Kadi Cole Interviews Rich Birch about Female Leadership in the Church

Thanks for joining us for this episode of the unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with Kadi Cole who leads the organization Kadi Cole & Company which helps with leadership development, management skills training, executive level coaching and more.

This time Kadi is taking over hosting the podcast as she interviews Rich on how men can open the doors to female leadership in the church. 

  • Exposure to differences teaches us. // Different cultures, even around North America, look at genders differently. Growing up, Rich was exposed to different cultures as his family moved around often. Our experiences within churches, various denominations, different schools and neighborhoods can impact our views on women working in the church. Those who are exposed to more diverse viewpoints tend to be less locked in to one particular paradigm. Regardless of how we grew up, it’s important to be aware of and address our own biases.
  • Learning from what you see. // One person who still stands out in Rich’s mind is a man whom Rich worked with early in his church leadership days. This man helped with tasks that might typically be left to women on a church staff. He honored and spoke highly of the women on his team, and modeled that to the other men in leadership. Most people learn from what they see, not necessarily what they are told to do.
  • Different opportunities for men and women. // Rich and Kadi grew up in a time where men and women in church leadership had vastly different experiences. Decades ago when they were new to ministry, Rich and Kadi visited the same church on separate occasions and met with the same pastor. Rich asked to shadow his staff and had the opportunity to spend the day with him, even going to his house where they talked one-on-one with no one else there. Meanwhile Kadi took her sister to the church with her so that she was never alone. She didn’t go out with the pastor anywhere and never considered that she might be able to shadow his staff. This was the dynamic that they grew up in, and it wasn’t until years later that they realized how different the same experience was for men versus women.
  • Ask for opportunities. // For women in church leadership, it’s important to learn and ask questions. Ask for the opportunities to learn more. As a female leader, offer those who are new to ministry the opportunity to spend time with you and learn from you. Invite someone along with you as you go about your work.
  • Speak truth and encouragement. // Women in church can be held back by their own limiting beliefs. High capacity female leaders are perfectionists and know that there are few opportunities for them, so they put a lot of pressure on themselves. When godly, male leaders who are spiritual authorities speak truth to them about themselves, it helps women change their views of themselves. Speak encouragement to the women in leadership at your church. Let them know when they are doing a great job. Remind them that the gifts they bring to the table are important and needed.
  • Advice for men and women. // Rich advises that for the men in church leadership, if these conversations around women leading aren’t already happening, you’ll probably need to start that dialogue. It will require some awkward conversations, but it’s worth it. For women, Rich encourages them to use their voices and to step up. Take risks and take advantage of opportunities. Offer the good gifts that God has given to you.

Listen to the podcast Helping Female Leaders in Your Church Find Their Leadership Voice with Kadi Cole and learn more about Kadi’s book “Developing Female Leaders” at her website www.kadicole.com.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey, friends welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. We’ve got a different kind of episode today. Um I’ve got my friend Kadi Cole, a return guest, which you know whenever we have a return guest that’s a good thing, but it’s a different kind of episode. But let me tell you a little bit about Kadi. Kadi is an incredible leader. She spent 16 years at Christ Fellowship in Palm Gardens, Florida leading a whole variety of um areas. The church grew from about 3500 to over 20,000 which is incredible. Um, she, a number of years ago, stepped out and leads her own organization called Kadi Cole and Company. Ah she’s had key roles with organizations like Leadership Network, Replenish Ministries, Multi-site Solutions. Ah, she has a passion to help church leaders who want to do a better job, particularly on developing female leadership talent within their congregation. So super excited to have Kadi on because we got chatting and, so this is a little bit weird, but we got chatting and she said, hey Rich, I’d love to interview you on your podcast about that. And I was like, that sounds amazing. So so happy to have you on the show, Kadi. Welcome, or happy for you to have me. I don’t know how this works exactly.

Kadi Cole — Yes, I’ll take over the host microphone now. So yeah, thank you so much, Rich, for letting me come in here. Yeah I I’m just always so fascinated as I work with churches and particularly male leaders around this topic of how do we do a better job developing female leaders, the talent that God’s brought to our churches, or even in our lives. And really male leaders are a huge piece of kind of shifting the conversation of that, opening doors for women, ah equipping, mentoring, challenging, sponsoring. I write a lot about all those different kinds of ways that men really have the power and they many ways hold the keys. And you’re such a champion of women. You’ve certainly been a champion for me; you’ve opened doors for me. I know you’ve done that for a lot of other women and a lot of other churches and places and even on this podcast.

Kadi Cole — And so I’m really curious to hear about your story in this topic. Ah, what it was like for you, when did you realize this was kind of an issue. How have you navigated that? Um, what are some things you’re still working on? So that’s what I want to talk to you about today. And I have a feeling your listeners are going to be fascinated by what we learned.

Rich Birch — Well, thanks. I’m looking forward to it as well. This is I was just looking up. This is episode 747 and we’ve only done this once before with my good friend, Carey Nieuwhof. So I feel a little bit nervous to be honest. I was like I was saying to Christine, my wife, I’m a little bit nervous; I don’t know what’s she going to ask. How’s it going to go? Ah, but yeah, no, this is a topic I am passionate about and super honored to get a chance to kind of chat with you today.

