NZ Baptist’s brick wall: women in leadership

24 June, 2014 — 32 Comments

Back in January I wrote a post entitled New research shows women can make a difference, which was a reflection based on some research that showed women are under represented as conference speakers, and how this problem could be addressed… I compared the differences between being an egalitarian and complimentarian and why it is important for Christians to think about this.


A few days ago a colleague and friend here in New Zealand wrote a detailed post on her blog headed up The Church’s Missing Workforce. Thalia confronts the issue of New Zealand Baptist Churches having nearly 40 years (1976) of affirmation of women in church leadership roles, yet in 2014 there are not even 2% of senior or sole pastoral leadership roles in New Zealand Baptist churches filled by women. In this post I respond to Thalia’s post.

First, I want to encourage you to click over to and see the detail Thalia outlines – she articulates the problem very clearly. I think it’s helpful.

Summary of the problem

The argument is that male-dominated leadership in a church movement is unhealthy, because of two key points:

  1. God sees men and women as equal and equally to be used to work for the kingdom.
  2. If gifted women are not encouraged to lead or teach then we are all missing out.

In Thalia’s post she gives an overview of gender in the Bible, she explains why we are all missing out if women aren’t in leadership roles, and she gives some ideas of how the current situation could be challenged and changed.

I’ve already outed myself here on my blog as an egalitarian, and I’m a pastor in a movement of churches (the New Zealand Baptists) that since 1976 have made egalitarian claims, but in practice we clearly have a long way to go. Whether you’re egalitarian, complimentarian, or have never thought about this before, please see what Thalia has to say about the church’s missing workforce.

One of my observations

From 2004 I spent 3 years working for Carey Baptist College traveling around the country visiting Distance Students. During that time I came across several women chipping away at a theological qualification, often part-time, prompted because of their sense of “call”. The would often not articulate this as a call to Pastoral Leadership, but usually not long into a conversation that’s how I would describe their sense of call.

The best place to train for pastoral leadership

The best Pastoral Leadership training in New Zealand at present for anyone wanting to pastor a Baptist church is Carey’s three-year full-time on-site Diploma of Pastoral Leadership. I would even dare to say this is the best place for this sort of training full stop: many other church denominations in New Zealand are having their pastoral leaders trained at Carey.

This means, for these women I met around the country to have the best training, like Thalia had, like I had, and like many others each year, they need to shift to Auckland for 3 years and get trained, ready to then serve the national movement of churches somewhere: once trained, Baptist pastors make themselves available to serve the church anywhere.

A decision made not to get the best training

But these women chipping away at distance study had decided not to engage in the best training option, and were doing perhaps the next best thing: Distance study and/or internships in a local church while staying at “home”.

Some of the reasons for not moving to Carey for 3 years were: “family”, and “husband’s work.”

Imagine the husband being the one making the most money through his profession/career/full-time-job, and it being a bad move career-wise, or income-wise, to leave that job in South-Island-NZ (or wherever) and live in Auckland for 3 years while Wife trains to be a pastor.

What if Husband can’t get employment for the 3 years in Auckland, what if the only jobs are lower income or not that good, or what if after the training they end up shifting (being “called”) to Some-random-small-town where there might not be great employment prospects for Husband there, how will the mortgage get paid, the house get upgraded, Husband find work satisfaction, etc…

Another reason might be children: it’s not good to move children to another school in their early years, or it’s not good to move children when they’re at high school, or, we should wait until they’re at university – when they’re ready to leave the nest…

I believe these are real reasons and challenges, and I don’t want to dismiss them.

The idol of family?

I wonder if our ideals of family need to change because they sometimes work against egalitarianism. I wonder if some of the reasons and challenges that prevent married women from training to be pastoral leaders come down to a kind of selfishness of the nuclear family unit, and some inappropriate binds to traditional family values (the husband as hunter and gatherer, the wife as child raiser…).

These issues then create families that refuse to risk in the service of God, perhaps even buying into the “kiwi” dream (owning your own home on a nice section in a nice part of town on a continual upgrade schedule…).

I suggest the church (local and at the “movement” level) isn’t making this stuff any easier, by not challenging it, or even pointing it out, and by default buying into it as well, eg: “family” seems to be the ideal thing to aim for.

