Leaning in on the Important (& Potentially Awkward) Conversations Around Women in Leadership at Your Church with Lisa Penberthy

Thanks for joining us on the unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with Lisa Penberthy, a church leader and consultant with 20 years of experience and an M.Div and MBA in nonprofit management. She is currently serving as the COO at Dannah Investment Group and is passionate about stewarding people’s callings as well as church resources.

Are you a church leader looking to encourage and empower more women to step into their callings in your ministry? Listen in as Lisa provides practical coaching on identifying blind spots, communicating personal boundaries, and advocating for next generation women leaders.

  • Identify what’s missing. // When it comes to women in church leadership, we tend to look at the theological side of the conversation. However, practically speaking we need to recognize that it comes down to helping women fulfill their callings. If you’re fully supportive of them, then the question becomes, how do you help empower them by removing obstacles and providing practical support? Start by looking at the blind spots in your church. If none of your executive leaders are women then you’re missing part of the conversation. Pay attention to how many times women have spoken from the stage or given a message at your church.
  • Circle back. // Women may identify that they have a ministry calling but aren’t ready to step into it due to their current family responsibilities. Male leaders may want to ask these women to serve in leadership, but also don’t want to put pressure on them. Remember that it’s important to circle back to these women and present them with leadership opportunities again. Come back to the conversation and hold the women accountable rather than only asking once and assuming they’ll always say no.
  • Build trust. // Acknowledge the tension around social interactions with male and female leaders. Each individual needs to establish personal boundaries and points of accountability in their life and leadership. Have honest conversations about those barriers so there’s a layer of trust between the male and female staff and women aren’t automatically omitted from leadership opportunities and interactions. With the right benchmarks and boundaries in place, men and women should be able to travel together or be alone in a room for confidential meetings without hesitancy. Never isolate or penalize women because of your individual struggles.
  • Upfront communication. // When hiring women on staff, communicate during the interview any limitations in the leadership relationship between men and women. Be forthright about personal boundaries in your leadership so the woman being interviewed can decide whether she is comfortable with them or not. If this conversation isn’t initiated by the interviewer, the woman needs to have the courage to bring it up so she will know where she might be held back in her calling.
  • Raising concerns. // If a situation occurs that causes a woman to no longer feel comfortable with current boundaries, she has to be brave enough to raise the concern. It doesn’t have to be with her superior, but she needs to come forward. It can be with the church’s HR or the administrative people who handle paychecks, or even the advisory board. She should find the person that is safe to talk to and have a conversation early after any incidents happen.
  • Encourage upcoming leaders. // Advocate for next generation women leaders in every way you can to encourage them in their work. Invest in upcoming female leaders by giving them opportunities, such as internships, to show their potential. Observe them in their own environments and give them increased responsibility.
  • Discipling women. // Most churches have more women in the congregation than men. But if there are more women in the seats and fewer women on the platform, then we’re not doing a good job of reaching and discipling the people God has brought to us. We should see more women in leadership throughout all areas of the church, not just the nursery and children’s ministry.

To connect with Lisa you can meet her at the XP Summit on May 16 & 17, 2023 or you can email her.

Thank You for Tuning In!

There are a lot of podcasts you could be tuning into today, but you chose unSeminary, and I’m grateful for that. If you enjoyed today’s show, please share it by using the social media buttons you see at the left hand side of this page. Also, kindly consider taking the 60-seconds it takes to leave an honest review and rating for the podcast on iTunes, they’re extremely helpful when it comes to the ranking of the show and you can bet that I read every single one of them personally!

Lastly, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, to get automatic updates every time a new episode goes live!

Thank You to This Episode’s Sponsor: Chemistry Staffing

One of the things that they never teach you in seminary is when to move on from your current church. Over the last couple of years, we have been having a TON of conversations about this with pastors all over the United States. Of all the ministry decisions you make, leaving your position will be the toughest.

Download this two-in-one resource that walks you through the decision-making process.

Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey, friends welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. Super excited for today’s conversation with my new friend, Lisa Penberthy. She is just incredible leader that you’re going to want to listen in and lean in with. Ah she was executive pastor of operations at San Diego Rock – if you don’t know this church of fantastic ah organization. She’s been a church leader and consultant with twenty plus years of experience. Has both an M.Div and MBA, which is fantastic, in nonprofit management. Ah she currently is serving as the COO at Dana Investment group. She’s passionate really about helping churches and leaders steward their calling and church resources. Ah, Lisa welcome to the show. So glad that you’re here.