Kadi Cole — Great. Well Rich, why don’t we start by kind of taking us back to the beginning. Talk to us about the context in which you grew up that informs so much of our ideas and frameworks around gender, who we are, who people of the opposite sex are, and how those rules kind of play out, particularly in our faith. So kind of fill us in on the context you grew up and um, some of the the things that when you look back now you start over like, huh, that’s different than maybe how I think now and here’s how I got there.

Rich Birch — Yeah, great question. So um, when we were younger like, you know, like when I was in elementary school, that sort of thing, um, we went to church, but it was not um it wasn’t like ah it was ah definitely a cultural experience. I would say you know our family had this kind of great awakening at one point um, where you know church and kind of the things of Jesus went from those are interesting ideas that it wasn’t like we disagreed with them. It wasn’t that we were like oh it, it just wasn’t a huge deal to us. And and we were my my dad moved a lot when I we were kids. And in every couple of years he would move to a new place, and or we’d move to a new place, and they were super brand loyal to their ah particular slice of Christian world. And we would just literally go to the whatever the church was the closest the kind of brand that we always went to. And we were just about to move at one point and ah the minister at our church had an affair with another minister. And that was ah pretty profound for my parents. Um, they were like oh whoa like maybe we should really maybe take some time to consider when we move the next time what church we should go to because they felt kind of a little bit burned by that. And it’s a very Jesus kind of story because he’s good at taking bad things and making them great, and that was obviously a bad thing, but in our little family it was it was a great thing.

Rich Birch — We we literally were just moving and um, my parents did end up going and looking at a number of different churches. I remember that as a kid. I was like this is like you know I’m in the you know grade 8 you know that kind of timeline. And um, we we ended up at this one church that was this great Presbyterian Church, you know, in hindsight and great evangelical presbyterian church. And I remember distinctly two things. First of all, they they talked about the bible like it was true, which was new was a new experience, like it was like oh like they think this thing’s actually true. And then they prayed like it was actually stuff was going to happen, like that was and even as like ah as an eighth grader that really did kind of stick with me, and it was really there that God got a hold of our whole our entire family’s life. And I would say that’s where we became Christians. I that I think ties into this because even from early days, the church that we were a part of there were there were women in leadership. That was a part of the equation of what was going on there. Um, now kind of over the time you know we shifted, we we moved again like as always happens we moved um a couple years later, and um we went and this struck me, so this is now I’m in high school. You know my parents go to um the the minister at our church and we say hey we’re moving to this other town. This is all pre-internet, right? And they’re like, hey can you help us find a church in the new community? And so he goes and and I don’t know what he did like calls people. What did you do before the internet? I don’t know what they did.

Rich Birch — So they… and he comes back to my parents and says…

Kadi Cole — There are these things called the Yellow Pages, Rich.

Rich Birch — Yes! But he he comes back to them and he says, you know what? You shouldn’t go to the Presbyterian Church in in the town there. And at the time I didn’t you know like I don’t know what all that means. Um, but he’s like there’s this great church and it was a Christian and Missionary Alliance church. It was a different a totally different denomination.

Rich Birch — And even as like ah as a grade 9 kid that really like struck me that here was this guy suggesting, hey you should go somewhere different. Um and because he was like I think you’ll find that is more—and you know I didn’t have the language for this at the time—but it was like that were probably more aligned with, you know, your experience here, what they teach about the bible than necessarily the Presbyterian Church did in the town we were moving into. Um now that kind of started the trajectory leadership change trajectory where I’ve spent most of my time, ironically, not in kind of more mainline churches. I’ve spent more of my time in what we would call you know more of the eventually the kind of. evangelical non-denominational world. That’s where I’ve spent most of my time.

Rich Birch — But I do think those early years did impact particularly the gender thing. And the other thing too in I went to I did go to bible college, like I was one of those people. And the bible college I went to is fantastic – it’s ah, a school in Canada called Tyndale. And they’re they’re proudly what they call transdenominational, and they celebrate the fact that people come from a wide variety of of backgrounds. And that was really formative to me because I I um early on didn’t um like I was kind of like engendered in me in my leadership that like we should celebrate people who look at the bible differently. Like where I think there’s that isn’t necessarily the case with lots of people where I think there are people that are like if you’re not from my tribe, you’re not from my narrow group, then I can’t we can’t work together. And so um, very early on…

Rich Birch — And then I took a great ah class, um Professor Elizabeth Daly, Dr. Daly’s class, on gender in school. I was thinking about this, preparing for this. I’m like wait where did that… and I still actually have the textbook. It’s one of the few textbooks I kept. Um her class really impacted me because I would say that was the first time that I actually thought about this issue that I was like oh like yeah okay, there are people who who think um, you know who are trying to maybe limit women’s abilities to lead. Um that was like ah even like a new idea even at that point. I was like oh whoa, that’s interesting like okay this is something to think about. And that you know I that for sure her class that class impacted my thinking around this whole area. Obviously we got into all the theological stuff. Um, but it it impacted even just practically how we how we even just even how my wife and I have our marriage. Like there was stuff that came out of that class around how she because she was it was all this kind of sidebar stuff around how her and her husband managed their kind of relationship that ended up impacting even how Christine and I manage our relationship. So those would be a few things I think from my early years that impacted my thinking around and just leadership around gender.

