The Florida United Methodist Conference is teaming with the North Georgia Conference to better prepare female clergy members to lead larger churches.
In September, Dan Jackson, Director of Vital Church Initiative for the Florida Conference, kicked off a new 2018-19 Generative Leadership Academy in Lakeland. The 17 participants—eight women currently serving in Florida and nine serving in North Georgia—completed a three-day retreat and will attend three additional retreats in November, February and April, alternating between Lakeland in Atlanta.
|Several break out sessions were included in the curriculum.|
“We teach the same skills we do in the regular generative academy, but we add the particular issues women in leadership are experiencing,” Jackson said.
The focus on female pastors was prompted by an increase in the number of women entering the clergy, as well as a desire to see more women in leadership positions.
“We were not happy, as a cabinet, with the number of women that we have leading large churches,” Jackson said. “We realized that unless we were doing intentional things to prepare women, we were never going to change the status quo.”
North Georgia UMC Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson said her conference is also seeing an increased number of women, many of them African-American, searching for a path into ministry.
“The Holy Spirit is calling a tremendous number of really gifted African-American women to ministry,” she said. “I don’t know what God is doing, but I am paying attention!”
As those women enter the clergy, the reality is they are still likely to face resistance to their authority and decision making, Jackson said.
Haupert-Johnson agreed, calling the appointment of any woman to any church—but particularly larger congregations—“a cross-cultural appointment.”
“You can’t just send a woman into that setting and say, ‘Hey, have fun with that!’” she said. “Every church is a different culture. … You have to learn the norms, the expectations. … Issues arise that you don’t even anticipate.”
Bishop Kenneth Carter said the issues facing women in ministry are “deeply cultural,” and that the church must continue to be aware of its complicity in preventing women from fully living into their callings from God.
“They are often pioneers—the first women to serve in these roles—and so they are breaking a stained-glass ceiling,” he said.
|Clergy women from the North Georgia and Florida conferences participated in the academy.|
During the next six months, academy participants will explore a variety of issues that include mental and emotional well-being, authentic sharing, developing effective lay leadership, assessing your local community and developing a missional connection with your local community.
At the September session, the pastors, who vary widely in age and race, tackled the importance of self-care, Jackson said.
“The reason we start there is healthy pastors lead healthy churches,” he said. “If they’re healthy, they’re not passing their dysfunction on to their churches. … We feel if we don’t get that part right, the rest of the things we do won’t make a difference.”
To help participants get the most out of the academy, they were divided into small groups that will work as teams at each session. They will also hear from mentors, who will facilitate important discussions.
“At each session, we have women who have been in senior leadership positions coming in to talk about how they have navigated that,” he said. “You’re talking about life experiences and how life experiences impact your view of God, which impacts how you do ministry.”
|Rev. Dan Jackson spearheaded the academy focused on women leaders.|
Jackson said the female leaders he works with on a regular basis have a great deal to teach both men and women because of the challenges they have faced in answering their callings.
“Women in leadership have had to be better to be treated as well,” he said. “… They’ve just had to battle differently.”
Another key piece of the academy is its focus on accountability. At each session, the women will identify relevant areas of improvement with a plan to report back on their progress at the next retreat.
“If there’s no accountability, it will end there,” Jackson said.
The September session, he added, was a good start to the trust building that will be necessary for the women to learn from each other.
“They’re a fun group,” Jackson said. “I’m enjoying meeting the North Georgia people, and I’m getting to know the Florida people better—and that’s good.”
—Kari Barlow is a freelance writer based in Pensacola.