their jobs."

As compared to Mother Teresa, how afraid do the rest of us seem?

In my estimation, there is a black hole of fear that tends to suck women leaders down into its gravitational pull. From what I can tell, Christian women leaders are especially vulnerable to this black hole.

I don't want Christian women to be fearful. Yet I am all too acquainted with the debilitating power of fear. But I have been battling against it. I have prayed for twenty years for the strength to repent from sinful fear. I don't want to be afraid of other people or what they think. I don't want to be distracted when someone in the church says that women are "not called" into pastoral leadership or public positions of influence. I don't want to waste time being nervous. Nor do I want to strive in fear by over-preparing or overworking lest I become excluded somehow.

Let me try to contextualize what I'm saying. Most of the Christian women reading this posting are confident leaders. But deep inside, in a rather subtle way, many of us are burdened by fear. We're a little bit afraid because the standards placed upon us are so high. At once, or so it seems, we are required to prove to others that we are competent for the job, able to hold up emotionally, and safe - not too threatening - to the people around us. We are also required to prove our credibility as leaders. This is quite a tough assignment.

If any of us fear this assignment, already we are weakened emotionally. Our fear shows up and betrays us. We may not consciously feel afraid, but if subconsciously we are, others notice.

What I would like to point out is that when Christian women leaders feel afraid, our fear itself enables our dissenters. It convinces them all the more that we, as women, are simply not cut out for leadership. Granted, every good leader sometimes shudders at the thought of making a big mistake at the expense of others. But that is not the fear that women tend to battle the most. Perhaps I should speak for myself. The fear I battle most is the fear of being disqualified on account of my being female. I think women leaders feel an extra burden of fear because our legitimacy as leaders is often questioned.

I don't want to question my own legitimacy as a leader. I want to rest assured in God's calling on my life. I want to be so assured so that my old familiar fears are crowded out.

Christian women leaders don't have to be afraid. We can choose the way of wisdom instead. Wisdom gives a more accurate perspective. Wisdom helps us see, so that we can stand strong and be confident instead of giving in to anxiety again.

Comments

Sarah,
How true. I think it's important for all women to face their fears, to speak to the inner doubts, etc. But as long as 'the teaching' continues to go on unchallenged, many will go to their grave, wondering why it is a man can stand up and proclaim his love and faith in God in church and a woman can't.
This is a terrible blot on the Bride of Christ and it's time for both men and women in leadership as well as in the pew to clarify once and for all who we all are in Christ.

Look at this generation...women are covering themselves completely rather than to bear the shame of men. What kind of gospel does the church declare for these women? Take of the berka, but don't preach in the pulpit...
Isn't it the same thing?

Sarah,

As usual, you have articulated things so well. This is an excellent article. I hadn't even thought about Mother Theresa in that way--but now she is a new image in my mind as a fearless one. It seems the key for her was that she was so assured of her calling and she knew Whom she was serving--so she didn't have to justify herself to anyone.

I have definitely battled my own anxiety as I move into different areas of leadership--afraid I will be held back from pursuing dreams because of a gender barrier, or afraid of not measuring up. But, I have to trust God will empower me in what it is he wants me to do in this life.

Karen

I wonder if our biggest fear is not of being inadequate but of being too much?

It seems to me that as women we sell ourselves short (and live in fear) because we know that if we brought all we have to offer, spoke the truth all the time, really lived from a place of freedom and power, that we might just upset the apple cart, make waves, create trouble...most often for men.

Instead, we stay small - and yes, afraid - but not of others. We're afraid of what might happen if we chose to be who we most truly are!

How amazing would it be if we chose to believe that we are not too much, that we have every right and privilege to "bring it on, " that the real (and often painful) conequences of being ourselves still don't outweigh the beauty and power, tenderness and compassion, wisdom and strength we have to offer?

Mother Teresa wasn't concerned with others' experiences of her. She was herself - consistenly, bravely, unreservedly. And she was not scary - or scared! She was beautiful.

I'm thinking that's true about all women...and the fear thing is others' of us!

I know several women leaders who have led or are leading without fear. Some of them are way more fearless than any man leader I know.