Kadi Cole — Interesting. That that’s so fascinating to me because there’s a few things I want to highlight from your story. First of all, you moved around a lot, which means there was diversity even in the kind of cultures you were a part of, the kind of schools you were a part of, the neighborhoods you lived in, the ways families operated. And we do know that in different areas of the country, or in North America in different areas of the world for sure, cultures look at gender differently. Even bible believing really scholarly people we have different views around gender in our culture. And so that probably even ah, maybe shook anything that was sort of like locked in as a paradigm every time you move, you kind of get a new paradigm about those things. And then, like you said, some of these more experiences in churches and dynamics, this class, all of those things really form our view around this.

Kadi Cole — And all of us carry biases along in life that we’re us unaware of. You know, hopefully we spend time thinking, and praying, and experiencing things that kind of bring insight and awareness to those. Ah, but we have seen that people who have a broad variety of diverse experiences tend to have more insight around those, obviously just because you get exposed ah, to so many things.

Kadi Cole — Ah when you um, kind of look back on your leadership journey then, like in Ministry Leadership maybe in bible college or your first couple pastoral leadership roles, when did you realize that gender was kind of like a dynamic in your leadership? Like as you’re leading a meeting, or that maybe there are women on your team that have different backgrounds than you, and so they’re coming and showing up to the table differently. Or there are men who maybe have different views than you and they’re ah treating women differently, or or just that it’s a thing. I think sometimes people don’t realize it’s a thing and then you sort of go, man, there’s something here that’s affecting us. And it’s hard to put your finger on till you all of a sudden you uncover it and you’re like, wow this is actually sucking a lot of time and energy from our productivity.

Rich Birch — Yeah that’s great. Great question. So I I’d love to say it was like super early on, I really understood this. Um, but actually it was it was one of these examples of like a small thing that has had like weird weird disproportionate impact on my thinking. Um I was serving at ah a great church in the Toronto area. And there was ah a leader who I deeply respected – who’s probably 10 years older than me, is just a little bit farther down the the road and it was this is like a silly stupid small thing, but it really did impact me. We were we were having a staff lunch. So at this point our staff probably had 30 or 40 people on it. I was a part of the senior leadership team. This other individual was also a part of, this guy named Darrell was also ah you know part of the senior leadership team. And um, we were just getting you know pulling everything together, getting this lunch ready. and um. You know the way it was being served was it was like you know there’s all this food sitting out and then there was a couple people standing behind the counter, serving the meal. And ah there was I think maybe 2 or 3 people standing behind the the counter. And again super small detail but Darrell he said to there was um, ah one of our assistants was standing there about to start serving out the meal. And he said to her hey, is it okay, if I don’t have you do that? Is it okay, if I step in? Because I just don’t always want it to be like, you know, there’s always a woman who’s handing out the food.

Rich Birch — Um, and I it struck me. I was like that is an interesting um observation, you know, that and although you know it was ah it was a small thing and it was a um, it was a visual thing. Ah but I would say that was one of those early things that I was like oh yeah, that’s interesting, like even just who serves the meal. Who is like the person that’s always handing stuff out um can be perceived, can can say something without us ever saying anything.

Kadi Cole — Mmm-hmm.

Rich Birch — And so I’ve often thought back to that moment that ooh something turned in me that I was like, oh I need to pay more attention to this. You know I respected Darrell; I still respect Darrell. He’s a great leader. Um, you know and and even though it was a small thing… And then you start to notice it, right? Then you’re like oh, here’s a guy I lead and I notice; it’s not just about handing out food. There’s all kinds of things in his ministry where he’s trying to find ways to honor um, you know, provide opportunity for, speak highly of, um, you know, ah you know, cutting down other guys if they’re like, hey you shouldn’t be making a joke like that. That’s not a great joke. Um, you know those kinds of things that um, that you know, I had definitely had an influence on me for sure. And that was that you know that’s in my you know, kind of in those first ten years of ministry that that definitely stood out as one of those kind of turning points. Um.

Kadi Cole — I love the intentionality of that. And those things really do first of all that it says something really significant to that woman. And it gives an example to people like you and other people who are watching. Ah, but the other thing is, and we’ve talked about this before the last time we chatted about this, is just how easy it is for our leadership decisions or our cultures or kind of our habits and practices don’t always exactly match our theology. And most people are picking up on our theology from what they see not necessarily just from what we teach. And oftentimes we don’t teach on this topic because it is kind of controversial and it’s not something you want to, you know, be talking about every other month. And so ah, those intentional movements really do carry a lot of weight. They have ripple effects.

Kadi Cole — And it’s also really encouraging, I think it’s things all of us can do, right? It’s things all of us can be more aware of our surroundings, more aware of the way we program something, or the way a meeting operates, or who we delegate to without even thinking about it. We can really cause some ripple changes and bring more awareness just with that sort of intentionality.

Rich Birch — Well yeah, and I love so the other thing so there was not I don’t like it was I think there was just the three of us standing there. Like there wasn’t a whole big… it wasn’t like he made a big show of it, right?

Kadi Cole — Yeah.

Rich Birch — It wasn’t like a he—and this is Darrell like he’s that’s him to a “T”. He’s like he’s an amazing leader. Um, and is always trying to you know he’s always one of these guys always trying to lift other but lift other people up which is great. But it you know it was one of those, oh wow, like that’s an interesting you know it was a kind gesture ah and and incredibly true, right? Like that it’s it’s one of those like oh yeah, like I would have if it’s always it’s always women handing out the food, that may not that may subtly communicate something that we don’t want to communicate.