Lisa Penberthy — Rich, thanks for the invite. It’s great to be with you.

Rich Birch — Yeah I’m so honored that you are giving us some time today. This is going to be good. Fill out the picture there. What did I miss? What else do we want people to know? I know it’s so hard to, you know, how do I you know what what what do I want people to know about me.

Lisa Penberthy — What I want people to know about me? Um I believe in the local church. I have served in every capacity of the local church, minus a men’s pastor. So I started out ministry um, as a volunteer junior high youth leader, but a paid janitor. So I was paid to clean the toilets and I volunteered to serve the junior highers, and boy, some days it felt the same.

Rich Birch — Oh Gosh. Oh my goodness. That’s hilarious. I love that. So good.

Lisa Penberthy — But yeah, so so those are local church is where it’s at for me. I’ve served in various capacities at denominational levels. So I’m ordained minister with the Foursquare Church.

Rich Birch — Oh great.

Lisa Penberthy — And served by pastoring local church years were mainly in the Foursquare Church. And then I served our denomination both at what Foursquare would call the district level that serves the local church directly, and then the national level that serves all of the US churches.

Rich Birch — I love it.

Lisa Penberthy — So it’s an honor to serve twenty plus years in those capacities.

Rich Birch — Yeah I love it.

Lisa Penberthy — And then I love to teach.

Rich Birch — Oh good. Nice. And where where where…

Lisa Penberthy — So I’ve…

Rich Birch — And that’s been both in the local church context and other contexts? Tell us about that.

Lisa Penberthy — Yeah, so Life Pacific University and and then Ministry Institute. So Rock School of Ministry when I was at the Rock and I currently teach at Western Ministry Institute which is a Foursquare Ministry Institute.

Rich Birch — Love it. So good. Well I’m so honored that you would be on today to to tackle this issue particularly. Ah so what we’re talking about today really is how can we as church churches and church leaders, people who are charged with leading the church, really ah, encourage, raise up ah particularly female, women leaders in our our churches. I think my assumption is that there are people that are listening in today that although cognitively might agree, hey they look around their circles and they’re like there’s just way too many guys here; there have to be more women that ah, that should be leading in our context. But there must be something that’s going on that we’re not encouraging women to take it in these steps. Or we’re providing we’re kind of there’s some something that we’re doing that’s not working right. And I want to I want to, you offered, which I appreciate to help us kind of think about these issues today, and we want to kind of wrestle through that.

Rich Birch — So what should we be thinking about? What when when we think about this issue, let’s assume we’re in that picture we look around and we say but there’s just there’s just too many guys here. How can we, not that guys are bad, but how can we encourage ah you know more women to lead within our context?

Lisa Penberthy — Yeah, great question and my focus is really practical in in just identifying what’s missing. When you sit down at a table, you’ve gathered people to make decisions and you look around and you don’t see any women. Um it it begs the question are we missing part of the conversation? And so starting out really practical is looking around the table – who’s at the tables that you go to? We tend to focus on the theological side in the conversation. But really we need to get beyond that and look at the practical aspect of um seeing women fulfill their calling. So if women know that they’re called, you’ve already determined that that’s where you stand because that’s your belief, then then let’s figure out how to do it.

Lisa Penberthy — So the practical ways look around the table are there women look at your platform, scroll through all of your um, Sunday sermons that you have put on your website and count how many times a woman has spoken. If you can’t find any times then you’ve probably missed the mark. If you’re only seeing it once or twice, but you’ve had 20 plus guest speakers, then you’ve probably fallen a little short now.

Lisa Penberthy — Now if if the primary speaker is just the lead pastor and no one else covers the pulpit then it is what it is. But if you bring guests in for your pulpit, if you bring guests in to speak, and you don’t see any women, then you should probably look a little deeper on your bench.

Rich Birch — Love that. I love that just even really practical, you know, try that. That’s a potential blind Spot we might have. Is that we’re not um, you know we’re not calling in, you know, female guest speakers when we you know when we are bringing in guest guest speakers. That’s great. What would be some other common and blind spots that you see when in churches that would hold ah conviction that would say, yeah we were we’re open to women women leading, but there’s just like a you know there’s just a blind spot that we just don’t see. Are any others that come up?