The system

I think I’m happy to say I had less to sacrifice than some when I stopped my career to begin training to be a pastor at Carey – I was young (25), single (with no dependants), and had intentionally decided being debt-free would give me more flexibility in the future (so no mortgage for property ownership).

My Pastoral Leadership year-group at Carey was/is all men, most had spouses and children who followed them to Auckland for 3 years, and then followed them to new places around the country to start a new life with a new local church.

And being men they all got “calls” with guaranteed stipends.  That’s how the Carey/Baptist system is set up, and it works really well for men with families who follow them to Auckland and then elsewhere.

Take the training to the women?

I’ve thought about this a bit, and I still think the best idea is getting the person with the pastoral call to be in Auckland for 3 years – I’m not convinced that finding ways to bring the training to the people is a good idea, and realistically, Auckland has everything needed for a broad training experience in such a confined space.

I also wonder, if these families can’t move to Auckland to train, are they any more likely to move to another city/town after their training to take up a pastoral role?

Bring the women to the training?

How do we get the out-of-Auckland married woman with a call to pastoral leadership, and her family, to Carey to train?

1. Challenge the model of family

We need to challenge the nuclear family model and God’s plan for family.

I hear people talking about being “equally yoked” as if your partner being Christian is the main thing. Is that really the issue? Shouldn’t it be more about someone’s partner not preventing God’s call but enabling it – together or in parallel? I also appreciate that a sense of call may form or develop after life-long partnerships have formed, so:

Way before nuclear families begin to form, in the general vibe of church life we (leaders) need to be talking up transience, an unsettled life of service, sacrifice, etc, so it’s not the “weird” or “super spiritual” people who move to India, or Thailand, or Auckland – it’s normal to do that, just like it’s normal to become a GP and live in Lower Hutt, or have your own plumbing business.

2. Remove financial pressure

We need to remove finance from being a deciding factor.

Pastors get paid pretty well in New Zealand – an average NZ household income is about $85k – this often includes two earners (the median household income is about $68k). A pastor gets about $65k including allowances.

Lets pay Pastoral Leadership students a stipend and provide housing for the 3 years of their study in Auckland. This would remove much of the financial risk barrier. While not addressing potential career disadvantages for the husband, I’m sure families would feel more “secure” if they had a guaranteed income for the 3 years of training. Sure, this is simplistic, perhaps we’d need to include means testing or other criteria, but you get the point.

This idea requires more money than is currently available, so:

3. Replace leadership that doesn’t model change

Like the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”; it takes a church to form a pastoral leader (and by “church” I mean movement-of-churches in the case of Baptists).

Local churches, the regional associations, and the national movement of churches, all need to see pastoral leadership training as something we are all involved in TOGETHER.  Rather than an individual thing (such as Jane Blogs hearing the call of God to become a pastor and either following through with it or not). Currently the application process into the Diploma of Pastoral Leadership does require input from the local church and regional association, but it’s seldom seen as owning the process.

The local church, regional association, and national movement all rely on good healthy pastoral leadership, so lets put the onus on these 3 entities to fully resource the training, taking this responsibility off the individual or family.

Just as pastors are gatekeepers of information etc in the local church, so too is the significance of regional and national leadership. The greatest headway in this area will be achieved when the leaders of these 3 entities are working hard to make a change – not just rhetoric, but vision, budget priorities, modelling, etc.

As people are nominated for leadership positions at regional and national levels (including the likes of what Baptists call Assembly Council), we should ask them how they are implementing change in this area (since as a movement we have decided it is significant) – if there is no evidence, we should not accept their nomination.

Theological reflection

This is needed on this issue – Thalia does some. I could do some too and I realise this post is light in that area – I don’t think it’s absence lessens the argument.

Read the back story

My reflections here are based on one of my observations and is just a small part of the discussion that needs to continue. If you’ve read this far and haven’t yet looked at what Thalia has said, please click over to and see the issue as she presents it.

Image: Brick Wall, by Pleasence on, Creative Commons.

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  • not a wild hera

    Thanks heaps, Mike. Such good thoughts.

    I agree that our expectations of family (and patriarchy) are fundamental to this. If you look at all the women who have been sole/senior pastors in the last decade or so (and probably before that too), you see either single women or women whose husbands were demonstrably, sacrificially supportive, and continue to be.