Kadi Cole — Rich, what would you say is one of your biggest lessons or stories about how leadership experiences can be different for men and women?

Rich Birch — Well, so this is in a similar timeframe, a couple of years before the the lunch. Um I ah, you know our church was growing. We were, our church very similar… we have a similar our, your, my backgrounds – we very similar kind of background. We started doing multisite before we called it multisite, like it was it was we were doing this we didn’t even know what to call it. We’re doing this thing 35 minutes away. And um I was aware that I had heard through the grapevine—this is like this is 2000/2001—I had heard through the grapevine that Willow Creek was doing something similar, but I didn’t I didn’t really know, and I didn’t know anyone at Willow at the time. And so I literally dialed—you’ll get a kick out of this as a Gen Xer—I literally dialed 411. Like I was like I don’t know their phone number. I dialed 411 and I’m like Willow Creek in and I think I even said somewhere in Chicago, like I don’t I don’t even know where it where it was.

Rich Birch — And so eventually I got through, and and got to the the person that answered the phone. And I and I explained this – I said you know there’s our church is doing this thing, I think you guys are doing something similar. Who can I talk to? And they’re like oh yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s right. There’s this guy Jim; you should talk with Jim. I’m like great – put me through to Jim. And so I get Jim, didn’t answer his phone, and went to his voicemail. And I I said like hey, I explained a little bit about our church I’d love to chat, and here’s my email address. Um, and so he emails me back and so then I say this crazy thing – I said, hey I would love to come and spend a week with you. Can I? Ah, like I’ll fly down. I said you I you don’t need to do anything. Like I’ll just follow you around, I’ll follow your team around, I’ll sit in on whatever meetings. You don’t ah, you don’t need to book anything specific. I just want to kind of soak in everything I can.

Rich Birch — And he’s like… so we get on the phone eventually and he’s like, that’s a bit odd. Um, but sure if you want to do that, that’s fine. And [inaudible] remember went down in like October and it was initially at the beginning of the week, ah like it was literally I just followed I just following his people around. He just has just gave me a bunch of meetings, and we sat in all that. Well eventually we start talking, and you know by the end of the week he’s like hey, why don’t you come over to my house and we’ll have dinner. And we’re we’re hanging out and um and you know I didn’t end up staying in his place, but was there for quite a bit, and you know we we became fast friends.

Rich Birch — Now for friends that are listening, you see how these two things are intersect. I would say it took me 15 years after that event before I realized something happened at that that will not does not happen for for female leaders: me going over to his house, hanging out, like literally sitting on his couch. You know he was making dinner. Um his wife was away and we were just hanging out. You know the all the informal stuff there cemented our relationship to the point where, you know, I left that week I started that week I don’t know this guy. I left that week still to this day he’s one of my closest ministry friends. You know we we don’t talk all the time, but when we do talk, it’s like we’re right right back in it. And like I say…

Kadi Cole — Well and you two have collaborated a lot over the years around multisight…

Rich Birch — Yes, we’ve done a yes.

Kadi Cole — …and yes, yep.

Rich Birch — And that started from that. It started from his generosity of saying sure, hey why don’t you come in and hang out? But again I like I I wish I could say you know I realized that that was some sort of unique privilege I had. I didn’t I didn’t understand that. It was, like I say, probably 15 years after that until I realized, oh wait a second, like I’m you know what was your experience? You’re you’re friends with Jim. Like you know, tell me about that.

Kadi Cole — Yeah, so yeah I have a I have a story also. And just for the record, I want to say Jim Tomberlin is one of the most amazingly generous leaders.

Rich Birch — Incredible! Yes, incredible.

Kadi Cole —And he has been a huge champion of mine. He’s opened a ton of doors for me, and I know I could call him with a request and he would do everything he could to help me. But this was twenty years ago and I was in the same place you were. Oddly enough I was ah kind of leading the multisite initiative at my church. Again, we didn’t know what to call it. I was looking up, I was on in magazines looking up church magazines…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Kadi Cole — …for churches that had more than one address…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Kadi Cole — …trying to figure out how to navigate this and we were hearing rumors of places. And I’d been to Willow Creek to some of their conferences a couple times. So I’m like they showed up in a magazine and so I ah called up there and emailed and just said in fact, my whole orientation to it was so completely different than yours (Rich’s) because I looked up their services; I just planned to go to a service. I stayed with my sister to save money because I didn’t, you know, I didn’t really have a department. I had a girl title that I worked for the executive team, and I was charged with researching this.

Rich Birch — Right.

Kadi Cole — I didn’t know that people could like request to hang out for a week. So I’m just going to go to a service at their campus.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Kadi Cole — And I did… I think I left a ah voicemail or email and just gave Rich a heads up – I had no idea who he was, and said I’m going to be there I would love to just grab 15 minutes of your time after service to ask you a couple questions. And I went and I took pictures of everything…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Kadi Cole — …and I you know jotted down all the notes…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Kadi Cole — …and learned how to hang a sign in from the ceiling of a school and you know all those early days.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Kadi Cole — Um and so it was great and he was really helpful. He’s probably stayed with us 45 minutes. I brought my sister with me because I didn’t want to be sitting with this guy, you know, just the 2 of us. I didn’t know what the dynamics would be. And so um and that was great. And then I didn’t talk to Rich again for probably 10 years.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Kadi Cole — And ah when we were sharing this story one time a few years ago, that’s when I realized just maybe three years ago, that oh my goodness people had such different experiences. I didn’t even know to ask for those things. I didn’t even know that shadowing a leader at a church was an option. I certainly never got invited to someone’s dinner at their house till maybe five years ago when I wrote a book.

