Pope Francis made an inaugural and historic visit to the United States last week, meeting with President Obama and other leaders and bringing with him a whirlwind of excitement from members of the Catholic church and the public in general. As I watched news coverage of his visit, I was taken back to the amazing trip my family and I took to Italy in 2013 and how we were able to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis then.
While I am not a member of the Catholic church, I still respect Pope Francis for what he has been able to accomplish during his time as pope. In his short tenure, he has made valiant strides in political, environmental, and religious endeavors. He is a truly humble man and incredibly grateful for the journey that led him to become pope. He has also made amazing strides with Catholic millennials by encouraging them to reach out and serve the poor, saying that “his ideal church is one that is ‘bruised, hurting and dirty’ from being in the streets serving the poor.” Truly an amazing man!
One area, however, that has brought Pope Francis some mixed reactions is the topic of women, their rights, and their place in the church. This issue is certainly not limited to the Catholic church, but is a topic of global conversations. Pope Francis is in no way opposed to women being in leadership. He comes from Argentina, a country that has had a female president. As an archbishop, he was heavily involved in the anti-trafficking movement in Argentina, working with a female lawyer to see justice won for the country’s women and girls.
Pope Francis has even indicated that he would like to see an improved understanding of women and their role in the church. Despite wanting more discussion on females in the church, Pope Francis still leans toward the complementarian philosophy when it comes to leadership, which is causing a mixed reaction.
Here are some of my concerns about how church leaders may limit the church’s ability to reach women who have God-given gifts of leadership.
Women will be turned off to church
By saying that women have a place in the church, just not in important roles, is flirting with the very real possibility that the church will see the female presence in their congregations dwindle away to nothing. We recently spoke with Carolyn Custis James on this topic, and she had some amazing insight into what the church could do to reach out to its female members. Women already struggle against the gender gap in the workplace. There are multiple initiatives and movements geared toward bridging that gap.
When today’s women walk into church, a place where unity and worth are championed, and immediately feel like they are a “lesser” member of the church body, what incentive do they have to stay? If the church does not encourage women to use their God-given gifts inside the church, they will find other places to use them. Imagine if the women on Fortune’s Top 50 Most Powerful Women list were all excited about using their leadership skills in the church. How incredible would that be?
If women leave, so will children.
By alienating women in the church, we run the risk of seeing the number of young people in the congregation diminish greatly. Women carry quite a bit of influence over the decision about where and when their families attend church. If women develop a bitter taste in their mouth concerning the idea of church, they will pass that disdain down to their children, which, in turn, will cause this new generation to grow up not seeing a need to attend church. The church will lose a connection to the unsaved world and thousands of souls will not be impacted for Christ.
What about you? What conversations are you having in your church to maximize every person’s potential?