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"Some of the women amazed us" : discoveries through dialogue regarding women in Christian leadership McKenzie, Barbara Burkett

Abstract

During my years in Christian education, I became fascinated by the fact that few women participated in levels of visible leadership especially in light of the women's movement in the broader society. Women had always been active in church life, perhaps, more so than men. If societal barriers were falling for women, why were women not in visible leadership positions in the church? This study uses a series of in-depth interviews based on a phenomenological approach to determine what specific factors in the lives of women who serve as Christian leaders either helped or hindered them in their pilgrimage. Eight women were interviewed to discover their life experiences and three men to discern their perspectives. As the eleven interviews were reviewed and analyzed, I read secular and Christian literature to find supportive or corroborative information related to the emerging themes. The thesis is presented in two parts: first, an academic preface articulating the process of research and analysis; and second, a study guide developed for women and men in my field of practice, Christian education. Because I am committed to Christian education, I have chosen to develop a study guide to be used for individual or group study. The method, the discoveries, and the presentation share a common theme: the importance of dialogue. Key observations in the study indicate that the factors that helped some women are the same factors that hindered others and that each individual woman's ability to lead is influenced by a complexity of factors. As the study guide develops, each of the factors is discussed as one which helped or hindered the participants. Following the presentations of themes are suggestions for changes, or transformation, with recommendations for further study and possible action by individuals or local churches. Among the participants, the Bible is considered the authoritative word of God and each looked to the Bible for principles and guidelines regarding women in leadership. Based on their respective interpretations of the Bible, some were led by hermeneutic processes to believe that women are to lead alongside men as equal partners; others, however, hold the view that women are not to assume the highest leadership positions. The cultural settings of the participants influenced their leadership. Two factors, patriarchy and feminism, are examined to identify aspects of each which help women in leadership in some cases and hinder in others. Pivotal in the discussion is that each woman's sense of personhood affects her own ability to assume leadership. A woman's identity is seen in view of her relationships to her family, herself, and her God. For many women, pain emerged as a theme growing out of frustrated efforts to pursue leadership faced with institutional opposition. Women are encouraged to lead in many venues of the church, including education and missions. For some women, leadership has been helped by existing policies; for other women, leadership opportunities have been restricted and hindered.

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