Kadi Cole — And so and ah that isn’t Rich’s ah you know that wasn’t you, that wasn’t Jim, that wasn’t me – that was just the dynamic that we grew up in. And all of those sort of experiences and habits I would say one of my challenges as a leader has been to learn and ask questions, and then ask for those kind of opportunities. Every time I’ve asked someone says yes. And if I would have asked Jim, he would have said yes. I really just never thought of it.

Rich Birch — Right. Fascinating.

Kadi Cole — And not only that but to also offer that to people. Because when you grow up without a lot of those experiences, you don’t know to offer them. It’s kind of like parents who, you know, never said I love you, or never heard that from their parents, they have to work extra hard to offer that to their kids. And so even in my own leadership I’ve had to really challenge myself bring someone with you, invite someone to come, bring them to your house for dinner. You know, just all of those things that I think for many men this is just how you grow leaders and how you do leadership. But for women who are kind of breaking in, these are brand new concepts. And we don’t know that world exists. We don’t know to ask for it, and we certainly don’t know how to offer it to other people.

Rich Birch — Um, oh um, yeah, that’s so fascinating to me. Like yeah, and it’s humbling. You know I think a part of that it’s it is um because I I don’t… so it was odd. It was odd that – it wasn’t like there was lots of other people doing that. I remember him at the time I met with some guy there and he and I was like this is amazing. Like I can’t believe that, you know, you guys, you must get these all the time. And they’re like… Because at that point multisite was like this weird thing that Jim was working on. It was like…

Kadi Cole — Right. I would say though in church ministry people were doing that. If you were a youth pastor you could kind of like find the guy and go hang out.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. No that is very true.

Kadi Cole — Yeah.

Rich Birch — No that’s very true. That’s absolutely true. Yeah, that’s true. It’s interesting

Kadi Cole — So Rich, um over the years then so you’ve kind of had this journey of of having your mind expanded, thinking about it, reflected, but I also know you’ve been a pretty intentional champion for women in different environments and churches that you’ve been in. What are some of the actions that you have ah considered and been intentional about and like purposefully done to open doors for women, or advocate for female leaders that you think of made a good impact? Maybe some of the things you did that actually were terrible ideas. I’m sure people would love to hear about what not to do.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Rich Birch — Just kind of teach us from your experience with 25 years in the game, like what have you learned about how to do this and how you can leverage your ah position and your authority to open doors for female leaders.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s great. So um, there’s been a number of things over the years. I think the general ah what I’ve tried to do is be a vocal advocate for women um both with them directly, ironically. Like I think there’s a um, like literally just today I was in a podcast interview earlier where there was an incredible woman that unpacked literally best-in-class stuff. Like I’ve never heard this stuff before. And after it goes off the air and and she’s like, oh was that was that any good? Like was that, you know, was this like? And and I’m like, oh I’ve seen this before inside. I didn’t say this to her. I’m like and so I was like listen what you just shared is the best stuff that I’ve ever heard any church leader share on this. Like this is this is a big deal, like it’s it’s amazing what you’re doing. And I know um you know I there’s I guess part of it with women directly I’ve tried to find those moments to be like I want you to know that what you’re doing is amazing, like it’s incredible. And and I want to make ah explicit what I know is implicitly true.

Rich Birch — Um, you know I’ve also tried to be a um, a willing advocate and ally with other men, with other guys. Um, you know there was a church I who I dearly love worked for and you know love them and when we were engaged in the before I went and worked there, you know, your work working through all the different things that you’re, you know, trying to figure out. And um one of the things that I bumped up against was their um you know their theological conviction around women in leadership was different than mine. You know they they they wouldn’t use the word the title pastor with a woman. Um and they wouldn’t they limited, you know, the role of women in leadership. And so we talked about it before we went in, and before I started. I was like well I just disagree with you on this, and like so we need to talk about it. And we talked about it. We had like let’s open scripture and look at how we, you know… I said listen on my side I’m I’m willing to join because I don’t I don’t think, and don’t take this the wrong way Kadi, but like for them it wasn’t like a huge deal. It was just like this is what we think. And like we’re not, they’re not pounding it. But it is like ah but this is this is where we are. This is our conviction. And I’m like, okay well if you’re willing to hire me knowing that I have a difference, you know, of thought on this, and knowing that it’s going to be something that’s going to come up. Like I’m I’m going to talk about it, but I’m not going to talk about it all the time, like it’s not like every meeting we’re going to talk about these things. But don’t be surprised when we bring it up.

