Review: ‘Growing Women Leaders’, Rosie Ward, CPAS 2009

Ward’s book ‘Growing Women Leaders’ argues for women gifted as leaders to take their place alongside men as equal partners in the Gospel. Ward is clear that her conviction of argument is primarily founded in biblical support rather than in ideas of justice and equality.

Ward launches first into a brief summary of the theological issues hindering women’s leadership in the church. The overall thrust of this survey is that the trajectory of Scripture is one that encourages both men and women to recognise and use their gifts of leadership and to work alongside one another to lead God’s church.

There is a brief survey of issues of translation and interpretation of biblical passages before Ward advances to examples of women in leadership positions throughout church history. Ward concludes from these examples of women answering their calls from God to lead that women have been constrained by man-made rules. The flavour of these chapters then seeps into Ward’s intention to explore the nature of leadership and whether men and women lead differently, concluding with the practical issues that women face in leadership within the church.
Finally, Ward sets a very brave and courageous vision of a church that models collaborative leadership where both men and women are fellow-workers proclaiming the freedom that we have in Christ.

I have to say that my initial expectations of this book were disappointed because of the time spent reading through theology and history, before arriving at the crux of the book: how to grow women leaders in a collaborative ministry model. Furthermore, my disappointment was increased by Ward’s use of language that was rights-based. She argues very strongly for the rights of women to have equal partnership in church leadership. Yet, I do not believe that anyone – male or female – has a right to engage in church leadership because it is only by the grace of God that we are engaged in the work of the Gospel. The strong use of this language also disregards the possibility that women who choose boundaries on their leadership in the church are equal alongside men as partners of the Gospel.

However, the last eighty pages of the book are invaluable. In these pages, Ward addresses the call of leaders to follow a model of radical sacrifice that empowers and enables so that the leader collaborates and uses the gifts of others. Within this collaborative ministry model, Ward identifies how women can contribute, but then also explores the two fundamental issues of confidence and courage that women struggle with as leaders in the church. We need a much more detailed and expanded version of these last chapters, but Growing Women Leaders has given us a valuable start.

Katy Smith is assistant curate of All Saints Mitcham in Melbourne’s Eastern Region, and a postgraduate research student at Ridley Melbourne.