the shape of leadership

Four Questions Pastors Ask That Alienate Women

Avoid these awkward lines of inquiry

Influence Magazine on October 11, 2018

Women make up at least half the Church. They are a vital part of every congregation, and how we treat them is important.

It’s not all about accommodating them; it’s also about not alienating them. Below are four questions some misguided leaders ask that, unfortunately, may do just that.

“Why aren’t you married?” In many congregations, single women outnumber the single men. They are young adults, older adults and everything in between. And don’t forget single moms. Focusing on marital status can send a message that you see single women as somehow incomplete.

Each person in your congregation is on a journey. Those single women may or may not get married one day. Regardless, they need your church’s guidance, support and encouragement today, right where they are.

“When are you going to have kids?” Children are a gift from God, but starting a family is a personal decision. Some women want to focus on a career before they become mothers. Others may not be interested in having children at all. Whatever path they choose, women deserve their privacy and your respect.

Asking about family plans can have the negative effect of pigeonholing women as mothers. Instead of appreciating them for their individual gifts and talents, you may inadvertently communicate that a woman’s value comes from motherhood.

Women need your church’s guidance, support and encouragement today, right where they are.

Add to this the possibility of infertility, and you not only risk alienating women by asking about children, but you can also stir up feelings of anxiety, depression or shame. Use wisdom when talking about the joys of parenting.

“When are you going back to work?” Women who stay home are working. By asking about their future work plans, you can make them feel their contributions to the home are worthless. This can greatly alienate those who choose not to return to the workforce.

This question may seem harmless on the surface. After all, it’s not really assuming a position or judging a decision. But consider the other messages the women of your church are receiving daily. How else can you inquire about their work choices without reinforcing negative stereotypes?

“Why are you going back to work?” On the other side are women who return to work or continue their education after having kids. Some working moms struggle with a sense of condemnation, as if they are choosing career over family. Nevertheless, the share of women in the workforce is on the rise. In 1950, women made up about one-third of the U.S. workforce. Today that figure is 47 percent, and growing.

Moms work outside the home for a number of reasons, from financial considerations to the satisfaction they receive from their careers. The ideal work-life balance varies from one family to another. Church leaders should be careful not to add guilt to the load moms — or dads — carry.

Be mindful of the messages you send through your ministry structures as well. Offering small groups for women only during working hours makes working moms feel they don’t fit in. Find ways to honor their choices and respect their time.

What steps are you taking to make space for the women in your church? By considering carefully how you communicate, you can eliminate barriers to people entering into fellowship and drawing closer to Jesus.


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