Rich Birch — And so over the years, you know, there was ah there was a ah particular woman that was on our staff, and and this probably is I was probably not that atypical of it an experience, but she oversaw our kids ministry, and was probably the most creative person on our team. Like did um, just did amazing stuff. Like and so I started by saying like well she’s does an amazing job pastoring young, you know, or the next generation. And that was like what – what are you talking about? I’m like I know we don’t call her a pastor but like that’s actually what she’s doing. Like we we we may not like we may not use that word but that is actually what it’s happening. Um, and, you know, and she was the kind of leader who was not like I’m trying to you know she was not trying to go for the title. She wasn’t like, hey this is a really big deal for me. But I I was in that same kind of encouraging way like, man, you’re doing an incredible job here. Great stuff, all that.

Rich Birch — And that led to a series of conversations over, it was probably—I was thinking about this before—like it was probably over eighteen months to 2 years, like this was not a like instantaneous thing. It was a protracted conversation. Um, where eventually it came to it came to a head where it was like, ok I either need to stop talking about it, or they need to fire me, or there needs to be some sort of change because it’s it’s not um, you know, we can’t just keep talking about this. And so I um and and eventually they did end up changing their position. You know it ended up being like hey we’re we’re going to, um you know we’re going to take a different view on this. And actually to this day they you know they’ve they’ve done that which is…

Rich Birch — Um, and that’s like a whole there’s a whole other conversation we can have there, particularly I think in multisite churches I think there should be, man, there’s there’s lots of opportunity even if you would hold you know federal headship the you know the most senior roles for men. Even if you hold that to be true, um, man, there’s still a lot of latitude I personally think, um and and would challenge you to to think about that. And and and challenge you to to think about it from like what do you actually think about scripture. Because I think this is one of those areas where people just kind of take they just swallow what’s been given to them. They haven’t really thought about it. They haven’t they haven’t processed it. And you could end up having a lower view of scripture. You just are like I’m just kind of taking what’s come to me; I haven’t never actually wrestled with it.

Rich Birch — So that you know that was pretty dramatic, and the thing I love about that is there’s a lot of incredible women who are serving in that church today who are, you know, doing, you know… And that that woman that I told you about that’s like the most creative person on their team, she serves on their senior leadership team today. They’re you know, doing incredible, you know, incredible things and the church is way better for it. Like it’s like the church is moving forward and reaching more people.

Rich Birch — Um, so yeah, that’d be a few of attention intentional things. But to be honest, I actually think although that was a little bit dramatic and that was with, you know, kind of advocating with guys, I actually find the the kind of like both silent like um, opening doors like, hey why don’t you can you come and speak at this thing? Or like can you be a part of this? Or can I serve the food instead of you? And the like trying to be encouraging along the way I think actually has more impact. I think actually just saying to people, no no like it’s going to be it’s going to be great. You can do this, you’ve you’ve got this. So I don’t know – there’ll be a few things.

Kadi Cole — Oh I love both of those stories. And there is something to be said for people who champion against the systems or ah, you know, take on women being paid less for the same work. Or whatever it is in your context that you see some things a little ah inequitable or could use some championship that those systems and structures do open doors and have long term effects. But I do want to agree and highlight just that ah affirmation to women, that what you’re doing really matters, or you know your stuff, or you’re good at this – you should keep doing this.

Kadi Cole — Ah, we talk a lot about the sticky floor – I think we talked about that on the podcast. It’s kind of those thoughts and ideas women have in their head that sort of keep them from having confidence or keep them from going for leadership opportunities. And if you want to listen to that podcast, we’ll put it in the show notes. (Um you see how I delegated that to you on that.)

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good – I love it.

Kadi Cole — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Well and that’s true though because you know and I and I’ll say I don’t know that I’ve said this publicly. I can’t remember if I said this on the episode with you. But like and I’ve said it to a number of ah female leaders who I’ve had on the podcast. When we first started the podcast 746 episodes ago, Beth, who is like this only happens because she works on it. She’s amazing. Um her and I I was like what I want to do, is I want to have every other episode be 1 female, 1 male, 1 female, 1 male. And and what I want to do is not I want to have female leaders, and not talk about the fact that they’re female leaders. Like just talk about the amazing work that they’re doing.

Kadi Cole — Oh I Love that.

Rich Birch — And so I think we got 5 or 6 episodes in, like and we ran out of women.

Kadi Cole — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Like I was like, I can’t find I can’t find enough. And so you know that’s like super heartbreaking to me. Um, and but interestingly, so over the years we’ve you know we we probably pursue like of the at those 750, call at episodes, like we’ve probably pursued 700 of those like we mostly go and find people. And if we ask 10 guys to be on the podcast, 9 out of 10 will say yes. If I ask 10 women, it’s probably 7 or 6 will say will say yes. Ah if and then um women who express um concern after, like ask to either hear the episode or… because obviously I don’t want I want people this is not I’m not like some hard hitting I’m not trying it’s not gotcha journalism. I want people to walk away feeling great about it. And so I’ll say that, hey just let me know. You know, there’s probably it’s it might be 10x the number of women who express some sort of concern about the content to men. And so I um in my little world I want to do what I can to try to turn that around. So I’m even this woman I was telling about earlier today, I’m like I had the same conversation with her. And I’m like please can you send me ah women leaders because I we want to feature them more. Um, so but I’ve… that to me has been a real stark example where because it’s like statistically true, and I’ve been in all those conversations. I can I can tell you that. And that there’s a part of that that frankly, like really bums me out. Like I’m like, oh, that’s that’s a wide swath of the Christian world.

