How do women thrive in ministry?
Last week on Thursday, 700+ Baptists gathered in Atlanta for dinner to kick off a celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Baptist Women in Ministry. BWIM Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Meredith Stone asked us some great questions. I want to respond to two of those questions today.
If we imagine a world where women in ministry thrive what would it look like? How would it be different than the world right now?
I asked a similar question in the present tense, five years ago in “No Joke: Resisting the ‘Culture of Disbelief’ That Keeps Clergy Women Pushing Uphill.”
How do women thrive in ministry vocations that are still undermined or treated as a joke in so many parts of the church?
I recognize Meredith’s two-part question as an invitation to tell future stories. When we tell stories about possible futures, we impact our present moments in profound ways. The impact of future stories is as great or greater than the stories we tell ourselves about the past. The more we multiply possible future stories, the greater the vision and potential for women’s thriving in ministry. I will share five one-sentence future stories today, stating each in the present tense. As if it has already come to pass.
If we imagine a world
where women in ministry thrive
what would it look like?
How would it be different
than the world right now?
~Rev. Dr. Meredith Stone
In this post, I am speaking briefly to each one of these stories from my personal experience. I recognize as a cisgender, heterosexual white woman, my experience is by no means representative of every woman in ministry.
In this brief and informal post, I will not try to speak for or on behalf of all women in ministry. But rather, I will speak out of my own experience and the general observations I’ve made by studying hundreds of self identified women and (a smaller number of) queer clergy in ministry by interviewing, mentoring, teaching in seminary classrooms, and supporting them through three minute ministry mentor and other outlets.
The experiences of women of color, LGBTQA+ persons, queer clergy, and non-binary people in ministry, have unique experiences particular to their social locations. Acknowledging these differences, I speak from my particular social location, keeping important differences in mind yet not trying to spell every particular difference. That will take a book, which I am presently writing. For this post I’m going to use the words women and queer as I speak about features that would help more people thrive in ministry than currently do.
And just because more women and queer people thrive in ministry does NOT necessarily mean fewer people who identify as men will thrive in ministry.
Our work is not a zero sum game. As more people thrive or flourish in ministry, our churches and faith groups stand to benefit. Like love, thriving and flourishing are renewable goods that can be expanded as they are shared.
And yes, all people of all genders and ethnicities continue facing unprecedented challenges after three years of pandemic life. I’ve written extensively about that in the #PandemicPastoring Report.
I’m including my stories because I think it is important to make these aspirations for thriving personal. Largely, the challenges faced by people who identify as LGBTQA+ or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, persons of color) may have more complex troubles, inequities, and unfair predjudices to navigate than I do. Although it generally remains true that people who identify as men even if they are also in a sexual or ethnic minority, continue to accrue more ease with their work and pay than women do.
Women thrive because churches pay equitably
Top of the list is a future where women know pay equity. Churches and ministry employers need to provide full benefits to women. Healthcare. Disability. Life insurance. Dental, vision, continuing education, coaching, spiritual direction, retreats, etc. Whatever they need to help them thrive. And no one argues with them about their time off or mistrusts them for taking care of themselves.
Women remain exhausted in their church jobs. I talked to many tired and non-thriving women last week at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meeting. They often do more of the emotional labor, as well as the administrative and physical labor, in their congregations. Yet they earn less than half of what their senior colleagues earn. Even with no age differences between staff members, sexist expectations around money and time continue.
Looking back over the years since my seminary graduation, I have been underpaid in nearly every full-time job I’ve held. Am I a poor negotiator? No. I’ve actually found ways to achieve raises and additional benefits in most of my full and some part-time jobs. The reality is that I’ve been able to take and keep those jobs to a large degree, because my spouse earns a significantly better income, and through his company(s) our family has insurance and other benefits.
I am not the exception. I am the norm. And I am highly educated, purposefully motivated, and very competent or proficient at what I do. To be sure, ministry and higher education are not among the high-paying careers in this country. And I do know many women who make more than a basic living wage. My contingent employment and unequal pay are compared to laborers who do exactly the same work.
In a future where women and queer people thrive in ministry, equitable pay and benefits are normative.
Women thrive because leadership is collaborative
Women and queer people are no longer novelties nor isolated from each other. They are not adored and set up on pedestals only to be knocked down later. Nor are they lifted high as objects of victory in a game between men.
Instead women see themselves, and others recognize them, as ministers with purpose and skills, vision and pastoral imagination. In whatever formal role they hold in a church or ministry setting, they are consulted, invited, and supported for their contributions and their needs.
Sound systems adjust to all ranges of voices. Maternal and parental leave policies are normative. Volunteers, paid staff, and community members impacted by each program, share leadership in every area of the church and/or ministry site.
In the best ministry and theological education jobs I’ve held, the ones where I thrived the most, I had partners, sponsors, and collaborators for my work. I often find myself recruiting mentors and collaborators because otherwise the work is not only overwhelming but also lonely. In places where friendship and trust grow, I thrive more. It can be messy and difficult, but collaboration is dramatically better than isolation and going it alone.
In the future where women and LGBTIQA+ people thrive in ministry, collaborative work within and across organizations is the norm.
More Posts Ahead …
I will continue the series this summer with these additional future stories (and possibly more).
- Women thrive because we are not so angry all the time
- Women thrive because child well-being is normative, expected, funded
- Women thrive because men focus on care for themselves and all people