Churches Urged to 'Exorcise' 'Macho' Leadership Model

Reformed churches will challenge the gender leadership imbalance in church and society and seek new models at an international consultation beginning Friday.

Pastors, theologians and lay leaders from 17 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America are convening in Limuru, Kenya, to explore the gap between women and men in leadership.

The Jun. 29-July 4 conference is sponsored by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and St. Paul's United Theological College in Limuru.

"The consultation on gender, power and leadership is timely because it reminds us that while more than half our nations and churches are women and while women contribute immensely to the socioeconomic development of any country, they are still largely decorations and tokens when it comes to leadership," Esther Mombo, academic dean at St. Paul's, said in a statement.

Mombo noted that while a number of women in Africa are theologically trained and ordained in some churches since the 1970s, they still remain in the periphery of the church.

"This consultation is a challenge to the Church and to theological institutions that the macho approach should be exorcized from the Church, theology and theological institutions," Mombo added.

During the consultation, participants will examine power and leadership within local, regional and global geopolitical contexts; analyze and reflect on power and leadership in the church from a theological perspective; challenge patriarchal aspects of ministry and identify negative impacts; envision new models of leadership drawing on feminist theology; and offer alternative models of leadership that address the gender gap in church leadership.

"Current leadership models in church and society are limiting and they erect barriers to fostering justice and peace, sharing resources and building just and humane societies," contends Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, executive secretary for WARC's Office for Church Renewal, Justice and Partnership, in a statement.

"Women in ministry seek new models of leadership which are built on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and his resistance to the ethics of domination and control," she added.

Sheerattan-Bisnauth acknowledges, however, that some progress has been made to close the gender gap, but observes that many women are still marginalized by poverty, violence and a lack of power to make personal life choices.

"Many churches have failed to address gender, power and leadership in prophetic ways because this is deemed a 'dangerous issue' which can have negative effects on church unity," Sheerattan-Bisnauth concluded. "Yet avoiding or hesitating to deal with this issue results in the continuous marginalization and dehumanization of women."

The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) brings together 75 million Reformed Christians in 214 churches in 107 countries with the goal of addressing global problems within church and society. The WARC general secretary is the Rev. Dr. Setri Nyomi of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Ghana.