Recently the Lewis Center for Church Leadership published a fantastic article about how congregations can welcome and support their female ministers. The piece speaks to some of the fears that search committees have when considering a woman for a ministry position. It also raises awareness about the small but significant ways that clergywomen are treated differently than clergymen. In doing so, the post names and dispels many of the assumptions about women in ministry. With that slate clear, what can churches expect from their female clergy?
Clergywomen love Jesus. We are not in ministry for the money (most of us are paid less than our male counterparts) or the notoriety (the stained glass ceiling is real). And we definitely have not pursued this vocation because it is the path of least resistance. We’re here because we are drawn to the message and model of Christ.
Clergywomen know their scripture. For many of us, Paul’s epistles have long been used as a barricade to the pulpit. That means we’ve had to steep ourselves in the Bible, studying its words, arcs, and historical/cultural context so that we can be confident we’ve discerned correctly and so that we can be faithful in forming others.
Clergywomen have been vetted, then vetted some more. At every level of examination, someone is looking for a reason not just to exclude each one of us as individuals, but also to use our personal shortcomings (real or imagined) as grounds not to grant pastoral authority to any woman. If we clear these hurdles, you’d better believe we are capable.
Clergywomen have had their mettle tested. Women in ministry are criticized for our hair, age, fashion choices, voice, family situation, and many other variables that are irrelevant to ministry – and that men are rarely evaluated on. And the “acceptable” leadership style for a woman (in any professional field, really) falls in a miniscule range between too soft and too assertive. Experienced in dealing with discouragements around these matters on a regular basis, we are not easily scared off from the legitimate difficulties of church work.
Clergywomen have a deep, DEEP sense of call. Women have their calls to ministry questioned all the time. Sometimes it happens in plain talk (e.g., “I believe women should never teach men”), and on other occasions it manifests by such means as second-guessing, talking to a female pastor as if she is the speaker’s daughter or granddaughter, asking where the “real” pastor is, or using diminutive terms (Miss Laura, Pastorette). As a result, clergywomen check in with God about their calls on a regular basis, asking for guidance and courage to live toward the purpose we’ve been given.
Clergywomen are endlessly creative. When there are so many hurdles not just to serving faithfully, but also finding a place to serve to begin with, women have to call upon all our gifts. We can think beyond our assumed constraints because we must – and the church and her people are the beneficiaries of our innovation.
Many clergywomen are backed by a fierce tribe, which provides its members with wisdom and support. When a congregation calls a female minister, it gets the bonus of a magnificently insightful hive mind. (Note: if you are a woman in ministry who has not yet found her tribe, look for it! Here are two places to start. And as a coach I would be thrilled to be your encourager and thought partner via a coaching relationship.)
Imagine your congregation could find all of these qualities in a minister, plus the particular skills and graces of a ministerial candidate. What great things for God could you do together?