Lisa Penberthy — Absolutely. Um, male leaders default to ah they need to be in the home. And not because they think that that not because that’s their belief, but because they feel that a woman will say no. And so they don’t even ask women because the woman is focused on their young children or they’re ah really focused on their family, they’re the soccer mom. And so they they don’t want to interrupt or they have spoken to a woman in the past that has said, I’m really busy now – come back to me, and they don’t come back.

Lisa Penberthy — So a really simple way to do that is when you identify a woman who is strong and called, and you know that um ministry speaking, teaching is in their future, and they say, you know what? I really want the first five years of my kids to focus on the first five years. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what they really need is that person that circles back after the first five years and says okay, five years is up. Let’s talk again. So coming back to the conversation; hold the women accountable. They’re the ones that said, I see that call in my life; I just want to wait. And so finding that balance. And really, that’s not everyone. When I started going, for me, it was this is my priority. My husband and I waited 10 years for the kids because I wanted to go after my calls so that when the kids came along, I knew the difference of my calling as a mother, and my calling as a pastor. Because they are two very different things that I know God has prepared me for.

Rich Birch — Um, love that. I know, um, so first of all I appreciate you pushing us on this. We want to keep leaning in here and finding ways that we could be creating undo barriers that that we shouldn’t you know that aren’t there. I know for me one of them that I’ve seen in my own leadership is the um is the unexpected kind of social stuff. Hey we’re going, hey let’s go out for lunch. Or hey we’re going to you know, whatever go to a game together. You know those kinds of things. Ah, talk us through ah well is that a problem am I being anxious about stuff I shouldn’t be anxious about? Or is there is there a real issue there that we need to think about?

Lisa Penberthy — So this is a tension point. And everybody has to individually determine where they sit. For me, I have traveled the world with male colleagues because it’s a part of what I’m called to do.

Rich Birch – Yep.

Lisa Penberthy — And my gender doesn’t limit my calling. My choices can limit it. My actions can limit it. But my gender shouldn’t. And so I have put in personal benchmarks and points of accountability accountability into my life and leadership that affords me opportunity to sit in a meeting room with just me and one male. Um, travel the world with just me and one male. Um, but that’s because of the things I’ve put in place for my accountability. And I know my weaknesses and that’s not my weakness. And now I won’t know the male’s weakness. And so open conversations become important. Knowing who you’re working with, knowing who you’re traveling with, um, putting that layer of trust in place becomes important.

Lisa Penberthy — Um, so so navigating those pieces is really important. So if there is a hesitancy on a male’s end of being in a room um with a woman because I’ve I’ve experienced that. And I had to ask a question of a male that said, is this because you don’t trust me, or you don’t trust yourself? And so and then that conversation was had. And then I took it ah a layer deeper and said, okay you trust me, you trust yourself. Is this a commitment to your spouse because I want to honor those things, but I also don’t want those things to keep us from being effective in the mission. And so let’s put it all out on the table. Never isolate a woman or keep from having a lunch with the opposite sex because of that barrier. Have the conversations up front. Because the reality in today’s day and age is you don’t know who’s sitting across from the table. You could have a transgender across the table. You could have um someone ah that doesn’t that is attracted to same sex and you don’t know and so…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Lisa Penberthy — …having a male and a male at the table is no different today than having a male and a female.

Rich Birch — Right.

Lisa Penberthy — Now if this is your staff and someone you know then there should also be that same level of trust. You’re trusting where it’s at. So putting in your marks of accountability. And if this is an area you struggle with as a leader, you need to be vulnerable enough to say, hey I need to do it different. This isn’t about you. This is about me. Own up to your stuff. And so so it’s a real tension, and everybody has different markers and that’s the reality of the conversation is your personal barriers and obstacles, not the large picture gender barriers and obstacles, because we’re isolating all women because of our individual struggles.

Rich Birch — Yeah, okay, so this is really good, Lisa. I appreciate this. Can you give us some coaching here. So I um, so let’s assume I’m I’m a leader, I’m a male leader who does have conviction around saying hey I one of my own personal convictions is um, I I don’t want to meet alone. I won’t I won’t do the lunch I won’t that’s with with a a female. I don’t know how let’s say I don’t know how to say that without it sounding like I think you’re going to try to seduce me. Or I think I’m going to you know I’m like totally turned on by you. Like I don’t know how to how do I say that in a way. What’s how what can give us some language.

Lisa Penberthy — Right.

Rich Birch — Give us some coaching around how do we use that language? What what would you what would you how would you coach coach us on that?