It seems that women's ministry leaders feel the need to hesitate and appear fearful because it makes them look humble or lacking aggression. A culture has been established and we need women leaders to function as mentors as the paradigm shifts (as I believe it is doing).

I'm just curious about whether Ansku ministers in North American culture. I have British friends who wonder what the brouhaha is all about for women in leadership in America. When I think of strength of spiritual authority, I think of some Nigerian women. It is my North American sisters who have struggled with these issues.

Is there something about North American evangelical subculture that is particulary destructive to women with leadership gifts?

I also find that sometimes the issue is not just a gender issue. Lay people sometimes are made to feel the "weaker" vessel. How many times have we heard, "I'm just a lay person?" Failing to implement an Ephesians 4 model of ministry, where the pastoral gift is just one of several equipping gifts, not necessarily a professional status, has created a clergy class that relegates the lay person to a lesser status. So sometimes the issue for me is not that I am female, but that I am not a pastor, don't have a DMin after my name, etc.

The smartest and most godly men that I know affirm my spiritual authority and gifts. The insecure men don't. Too bad the former are rare.

Enough to say for now, but Sarah Sumner's writings have made me braver. Thanks!

Sarah,

This is my first time on this site, but how true your statements are. I am an ordained minister within my fellowship and for the past several days have sat through our national biannual business meetings where we once again voted down placing women on our national Presbytery. I sat there in the business session wanting to get up and address the issue (any minister has that right) but I was fearful of the perception that might give my local leaders.

Once again I felt like to defend our right of representation would defend my credibility as a women in ministry. Yet there wasn't a man in the room who would ever think that way.

I left our conference on Sunday feeling discouraged since I belong to what is supposed to a fellowship that affirms the ordination of women, we are suppose to be able to do anything a man can do in theory but when the rubber meets the road it just doesn't happen.

Sarah - and Ronna, as well - well put. As a corporate manager, I have never feared leadership in the secular world. I don't fear it in the church world either; however, I do have concerns about being a fish out of water.

I have avoided battling the leadership challenge in the chuch world for the very reason that Ronna stated. I would overwhelm them - mostly the men - with the confidence I have learned in the secular setting. I am concerned this would intimidate, and thus alienate - both men and women in the church.

Currently, I see the model of a Christian woman leader in the church as being both counter-cultural and counter-Jesus. That's not to say that the church should become just like the world in which we live, but it has created a culture that is not only un-biblical but unsuccessful at maximaxing the gifts and talents of over 50% of their members. It's not bad 'for business', it's just downright bad for the Kingdom!!

Four years ago my husband and I stumbled upon a wonderful church that, I guess, could be labeled 'emerging'. The leadership in the church - all men - say the right words, but I have yet to see them put the words into action. BUT, based upon Ronna's comments, could it be because the women who have the gift of leadership have not yet stepped up and "owned" what God has already provided?

What are we waiting for?

It is amazing the way life throws a curve ball. Fear is an innate thing in a woman's life. It is a sublte tool of the growth process. Girls are taught to behave and to listen. As women in the church we are the most dedicated and committed of the followers. We have the ability to nurture the young and old. However, somethig sublime happens when we are moved in the forefront. Now as leaders we have a unnatural weight. Odd, considering it is the same responsibility we once held. It is the trditionalist tendencies of male to women role, which caused us to tremble: will we be accepted, are we speaking with authority,and finally, am I credible. I was languishing in a second masters to obtain credible- so just in case someone did not think I was called. My Father god told me you are who I said you were, I dropped out of school and drop in my ministry. If we spend time worry, when do we spend time trusting? If god is the one who lead you to become a Chrisitan, surely you heard His voice when He called you to call others to become a Christian. Be like Timothy, preach the word in and out of season- knowing that who God calls, He equips. this equipping is with a hedge of protection, supporters; with knowledge of the word or a possible mentor; this equipping is the faith to follow the words of God, and this equipping is to not be swayed by those who were not in your body when the Lord said run with the word because it is due to a lack of knowledge my people perished. therefore, ladies, be of God courage, know that God is still God and He says what He means. Better to face and fight men, then to fight God. God bless and God has yet to let me down. Minister, Sheila D. Blair
I am the Lion, let me at "em"

I can think of a number of women in leadership in our denomination (Evangelical Covenant) whose leadership isn't marked by fear. They may not be known on a national level, but they often have powerful and effective ministries. I've often witnessed both men and women standing up to advocate for (and when necessary, defend) the role of women in leadership. I'm sure there are exceptions to this but overall, I found this atmosphere refreshing after years of ministry in an evangelical sub-culture that denigrated women in ministry. Thanks for talking about this topic. It is a much needed discussion! An aside - I found Janet Hagberg's book "Real Power: Stages of Personal Power in Organizations" to be extremely helpful when it comes to this topic.

