The Pan African Christian Women’s Alliance (PACWA) is the women’s commission of The Association of Evangelicals in Africa, established in 1989. One of our goals is to sensitize Christian women to the role they can play in the transformation of the African continent.
Gender Stereotypes and the Church
Religion is a key factor in the perpetuation of gender attitudes and values from one generation to the next. Those who have opposed women in ministry often refer to tradition and scripture to support their views. Nevertheless women have been in ministry since the inception of the Church and have continued to fulfill their calling and ministry in spite of opposition.
One of the goals of PACWA is to develop credible Christian women leaders who can impact the continent and world through the power of the gospel. We recognize that the development of Christian women has been neglected. One way of redressing this imbalance is through training that provides time to interact with other women and identify mentors who will help them navigate the road to successful Christian leadership.
One of the goals of PACWA is to develop credible Christian women leaders who can impact the continent and world through the power of the gospel.
In South Africa the demise of Apartheid and the New Constitution with its Bill of Rights saw women empowered at all levels of society. Women in churches were asking for more opportunities to serve; however, they lacked the skills and materials for entry level leadership. Many of the courses offered were expensive, lengthy (meaning that women would have to spend weeks away from home) and not tailored to womens’ needs.
The role of the minister’s wife was becoming more demanding and many were finding that expectations from both the local church and their spouse demanded they grow together as partners in ministry with their husbands. For too long these women had to accept a lesser role even though they were fully involved in the ministry and their contribution was minimized as they had no formal training.
In 1996 I was able to do a survey at a national evangelical church conference attended by both ministers and their wives. The following were identified as hindrances to women working together with their spouses in ministry:
- Lack of theological training
- Husband’s inability to accept wife as ministerial partner; he was trained, she was not; he is called, she is just a support
- Women’s insecurity and low self-esteem
- Lack of interpersonal and leadership skills
- Poor understanding of the role women could play
- Fear of failure
- Need for healing of past hurts and rejection by male leadership
Many courses offered as refresher courses to ministers required that some previous theological qualification had been completed. This marginalized the women as there were no materials aimed at meeting their needs. They nevertheless wished to become better servants of God.
The World Evangelical Alliance conducted a leadership course in Nairobi, Kenya in 1995 for key national leaders and emerging women leaders in Africa. Thirty percent of the participants were women. At this course I noticed that women engaged with the material presented in a different way to the men and were eager to share what they had learned with other women. The women decided to work together as PACWA and tailor the course for women who needed to gain confidence in leadership so as to work with men as equal partners in the local church and other initiatives.
The goal of PACWA is to develop Christ-centered servant women leaders who are able to lead with confidence, skill and humility and partner with men in fulfilling the Great Commission.
The program was developed after an in-depth needs assessment in PACWA with key national women leaders, ministers’ wives and local church women leaders. Each of the groups had specific needs and programs were designed for each.
1. Ministers’ wives. In 1998 the first program for ministers’ wives was presented to women leaders in the Salvation Army in South Africa. This program consisted of:
- the making of a leader, which included personality, life experience and spiritual gifts;
- the qualities of a leader;
- the functions of leaders;
- leadership styles; and
- the development of vision, goals and strategy.
The material is very interactive and no more than fifty people can participate at a time. The course is held over two days and mentoring and sharing of experiences are cornerstones of the meeting. Over 2,300 ministers’ wives have attended the course in South Africa, Swaziland, Madagascar, Namibia and Zimbabwe. A second module, which focuses on evangelism, discipleship and organizational leadership, has been developed at the request of those who participated in the first module.
2. Key national leaders. A pilot program was conducted with key national women leaders in South Africa in 2000. This course used the spiritual formation materials as in the ministers’ wives modules one and two and also includes financial management, project management and women’s health issues. In 2002 forty-eight women leaders from Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe attended the first Southern Africa regional leaders training in Pretoria. A second module was held in 2004 in Swaziland.
Sustainability and African ownership is key to the ongoing success of these programs. Programs are held at Christian conference centers or local churches to keep them affordable; in rural areas sponsorship is found to cover the costs. Many women use buses, taxis or drive sharing expenses; some travel for as long as thirty hours to attend the seminars.
In March 2006 PACWA leadership evaluated the impact of the training and concluded the following:
- Women have grown in confidence and are participating in and strengthening national evangelical fellowship structures.
- Male leaders are recognizing these women as partners in the gospel and are opening doors for women to minister and lead, thus strengthening local churches.
- Christian women are participating in civil society, politics and governmental structures, thus impacting their nations.
- PACWA national structures have strengthened with team leadership as the model.
- The “servant leadership model” has replaced autocratic leadership and women have moved from “power over people” to “power with people” which is more in sync with the way women naturally lead.
- Some women have gone to theological seminaries and have used this as a first step toward their training.
- New projects that address the needs of women have been started in Southern Africa. These include: a new AIDS orphan project in Zambia, a home-based care AIDS project in Swaziland, a prison ministry among women in South Africa and a childcare and development center in Namibia.
- There has been a multiplication of the leadership programs at the national level where women at the grassroots level are developed for effective leadership in the local church and community structures.
- Evangelism programs now include proclamation, discipleship and responding to the challenges in society.
Our challenge is to multiply the teaching and to make this available to Christian women in Africa who hunger for new skills in ministry and leading as they reach Africa for Christ. In November 2006 these modules will be taught in Monrovia, Liberia. As this country rebuilds their torn society we as PACWA want to partner with the Christian women in bringing God’s kingdom to that nation.