Mary Paul and Women in Ministry
Mary Paul, D.Min., vice president for spiritual development, published a new book, Women Who Lead: The Call of Women in Ministry, through Beacon Hill Press. It looks at common obstacles for women in leadership and explores the issues related to them taking on leadership roles. Overall, it expresses a desire to name both the significance and importance of women rising up to their own call to leadership, where they are not confined to an assumed gender role, but instead are able to be open to what God has for them.
It is reflective of her own journey in pastoral ministry and her growth into leadership, and the particular ways in which gender has affected that. Within evangelical churches, women as pastors are a minority, and Paul often found herself defending her position as a leader. “There are particular places where you have to have a personal assurance in your leadership and an ability to defend your leadership, because people will ask you why you think you should be leading, and they’ll have different reasons why they don’t think you should be leading, as a woman,” says Paul.
She first started researching these issues in her dissertation work for her doctorate. Author Jim Collins and his book Good to Great heavily influenced her work. She studied four women who successfully lead churches, and took a look at their common leadership qualities that were acquired through significant growth and change. This idea came from her time spent in the church she was serving, among primarily male colleagues. “In the district gatherings of pastors, I was for most of my ministry the only woman at those meetings, so it was always interesting to listen to primarily male presenters at conferences that I would go to, and be thinking of sorting through what they’re saying, and seeing if it really applies to me as a woman, and what’s different.” Her dissertation was completed in 2004. A year after, when Paul was in the process of moving to PLNU, Beacon Hill Press contacted her to turn her work into a book, which took another 3 years to write. She has written a few chapters in other collaborative works, but this is her first book she’s written on her own.
Paul starts off the book with the biblical story of Mark, and focuses on the healing stories of the woman with the hemorrhage and the daughter of Jiras. Through these examples, she would like for women readers to understand the call of women to know the full resurrection and promise of Christ. “That is both for women that find themselves in desperate situations, and particularly in light of leadership, I was thinking of women who have experienced being shut out, pushed down, and really discouraged, to reach out to Christ and to know that resurrection, to allow Christ to call them forward as a full daughter of God.” She explains, through the story of the daughter of Jiras, that there are daughters of God who are privileged and well cared for, but that those advantages can sometimes stop them from living out the fruitfulness to which they are called. In reaching out to that call and saying “yes” to God, women will find themselves free to live the abundant life God has called them to, outside the expectations the world has. In the book, Paul uses the Aramaic phrase “Talitha Cum,” which means “little girl, get up.” “There’s a level of growing up from being little girls who are cared for to being women of God who are used by God in a powerful way.” This will cause change in women’s lives, the family dynamic, and the church, which she is hopeful for.
The church has sent mixed messages to women leaders, especially in regards to humility. Paul describes a healthy humility she believes should be expressed by leaders in the church that involves encouraging and celebrating others, while also knowing that God has gifted you as well. “Within the church, the message of humility for women has sometimes been a message that women should stay in their place, or shouldn’t put themselves forward.” If a woman leader has a sense of personal confidence, that confidence is interpreted as her either being full of herself or aggressive. “There have been studies that show if men use strong confident language, it’s honored as leadership, and seen as good. If women use the same exact language, it’s interpreted as aggressive and strident.” Women leaders in the church often have a layer of confinement that men do not.
For her male readers, she hopes they will read the book and work through it, and that “their eyes would be opened to receive the gift of women who are free to live out their callings including leadership in the church and other venues of life. In addition I hope the book helps them reflect on what they can do positively to create space for that freedom.”
“I have found that there are women who are great leaders, who are certainly not always well known, but are quietly doing profound leadership work in universities, churches and in other arenas. I pray and hope that that would only continue and expand, opening more doors for women coming behind them.”