EWLI/Mars Hill lunch

the dominant feature in my day yesterday, here at EC05, was a 3 1/2 hour invitation-only lunch and discussion hosted by mars hill graduate school and the emerging women’s leadership initiative (which, having known about for over a year, and have typed a hundred times in emails, was surprised to find is now being referred to phonetically as “you-ly” — or, maybe that should be “ewe-ly”). about 25 of us gathered to listen and dialogue, obstensibly around the idea of how we can encourage women leaders in the emerging church. i was pumped to be invited to this gathering, and have felt for some time now that YS has a mantle to both serve women youth pastors and be prophetic about this issue into the church.

let me get my frustration(s) out of the way first, then i’ll get to the good stuff:

– i only knew about 8 – 10 of the 25-ish people there, and there was absolutely no opportunity to even have introductions. i still have no idea who most of those other people were. it’s really hard for me to sit in a 3 1/2 hour meeting, with that few people, and not know who they are, what the context is for their comments.

– a bigger, and certainly more subjective, issue: Jen Lemen very wisely encouraged me a day earlier, when we were chatting about my “ys and women” stuff, not to create a ghetto for women. yesterday’s lunch wasn’t promoting a ghetto, but it felt like a cul-de-sac. it felt like the same questions and ideas (with a few exceptions, of course) that have been raised in every you-ly meeting so far (to be fair, i’ve not been part of these — and i’m only speaking here from 2nd-hand knowledge). but even the fact that my lunch-time discussion partner (we were asked to pair off — one female and one male — for the actual lunch 1/2-hour) was rachelle (one of the high-lights of my time, see below); and when we were asked to start our dialogue by sharing “what we used to think about women in ministry” and “what we think now about women in ministry”, she sighed a heavy sigh, and said she was so tired of this exercise, having done it so many times. all this to say, i’m not sure this is getting anywhere. the time was valuable for ME. but i think that’s only a portion of the goal. i really, really, really wish kara powell (theologian, professor, center director at fuller, small business owner, mother and wife, junior high ministry volunteer, author) and jeanne stevens (emergent convention planning team for two years, learning community lead tour guide, student ministries pastor at willow with multiple men under her leadership, wife and soon-to-be-mother) and karla yaconelli (active owner of youth specialties) had been there — three of the amazing women in leadership i know ((who are all here with very visible roles at the event) who have no time for being frustrated that men aren’t giving them power, because they’re too busy leading.

– while the time was “feminine” in it’s artistic elements, i was surprised by how controlled the “dialogue” was. luckily, i really came with the idea that i needed to listen, so wasn’t frustrated too much by this; just more surprised.

ok – but, there was really good stuff too:

– a simple one first. i’m not in very many meetings where i don’t have a significant role. it was really good to be in a 3 1/2 hour meeting where i only spoke about 4 – 6 sentences (other than my lunch chat with rachelle).

– i’ve heard about rachelle mee-chapman for a couple years, and started reading her blog a while back, after she was recommended as a seminar leader for the EC, and she and i had e-dialogue about her being at both events. but i’d never met her face-to-face. so i asked if she would be my lunch partner. i really (truly) enjoyed hearing rachelle’s story. she strikes me as a very healthy and whole person, comfortable in her skin, and confident in her calling and abilities.

– i know hearing stories of struggle is important; but i most enjoyed hearing the story of a woman (dang, can’t remember her name! — she has the best hair at the entire event: white-blonde dreads, pulled back into a rasta-librarian thing) who is one of the pastors of a church in portland (i think it’s called bridge). there was ease in her story — not that it was easy; but it had room to breathe. it was, after all, a story of where we should/could be going.

– power was a theme throughout — maybe not for everyone else, but for me. this first came up in my time with rachelle, and i took strong notice of it, since it’s an issue we’ve been addressing at ys in the last 6 months. at ys, the power issue isn’t gender-related, it’s employer/employee, or heirarchical. we realized (duh!) about 6 months ago (thanks to a killer organizational psychograph of our company) that power was the biggest hurdle to us realizing the dream of the organization we’d like to become. when i mentioned to rachelle that we’re proactively thinking through how to “divest power”, she connected with this language, which was a good confirmation for me. but, i continued to ask myself, through the next few hours, “how can i actively divest power to women who can lead?”

– much of the group seemed to talk about power in terms of position (job) or role. in the outside ys world (as opposed to our staff), it seems that power is most clearly displayed in “platform time”. doing seminars, or even moreso, speaking at a general session, or being on our CORE team — those are the places of power (i’m saying this in a neutral way). but the reality is, ys moved beyond tokenism in having women in those “places of power” long ago. so, not that this is perfected by any stretch of the imagination, but i started wondering what the step after divesting power would be.

– oh, and on tokenism. i’m enjoyed hearing rachelle say she’s a fan of tokenism, as long as it’s chosen for a noble outcome (my words, not quite hers).

– one of the guys (a friend, but i’ll withhold his name as his comment was so personal) made a very interesting observation. in the discussion of power, he said (with great emotion), “it seems to me that many of you women are assuming that all of us men have spent our entire lives in places of power due to a patriarchal societal structure; but, i think you’re missing the fact that many of us — maybe even most of us — spent a significant portion of our lives, extremely formative years, under the power and control of a woman (our mothers). and for many, this is still the case. and this has implications to this dialogue.”

– i have a sense that ys is to play a role in doing two things in the specific area of women and youth ministry: first, we need to move forward in serving female youth ministers more specifically; and, second, we need to be more of a prophetic voice to the church about the validity of women in youth ministry.

7 thoughts on “EWLI/Mars Hill lunch”

  1. How much influence do you think YS can have in light of the major denominations either refusal of empowering women leaders or ignoring the issue altogether?

    Maybe you’ve already answered it – a prophetic voice – which means no influence but a voice calling in the desert.

    Secondly – do you think YS scaling back of involvement in NPC and EC will hurt or limit your voice on this issue?

    Hard questions – I realize, know I’m on your team just trying to help.

  2. great questions, grant.

    yeah, one of my questions has been, how can we influence other structures that are totally “other” from us? i think you nailed it — only subversively and prophetically.

    i think our “scaling back” (or refocusing) will help us with this. it gives us more reserves and focus and energy and ability to think about this issue specifically in the area of youth workers. and we already have thousands of female youth workers coming to our events, so it’s a natural place to start, by more proacively encouraging and resourcing them.

  3. This is all so encouraging to read. As part of YMWomen.com (the network for women in youth ministry), we’re still trying to find the best ways to encourage, equip, and empower women in youth ministry. Anyone with ideas, thoughts, or suggestions, please send them my way!

  4. i agree. cul de sac. but it was good to connect with you, marko, this time around at ec, outside of the context of those events. that felt normal and good.

  5. Being a woman in youth ministry, I get frustrated by some of my female colleagues who seem to want to concentrate on their “power” struggles and how unappreciated they are. I’ve found that if I continue to do the best ministry I’m capable of without the “I’m-a-female” chip on my shoulder, it communicates volumes more than if I meet with other women to commiserate. At the same time, I do grow weary of answering the “Oh, is your husband the youth pastor?” question at NYWC.

Leave a Reply