Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"Sharing in the Struggle: Female Clergy Sharing Insights and Triumphs"

As shared in our two previous blogs, doors are opening for female clergy to move into the pastorate as well as other ordained ministry positions. Sister clergy from across the country are asking, "what specific things can I do to gain greater opportunities to serve?" "What attitudes or behaviors should I avoid?" "What avenues ought I consider?" "How long does it take?"

Below are some insights from research as well as female pastors currently working in the vineyard...

Be Open

Everyone will not pastor a 1,000 member plus church nor does everyone desire to do so. The reality is that women in general, pastor smaller, struggling, frequently dying (until God uses the women to revive them!) congregations. According to Sociologists, Dr. Mary Ellen Konleczny and Dr. Mark Chaves, in their article, "Resources, Race and Female-Headed Congregations in the United States,"

Several studies of clergywomen have shown that female-led congregations are small and have fewer economic organizational resources than congregations led by men. Women ministers most often serve as sole or senior pastors in small congregations, only rarely pastoring large congregations.

Even among those denominations that more readily receive female pastors, the percentages of those leading large congregations are very low. An article in Christian Century entitled, “Breaking the Glass Ceiling at Large Churches,” states,

One mark of acceptance for women
pastors is lagging—only some 7 percent of
Methodist congregations with more than
1,000 members are led by a female senior
pastor. Methodist statisticians releasing this
month the most recent data (from
December 2007) said that 81 of the
denomination's largest congregations were
led by male pastors and 1,055 by female pastors.
Another eight large congregations
had men and women serving as co-pastors.

Our own survey revealed that 42.3 % of our respondents pastor churches with between 50 and 100 members. 31% pastor churches with less than 50 members. These numbers are consistent with national statistics. Females desiring to pastor freewill congregations should be open to pastoring a small church. Other possibilities certainly exist, but being open to what is currently most prevalent will provide opportunities. If one’s circumstances permit, one should be open to moving to another geographical location. Flexibility with regard to location may provide greater options for females seeking to become senior pastors. Female clergy should also be open to pastoring churches of another culture or denomination. Minority female pastors, for example, may find more acceptance from historically Euro freewill congregations (eg., American Baptist, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ) than more traditional African American or Southern Baptist churches.

Many small congregations were once thriving, mainline, financially stable churches. Now, however, due to changing demographics, death and lifestyle transitions, their numbers have decreased dramatically and they find themselves on the brink of closure. Unable to attract male pastors who most frequently command a higher level salary to support their wives and children, they often turn to female pastors. While it is a disturbing reality that females tend to be relegated to small dying churches, many female pastors who have accepted these congregations have nurtured, developed, strengthened and built phenomenal ministries. They, along with their congregations have found great fulfillment, empowerment, energy and spiritual renewal.

One female pastor shared,

“Do I wish that we had greater financial resources and a few more hands to carry on the work of the church – YES! However, the opportunity to know every member’s name, work closely with families, experience the intimacy of a small group and follow a child from birth to college far surpasses looking into a sea of faces each week and only knowing a small percentage of the people I serve. Ministry is done one soul at a time. The small church can and does do great work for the kingdom of God!”

The Reverend Dr. Robin E. Hedgeman, Senior Pastor of the Bethany Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, in Cleveland, Ohio, shares these words for our sisters…

"Find a place that’s healthy and serve faithfully with the pastor and the leaders and the membership. Be prayerful and wait for God to open the door - not for man to open the door because often that will be with strings attached. Those that God calls, He will prepare a place for them to serve. Be open to the opportunities that God places before you.

Often we miss out on the places of preparation. God opens some doors and provides some places for us to serve that are places of preparation for greater blessing that He has in store. But we are always looking for the greater and think that the smaller is insignificant. We have to crawl before we walk. The smaller opportunities are venues for greater blessings. If you are faithful over a few things He’ll make you ruler over many, the Word says."

Pastor Beverly Frank shared the following concerning how we "present..."

"When women go out to speak they must speak loudly and clearly, Women must also present themselves as strong, but they must be careful not to 'act like a man.' I know that each person is gifted in a different way, but somehow a woman, more so than a man, must find out what her audience would like to hear from them. When trying to make a good first impression it probably would be better not to make gardening and pottery metaphors the central theme of your message or to speak as a woman character from the Bible. This is where education plays an important role. A congregation may may like your metaphors or Bible character, but that style will not convince them that you are capable of leading. A strong sermon, shall I say not too feminine sounding sermon grounded in the Scripture is needed to convince others you can be a strong leader. Those other messages should be saved for women's retreats or until after you've been called to a church."

Do you have some words of encouragement, wisdom or caution to share? Do you have a question or a struggle for which you would like support? Post a comment or email me at

I don't pretend to have all the answers, but together with prayer and faith, God can and will show us the way!

"Be not weary in well doing, for in due season you will reap if you faint not!" (Galatians 6:9)

In faith, hope and perseverance,
Pastor Chris

P.S. A wonderful resource for women in ministry is an American Baptist podcast series called, "Real Women, Real Leaders." The host is the Rev. Sandy Hasenauer, Associate Executive Director of American Baptist Women's Ministries. Below is an interview/podcast I was privledged to do with Sandy concerning women in ministry. To view the entire podcast series, please visit the Real Women, Real Leaders website

1 comment:

  1. I am a female associate pastor that has dedicated my life to the ministry of my local fellowship. We have had the same senior pastor for 23 years, I have been in ministry for 18 of those years. He is now gone, and I am left with the reality that I was good enough to be an "ass." pastor for all of that time, mainly doing the dirty work and being limited by the "higher up" person's lack of vision, but the church leadership did not consider me good enough to step up to a senior position. I was literally told by my exiting senior pastor, to look for employment elsewhere implying that if they found a more gifted senior pastor they would no longer need an associate (me). I am hurt and frustrated as I seek opportunities elsewhere amd am confronted by the lack of opportunities for women in ministry. Truly saddened.