“So what’s a sister to do?” That may be the question on the minds of many women who discern that they have a calling upon their lives to preach, teach and or pastor. However, they may not know how to go about moving forward. As mentioned in my previous blog, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to survey and interview over 100 female pastors. I wanted to gain insight and wisdom from the sisters that could be shared with others.
What guidance can we give to our fellow sister clergy who feel called to become pastors, but lack direction and opportunity? What specific ‘equipment’ would we suggest is important to have on the path to becoming a senior pastor or some other form of ordained ministry? What words of encouragement and insight can we share with those who have already become senior pastors but are seeking encouragement, suggestions for enhancing their ministries and/or additional pastoral opportunities?”
This week I’ll focus upon some basic, practical matters.
While each pastor’s journey is different, several factors emerge as common…
Get an Education!
In our survey of female senior pastors from freewill denominations, 71.4% had a Masters Degree in some area of pastoral preparation (M.Div, M.A of Religion, M.Th., M.A.,Pastoral Care and Counseling, etc.) 21.4% had a doctorate degree. These numbers suggest that earning a degree beyond the Bachelor’s level is critical. Many denominations such as ABC/USA, UCC and Disciples of Christ strongly urge congregations to call clergy that have at least a Master’s degree in religious studies. While autonomous congregations may call whomever they choose, having excellent credentials can help to move an application closer to the top of the pile.
According to several of the pastors we surveyed, one of the greatest mistakes that women make is to remain isolated. Certainly, “no woman is an island.” Particularly in the freewill denominations, female clergy are still in the “trail blazing” phase of history. Many of the pastors surveyed were the first female called to their particular church (66.7%). Churches are still having first licentiates and first ordained women. As a result, women often find themselves searching for connections within clergy circles. Those circles that are most often male dominated are not always the most welcoming places to “firsts.” Therefore, many of the women go it alone, unaware of networks and relationships that are available to them.
Most denominations have local or regional associations. Most have regional, state or national conventions. Female clergy desiring to get connected should be proactive by becoming involved in one or more of these groups. A regional executive minister, director or organization president can be very helpful in this regard. They can share information concerning national pulpit openings, scholarships for seminary, continuing education workshops, other female ministers in the region or nation etc.
It is also important to prayerfully seek out other female clergy with whom one can share common experiences, struggles, victories, questions and answers.
Isolation can produce bitterness, confusion, misplaced hostility, unforgiveness and bad judgment. Without knowledge of resources, protocol, proper procedures, or technicalities, some women have left a church and became “church hoppers.” They go from church to church looking for affirmation and acceptance. However, before they can get sure footing in the ministry, they develop reputations for being contrary, unstable, demanding and “trouble makers.” The word gets out on them and pastors, not wanting to get entangled or involved ignore their very presence. Healthy connections are essential for success.
Be patient yet persistent
It is important for female clergy desiring to become pastors to be patient and persistent. One respondent put it succinctly, “Be prepared to wait for many years to find a church, and be prepared to work twice as hard in your training and education as a typical male will.” Many of the female pastors serving freewill denominations reported that there were fewer than three (3) senior female pastors (autonomous denominations) in their city (52%). Several hierarchical denominations such as United Methodists, Presbyterian and Lutheran are much further along in the process of calling women to serve as senior pastors (19% Presbyterian, 15 % Methodist, 12% Episcopalians, 11% Lutherans). Although those numbers are still low, they surpass, for example Southern Baptist that have fewer than 5% of females serving as senior pastors. Therefore, if a female clergyperson desires to remain in a freewill denomination, she may have to wait longer to be called by a church.
Below are some comments from female clergy currently serving as senior pastor…
- “Be completely certain that the call is from God - not just because you love the church and church work. Unless it is truly a call from God the frustration is not worth it. When it is a call from God, there is still frustration - after all you are working with people - but it fits in.”
- “Get as much student experience as you possibly can - and unless you’re leading is to children, youth or music - stay out of those specialties. It is too easy to be type cast and never seen as a senior pastor because all your experience is with youth.”
- “Take a unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) even if it is not required. It's hard - but you learn a lot about yourself and how you respond to people and crisis and hopefully how to keep your stuff out of the way of God's work.”
Other Pastor “Sisters” shared…
- “Stick with it, if God has called you He will provide a place of ministry even when it seems impossible….”
- “…Trust the Lord. If God has called you to the pastorate, then God will supply all you need for the pastorate, regardless of whether you are male or female, so don't focus on being a female. I was called to Seminary, thinking that I would teach Hebrew and O.T. Background in the Religious Studies department of a State School. The Lord changed my plans as I was working on my doctorate. A male pastor encouraged me in ministry--I hadn't given it much thought--and things just opened up. Following the Lord's guidance will lead you to the ministry you are being prepared for.”
Next week, look for more words of wisdom and insight from “the Sisters!”
In faith, hope and love,
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 http://abwm.podbean.com