I've always believed that the Bible says women should not be the head pastor of a church. I've also always believed that it is the curse of the fall that women should be put under men's authority and have to go to men for guidance. However, I never once thought that women were not fit for leadership, themselves. God uses everyone for His purpose and I see several women in the ministry that belong in the ministry.

I know that there is a fear of not being treated equally with men, but I we should not get politically correct on this. I don't think that this is the only thing that causes fear in a woman leader. I think we naturally are afraid that we're not good enough. It's part of human nature.

I'm so glad you posted this because it really encouraged me. I've always known I was not meant to be a real leader in the forefront, but I also know that God calls all of use to be leaders in the sense that we are called to be witnesses and to be a part of a Christian body. Too many times I've been afraid that I was not good enough to write devotionals, but I've learned that God does not care. We should not worry about the future, God will take care of us.

About Mother Theresa: Yes, she had little fear in her heart and yes, I appreciate the way she stood up for things, but I have to wonder what she truly believed. I've never really approved of literal "marriage to Christ" in becoming a nun (but I don't want to pick a fight there). The real thing I'm concerned about is the fact that so many Catholics believe in salvation through works. I never saw Mother Theresa speaking about salvation through faith in Christ alone. I've written a short on this topic (in reply to another post on another blog) at http://confabremarks.blogspot.com/2007/08/httpwww.html

I have been thinking about Sarah's topic "the black hole of fear" and I would have to agree with most of what she says. I was also wondering though if as women we often feel fear simply because it is another deep emotion. Women are often seen as a gender which is perceptive, sensitive and deeply in touch with their emotions. I would suggest this could mean two things. One we feel fearful quicker than our male counterparts. Secondly, it is our emotional, sensitive, perceptive nature which enables God to use us to speak to peoples hearts. This is what makes others afraid of us. You see we can feel afraid but as women in Christain leadership we can be used to challenge the deep, emotionaly linked spirituallity in others....and I sometimes wonder if it is this that makes others more afraid of women in leadership, rather than just their gender!!!!

Hmmm, I am a woman leader and I am not afraid. Pressed down perhaps, but not afraid. Angry sometimes, but not too fearful. I wonder if thats because my husband supports my leadership? Or because I am older (47)? I wonder if fear comes more with younger women?

I think there is merit to Brenda's observation that age is a factor in whether or not we are afraid to exercise our gifts, I am even older than Brenda (59) and I think that my age has made me less fearful, but it has also been harder for my contemporaries than it is for some younger women today. It is encouraging to see that there are some open doors in the emergent church movement and among younger male leaders who welcome women's leadership gifts. Not universally, but there are pockets of breakthrough to new and more biblical paradigms.

I also agree with Brenda that a supportive husband makes us braver.

Though I have become more sure of myself as the years have gone by, and more confident about how God uses me, I can say that I have had my share of fear, mostly because I have been wounded and I have had to decide each time whether or not I would get up again. When I think about the things that I have experienced, it is remarkable that grace has brought me to a place of poise, instead of anger. However, it still hurts that though I walk among pastors and leaders in some leadership networks, I am sometimes subtly excluded. One pastor might invite another pastor to lunch with me standing right there. Or a pastor might begin a theological conversation with another and turn away from me, assuming I would not be interested or conversant with the issues.

I can only count three pastor friends in my entire lifetime who treated me as a peer. Many have respected me and appreciated me, but only three have imagined me to be on par with them in gifting, interests, and capabilities.