Lisa Penberthy — Absolutely. First, this conversation should come out in the interview process.

Rich Birch — Okay, good, good, good.

Lisa Penberthy — The woman coming in should know this before. She should know that there’s going to be limitations in the leadership relationship.

Rich Birch — Very good. Okay, good.

Lisa Penberthy — So this should come out in the interview process. And the comfort level of that, whether it comes from the senior leader making the hire, or it comes from the ah HR admin whoever does the hiring process. Either way, that’s where it should come out. The the female leader should not be blindsided…

Rich Birch — Right.

Lisa Penberthy — …um in the role six months in, discovering everybody else got a one-on-one. Everybody else goes to lunch one-on-one, but I don’t. Why? So that’s the wrong time to find out, and the wrong conversation in which to find out. So my first recommendation in this, have that conversation in the interview process. Let the woman make the decision to say, you know what? I’m still all in. I’m okay with that. Here’s the boundaries. Let’s work through this. Um, so what to say and how to say it is is really just coming forth being forthright and saying I have my personal boundaries and leadership, and here they are. You wouldn’t hesitate to say um I have date night with my spouse and I leave at five o’clock on Thursday. So if you’re not going to hesitate to say, I’ve got to be at my kids’ baseball game on Tuesday so I’m leaving. If you’re not going to hesitate on those things, then you need to not hesitate on this conversation. Because this conversation impacts someone else’s calling. So you need to be even more forthright with it. And and the comfort level comes in all the time. That’s that’s always a question. That’s always well I’m not comfortable because then as you said it could really spark a, I’m coming on to you. That’s when you have that other person. That’s why the interview’s a great place because typically the interview involves multiple people. So then that can be had um in a group setting. So so those questions, and as a woman I encourage you to ask the question so that it’s brought out.

Lisa Penberthy — So in interviews that I’ve had I’ve asked, what’s your position? Where will I see it? Where will I be held back that other people aren’t? Is there opportunity? And so as a woman I would say ask the question. It is you need to know what you’re getting into because you can’t get upset for a question you didn’t ask.

Lisa Penberthy — And on the the male leader side I would say if you know that you have hard and fast boundaries and rules, share them upfront. Um, if if you don’t have windows in your doors in your office, get those windows in. Because I wholeheartedly believe every door should have a window on it.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Lisa Penberthy — But I also believe once that window’s there, you can shut the door and have a conversation. And so um, so it’s the balance of what have you done to give space for gender mentoring gender leadership conversations to happen. What have you done to make space for that? And what have you done to put in the obstacles? So if you haven’t put that window in, that’s an obstacle that you’ve put in. You’ve chosen that. Because now you have to leave the door open now those confidential conversations – I mean in my role as an Operations Pastor, all the confidential conversations are there. HR questions and conversations. Finance…

Rich Birch — Yes, so true.

Lisa Penberthy — …budgets, layoffs. All of those are closed door conversations that I can’t have unless there’s that window because that’s one of my boundaries. There there needs to be a window or at least a window somewhere that people can walk by. So if it’s not in the door, you know, there’s the window in the door for where the assistant accesses or however, that works but somewhere there is that layer of accountability there.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I appreciate that. You know I do fair amount of coaching with churches where I’m on site and just recently I was at a church where there weren’t windows in their office doors. And I found it surprising I was like oh well, this still exists. Like I was like um and there was a fairly new building and as you actually we we brought it Up. We talked I talked about it. Because I was like, yeah, how does that like you know and so they choose to do the door open thing. And then I asked that exact same question which is like okay so what happens when there’s a you know a conversation that you can have the door open for um because of the nature of it. And it kind of got into this like, well ah it doesn’t really happen. And I was like, okay well, that’s Interesting. It’s just interesting, right?

Lisa Penberthy — Yeah, yeah.

Rich Birch — It’s interesting to see how people you know, operate. Um, so what about on that you know what about on the balance side. Let’s say that or that you know, kind of the other piece of that that puzzle. Let’s say I am a female leader who is um, you know, um, you know sometimes our convictions our um, our comfortable the way we our comfortableness changes in scenarios. Life is different maybe than when we started. Ah, how would you encourage a female leader to try to speak to this, if their own personal conviction has changed on this. It’s like hey you know I was comfortable but I’m not I’m no longer comfortable. Um, the the reason why I flag this is because there are too many churches where people have been taken advantage of. And so how do we create um, you know, ah a boundary there that’s reasonable. Um, yeah, talk us through that. What does that look like?