    On your question of whether people in senior denominational leadership model change: I think it’s clear that if the men in leadership now think it’s ok for women to be ministers, they don’t think it’s an important issue. That’s really the only conclusion to be drawn from the current situation. And they’ve been nominated/elected/chosen with that being clear, so I think the problem is just as much with the electors and nominators’ priorities.

    This brings me back to the role of preaching in the local congregation. I suspect the single most significant thing to do would be for each ‘supportive’ male minister in NZ to do a five-week sermon series on gender in the Bible and actually talk about and challenge the issues we currently skate over the surface of. Put your preaching calendar where your mouth is, friends!

    • Ben

      Thanks for the thoughts Mike…and Thalia. The idea of whose voice are we hearing church is a real challenge. I think that the white-male-middle class-mid 50’s voice is one that is part of our movement but not the only voice. It seems that in some areas voices that create an augmented harmony to the known melody is too much. On the issue of women in leadership the melody alludes to something changing but never really changes.

      • Hi Ben – the voice/melody/harmony metaphor is good.

    • Mike Walker

      Good points. Also, get women preaching in the pulpit.

    • Thalia – see the comment above from Chris – he wants to know more about your 5-week sermon series on gender…

  • christina

    Hi Mike, great post, fabulous thoughts. Thanks for taking on these issues, in my expereince having men speak on these issues is much much more powerful than if it is just women wading in.

    • I’m tired of patriarchy and I believe it’s behind a lot of the church’s problems.

  • Mike Walker

    Hi Mike,
    Good reflections.
    Part of the challenge lies largely in the hands of each local church as the call process ultimately resides with the congregation.
    Whilst I believe that the RML (Regional Mission Leader) or pastoral placement person for each association would willingly and indeed have over time offered names of good quality woman it is not ultimately in their hands.
    I Like the idea of more intentionality and income for our PL students, but there’s some complex issues around that, least of which is sourcing funds to see it happen.
    Currently some of our churches are not supporting and resourcing our Associations to enable this sort of help, there are no doubt valid reasons for this; but the reality is that at present, at least in the Mighty Waikato, we’d be pressed to do this, but I love the idea.
    Thanks for your thoughts on this, i enjoy reading your blog.

    • Hi Mike, and thanks for your thoughts! I agree that the money issue is a hard one to imagine at the moment. I also wonder if local churches stop giving money to the regional associations because they are not envisioned to do so: what use is the regional association?! (that’s a rhetorical question – I personally see use in regional associations – or at least potential! :)

    • not a wild hera

      Mike, you say that the RMLs have probably promoted women. This may be true but I don’t know that we have evidence of this. What I don’t see is much/any evidence of the RMLs or their predecessors doing anything proactive around the churches in their regions – such as running a seminar or visiting sermon on the subject. I think that will be necessary.

  • Andrew Reyngoud

    Some good thoughts there Mike. I know for me, the barriers to training included family and my wife’s work. For egalitarian couples the same obstacles occur for both male and female .
    There will be a cost to training and ministry – not all Pastors are on full stipends and allowances.I don’t think it is good for all barriers to be removed, but there needs to be support for those who are making the hard calls.
    While studying, I was able to commute to Carey (2 and a half hours drive) and to pick up consultancy. This was how I chose to overcome those barriers and relieved financial pressure on my family (it also meant my wife could train for a counselling degree at the same time). But both not living in Auckland and working while training as a Pastoral Leadership student required special permission to be granted by the faculty. If I did not know I could ask, or if the permission was denied then it would have placed a substantial barrier before my wife and myself.

    So a big yes from me about removing unintentional and unneeded barriers as well as being upfront with communication. And I do understand that it is good to keep on discussing further options.

    • Hi Andrew and thanks for sharing some of your experience. You were fortunately to live so close(!) to Carey. I know of adults born and bread in Christchurch who have never been to Auckland – that must add some anxiety into the mix…

  • Chris

    This is a great thread of discussion. Good one Mike! I note with pleasure that our churches are being asked to vote on a new Baptist Mission Society Director with the letter arriving in our post this week. The person is a woman and I’m impressed by the recommendation. This is a senior position in our movement which gives me hope.
    I agree that the local churches are not easy communities to shift viewpoints on, both with this issue and a few others. I’m so pleased we have a couple of excellent women preachers at our place- they are on my mind cos they are in the roster to preach over the next while. I’d love to hear a bit more about a five week sermon series on gender. It might prompt my lazy self to tackle it…

    • not a wild hera

      Chris, the Bible overview on my post would be a starting point. Or you could just focus on the 1 Cor and 1 Tim texts over a couple of weeks each, plus the context of Paul’s other writings on gender and women. Books like Paul Women and Wives or the Blue Parakeet could give you a framework?

