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By: Ava Kate Oleson

IN THE LAST TWENTY-FIVE YEARS, attitudes about women clergy in most denominations have changed significantly. In contemporary North America, women embraced new roles, sought public visibility, and obtained political power. Women also naturally challenged their churches to move beyond unexamined assumptions about the “maleness” of clergy. The Hartford Research Institute, who conducted the largest study ever on women ministers, reports that in spite of difficulties, women are serving effectively in pastoral roles in a larger number of churches and with greater acceptability.

How can women ensure long term sustained impact as they embrace new and exciting ways to respond to God’s call? Isn’t a passion for Christ and basic theological training sufficient? As imperative as those are, to thrive in the vibrant matrix of church leadership today, advanced competencies are most definitely required. Five distinct essentials set apart the impactful 21st century woman in ministry:

Finding One’s Own Voice

Nancy Beach, author of Gifted to Lead, implores women ministers: “The church desperately needs the voices of more women leaders, both in small settings where we clarify vision and inspire teams, and in larger gatherings where we teach workshops or give the Sunday morning message.” Beach urges women ministers to be real, tell their stories, and contribute their perspective. Without the voices of women, communities will not shine as brightly or be as healthy. Beach further encourages women in ministry to speak up. “Please listen to your life, listen to your God, and speak the words that reveal the unique communicator God made you to be.”

To lead, one must be heard. Finding one’s voice involves not only speaking up, but refining one’s own message. It involves preparation, doing research, and clarifying what to convey. Without speaking up, others will assume that you have nothing to say, and in a sense you become invisible. Carol Becker, author of Leading Women: How Church Women Can Avoid Leadership Traps and Negotiate the Gender Maze, addresses this very issue: “When a woman is invisible, she does not exist. She cannot make a difference. In fact, she cannot have a ministry or be a leader.” A study at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) revealed that successful women in ministry scored significantly higher on the language factor, reinforcing that women must find their voice and develop it.