Lisa Penberthy — Yeah, so in this area, it’s true. They do, the the position changes. It’s they’re they’re comfortable when they’re hired and and they’re in um, the the blissful state, and then something happens something a a statement’s made, a conversations had, and it changes the dynamics of the the comfort level. It changes the dynamics of the the leadership relationship, and so something has to shift. Um, for for women they have to be brave enough and and this is hard to even say, but they have to be brave enough to raise the concern. Now they don’t have to raise the concern to their superior. That’s not where the conversation usually starts. They need to raise the concern um, with within a peer context, within HR. I know most churches don’t have HR so that’s ah, that’s a hard statement to say. But but within that place like who writes your paycheck? That that technically is your HR person if your church is small and doesn’t have HR. Who writes the paycheck because that’s the administrative person that’s balancing labor laws. So let’s let’s put a little little technically. If that’s the person writing the paycheck then they’re the ones that have to know the labor laws. So that’s the person that I would send you to?

Lisa Penberthy — Um if your church is super small and that’s all done through the senior pastor, then there has to be a church council…

Rich Birch — Right.

Lisa Penberthy — …an advisory board, something that is bringing the leadership structure. And and you don’t have to go to all of them, but find the one person that’s safe. Find that person that you can talk to to help have that conversation, or to go with you to have that conversation. Because sometimes that line was crossed and accountability needs to be put in place. And sometimes that line was crossed out of ignorance – an ignorance statement, a really unfortunate illustration in a sermon. It could be that simple.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Lisa Penberthy — Ah, that the line is crossed and that that comfort is lost. And so find that person to go to and have the conversation and ah appear or someone that holds your leader accountable. Those are the best go-tos to have that conversation with. And if there is still the comfort level to have the conversation um, have it early. And having it early means um, being brave enough to say, I have a concern…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Lisa Penberthy — …and I don’t know where I’m landing on this, but let’s figure this out together. You know, going back to the the sermon illustration, you said something in your sermon Sunday that makes me uncomfortable. And had you said that one on one with me, I would have had to leave the room.

Rich Birch — Right. Yeah, and that’s ah

Lisa Penberthy — And so approaching it that way.

Rich Birch — Yeah, in some ways I feel bad that I’ve steered the conversation in this direction because I don’t want to inject I think sometimes we it’s like we we come to the worst case scenario. But I do I do think we have to talk about it and I think as executive leaders who are leading particularly within the church, this is one of those areas where, and this has been a growth area for me over these last couple of years. I I realized, man, I need to be really clear with our team who is the advocate that they should go to if I as their leader or if they’re particular leaders to people that lead them do something say something that is that is inappropriate, that’s off off bounds. We have to be as clear as that with our people.

Lisa Penberthy — Yes.

Rich Birch — This is who you talk to…

Lisa Penberthy — Yes.

Rich Birch — …this is the advocate that is there on your behalf…

Lisa Penberthy — Yes.

Rich Birch — …um, that is outside of you know, that and that’s their job there. And you have to you have to identify somebody, you have to make it super obvious, say this is how you talk to them. Um, and you know that’s been a growth area for me even these in these years because I’m like, man, we can’t I don’t want someone to wonder in that moment. I’m not even sure to talk to about this, particularly if it’s about me…

Lisa Penberthy — Absolutely.

Rich Birch — …if I’m the person that ultimately this whole thing leads up to, man, I have to create, even more so, I have to create really clear ah, really clear lines there. Um, so another area of this is our own thoughts and beliefs and approaches to how we manage our home life versus how we manage in ah our leadership scenario at church. I think there sometimes can be a tension there where it’s like how we’ve decided how my spouse and I have decided to manage how decisions are made um, you know somebody ultimately has the tie-breaking vote. You know we’ve talked about that in our own marriage…

Lisa Penberthy — Yes.

Rich Birch — …who has that tie-breaking vote. Ah, but then maybe I and maybe even unwittingly, unknowingly import that into my leadership at church. Have you seen that before? Talk to talk us through that.

