Women, Men and Styles of Clergy Leadership

By Zikmund, Barbara brown; Lummis, Adair T. et al. | The Christian Century, May 6, 1998 | Go to article overview

Women, Men and Styles of Clergy Leadership


Zikmund, Barbara brown, Lummis, Adair T., Chang, Patricia M. Y., The Christian Century


AS MORE AND MORE women become pastors, the question arises as to whether male and female clergy differ in approaches to leadership; Are female pastors leading their congregations differently? If so, how?

To examine this issue, we selected a random sample of 250 pastors of both genders from 15 denominations and called them on the telephone. We asked, "From your experience, do you feel women clergy approach or do ministry differently on the average than clergymen?"

The answers we collected are fascinating. Both women and men think that significant differences exist between male and female clergy in this area. Many clergy believe that women clergy are more caring than men about the individual lives of members of the congregation, more pastorally sensitive, more nurturing and more likely to draw on personal experiences in preaching, teaching and counseling.

Everyone also agrees that clergywomen are less interested than clergymen in congregational politics, power over others and job prestige. The women we talked with were considerably more likely than their male counterparts to volunteer their perception that clergywomen's leadership style is different from that typically used by clergymen. Furthermore, all of our denominational clusters show fairly high agreement about the nature of this difference in leadership style:

Although everyone approaches ministry differently, clergywomen are more relational than clergymen, making decisions more cooperatively instead of using a hierarchical or authoritarian approach.

(Wesleyan clergywoman)

My clergywomen colleagues approach ministry in a less hierarchical, more cooperative manner, and they see themselves more as empowerers of laity than as leaders of laity.

(Unitarian-Universalist clergywoman)

Clergywomen tend to be more collegial in my experience. They tend to use more of a partnership-based than hierarchical leadership-style.

(United Church of Christ clergywoman)

Clergywomen have a different focus and style. Women clergy are more interested in sharing power; they work with laity.

(United Methodist clergywoman)

Do clergywomen leaders share power more than clergymen in leadership positions? A three-fifths majority of women clergy think women clergy do--which is an opinion not shared by most clergymen, only one-fifth of whom agree. Ordained men may have some justification in rejecting; the notion that clergy men are less willing to share power than are clergywomen. A three-fifths majority of both clergywomen and clergymen see themselves as more democratic than directive in leadership style. Clergywomen, however, are slightly more likely than clergymen to assess clergywomen's leadership style as very democratic. These findings hold whether the clergy are in parish ministry or in some other kind of work.

It may be that whatever discrepancy exists between ordained women's and men's perceptions of whether clergywomen are more willing than clergymen to share power is present because neither clergywomen nor clergymen are basing their opinions on current observations and interactions with clergy of the opposite gender now active in ministry. More than likely, clergywomen are remembering the actions of a male senior pastor when they themselves were associates some years ago or are resenting laymen in their congregations who are giving them grief. Clergymen may also be thinking about how open and enabling they themselves are, especially when they compare themselves to some of the autocratic women in their local congregations. Opinions vary.

Clergymen tend to work for a hierarchical system from the top down. Clergywomen try to work from concentric circles. We try to bring laypeople also into equality in decision-making.

(Episcopal clergywoman)

Clergywomen have a vision for more inclusiveness . . . and use a participatory leadership style. …

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