Rich Birch — Women leaders particularly who are feeling like not great about their own leadership. Or or or maybe it’s the other way around; maybe guys are like just oblivious. They all think they’re experts. I don’t know what it is. Like it’s some… there’s there’s there’s definitely a gender difference there – that my experience has been that there’s a gender difference. Um and uh man, I’d love to turn that around and make that different for the next generation. I would love to create – I’m a Gen Xer born in 1974 the bottom of the bust, lowest birth rate in the twentieth century. And so most of what I’ve been doing in my ministry is taking stuff from the boomers and giving it to, you know, millennials or Gen Z. And man I would I would really hope for women coming after us that this would be like it’s just a non-issue. That like in 10 years we they would listen to this and be like, man, those people were so silly back then. I really hope that happens.

Kadi Cole — That would be great. I actually think that’s going to happen. I believe that. I think and one of the keys is is what you’re talking about. It’s helping the women leaders who are doing it now ah think about themselves from a more truthful perspective. So ah, part of this mindset is that high capacity female leaders are perfectionists, and we want it to be great. And we know that there’s very few opportunities for us. This is actually research that shows up for any minority. And so we put extra pressure on ourselves. We don’t want to do anything that’s going to like embarrass us, or embarrass you, or disappoint someone. So our standards are much higher than what most guys know that they can get away with.

Kadi Cole — And so when you help me know, hey what you did there was excellent. Like I might go, was it good enough? And you’re like that was actually an A. And I’m thinking, if I could just get a C.

Rich Birch — Right.

Kadi Cole — And so every time a male leader, especially a godly leader, right? A spiritual authority person, a pastor, speaks truth to me about me, it changes my own view of myself. The biblical example of this that I talk about a lot is Esther and Mordecai. You know Esther is positioned by God to have this huge influence. And when it comes time, she second guesses herself. She’s like, I’m not the person for the job, and everyone else knows she is. She can’t see it. And it takes a Mordecai to step in and say, listen who knows but you have been put in this position for such a time as this. I see God’s hand on you. I’ve seen him position you. This is exactly why you’re here. Don’t back down; lean in.

Kadi Cole — And as women who grow up in circumstances, sometimes very similar to Esther, we can’t see that for ourselves. And so thank you for doing that. And I just want to encourage everyone out there, men and women, any sort of leader, you know, the more encouragement, the more affirmation, the more we can identify and call out greatness in people, it really does help them see themselves better and opens more opportunities for their future from from just who they are.

Rich Birch — Yeah I would, say so this um one of the things I do in my life is I um help run this ah overnight kids camp. It’s like this great curveball in this environment, people are like what? It’s like a whole other conversation. But it’s it’s great. It’s fun. It’s interesting. It’s the it’s the place that gave me my first kind of leadership um opportunity.

Kadi Cole — Amazing.

Rich Birch — And um and so I’m happy to give back to that. It’s an interesting piece of the puzzle. One of the things that I’ve done there is I pretty regularly with the guys whenever we have like a chance to do, you know, like we’re maybe just with the guy leaders is I’ll ask the question, I’ll say you know at some point you’re going to realize that you’re you’re the most powerful person in the room. (It’s classic Andy Stanley.) You’re the you know you’re the most powerful person in the room. Yeah, that’s going to happen in your life. And the question is, what are you going to do with it? How are you going to use that moment – to serve yourself, or are you going to use that moment to serve others? And um, you know, I I want to be counted as a leader who used that to serve other people, right? That that we like hey I think that’s what Jesus demands of us. I think and you know this is a part of a broader spectrum. We could be talking or a broader conversation around you know I’m a um I’m a white male. You know with has had lots of privilege in his life. There’s lots of things that when I look over the history of my life just doesn’t make sense. It’s like well I think it’s because it’s just who I was, right? And I, you know, have the same conversation, you know, 10 years ago had similar revelation with my black friends, where I, you know, had someone challenge me around said, hey you know sit down with a black friend and ask him ah to tell you about when you know their dad or their parents told them about what to how to interact with cops. Have that conversation. And I’m like what are you talking about? That’s crazy. And so talked with a friend of mine, had this conversation over lunch. I said listen this is going to be a little uncomfortable; I’m so sorry. But I I am trying to learn and grow.

Rich Birch — And this this individual I would say came from a very similar background as mine like I would say like like they grew up in the suburbs, they’re you know all of that stuff. And their experience interacting with the cops was different than mine [inaudible] experience. And so now when I if I get pulled over, and hasn’t happened a lot in the last ten years, but when I do get pulled over by cops, I take my wallet out, I take turn the cars off, I put the keys on the on the counter in front of me. I do all of that stuff that my black friend does because I’m like I shouldn’t have to… he shouldn’t have to think about that. Like he shouldn’t that shouldn’t have to be in his his brain.

Rich Birch — And so you know I think this is a part of a, you know as a part of a whole thing that I you know I think there’s a personal journey. But I think it’s it should be a journey in general I think as Christ’s followers, as leaders, who also happen to be in this case, white and male, are trying to figure out how do we use our power?

Kadi Cole — Right.

Rich Birch — How do we use that to help other people? Or you know because it’s because a bunch of it’s been given to us. It’s actually got nothing to do with me. It’s not that I’m not great.