    • Hi Chris – yes, Rachel Murray as the new Baptist Mission Society Director is great news! I wonder if the fact she’s been doing the role in an interim capacity for more than 6 months has been a good way to prove she’s the best one for the job at this time (I mean, for anyone who may have had doubts because she is not a man). Or maybe our overseas mission people have always been progressive? Maybe churches looking for senior pastors could take on a woman for a year as an ‘interim’ to allow their fears to be dismissed…

  • Fantail

    Back in the late 1980s there was quite a ground swell of support for women in leadership and to train for ministry. Several of us trained through Baptist College and excelled in our studies. The churches didn’t call us to ministry roles and there was no mentoring or guidance as to how to proceed. I’m not sure anyone ever noticed or cared that we moved off into other denominations or non related career paths. Has anything really changed?

    • That’s a sad story, and I think part of the point of Thalia’s blog post that I refer to above. With less than 2% of women in senior or sole pastoral leadership roles, it would appear things haven’t changed since the 1980s. It seems that as a movement we are pretending to be egalitarian but below the surface we actually aren’t.

      Unfortunately, unless enough people [men in leadership roles] decide this is a hill worth dying on, things will stay the same – except the movement, which has only recently begun to decline, will only continue to decline. Maybe one day I will have to make a decision whether to stay or go, maybe a neo-baptist movement will form. Or maybe the current movement will evolve so women like you get to lead and serve within it. I don’t know, but I have hope.

      • Fantail

        I decided to leave the Baptist movement many years ago and have found ways of serving and leading elsewhere and with so much more freedom than I could have by staying. I once had huge hopes for working within the system and helping to bring about change but sometimes in life we find ourselves on a completely different path than we ever could have perceived. Keep up the good work and always hold on to hope.

  • Andrew Meek

    Hey Mike, dear I say we need to look at the lead of the Anglicans on this one? The Anglican Church makes a point of supporting their emerging leaders, male and female, financially while they train. Not sure of the exact numbers but I imagine there is a much greater than 2% ordination rate for women in the Anglican Church. Anyone know exactly what it is?

    • not a wild hera

      There’s a comment on my post from someone about the Anglican situation. They started ordaining women the same time we did, but of course with a bishop-based system, could actually place women, no matter what congregations thought!
      But the comment on my post says numbers of women are dropping significantly right now.

      • I know of 3 NZ women who are now ex-Baptist pastors that have recently become Anglican. They are all very talented pastoral leaders, and I have been sad to see them leave the Baptist movement, but I can see how they have more opportunities in the Anglican communion.

        I’ve also observed the Anglican church in NZ has a lot more wealth (property) than the baptist movement – I’m not trying to link that to why women might leave the Baptist movement and become Anglican, but rather there must be more options to support emerging leaders with that greater wealth?…

  • Ali Griffiths

    Hi – I’ve linked to this from the UK Baptist Collaboration page! I’ve been thinking about this issue for some time especially from the point of view of a woman who refused to uproot her family to follow her call to ministry and is now sole pastor of a local church.
    I think the idea that there is a gold standard training for ministry is rather out of date – it’s great to physically meet up with people but in this era with such easy access to resources it’s becoming an expensive way of training. The best training for ministry is generally done in partnership with a local church and uprooting someone from a church (perhaps a small church) is not necessarily always going to be the right decision for either party.
    Also, the model of the entire family following one person’s calling without their needs being taken into account is very much based on the patriarchal structure of what Dad does everyone else has to go along with. To expect the entire family to have the same call is simply unreasonable. The way many families now work is to consider everyone’s needs when making major life decisions and I think this is not only a very good thing but also very Baptist!
    In addition to this, the chances of a woman getting a fully stipended position at the end of the 3 years of training is fairly low so to compromise what might be a very successful and enjoyable career for their spouse is a demand that churches shouldn’t be making at the moment.