Lisa Penberthy — Absolutely. So there is a big difference between your theological position and your marital preference. And and in that what I’m saying is in your theological position, you either lean mutualist, also known as egalitarian, or hierarchy also known as complementarian. So mutualist, which I prefer because we live and lead and are married and serve in a mutual submission. So mutualist. So in a mutualist relationship your role at the church and your role at the home may look very similar. However, um your role at home may look more hierarchy, and you know what it’s it’s okay because it’s your preference in your home. You you know what you believe, you know what the bible points you toward, but in your home you’re like, hey this is how we want to live our life. We want um the the husband to to be the decision maker. And I wouldn’t go as far as saying the head of the house because then we go in a whole different conversation and that’s not what we’re addressing. But the decision maker the one that has the final say when there’s a tie. The husband’s a tiebreaker. In in our home when there’s a tie the person who has the most knowledge and understanding of the topic is the tiebreaker. It’s not a default. It’s not, well you’re the male so make the decision. It’s well you know more about this so you make the final decision. So you know, I’ll I’ll use a very lighthearted, when my husband and I are talking about sushi, he is always going to make the decision. He knows, you know…

Rich Birch — He’s the sushi expert. Love it.

Lisa Penberthy — Exactly. But when when we’re talking about Mexican food, I’m gonna be the one that makes a decision. I grew up in Southern California; he grew up in Portland, Oregon. I’m going to make the final decision. So…

Rich Birch — Love it. Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. Love it.

Lisa Penberthy — …so it’s about knowledge, understanding, and experience in in a mutual relationship. Mutual submission means the best person, the best equipped makes the the decision when there’s a tie. Um in and so in your preference if if in your marriage it’s like it doesn’t matter that I know more about Mexican, I’m always going to default to him, and I’m going to stick to the food because it makes it more friendly conversation for everyone, um, it’s always going to default to the husband. That’s okay; that’s your marital preference. It’s not your theological position if you truly are um, a mutualist and egalitarian belief status. This is about the preference in your home.

Lisa Penberthy — And they’re different. And and women get really hung up on that because they find themselves wanting a spouse like that. It’s you know the fairy tale. It’s the prince charming. It’s what they’ve been taught to desire. And really they don’t even know if that’s their desire until they’re in it. But it’s what we’ve been taught. I grew up wanting princesses and castles and then I really said actually I don’t. And my childhood dream adulthood was overseeing an orphanage all by myself because I didn’t need anyone else to help me do it.

Rich Birch — Love it. Love it.

Lisa Penberthy — So, you know, it’s the balance. Um, and so everybody has to find that. So really, that’s that’s your preference and not necessarily your theological position. And being able to separate those out really helps you better understand where you land in leadership overall. And as um, the other side of the conversation, if you are hierarchy complementarian then all aspects of your life will align that way. Then your home and your ministry and and how you seek a job really will take you in that direction.

Rich Birch — Right right. Okay, cool, interesting. That’s great. Super helpful for sure as we think as we try to you know discern you know, pull those those two aspects of our lives apart and try to think critically about that. So so helpful. Appreciate that.

Rich Birch — When you think about um, particularly next generation women leaders, what can we do as leaders who maybe are, you know… So I’m thinking about executive pastor, leadin’ at a church, a female or male who’s like, hey I want to make sure that young leaders, particularly, are getting opportunity. Because it seems like a part of where this goes off the tracks is like very early on it’s like, you know, women coming out of school or like very early on it’s like we’re not creating the right opportunities. Any thoughts on that? What can we do on that front?

Lisa Penberthy — Um, advocate for ’em in every way possible.

Rich Birch — Okay, great. Yep.

Lisa Penberthy — So um I have had interns in my office space, whether it’s at the church, whether it’s in the corporate world, interns in my office raising up the next generation. It’s one of the reasons why I teach it’s because I believe in the next generation of leaders. I teach as adjunct professor because I want to know that they still exist. And I want to know that there’s still interest because the next generation isn’t as interested there as um, as my generation. They’re they’re not the gung-ho um, grind. Then we skip from the millennials to Gen Z who are back to the grind. They’re like I want the job, I want I want the driver’s license. Look at the millennials, they’re like I’ll get my driver’s license one day. And so the balance of that. So being with younger, um younger leaders became really important to me.

Lisa Penberthy — So how do you pour into them? First hang out with them. Know that they exist, know that they have something to offer. Because if all you’re seeing is kids’ noses in screens, you are not going to see the potential of what they have to offer. Give them opportunity to show their potential. And for for women specifically, and there’s many times me growing up in different roles and capacities as a woman that I was overlooked because it was, hey let’s go to the golf course. Hey, let’s go to the basketball court. And it wasn’t invited because those were hangouts. Let’s find the potential. Let’s have a conversation. Ah well there are women that play golf. I’m not one of them because my golf game stinks. My dad will tell you firsthand. Ah.

