Magazine article The Christian Century

Leading like Lydia

Magazine article The Christian Century

Leading like Lydia

Article excerpt

Emily Scott, pastor of St. Lydia's in Brooklyn (ELCA), was chatting with a group of church-planting women on Twitter. She wrote, "I'd be interested in hearing about methods for planting used by women." When she exhausted her 140-character limit, she started another tweet. "I know the way I've planted church has been different from my male colleagues' approach." Other women on the stream concurred.

Scott's observation stuck with me. Do women plant churches differently than men? I asked Stephanie Spellers, who is canon to the presiding bishop in evangelism and reconciliation efforts of the Episcopal Church. Spellers planted the Crossing, an Episcopalian church in Boston, and has worked with a wide range of church leaders. Do women use different methods or a different style than men do?

Spellers said, "Women are more culturally conditioned and rewarded for mastering the art of collaboration, mutuality, and listening." These skills have become important for church planting.

Spellers and I were born just before Title IX prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education. The law had a profound effect on our generation, especially in sports. Spellers grew up watching women's basketball games and was fascinated by how the women worked together as a team. She studied the dynamic of the court, and she talked about how that dynamic might be seen when women are planting churches.

"There are several paradigms of church planting," Spellers explained. "Often there is a charismatic, strong leader." Spellers called this the "Father Knows Best" church, referring to a popular 1950s radio and television program. Yet, since North American and European churches are in decline, we've begun to challenge this model. "Is this a cult of personality? Is there a daddy on top that everyone takes care of?"

As we ask these questions, the experiences of women who've planted communities emerge. "If you're starting fresh, then you can create a culture that is collaborative and mutual from the beginning. A lot of church planters are drawn to the mutuality. They sense the Spirit in it," Spellers said.

Today we have more paradigms that include shared leadership and preaching. The vision of the group is held not by one person, but by a group of leaders who believe that the wisdom of the community is greater than the wisdom of one person.

When Spellers started the Crossing, for instance, she did not assume that her education would make her the only qualified person to preach. Instead she realized that she had tools that would help her teach other community members to preach. …

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