Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Shepastor: On creating and increasing opportunities for female pastors: Excerpts from Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors, Chapter 7, “What Will We Need to Press On?”

We praise God for the designation and celebration of “Women in Ministry Month,” (March) an annual recognition lifting the lives, work and ministry of female clergy. While celebration and affirmation are critical pieces of the advocacy puzzle, much more needs to be done to assist women pastors in getting “beyond the stained glass ceiling.” Today Shepastor highlights some specific recommendations that could serve to create and increase opportunities for clergywomen.

Excerpts from, Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors, by Rev. Christine A. Smith, Chapter 7, “What Will We Need to Press On?” (pp. 125-129)

Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Philippians 2:3-4, The Message)

While it is hard to believe that women still have to break through stained glass ceilings, the reality yet exists. So the question remains, What do we need to keep pressing forward? Included in the recommendations are adequate compensation, grants and funding for the practical support of women in ministry, the education of churches by denominations on the validity of female pastors, and insights from advocates on how to provide greater support to women in ministry.
Adequate Compensation

One of the greatest challenges that many female pastors face is the lack of financial resources. Some people may argue that money is not a major issue or factor. However, it cannot be underestimated. Women must break free from the habit of denying the need for financial support. Women in ministry have publicly decried the need for funding but privately expressed their financial struggles. Although some congregations have endowments that keep them going, many if not most of the churches where women are called do not. Because their membership is largely the elderly, the members give out of their fixed incomes. Smaller congregations are typically comprised of the very elderly and the very young, neither of whom have substantial income to share.
If the church building is an older structure, it most probably has been severely neglected and needs repairs. Leaking roofs, molding carpet, and broken water heaters are not uncommon. Frequently, the pastor uses her own resources to assist in paying for repairs, buying supplies, and providing funding to promote special events and programs. So much time and energy are spent on attempting to keep the ministry afloat that her energy and morale can become depleted. Building up the church ends up on the back burner; putting out fires becomes the focus.
Single female pastors, particularly if they have children, can have a major dilemma. Out of necessity, many are bi-vocational, struggling to pay for family needs or children in college. Even those without children find themselves needing to secure additional employment because the pay is low and sometimes unstable, and benefits may or may not be an option. A married female pastor may not face the same depth of financial struggle as a single pastor if she has the financial support of her husband. He may carry the medical benefits for the family, and thus, lack of benefits from the church may not be a problem. However, if her pay is lowered due to decreased church giving, the stability of the two-income household can be devastated. She too may be forced to obtain another job to make ends meet. A husband in this predicament may become frustrated and resentful toward the church, and the marriage may begin to suffer.
It is not uncommon for a female pastor to be faced with the church making a choice of paying the heating bill or paying her salary. If she demands her pay, the building is cold and the people are bewildered. If she allows her salary to be used to pay bills, the church becomes indifferent, and a pattern may begin to be established. With her faith challenged, her vision blurred, her motivation drained, her wonderful ideas tabled, she fights against despondency. She presses on, desperately seeking resources while praying her way through. She is still preacher, teacher, and encourager in chief. She is still called to the bedside of the sick, sought after by troubled souls needing a word of counsel or inspiration, asked to attend the juvenile court hearing, and expected to tell the lost about salvation. Her mind tells her, “Girl, you are crazy!” The bill collector tells her, “That partial payment you made is not sufficient.” Her heart tells her, “You are a pastor—trust God!”
One might ask, “Why in the world would anybody remain in such a dire predicament?” The short answer is, “The call.” The question, however, for the church, denominational leaders, and advocates of female clergy is, “Can you do better?” The heavens resound, “Yes, you can!” In order to press on, there needs to be an acknowledgement that the process is broken in order to move forward with the business of making repairs. Bulletin inserts and special DVDs about women in ministry on a particular Sunday annually is a start; however, things of greater depth and with further reach are needed.
Financial Support
Grants and funds for the practical support of women in ministry need to be established. Just as monies have been made available for sabbaticals, support groups (e.g., Together in Ministry Groups), and special ministry projects, it is necessary to develop a strategic plan for creating financial support for women in ministry. While it is hoped that more women will have the opportunity to serve in larger, more financially stable congregations, many will not. Those interested in advocating for women in ministry must consider creating avenues of support for those who pastor smaller congregations.

It is not enough to say that women need to develop strategic plans and pursue grant opportunities on their own. Female pastors need advocates to work to make inroads where few exist. Advocates can host roundtable discussions that include clergywomen and identify specific areas in which financial support is needed. Frequently, grant requests for the practical support of ministry are denied. Denominational leaders can help to make the case for the validity and critical nature of such requests. Smaller congregations also deserve quality leaders. Women who feel called to serve such congregations need assistance to ensure stable, competitive pay and resources to assist with the maintenance of the physical plant. Focus groups of female pastors can be gathered to collect data, share testimonies, and cast visions for what is required to survive and thrive in a small, economically depressed church. Denominational leaders can use the information obtained to justify specific funding for practical ministry needs. This can cultivate supportive structures and increase the potential for donors or grantors to provide financial assistance. Including a category to support female pastors through planned giving discussions with individuals and congregations can also help to accomplish this goal. Advocates can approach philanthropic entities such as the Lilly Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and others with a comprehensive plan to aid women in ministry. A grant requesting major funding for the practical support of female pastors may include the following.
Salary/benefit support for new pastors. Salary support would be up to half of the annual salary. For example, if the salary is $45,000, the church may be able to pay only $25,000. The national grant program would provide support by paying the other $20,000 and a portion of the pastor’s retirement and medical benefits for the first five years of her pastorate.

Building fund support for smaller, female-led congregations. Funds for major repairs could be made up to a certain amount.

Assistance with outreach programs. Special resources (financial, program resources, national staff) could be available for female pastors to draw upon to assist in rebuilding and further developing once-dying ministries.
If female pastors could receive these kinds of practical support, accepting a call to a small, fractured, dying congregation might be more workable and certainly a blessing for her health and well-being… End Quote

For the denominations that are already seriously engaged in strategically planning ways to assist women in ministry, we applaud you and praise God for you! I encourage denominations that are lagging behind to move beyond “level 1” (discussions, special days, bulletin inserts, web articles etc.,) to more tangible and concrete ways of helping “called” female clergy to not only become senior pastors, but to thrive as pastors.

To read more or to purchase a copy of Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors, visit

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

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