Rich Birch — I love it. Yeah, love it. Yes

Lisa Penberthy — I have attempted. But yeah, but but there are different ways to do that.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Lisa Penberthy — So find those places where you can hang out. And of course you know a male taking just one female to go play golf isn’t reality, so the pickup game of basketball is probably your better bet. And there are women that play basketball. And we automatically think that… we automatically skip over the invite for the woman.

Rich Birch — Right.

Lisa Penberthy — So we have interns and you invite all the male interns. I’ve I’ve watched it happen in the offices that I’ve been… all the male interns were invited to go to the baseball games. Like guess what? I watch baseball every day. Literally every day. Whether it’s my kids playing, or the Dodgers playing I watch every day.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Lisa Penberthy — So um, so so those are just opportunities. Find those places where you can see the next generation of leaders, and women specifically, in their own environment. See what their potential is.

Lisa Penberthy — Go where they’re at instead of taking them where you’re at. And so when you invest in the next generation, you really want to take the time to listen to them. And part of listening is observing.

Rich Birch — Love it. Yes.

Lisa Penberthy — See how they interact. See how they naturally lead in environments and then you have that follow up conversation that says, hey when I was watching you the other day at the basketball on the basketball court I saw you take charge. I saw this in you. So stirring up that potential in them really ignites them. And then specifically when it becomes the gender issue, go where they’re at. Find out what what they’re doing. And I’m not saying go get your hair done with them. I’m saying, go find, you know, if they’re on the volleyball court, then pick up volleyball instead of golf. So go where they’re at.

Rich Birch — I love that. So good. Um, when you think about the like do you think the trend in this is heading in the right direction or the wrong direction? Like do you what’s your kind of ah, you know, your assessment on this – are we getting better as a church or or not? I can’t discern that.

Lisa Penberthy — Um, we are not getting better as a church.

Rich Birch — Right.

Lisa Penberthy — And here’s the unfortunate thing…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Lisa Penberthy — …but we’re not getting better as a society. So I’m currently in an executive women’s leadership program at Cornell University, and the statistics there are heartbreaking because our society is reflecting the same. And the the thing for me is the church has a mandate. Society doesn’t. So as a church we should be the front leaders. We should be the frontrunners. We should be out there saying, we empower everyone because the Kingdom and God’s people are more important than our bias on genders.

Rich Birch — So good. So good.

Lisa Penberthy — And this is not a salvific matter. This does not determine our salvation.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Lisa Penberthy — So let’s go make this happen, and get out on the battlefield where salvation does matter.

Rich Birch — Right.

Lisa Penberthy — Let’s reach the people where it does make a difference. And so so our trends are still kind of holding steady with less women right around that 45 mark which is better than where it was back in the day. So right around that 45 mark is where we’ll see you know, depending on which statistic anywhere from 45 to 48 of women. Um, but if if you flip it and look at the other aspects of women, and we have more educated women than we do men.

Rich Birch — Yes, yep, yep.

Lisa Penberthy — More more women seek higher degrees but they’re doing all of this to seek the opportunities. Because you have to go after the degrees because a woman won’t be looked at without the degree, whereas it male would be. And so um, so women are going after those degrees so that they have an opportunity. They have a standing chance of well, I don’t have the experience because it wasn’t extended to me, but I have the education. And so finding that balance, getting that education has helped women, but the trends are not in our favor right now.

Rich Birch — Interesting.

Lisa Penberthy — And so that that is what I’m hoping people can discover even just in our conversation is there are ways to empower women. There are ways to advocate for them, and to release them, and to see them um take leadership roles that they haven’t had opportunity in the past. And we can see those numbers reflect those decisions.

Rich Birch — Yeah, absolutely. Um so this might be another unfair question in this area. This is one of the great I think one of the great ironies of the modern church is so many churches I’ve been to if you were to stand back on a Sunday morning or a weekend service and look out over the, you know, over the audience, congregation, whatever you call it in your particular slice of christianity, um, you know that’s 60 maybe 70% women ah 30, 40% men, um and and some even higher some 80/20 you know it. It definitely skews. In fact, I think and one ah hundred percent of the churches I ever visit it always skews towards there being more women than men. That’s like a whole other topic of conversation. But then at the same time the leadership skews the other way. Um, where it’s you know, primarily men um, leading. I don’t even know if I have a question. I’m like what is happening here?