Yet I am also thrilled because I know that I influence, whether or not my pastor friends perceive my influence. I especially see how I strengthen the relational bonds in my networks, something that few male pastors know how to do. I suspect it's something like being the mom in the home. Nobody realizes how important she is to the family dynamic until she goes off on a two-week mission trip.

This time I hope my post won't hiccup. :)

Sarah,
I do not seeing fear as being a hindrance anymore than I see any other struggle that a woman or any one else faces. Why? Because of Paul's words in II Corinthinans 12:8-9 where his stuggle with a weakness led him to actually rejoice in his weakness because it gave him the chance to experience a deeper sense of God's work in his life.
I can honestly say that most of my life has been dominated by fear that kept me right where the enemy wanted me to be- feeling defeated, unable to accomplish anything and pouring contempt on myself.
As I teach a Bible study now and still battle with it, though to a much smaller degree than I once did, I see it as a great opportunity to learn that my greatest hindrance is God's greatest asset- the more I fear, the more I cling to Him, turn to Him, seek Him, tell Him that this isn't my thing, it's His.
Perhaps it's His purpose in allowing hard situations to arise, so that we let Him do His thing and realize that it is His thing to do to being with. I know if I had always been a self-confident person, that is exactly what I would always be, but instead by His grace I'm a God-confident woman.

I'm old enough to have watched an older male faculty member at a seminary decide that women in church leadership were OK, reversing his teaching of several decades--and then be displaced by insecure younger male faculty.

I think age is a huge issue in how comfortable men are with women in leadership. It can be hard for women to find the place of service where their gifts are not just valued but permitted, and some women do become fearful of the next biblical bat that will be swung at them.

I hope, for the sake of us all, that we will find places of peaceful service, and that those of us who are not called to train women and children will be led so clearly by God's hand that none will dispute it.

Women in leadership is a very HOT TOPIC! I have experienced the envy and jealousy first hand in ministry, but not so much in the secular world. Nevertheless, I know this problem needs to be addressed in the church. Whole doctrines have been made that oppress women in church leadership unless it's a role leading the raising of funds/money. I was viewing some videos on UTUBE and came across a documentary "Should Women Preach?" Before reading this blog, I thought this issue was central to African American churches/congregations from our male leaders oppression in society as black males, but now I understand clearly this is one of SATAN's many devices to further keep the message of the GOSPEL from going forth. As women, we know that we are the great communicators and I believe SATAN understands this as well. After all when Jesus rose from the grave, it was the women who spread the good news (gospel) of HIS resurrection! We as women need to know that we aren't wrestling with flesh and blood ( male leaders in ministry) as it were, but something more than the eye can see. Let's press on through prayers and fasting for the directions the Holy Spirit wants us to go despite opposition from the enemy!

I see Dr. Josie Owens as a leader without fear. I believe it is because she keeps herself grounded in the scriptures and her relationship with God is vigorious. She is the New England District Superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene.

My experience as an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church these last twenty years has held a full spectrum of emotion - thrill, adventure, hilarity, love, strength, courage, honor, exhaustion, concern, frustration, etc. Yes, there has been fear - most of it the type of fear that I do not have enough wisdom for the hour. ("Part of being smart is knowing what in you are dumb at.")I think it's the Lord's way to keep me on my knees.

I have not experienced fear of speaking out as a female leader in the ministry, but BOLDNESS to speak the truth in love. I am bold because I confess this on a regular basis, but I have experienced the "backlash" of speaking out being labeled things like rebellious, unsubmitted to authority, and selfwilled. I know that if I were a man and given the same senarios, I would not have had those things said to me.

Interesting isn't it that when people want to point out that Women should not be in leadership, they go back to the curse - That women should not be in Authority over men. Aren't we delivered from the curse? The bible is clear - There is neither male/nor female in Christ. Do we believe it or not? If we are delivered through Christ Jesus and if there is neither male/nor female in Christ, then God sees us all the same. Why are we still waiting to be validated, sponsored, cheered, called upon and approved by men who also were cursed in the Garden. If they are delivered and preach the word, so can we. Untold millions are on their way to hell because of the fear we all (I am included) have but I have got news for all of us. When we stand before God and have to give an account for what he has called us to do, God will not want to hear "Man wouldn't let me"

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