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Different paths: Do women take a different journey to becoming pastors?

December 14, 2012

How do women move into their pastoral calling? More importantly, how do we encourage women in the pursuit of their calling?  I don’t think the answer is as obvious as one would think.   Let me share some of my story, then I’ll draw out some observations.

I’ve had a desire to serve in ministry since I first came to know Jesus when I was 14.  However, women couldn’t be pastors way back then (at least in the churches I belonged to!)  I was fortunate to end up in a church that allowed (notice the word allowed) women to serve in co-leadership with men at the small group level.  I married and continued to serve in leadership.  We became aware of some of the work that would lay the foundations for Christians for Biblical Equality.  My spouse and I became convinced that women could & should lead as they were called to lead: pastor, teacher, whatever level.  I had 2 wonderful sons.  Here is where it gets interesting.

Our financial situation was such that if we put our little guys in the private Christian school that we had chosen, I had to work.  Son #1 had done well here from preschool on, and as he entered 1st grade and son #2 started preschool, I had the opportunity to go to work full-time with a fantastic pro-life ministry.  Sure, my kids would have to go to a baby sitter before and after school, but what a great ministry opportunity!   Within 6 months, my smallest boy had begun to exhibit all sorts of fears and anxiety.  The things that he had been thrilled by, like the train that went by at the baby sitter’s house, had gone from being something exciting to a source of fear.  So, I made a choice.  (Please notice the word choice.) I decided to bring my boys home and home school them.  I quit the ministry job and put on the full-time home schooling mom hat.

I continued to serve in leadership capacities at church; by now we were at a new church that wasn’t so progressive about women in ministry though.  So I led a women’s group, then I led children’s ministry.  I was lead teacher in the children’s church.  For 8 years I home schooled and served in children’s ministry.  Meanwhile, a slow change was taking place in the church leadership landscape.  Our senior pastor (our entire association) was being challenged on the issue of women in ministry.

After 8 years, the boys and I realized that one more year of home schooling would probably result in the death of someone (JOKE!!)  We really did need to move on.  So the guys went to school and I went to work full-time at the church in an administrative role.  Within the year, I had moved to a position that had some oversight of a couple of ministries.  Over the course of several years, the role became pastoral and 3 years ago I was recognized as a pastor.

So, not exactly the traditional way of becoming a pastor.  I didn’t do seminary and an internship and move into a pastoral role – the steady climb that you see men doing.   I did do some theological training along the way, but there was never a promise of promotion attached.   During this training I looked around and noticed the significant number of women whose kids were in high school, college or out of the nest.   I was also aware of numbers of younger women who had been active in church leadership who were stepping aside to raise their kids, as I had.

Just as I was starting to get my feet wet in a pastoral role, we had a staff meeting where the senior pastor essentially said “get ready to replace yourself, your time is done” to all the pastors over the age of 40.   My response was “What? I’ve only just started!!” This got me thinking about the life path differences between men and women.

Most men go to work, work steadily and climb the career path from young adulthood on.  Women, on the other hand, have kids.   They may work full-time with kids, stay home with kids, but still, in the vast majority of cases, women have the primary responsibility for kids.    I asked you to notice the work choice.  This was the word flung at me by one male pastor when I was first thinking about this issue.  “Women make life choices”.  Yes, I made a choice, but it wasn’t just for me, it was for my sons, my family, and really for the future of the church.  Part of my role as a leader in the church is to raise up leadership – which starts by raising up my sons well so that they can lead in the next generation.

So – lets look at what my life choice did.  I got thrown into a context where I had to really hone my teaching abilities – both individually with my kids and in the groups of kids I taught.  There is nothing like trying to create a lesson that will be understood and keep the attention of a group of kids aged 6 -12.  They can’t teach that in seminary.   I had to think theologically to evaluate the myriad of ideas that come at you through the home schooling community.   I had the opportunity to learn about group dynamics, learning styles and so much more.  All of this equipping me for my pastoral role.  No, not the traditional education, but very effective.

How many women are out there in the same place, kids older, looking for what God has next, but someone is saying to them: “You made your choice, sorry, it’s too late for you to think about professional ministry.”

Part 2 will look at some of the things I believe we need to look at if we want to encourage (and not just allow) women to pursue their gifting and calling.

From → Women's issues

3 Comments
  1. I know many female pastors (myself included) that are ‘second career’ pastors. Our life choices, or do to the need to survive, led us down other vocations in our early lives. For me, it was the business world. Much of my four children’s lives when they were young were with me being a single mom. I had to make a living, support my children, have insurance, etc. I could have never done that on the salary many pastor’s receive. Other female pastors have had the same experience – or their husbands worked but maybe did not have a salary that could cover the expenses of a family.

    I excelled in the business world, managed budgets, people, departments. Trained and taught employees. Talk about great experience for now being sole pastor! I can budget a church, set goals, problem solve with committees, and mentor new believers. In addition, I have now raised four children, that is definitely a training you don’t get in seminary and I have used those skills immensely.

    I believe God will use as many different ways as there are different people in bringing forth the call to be pastor, associate, co, or lay leader. There were not Theological Seminaries in Paul’s time and yet a wide array of people with a wide array of background and real-life training were raised up to lead faith families. Why wouldn’t we expect the same to happen now?

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  2. Great blog. I’m a first career minister, but I will likely go back to part time ministry when we have multiple children. I think it’s fair to say that you made a choice, but I disagree with your pastor that your choice in your twenties means you cannot serve in your forties or fifties (or even above). I recently read a great book called Courage and Calling (I believe by Gordon Smith). One of the issues he addresses is the seasonal quality of every calling. For example, parenthood is a seasonal calling because we aren’t parents forever. Similarly, pastoring can be a seasonal calling if one eventually moves into teaching, etc. I believe many women feel called to honor the seasonal calling of motherhood above the call of vocational ministry while our children are young, and that’s completely fair and responsible. After all, we are given stewardship of our precious babes and for some families, it is best for mom to stay at home. It’s sad that women are often penalized for choosing motherhood for a season and then prevented from or challenged when they return to ministry.

    I think it’s great and necessary for churches to raise up young leaders, but not to the exclusion of older, and usually wiser leaders. And as a young person in ministry (I’m 24), I can tell you that congregations struggle to acknowledge the young as spiritual authorities, regardless of seminary training. Don’t let it get you down! God is certainly using you!

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  3. Thanks for your comment Kate. I’ve actually been in ministry in some form for a little over 30 years, but only had the title of pastor for the last 5. I never stopped “doing ministry” during the time I was home with my kids. One of my great frustrations is seeing young moms step out of ministry entirely when they have young kids.

    Your comment about congregations acknowledging the young as spiritual authority raises some questions for me that I may just explore in a future post. I know it is a challenge that all young seminary grads will face, women even more than men!

    God bless you in your calling, where ever it takes you!

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