Lisa Penberthy — Truth.

Rich Birch — Like what is happening here? Like what what is all of that? Again I realize it’s an unfair question because it’s like it’s this giant issue that’s in front of us. How do you reflect on that you’ve obviously thought about these issues.

Lisa Penberthy — Absolutely.

Rich Birch — So you know what what do you think? What do you think?

Lisa Penberthy — Yeah, so so seeing that, that very thing everything that you said I agree with. It’s the trends. It’s the truth. The numbers will show you. I mean every church that I’ve been into and I’ve been on a lot because I’ve worked a denomination where I that was my job was to visit churches. So um, there are more women in the seats. And if there are more women in the seats and fewer women on the platform, then we’re not reaching and discipling the women that God has brought to us, the people that God has brought to us.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Lisa Penberthy — And so if we truly are raising up and discipling those that God has brought to us, then we should see more women in leadership. We should see more women leading even the simplest of things – our discipleship classes, and and our our trainings that we do um. And yet we oftentimes limit women to our children’s ministry, which ah looking back at my childhood, my favorite ah children’s pastor was a male. And my favorite Sunday school teacher was my grandfather who was obviously a male. And and not because well partly because he was my grandfather, but because he was full of wisdom and all of our friends loved him. He was funny. You know all of those things that you’d hope for. And if if the male voice is absent in the seats, how absent is it in the home. And who do our children need to hear from?

Rich Birch — Yeah.

sa Penberthy — But yet all of our Sunday school teachers are women.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah. Fascinating. It’s yeah this is ah this is one of the, yeah, we you know didn’t even get into that the stereotyping of women into you know, serving in, you know, just in in “just” I say in quotes…

Lisa Penberthy — Yes.

Rich Birch — …in you know kids ministry areas. Um, that’s like ah you know that’s like, again, a whole other can of worms. Or in some movements you know you’ll have women are allowed to ah to go overseas and do roles with mission organizations.

Lisa Penberthy — Yeah, do everything.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that they are would not be allowed to do in the exact same organization, you know, on this, man, that’s just sad.

Lisa Penberthy — Yes.

Rich Birch — I’m like how are we still living in that world? That’s that’s crazy to me. Well this is…

Lisa Penberthy — It is an unfortunate dynamic.

Rich Birch — Yeah. Lisa, this has been an incredible conversation. I really appreciate you, you know hoping our… Listen, friends, our hope was to to to continue to talk about this issue, to raise this for us to think about it. Again, my assumption is that there are leaders that are listening in today that see all those problems, and are like I see all that. But it’s like hey, what steps can we take today? Give us a kind of final word as we wrap up. What what would you say to a leader that’s listening in that says, yeah I see all that stuff. What what could be a step or two that we should be taking, even practically this week…

Lisa Penberthy — Yeah.

ich Birch — …ah to try to create better, you know, equality equity in our organizations?

Lisa Penberthy — First I would say lean into the discomfort. It’s unfamiliar territory for most leaders and you got to just lean into it. And then I would say set your own personal boundaries. And don’t penalize others because of your boundaries. Make them your own. Own up to them and make them yours and don’t penalize others. It’s very easy to have boundaries that penalize people from their calling.

Lisa Penberthy — And then communicate. Make sure people know your boundaries. Make sure the woman that you’re inviting onto staff knows that there will be limits if you’re putting limitations in there. And if there aren’t limits, then live up to what you’ve committed to.

Rich Birch — Yes, love it. Thank you so much, Lisa. If people want to track with you, we’re going to be at the XP Summit here coming up in very short times.

Lisa Penberthy — Yes.

Rich Birch — So hopefully folks are listening in that are coming to that we’ll get a chance to connect. But if people want to connect with you, track with you, where do we want to send them online?

Lisa Penberthy — Oh that’s a great question. I’m in the process of launching my website.

Rich Birch — Nice.

Lisa Penberthy — Um, but ah and we have not secured the domain because my husband’s one step behind me.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s okay. Love it. All good.

Lisa Penberthy — So um, but ah, but they they can reach me at [email protected]

Rich Birch — Perfect.

Lisa Penberthy — So that’s my first name [email protected] and that is my ministry address.

Rich Birch — Love it. Perfect! Thanks so much, Lisa. I appreciate being here. Thank you for helping us think through and wrestle through these issues today.

Lisa Penberthy — Absolutely. Thanks, Rich.

Leave a Response

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.