    • not a wild hera

      Welcome to New Zealand (sort of)! :)

      Ali, reading on the UK BC page yesterday was the first I’d heard of the phenomenon of non-stipendiary ministers (aka what women gradates get to do). It’s not part of the picture here – you either get a job or you don’t, and all jobs, pretty much, are paid according to the same Baptist guidelines.

      I agree with you about so much. 1) Uprooting a family is not a small thing, and yes, is predicated on a patriarchal model and 2) Training should be able to be brilliant wherever you are.

      In NZ, however, I agree with Mike that *at present* the training you can get for ministry without the immersive experience of being on site for three years is simply nowhere near as transformative or good. We’re a tenth of the size of the UK Baptists (or smaller) and there is no guarantee that there’ll be a brilliant training experience waiting for you anywhere outside the campus-based training at Carey.

      • Ali Griffiths

        Thanks for the welcome! I don’t think I have met any NZ Baptists before – it’s interesting to compare experiences but also a little depressing in regards to the acceptance of women as leaders in both countries.
        The best kind of training is the one that equips you to do the job. At the risk of being horribly subversive here – it is in the interests of those training ministers to continue to present the model of a submersive training as the ‘best’ and I would question that based on my own experience and observations of other people in ministry. If it isn’t working for many would-be ministers then it isn’t the best training – it has to be fit for purpose.
        The UK Baptist church requires non stipended ministers because of the lack of funds – we may be larger than you numerically but financially things are not looking good at all. The predictions are that it is just going to get worse and the talk and practice is increasingly looking for ways to train and encourage bi-vocational ministers. Churches will be left no leaders at all who have any training if we don’t address this problem now and bivocational ministers cannot abandon work for 3 years – work is part of their life as well so their courses are longer in order to accommodate this.

        • Hi Ali. Fair point about the training needing to be fit for purpose.
          In NZ we haven’t yet put enough resources into the stay-where-you-are training model for ministers, and my frustration was seeing what we call local “internships” going badly because of poor supervision and lack of practical training opportunities. Our distance education is excellent in some ways, but in other ways it doesn’t yet compare with some of the formation experiences that our onsite training provides. It sounds different in the UK.

  • Tim Bulkeley

    Mike et al.,

    I’ll focus on the “family” question (partly because its where I’ve done quite a bit of thinking and partly because it was your first point, and your second was about money and I am no good with money).

    The misunderstanding of family is now deep-rooted in Western society, and foundational to many of the other problems we face. The churches have by and large either gone along with this “redefinition of family” or have attacked some of its peripheral manifestations (like gay marriage?). Indeed in the happy land of quick caricatures the churches are seen as bastions of support for nuclear families (and in the US at least, other nuclear weapons of mass destruction).

    Dare I suggest that the “nuclear family” (of mum dad and x children) is unbiblical, not only in the sense that such families are not visible in Scripture, but also in the sense of being subject to criticism and the teaching offered is based on a different view of life from this impious idea.

  • Mark

    Hi Mike

    As I’m no Baptist I was going to keep out of the discussion but have changed my mind. I find the discussion really interesting especially in light of your big idea or concerns about what “church” is or has become and what it needs to be or should be in the future. Rather than make any particular comment on what you’ve written I’d like to take it a step back…..

    This discussion is held in the context of what you describe as a “Christendom paradigm.” I may be completely way off track but my observation is that the vast majority of Christendom follows a very business or management-like approach. I’m not judging that approach as I’m very much tied up in it as much as the next guy.

    However, IF you were to change that paradigm would that make any difference to this discussion?
    Would you even need to have this discussion?
    Would church leadership be a very different beast to what we know it?
    Would the idea of the “nuclear family” change if church was a real community of believers with a common faith?
    Would there be a need for full-time ordained pastors, bishops, deacons etc in a post-Christendom paradigm?
    Would a leader still require qualifications or training in order to shepherd Christ’s church?

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on what form leadership would take in a post-Christendom situation.

    • Hi Mark. You’ve exposed a good point here, similar to the critique from Ali Griffiths who commented below: the Christendom-centric assumptions around the point being made…

      My response would be too long here, so you’ve got me thinking about writing a post about what forms leadership could take in a post-Christendom situation – watch this space!