Do Male and Female Pastors Lead Differently?

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What do we know about the differences between men and women serving as lead pastors of large congregations? Not enough. But we do know more now from the United Methodist context because of a project undertaken by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

Although there may be differences between how male and female lead pastors see themselves and function, it appears that the nature and challenges of large church leadership shape the experience of male and female lead pastors in ways that make their leadership more similar than different.

One component is a survey looking at a host of issues among lead pastors serving churches with membership of 1,000 or more. Surveys went to women serving as lead pastors of churches with 1,000 or more members and a randomly selected sample of men serving churches of this size. The Board contracted with the Lewis Center for Church Leadership to compile the results of the survey. (Links to the survey responses and an analysis by HiRho Park and Susan Willhauck are at the end of this article.) I want to share some observations after reviewing the results and reading the responses.

Similarities

The most striking finding is how similar men and women are as lead pastors of large churches. The median age was 53 for women and 56 for men. The female and male lead pastors tend to match in terms of years since ordination, though women serve slightly more appointments than men before arriving at a large membership church (3.75 appointments for men; 4 appointments for women). Male and female lead pastors report spending their time in similar ways.

Eighty percent of both male and female lead pastors indicate that their leadership style has changed since moving to a large church. And the four most frequently cited areas of leadership change, upon becoming lead pastors of large congregations, are the same for men and women: the impact of working with larger staffs; the increased administrative and diminished pastoral focus; the importance of planning and visioning; and delegation. Women also named as a change the need to become more assertive in their leadership.

The overall similarity among the clergywomen and clergymen is underscored by the fact that statistically significant differences were found in their responses to only a small number of questions related to their leadership. When asked to name the two most challenging issues for them personally in their current appointments, the top two for both groups were church finances and staffing.

Differences

Ninety percent of the women are the first clergywoman to serve their current congregations. While 99 percent of the clergymen are married, only 69 percent of the clergywomen are.

Salaries tend to be comparable for men and women serving comparable size churches. If we divide the list of churches of 1,000 or more members into thirds by size, women lead pastors tend to serve in churches in the middle and lower thirds. Their salaries are comparable to men serving those same size categories. But since women do not tend to serve in churches in the top third of the large churches, the overall averages continue to show lower salaries for all women lead pastors compared to all men lead pastors of large churches.

When asked if they observe gender differences in the leadership of male and female pastors, both male and female lead pastors responded in similar ways. Almost all qualified their comments to avoid blanket generalizations. Men and women were careful to name differences as tendencies they have observed while acknowledging exceptions. One finding looms large and cannot be ignored: there is agreement among men and women that there are different standards for men and women lead pastors, with women having to work harder for acceptance and leadership. Men are given a standing of authority often not present for women.

Conclusion

Although there may be differences between how male and female lead pastors see themselves and function, it appears that the nature and challenges of large church leadership shape the experience of male and female lead pastors in ways that make their leadership more similar than different.


 

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About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems, Jr., is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.


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