Recently I was involved with a seminary chapel program with the theme “Opening Doors: How Men can Create Welcoming Environments for Women in Ministry.” The idea grew out of the commonly held, chivalrous view that men should open doors for women.
While there are a variety of views on whether or not that act is still necessary or appropriate , I don’t have a dog in that fight. If I get to a door first, I will probably open it for you out of common courtesy, whether you are male or female. But I do find it ironic that men are often expected to open doors for women physically, but in other areas of life “it ain’t necessarily so.”
No matter your church context – whether your church ordains women as ministers of the gospel or not, whether they involve women as preachers or only in potlucks, whether they draw the line at eldership or grant full equality in role and function – there are things men can do to help women feel valued, welcomed, and included. Here are ten ways to “open doors” for women in ministry.
1. Be careful with your language
Words and phrases are culturally conditioned. Sometimes words that don’t seem like a big deal to you come across as hurtful, demeaning, or dismissive to the women in the room. Choose to rise above cultural expectations and use language (consistently) that uplifts, encourages, and affirms women. Call out those in your circles who use off-color jokes, negative gender stereotypes, or otherwise demeaning language toward women. If you use a masculine metaphor for God (Matt 6:9; Ex 15:3), be willing to include a feminine one as well (Deut 32:11, 18, Matt 23:37).
2. Be willing to sit in the discomfort of your privilege pressing against the reality of oppression
Privilege can blind you to the realities that women face. The fact that you feel right or comfortable is not a license to assume that those who claim oppression, marginalization, and vulnerability are wrong. Listen to their stories and concerns. Recognize the tendency for privilege to keep you from recognizing the perspectives of others. Pray for humility and teachability.
3. Show intentionality in whom you invite to participate
You can choose to limit white male access on the platform because of your commitment to diversify the participant line up. There will always be MORE experienced men available, because men have been groomed from a young age to participate vocally in the service. That doesn’t mean women’s voices have less value. It means they have more often been silenced and lack experience. Invite women to speak, read, sing, and pray.
4. Allow the silenced to have their own voice
Don’t just be the “voice for the voiceless.” Pass the mic to others. A different perspective is always valuable. Invite women into conversations about vision, leadership, perspectives, curriculum, a teaching series, church-wide changes, and pastoral care. When you implement ideas that they helped develop, give them public credit for their contributions.
5. Pray for boldness to break the status quo
And pray for the willingness and wisdom to know how and when to do so. If only men have power (for instance, all-male elders at a church), they have the most ability and responsibility to make a change. Be willing to make changes that empower all members to join God in kingdom-building work.
6. Accept your responsibility, without assuming you have ALL the responsibility
Women have to lean into their opportunities and follow God’s leading, whether or not the men in their lives open doors for them to go through. God often opens doors for women, regardless of men’s complicity or agreement. When God clearly opens a door for women, don’t stand in the doorway blocking God’s will.
7. Honor each person’s uniqueness and giftedness
Our embodied reality includes gender, but that is not all it includes. Not all men are leaders. Not all women are nurturers. Not all men are teachers. Not all women like to cook. Honor those inherent differences and giftings in order to allow each person to realize their full potential in God’s image.
8. Normalize women’s involvement at all levels
Don’t make it a big deal when you do invite a woman to speak or participate on a leadership team. Don’t treat her as if she is an anomaly, and you are making special concessions for her participation. Simply include women equally, and according to their gifts and calling.
9. Offer your presence and be willing to dialogue with women who have experienced closed doors in ministry
Your presence is often more important than your words. Your presence communicates “You matter to me. We are all made in God’s image. You are not alone.” Your willingness to dialogue shows an openness to learning and growing. Your willingness to dialogue may be the reason she stays in the church, even if some doors remain closed.
10. Choose faith over fear
Years of cultural conditioning, misguided worldviews, and sex-saturated media have led men and women to fear each other instead of forming deep friendships. Choose to see women as your sisters, made in the image of God, just as you are. Choose to believe that the Holy Spirit can and will empower you to have healthy relationships with the opposite sex, instead of avoiding all contact with women over the fear of temptation. Choose to be in authentic community with both men and women as part of the image of God manifest in the church.
During the previously mentioned chapel, many women shared how men had opened doors for them in ministry and some told stories of how they had not. In every ministry context, there are dozens of untold stories, and women who need safe space to tell them.
Recently, a video published by the United Methodist church addressed some of the discrimination (even abuse) that women in ministry have experienced. Their denominational policy affirms the common humanity and equal worth of women, and the value of including women on decision-making teams. But church leaders realized that their practice has not always aligned with their theology. As they share these stories of women in their denomination, they remind us:
“Healing begins with first acknowledging the injuries. Faithfully hearing the stories of our sisters begins the healing process because we cannot mend what we are unaware is broken.” When you become aware of what is broken, you have the power to assist in the healing.
What doors will you open for your sisters today?
 Here are three widely divergent views on the topic.
 Regarding white male privilege, see also: