Is There Enough Room For Women In Vocational Ministry?

VocationalMinisterialSpace

When I graduated from divinity school in 2008, I was filled with the excitement that consumes many graduates, namely of finding a job in the field for which I had spent so much time preparing. I began looking for a ministerial vocational place where I could exercise my gifts and learning. However, after several months of not finding a job in ministry, I settled for an internship position at a Baptist newspaper doing work that typically a 20- or 21-year-old college student would be doing.

It was humbling. And a little embarrassing.

I thought my degree – a M.Div. – from a reputable divinity school would place me on a fast track into ministry. I was wrong. Although I am extremely thankful to the managing editor of the newspaper for giving me work when no one else would, not to mention the internship eventually turned into valuable full-time work, this experience laid the foundation for questioning my call to ministry that I was so certain of at age 15.

Did I really hear the voice of the Lord call me into ministry? Or, was this a call born out of a desire to give my whole self to the Lord no matter what vocational form it took? Had I just wasted time and money training for something where there is no work for someone like me?

And I am not alone. I have listened to many women describe similar experiences. In fact, one example of this can be found over at The Gospel Coalition, where several months back Liz Lockwood gave her story in an article titled, “My Wonderfully Confusing Call to Ministry.”

Liz, like myself, felt called as a teenager and went on to seminary to train for this calling. During her years at seminary, though, she encountered some obstacles that put into question her calling.

She writes: “While making lattes or selling running shoes may be great for building relationships or earning money while in seminary, those jobs didn’t seem to fit the criteria for full-time Christian service that I had seemingly been drafted into. Right?”

Liz reconciled the tension between her original call and reality saying, “I began to recognize that, while there are certainly specific callings within the realm of Christian life and polity, all Christians are called to live an intentionally gospel-saturated life. … Rather than keeping ‘ministry’ in a specific silo or quadrant within the walls of my life, the Lord was giving me wisdom to understand that living, moving, breathing, eating, and all other activities find their end in him. These truths freed me, as I began to grasp that my surrender to the Lord in high school was less of a vocational declaration and more of a defining mark of spiritual growth.”

To be sure all Christians are “called to live an intentionally gospel-saturated life” and I have often wondered if what I interpreted as a vocational ministry call was actually just this – the call of every believer. And for Liz this is her conclusion, a reinterpretation of her calling, and this is a conclusion that many women are arriving at.

Perhaps it is a simple case of a misunderstanding of calling. But as I have been reflecting on the issue for the last several years I am coming to a different conclusion. While to be sure there are both men and women who mishear or misunderstand a call to vocational ministry, I believe that many women are questioning and redefining their call as a result of a lack of a vocational space for women in ministry.

Historically, Christian ministry has been mostly a man’s world. This doesn’t mean that it is a man’s-only-club where women aren’t allowed. It does mean that there are fewer jobs for women and fewer women in certain spheres of ministry. Sadly, too often the conversation has been on what women cannot do. As a result, the conversation we are not having sufficiently is how can we create a larger space for women in vocational ministry.

Having a conversation

I think the first step toward creating a larger and more welcoming space for women in vocational ministry is by simply having the conversation. Pastors, denominational leaders, seminary presidents and deans, publishers, and presidents of Christian entities, my hope is that you will be leading the way in discussing what women can do and how valuable they can be to reaching the world with the gospel and strengthening and discipling God’s church. I am not talking about a revolution in the church for women to be accepted as senior pastors. Scripturally, I am not convinced that this should be done. Rather, I believe by building on the following statements, the Christian community can begin to have intentional conversations about how we can create a larger vocational space for women called to ministry.

  • The Imago Dei is complete in both men and women. This means that both men and women are needed to display the image of God. The Imago Dei isn’t confined to marriage but extends to all areas of life, most importantly the church, where men and women are complementing each other in displaying the image of God.
  • Women are important to the work of God.
  • Women, who are teaching Scripture and representing God and the gospel to his people as a vocational ministry, need to be theologically trained.
  • Even when men are taken out of the equation and who is left are women and children, they, just as much as men, need to be taught sound doctrine by sound, theologically-trained ministers.

Further, I want to see intentional, balanced, Gospel-centered conversations about women in ministry turn into intentional acts of using women in ministry.

Creating a larger vocational space

The following are some suggested conversation starters and practical ways to create a larger vocational space for women in ministry.

How can we broaden the vocational space for women in churches? Most churches have either no woman on its ministerial staff or one or two at best. Many times the churches that do employ women on staff will be at a larger church where the ratio might be 10:1, men to women. Let’s look closer. Vocational ministerial jobs (not secretarial or administrative) for women are often part-time, underpaid and do not require any theological training. In order to make vocational room for women, one suggestion is when there’s a ministerial position open for which a church has no biblical objection to hiring a woman and when it already has a male-only staff, it could choose a woman for the job instead of a man. Other suggested changes are to hire women who have theological training, create full-time positions, pay women ministers at the same or similar salary to the men in comparable positions, and intentionally use female ministers’ gifts even if it takes her outside her job description. Perhaps place her alongside the male ministers for the response part of the Sunday service. Ask her to read Scripture or pray during the service. Ask, What are we communicating to the world and Christian community about the importance of women in ministry by whom we hire and the positions for which we hire?

How can we make vocational space for women in Christian publishing? Often time women are published based on their marketability rather than their credentials or quality of material. Also, the field for publishing Christian women seems to be much more competitive than its male counterpart thereby making it more difficult as a woman to get published than a man. One suggestion is for publishers to work with seminaries to find its best women graduates who feel called to teach and who are solid theologically to write for them. I can count at least 5 women who I know and who have graduated from Beeson who just want to write Bible studies but cannot find an open door into publishing to do so. Perhaps publishers can do a better job at engaging in intentional relationships with the female population of seminaries and divinity schools so that they are cultivating the next generation of women writers who will give them the best material possible and so that they are communicating to women who follow through with training that it is of value. Through these partnerships publishers could invite seminary female students to its conferences and events giving them opportunities to teach. Ask, What are we communicating to the world by who and what we publish? What are we communicating to young females about the importance of theological training for publishing?

How can we broaden the vocational space for women within seminaries and divinity schools? Consider evangelical Christian studies departments at colleges and universities or consider seminaries and you will find a small number of women on faculty. Perhaps you will find no women. Consider the female population at seminaries and you will find it is very small. Also, consider what degrees are being offered to women. Two spheres within Christian higher education are highlighted here: female faculty members and female students. A simple solution to both is for Christian institutions to intentionally hire more female faculty members and recruit more female students. Ask, What conclusions can be drawn by the outside world when it looks at the faculty and student population of seminaries? Would it be that it is a man’s world? Is there any value to female students taking courses like biblical theology, biblical languages and preaching courses in preparing them to teach Scripture even if only to other females, youth and children? What are seminaries and divinity schools communicating about the importance of women in vocational ministry by whom it hires, recruits and the degrees/programs offered to women? Are we only training ministers to teach sound doctrine to male Christians or are we training both male and female ministers to teach sound doctrine to both genders and to all ages?

Are we, the evangelical community, guilty of creating and abetting a system that makes it difficult and sometimes impossible for God to use women in vocational ministry?

Are we limiting what God can and wants to do through women by simply not having a big enough space for them to serve?

What blessings as a Christian community are we missing out on simply because we are not having a conversation or taking positive steps to engage more women in gospel-ministry work?

Grant it there are Christian entities, seminaries/divinity schools, and churches that are doing a good job or at least intentionally trying to create a larger vocational space for women in ministry. Places like LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, and Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham are a few that come to mind in my area. (And to be sure there are more!)

What if?

I believe it is important that we have this conversation about how we can create a larger vocational space for women because:

I believe our churches are only as strong as our weakest members.

I believe that together as men and women we make up the Imago Dei, and therefore, we can do better.

I believe that as we watch the salvation story unfold from Genesis to Revelation and see how God intentionally uses women far and above the cultural boundaries of the day, we can do better.

I believe that it doesn’t follow that just because a woman should not teach men means women and children should be taught watered-down theology or Scripture.

I believe that because many women are being taught watered-down theology and pop-psychology tinted Scripture we have created an environment where false teaching is growing easily and quickly among women.

I believe we should expect the same training of women as of our men. However, unless we have places for our trained, called women to go and serve, receiving theological training does not make sense. Getting into debt for seminary without the possibility of paying it off while using the degree is unwise.

And like Liz, women like us who once felt a call to vocational ministry might just conclude that we misheard the calling. To be certain, I do not judge or fault Liz for reaching this conclusion. We must assume that as God has revealed more over time to her that she did not necessarily hear a call to vocational ministry.

But what if?

What if there was more room at the vocational ministry table for women to sit? What would happen if theologically-trained women had more places to go exercise their calling, gifts and training? What if? Would there be less questioning, less redefining of ministerial calls among women if the ministerial vocational space were only bigger? What is the Church and the World missing out on by the Christian community failing, to some degree, to engage, encourage and train up more women for a ministry of the gospel?

(I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please reply with any positive suggestions or thoughts that can help and encourage the larger Christian community to think through this issue.)

 

 

 

 

7 Ways Churches & Pastors Can Support Me As A Woman In Ministry

The following is a guest post by Brenda Odom, Worship Associate at First Baptist Church, Pleasant Grove, Alabama. After posting "3 Things Girls Called to Vocational Ministry Want to Hear From Their Churches & Pastors," I had an outpouring of responses including one from Brenda. Brenda agreed with the post but also saw the need for a post about how pastors and churches can support their women ministers. This week I asked her to share from her perspective on this topic and the following is what she said. I am very excited to share this with you, as I think it is truly excellent and will have a great impact! Brenda notes that she is currently serving in a church with a very supportive pastor, Dr. Daven Watkins.

1. Know that I am called, too.

Traditionally in our Southern Baptist denomination only the men have been considered as “vocational ministry staff.” In fact, even now it is not uncommon for some churches to use the term “staff” to refer only to the ordained men who serve there. Some church members may also stereotype the women on staff by believing they all choose to work there only because it is convenient to their home or because it allows them to be near their children. While it’s true that these factors may be important to some, women like me who are called to vocational ministry have to say over and over again – to pastors, committees, and members – “I am called, too,” not to preach or pastor, but to minister in other ways. In my case, I have the privilege of serving through the multi-faceted ministry of music. I have educated and prepared myself to do this, and I have pursued this vocation my entire adult life. It is not by accident, convenience, or coincidence that I serve this church. God led me here to serve, too, just like the rest of the vocational ministry staff.

 

2. Help me educate our church.

You can affirm me by helping enlighten our church about women called to ministry. It may be unsettling for some to hear a woman describe herself as “called,” but help me show them I am not trying to usurp anyone’s authority. I am just trying to live in obedience to God’s call to me, which is to use my gifts in the music ministry in this church.

 

3. Help see that I am treated as fairly as any other vocational staff member.

This includes matters of compensation, benefits, and opportunities for continuing education and professional growth.

 

4. Realize the unique challenges I face, some of which are these:

Chances are good that any woman in vocational ministry in the average sized church will be the only one of “her kind,” and that can be a lonely place in a “professional” sense.

Usually staff divisions occur between “the men” and “the women,” without regard for calling or function, and that can be very frustrating. When that happens, I feel I am being put in the stereotypical box I have already described. Please see me as more than my gender. I am a called professional, too.

Communication with my pastor is normally not a problem. E-mails are usually adequate and efficient for routine ministry issues. But there are times when a face-to-face meeting is required because of the nature of the concern. Obviously, I am not able to take the pastor to lunch and discuss the issue as the men can do. That means I have to wait to be worked into the appointment schedule and that can take some time. Please allow me to discuss my area of ministry with you in person in a timely manner when the need arises.

 

5. Be mindful of the fact that I am able to minister in some ways and situations a man cannot. Allow me to help in those places.

 

6. Give me the opportunity to do something new.

When there is an assignment to be made for a task or new area of ministry, consider me, too. I would welcome the challenge and would be refreshed by doing something new. Let me stretch my creativity by using my education and experience in different ways.

 

7. Know that in spite of all the challenges, I find great joy and fulfillment in doing what God called me to do.

3 Things Girls Called to Vocational Ministry Want to Hear From Their Churches & Pastors

651_513465574533_1666_n When I felt the call to full-time ministry at the age of 15, I remember asking myself the question, "What now?" I had felt that tug on my heart years before; I had a sincere passion for God's Word and discipleship. I couldn't think of anything else I wanted to do but to serve Him. But I hesitated from surrendering to the call for several years prior to the age of 15. Why? Because I thought the only two full-time ministry options for a female were being a pastor's wife or a missionary.

When I finally did surrender it wasn't because I had heard there were more options for me than these two vocations, but because I couldn't deny the call any longer; to continue to do so was disobedience to God on my part. So I committed to ministry believing that God had a plan for my life but not knowing what it was. All I knew was I did NOT feel called to be a pastor's wife or missionary.

If it weren't for my parents' guidance, I don't know if I would have followed through in obeying this calling. Published materials about vocational calling for women were nonexistent (and still are to a big degree!) to help me, nor were there any female full-time ministers to mentor me. The church, though not unsupportive, did not play a major role in getting me prepared for vocational ministry. In fact the same 6 year old girl who had literally cried "I wish I had been born a boy so I can be a preacher," was still crying out, this time on the inside, "Why hadn't I been born a boy so I had many options of full-time ministry?"

Since then I have had countless conversations with other young women who share similar stories with mine. My husband and I just returned from a trip to my alma mater, Ouachita Baptist University, where I spoke to a group of girls who feel called to the ministry. Listening to them describe the process of discerning their calling and how to follow that call brought to mind someone walking in a pitch black room with her arm out trying to find the light switch.

Even if a church holds to complementarian beliefs (that is, women must be subject to men and not teach or hold authority over man), I still believe it needs women who are theologically trained to serve on staff. And larger than the local church, the Christian community, the global Church and the World (i.e. secular/unbelieving) need women who are theologically trained, who know how to interpret and explain the Bible in a faithful, orthodox way.

It is my opinion that churches have an important role to play in encouraging and supporting its girls who feel called to vocational ministry. The goal is that by the time they are in college or beyond they don't feel alone, confused or abandoned.

So to all you pastors, church staffs, and church members, here are 3 things I suggest you tell your girls who feel called to full-time ministry.

1. "We affirm God's work in you." Every person longs for affirmation. So it is no different that both male and females who feel called to vocational ministry long to be affirmed by their church body. So often churches don't or won't recognize young girls who feel called to the ministry in front of the church. Or, churches will recognize a young girl's call on a Sunday morning during the invitation but then she will never hear anything else from her youth pastor, pastor or any other church leader. As the body of Christ we are called to recognize and acknowledge what God has already done and is doing in these individuals as well as affirm the work of the Holy Spirit. I think some churches are afraid that if they affirm a young woman's ministerial call they are affirming an egalitarian view of women in ministry or they are giving her permission to become a pastor. Here's some news: Most young girls have no desire of becoming a pastor of a church. Especially if your church is complementarian, then most likely she will think the same way you do. So putting those fears aside, what a girl who feels called wants to hear from her church is: We affirm the work that God is doing in your life; we affirm the calling He has placed on you; and we SUPPORT you as you follow this calling on your life. Pastors, youth ministers, deacons, and lay leaders, consider writing personal notes, e-mails, making visits or phone calls to communicate your affirmation. REJOICE over this young girl who is willing to commit her entire life to ministry and to sacrifice worldly things and desires in order to do His will. Perhaps throw a celebration once a year for all the young people (both male and female) who have surrendered to full-time ministry. Acknowledge these girls in front of others, as much as your young males, and continue to check-in on them every so often. Make sure they have people purposely walking with them down this new journey, mentoring and encouraging them along the way! Sometimes we think that following God's call won't start until college, so we let them be during middle and high school. This is an incorrect assumption. These are formative years that will provide a foundation so that when they go to college and are perhaps tempted to abandon God's call and substitute it with something that will make them more money or that is more appealing to mom and dad they will hopefully not waver. Be intentional in AFFIRMING your young girls who feel called to ministry; it will make a world of difference.

2. "We want to give you more opportunities to serve and to use your spiritual gifts." One of the best things a church can do for its young people who feel called to ministry is to give them more opportunities to serve in the church. Since these people will be church leaders one day, the best thing you can do for them (and the best way you can affirm them!) is to plug them into more leadership-type roles. This includes your females! Find out what are their passions and spiritual gifts and use them accordingly. Do you have a girl who is gifted musically and has a heart for music-worship? Allow her to be part of the worship leadership team that makes decisions on what songs will be sung or the order of service. Give her more opportunities to be part of the worship team on Sunday mornings. Have a girl who feels gifted in teaching? Ask her to teach a Sunday School class of those younger than her. Or, encourage older women's Sunday School classes to allow her to substitute teach when its teacher is absent. (I remember having this opportunity when I was young teaching a senior adults lady class. They were very encouraging to me.) Assuming she's in the youth group, involve her on the youth leadership team that makes decisions about discipleship, events, etc. Do you have a girl who has a heart for missions and feels called to be a full-time missionary? Encourage her to be involved with local as well as foreign missions. Suggest that she help plan and lead a mission trip, especially by the time she is a senior in high school. Encourage her to find a summer internship working under the supervision of missionaries. You get my point? Even if your church cannot pay for internships, give these young people, and especially your young girls, non-paid ministerial internships as a way of preparing them for future work. And by the way, here's one thing NOT to tell your girls: Do NOT assume what the girls in your church are called to do. We have a tendency to immediately want to place our females in children's or women's ministry. We assume that is where God would have them. We are NOT the Holy Spirit nor do we want to misdirect them based solely on their gender. I remember when my call was made public to the church, people came and asked me if I wanted to do children's or women's ministry. I said, "Neither. All I know is I have a desire and gift to teach and speak." Then they would respond, "So you want to be the next Beth Moore!" Instead of helping me, their limited understanding of what vocational ministry opportunities there are for women left me feeling frustrated and unsure. My desire was not to become "the new Beth Moore" as if she were my idol, but rather to give my life to a gospel-centered ministry even if I didn't know how that would look.

3. "We want and support you to receive theological education." When fellow male peers make known their call to ministry, people immediately talk to them about seminary. Churches and associations give scholarships to their young male members to receive theological education; it is expected of them. But, when it comes to females, the expectation is not the same. Why is that? (Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post about this very question!) In my mind, it doesn't matter if women are leading children's ministries, youth ministries or women's ministries, writing Bible studies or Sunday School material, speaking, blogging, serving as missionaries, or teaching Bible classes at a private Christian school, she NEEDS theological education. The spiritual maturity of our church members, our bodies of Christ, will depend much in part by the kind of teaching they are receiving as children, women, families, young people, etc. What they hear taught and read about Scripture will give them the framework from which they do their own exegesis. You want strong children's ministries and children who have a firm grasp on the gospel? Train up your women. You want women who are strong pillars in your church and who are not spreading false gospel? Send your future women's ministers to the best seminaries. Want solid, theologically sound Bible studies for women, youth and children? Then encourage your girls to take Greek and Hebrew and biblical theology at a sound seminary. Just because you might believe that women cannot be pastors of a church does not mean that they cannot receive a theological education. Your churches will be better and stronger if both your boys and girls are trained theologically. And your girls want to hear from you, pastors and church leaders, that you support them and encourage them, just like your boys, to get a theological education.

So affirm and train up your young girls for full-time ministry. Recognize that God is at work in females too and that they have a place in this vocational ministerial world. Join in what God is doing. I do not believe a girl is better or worse than a boy because of her gender. I believe that because God's image is both male and female, females are important to God in displaying His image. I also believe that the Bible shows that God has used women in salvation history to bring about His purposes. He has raised up women to be leaders among His people from the Old Testament to the New. Why, then, not continue to affirm that God uses women today for His Kingdom work?

Girls and women who have had surrendered to a vocational call: What else would you add? Would you disagree with anything I've said? Do you agree that young girls in churches who feel a call to full-time ministry want to hear these 3 things from their churches and church leaders? I'd love to hear what you think!

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