She needs you to fix the leaky pipe

The Leaky Pipeline: Women in Life Sciences - University of Maryland  Graduate School

6,300 professors are women – from 23% to 28% of these are in senior posts. This is despite women representing 46% of all academic staff” BBC article

I first came across some of these stats when my husband started working on the Athena Swan committee. A committee that looks at representation of women in STEM. The big questions in science are where do the women go? And how do we keep women in academia? The diagram by Kathleen Grogan, shows many reasons why women disappear.

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This research got me thinking about my own experience. I have worked in student work for over two decades now. I love encouraging people to use their gifts and talents, so am interested in what people go on to do afterwards. Up until ten years ago many women would finish student work and would go on to have children, return to secular work or start work with a World Mission agency. In the last ten years, this has changed. More women want to return to work after having children and many want to stay in the UK rather than go abroad. This has led to a large number of women gifted and trained in ministry seeking opportunities to use their training. Unfortunately there seem to be very few jobs or opportunities for women to serve with these gifts in their local church. All this has caused me to question: is there are leaky pipe in the church for women?

For many men and women their initial experience of paid ministry is life giving. For men there is often clear direction beyond this time and student work or theological college is like a stepping stone for future ministry. In contrast for many women, beyond these early years of full-time ministry they find themselves facing the sudden prospect of “ministry retirement”. Here’s what one friend said recently…

“For years ‘ministry trainees’ are often used as an excuse to milk energy & optimism from gifted young folks for peanuts. This alone puts many off…but for many women the term ministry trainee…is a complete misnomer. The number of female peers I’ve seen ‘trained’ only to realise they weren’t being trained for anything is huge. They weren’t being trained at all. They were just cheaper than hiring a women’s worker”

Of course many will choose to use their gifts fruitfully in an unpaid capacity, but some are called to paid ministry. Others would love to use these gifts in the church, but don’t have the opportunity. Through this series I have been thinking about the experience of women and opportunities they have to build up the church. Whether you’re a full time mother, a worker in the city or a paid student worker I hope there is something in here to encourage you.

Many women I know have few opportunities to work in a job they’ve trained in. Yet the majority of men I have worked with are still in paid gospel ministry, many are exercising the gifts they have to build up the church. For women this leaky pipe means that they have to shelve some of their gifts. If they can’t use these them in their church then the following can happen…

  • they can get rusty
  • they think that someone else can do it better than then
  • they begin to question whether those gifts are meant for them

Here are some examples I’ve heard recently from friends…

“I haven’t done an evangelistic talk for ten years, I feel so rusty, can anyone help me out?”

When I left College and started in student work it felt like it was one of my only options for ministry. I wasn’t interested in youthwork (there are plenty of paid youth and children’s worker roles around!). For the guys it felt like there was a pathway laid out for them; church intern, theological training, curacy/assistant Pastor. But for women (especially complementarian in their theology), you have to work so hard to carve out your own path and you are lucky to get a post

I’m sure this problem is more widespread than just women, or just student workers. So lets pause and think about the wider situation of gifting within the church.

Have a read of these passages; Romans 12:3-13, 1 Corinthians 12, 14 and Ephesians 4:7-15.

Its interesting to note that each of them addresses brothers and sisters. We see in these passages that the church body is given different gifts but by the same Spirit. There are different acts of service but done for the same Lord Jesus. We see here that spiritual gifts are gifts received in Christ. Its easy to fall into the trap of thinking of “giftedness” like our own human ability to do things well. Instead we need to get in the habit of defining gifts in terms of Christ, the head of the body and his present work. We see that gifts are given for the building up of the body of Christ. There are women in our churches gifted by the Spirit, received in Christ for the building up of the body. Can we really say to each other “I don’t need you!”?

There are women in our churches gifted by the Spirit, received in Christ for the building up of the body. Can we really say to each other “I don’t need you”?

In Ephesians 4 we see a direct relationship between the gifts provided by God and positions of leadership and ministry in the church. Cynthia Long Westfall says “historically, the church has followed a certain hermeneutical approach in which an interpretation of the prohibitions of women in 1 Timothy 2:12 has taken priority over their exercise of most of the spiritual gifts outlined in these passages”. We may believe that 1 Timothy 2:12 places restrictions on the context in which women use these gifts. But this doesn’t remove our responsibility to make opportunities for these gifts to be used. Whatever your stance on 1 Timothy 2:12 (and I am in no way trying to change your position) we have to listen to this question. Are you seeing men and women serve in your church with all the gifts listed above in Romans, 1 Corinthians and Ephesians?

There are three gifts that I see women have, but are under used. These are: leadership, evangelistic speaking and teaching the Bible. Some say we should serve where we’re needed rather than where we feel gifted. I currently serve way outside of my gifts because there is a need, please don’t hear me saying otherwise. But still the Spirit gives gifts to be used. I am committed to serving both using gifts I’ve been given but also where there are needs in my church. If you have the opportunity, please do encourage, and invite women to use all their gifts to build up the church.

But because of under-use of gifts by women sometimes more encouragement is needed. When I speak to church leaders this is something I try to say: You will have women that are well trained but for decades have been ignored. It may take time to build them up and encourage them. They may also be believing some or all of these myths in regard to their gifts…

  • If I was good enough or gifted enough, I would have been head hunted
  • I can’t promote myself or the gift I have, that just feels wrong
  • I’m not’ called to serve the church with my leadership/teaching gifts. I’ll just use them in the work place
  • Even if I was asked, I feel like an imposter and wouldn’t do a very good job

Like the pipeline above there are many reasons for this leaky pipe. It seems to me the healthiest thing is for women to talk with their pastors. Lets commit to talk together to work out how to honour each other, honour scripture, honour the Spirit and honour the Lord Jesus.

As I look around I see many women, equally competent to their male peers. Would you join me and invite them to take those gifts off the shelf? Would you take time for the good of the body to investigate more about these leaky holes in the pipe?

Take time to think about this further…


  • Identify women that have spent time being trained, have an appetite for study or have gone to theological college
  • Share this blog and ask them to tell you their experience
  • Ask them firstly if they are currently flourishing using all the gifts that God has given them. Secondly could there be ways within your church to include their gifts for building up of the church?
  • Consider how you can develop a clear pathway for next steps for women similar to the pastor/church leader-in-training role for men. Be willing to invest in paid roles for women. It’s hard to train women if there aren’t positions.


  • Share your story with a friend
  • Discuss how can you start developing and using the gifts that have been on the shelf, for the building up of the body of Christ
  • Send this blog to your pastor and share your experience

Read more in this series

She needs brothers for her to speak in your church

She doesn’t feel good enough to serve in your church

She needs help failing in order to serve in your church

Published by Nay Dawson

Hello and thank you for reading my blog. I'm married to Jon and live in Southampton with our two girls. I work with IFES Europe as their Regional Training Co-ordinator, training staff and students across Europe. In 2019 I set up Passion for Evangelism a network of creative, public female speakers. I'm a Trustee for the Cowrie Scholarship Foundation raising essential funds for disadvantaged Black British Students. I'm also a Trustee for Friends International helping welcome International students to the UK. In response to the war in Ukraine I helped set up Ukraine Connect matching refugees and hosts across Europe

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