Kadi Cole — Yeah, we’re well we’re blessed to be a blessing, right?

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Kadi Cole — Like we’re supposed to be conduits of those things. And so when we recognize what we’ve been given, we are more empowered to be able to give it away, and multiply that for the kingdom.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Kadi Cole — So okay as we wrap up here, one last question. I’d love to know what piece of advice you’d like to give to the guys who are listening around this topic? And what one piece of advice would you like to give to women, female leaders who are listening?

Rich Birch — Um, well I would say to guys. In order, it’s unfortunate, but to lead within the ah evangelical church which most of the people who listen would call themselves at least be “small e” evangelical. This area is going to require you to have some awkward conversations. Like it doesn’t if it’s not happening, if there’s not a dialogue already taking place around these issues, you probably you need to raise it. You need to raise your hand and say, hey, like can can we talk about this? Like there’s because this is a part of the world that we’re in. Like this is um and and it probably requires us as guys to pick up that ball and and run with it. Um, that we can um, get the ball rolling in a way that’s different in the same way that that guy Darrell for me was like oh that was like a paradigm shifter because he’s he stepped out and like. That’s a bit awkward, right? To say to explain to someone, hey I I don’t want you to have to serve this meal all the time because I don’t always want there to look like women are people who just serve meals. That’s like an awkward thing to say, right? It’s like because you’re like well I don’t think of you like that. That’s not what I’m saying. I don’t actually think that’s who you are. Like you can get all caught up in that. But I think we have to probably um, be you know we we have to take the lead and and do something here to to lead some awkward conversations. It’s probably going to take that.

Rich Birch — And then I think to women, I don’t know. Man, like there’s just so many incredible women who lead in the church who are doing amazing things. And um, you know, this past fall my wife and I were we got a chance to travel to um HTB out in London and was a great experience. And um, you know my there was multiple times where people had words of knowledge kind of prophecy over her. And they—which I don’t know what you think about all that stuff, but that’s fine, just go with me here for a minute, friends—and multiple of them pointed in the same direction. It was like you have a voice; you should use it. You know, you have a voice. And I’d say I’d say to women like like you have so much to offer.

Kadi Cole — Yes.

Rich Birch — Like I look at the churches that have women empowered in them and I’m like those are such life-giving places where where just so many good things are happening. And um, you know it’s going to take you like stepping up in a weird sort of way to like um for that to for all the good things that you have to offer for those to happen. And I wish that wasn’t the case; I wish just it was I wish every church was just the place that kind of welcomed you. But in the same way that guys are going to have to have awkward conversations, like you’re going to have to take advantage of opportunity that comes your way. Like you’re you’re going to have to um, you know, to stick your neck out a little bit. And um and say yes when someone asks you to be on their podcast. Um, you look you’re you’re gonna have to you’re gonna have to do that. Um, because because it’s about modeling for the next generation. So like on that story but my my wife, there’s a young woman who’s um on our staff at church and she’s she’s in her early 20s and she’s just starting out. And our church is very um empowering to women. Um, but she’s been saying to her like, no, like don’t don’t feel stuck and limited. Don’t you know don’t feel like this is the box you’ve got to run in. You know the sky’s the limit. The church needs you; we need you to step in. And so um, you know I think we we have to get beyond all the just like the Billy Graham rule and all that stuff like there’s so many… you know we’ve got to get to the place where we’re like, how do we find a way for both genders to be fully alive and fully leveraging who we are to reach the people who, you know, God’s put in our path. So those would be a few things I would say.

Kadi Cole — I love it. Well and that’s the goal. And we need we need men at the leadership table. We need women at the leadership table. The goal is not to um, not the goal is it for the future to be female. The goal is for the future to be together. That’s what we’re really trying to do, and we both have to show up and say yes in order to do that. So, Rich, thank you so much for your ah vulnerability, and your authenticity, and just speaking from your heart, and being open for a you know crazy idea from me um, ah to be able to have this conversation. I hope it really blesses people and encourages people to continue to lean into this topic. And ah, we both have resources on this subject so if people want to learn more please reach out to us. And thanks so much. I just really appreciate your championing women and your role in the kingdom.

Rich Birch — Yeah, turning the tables back around on you, Kadi, I how can people get in touch with you, because I know there are church leaders that are listening in that are saying, man, we need to we probably need to do some work in this area. We need to but think about this a little bit. Give us a frame of what that looks like. They’re almost 3 quarters of an hour in at this point. Give us a framework on ah you know how can you help churches think through these issues. What does that typically look like, how do you engage, and where can people get in touch with you?

Kadi Cole — Yeah, so I did write a book specifically for church leaders on this called “Developing Female Leaders”. You can get it on Amazon or Audible. And then my website kadicole.com spelled k-a-d-i-c-o-l-e-dot-com. I’ve got all sorts of resources and downloads. I coach people, I do consulting for churches, I speak at a lot of churches. Um and would love to engage you if you want to move forward on this topic, whether it’s with your elder board, or your staff, or your congregation on a weekend. Um I’m very passionate about it and want to really help churches, you know, make the most of who God is brought to their congregation.

Rich Birch — Thanks so much, Kadi, appreciate you, appreciate your ministry. Thanks so much for ah for interviewing me today. It was great. Thanks so much for being here.

Kadi Cole — Thank you, Rich.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.