5 Steps to Preparing for the Interview by Z. Allen Abbott

Not only are we blessed with sloppy Baptist polity, we are prone to become bogged down by it.  Fortunately, the interview itself is pretty standard and favors the candidate who makes a positive impression.  Being a woman in ministry has enough challenges!

Often discrimination is based on elective ignorance, and the perpetrators rarely are aware of their blinders.  You have already come to terms with God’s call on your life, and now you have an opportunity to help a search committee do the same.  So if you’ve made it to the interview stage, take a few actions to demonstrate your exceptional competence.

(1)   Research the church and position thoroughly. This seems obvious, yet it is the most common area where candidates slack off.  In the interview, it can be painfully apparent.  The committee will perceive you as not being serious.

(2)   Get a head start. When invited to interview, the person calling you is probably the committee chair.  This is your opportunity to peek into their minds.  Simply say, “I want to make the most of your time, so may I ask you a few questions now about your objectives for the interview?”  The chair is likely to disclose much about the committee’s process and hopes.  Thus you can customize your content to touch every point.  Before hanging up the phone, ask for the chair’s contact information “in case of an emergency.”  With that email address in hand…

(3)   Email an outline of your presentation to the chair in advance. This lets the chair know you value their time and you consider them very special.  Other candidates rarely show any gesture along these lines.  Keep it brief—just the talking points and questions you would like to ask the committee.

(4)   Check your tech. If your presentation involves any kind of technology—a DVD, PowerPoint, YouTube—make sure everything is in working condition before your time on the agenda.  Don’t waste the most valuable opening moments fumbling with electronics.  Have a low-tech backup plan in case things do not work.

(5)   Arrive early. Sometimes other candidates back out at the last minute.  Agendas shift around during the meeting.  Most committee members are busy and may need to leave early or deal with distractions from their Blackberry.  Your being early could provide you with some extra face time with the committee.

In the interview, hit the ground running.  Your first 30 seconds create your primary impact.  Sympathize with the committee, expressing appreciation for their courage to interview you.  But then move on and directly address their larger task.  This is your chance to exhibit your experience, results, and potential as a ministry leader.  Don’t hold back.  Provide every indication that you can start employment very soon.

The last stage of the process involves negotiations around the compensation package.  We will discuss these details in an upcoming article.  For now, focus on helping the committee want YOU as their first choice.

Dr. Z. Allen Abbott is senior benefits consultant with The Ministers & Missionaries Benefit Board.

Putting Yourself In Their Shoes by Z. Allen Abbott

In my previous position with the American Baptist Churches, about half my time was devoted to match-making.  Finding pastors for churches and churches for pastors is both art and science with plenty of room for human idiosyncrasies.  Though each situation is unique, there are some common characteristics generally found in Baptist church-searches.  In this series of three blog posts, I’ll share some tips for placement especially relevant for women candidates.

Let’s look first at the search committee.  Ideally the committee is a balanced group of open-minded, Spirit-led individuals with a well-organized chair who keeps the process clipping along efficiently.  They have already agreed they are open to whomever God leads to them, regardless of gender, and the compensation package will be generous.

Yeah, right.

Each church has different procedures for selecting the search committee, so you can anticipate at least a few unfortunate traits—difficult personalities, political agendas, fiscal anxiety, scheduling conflicts, and maybe even folk who do not want to be there.

Serious search committee members stake their personal reputation on how well they deliver a superior candidate to the congregation.  They are tasked with finding the best available candidate in terms of experience and performance.  The living history of previous search committees’ results haunts them during the search-and-call process and beyond.  They need to complete their assignment in a timely manner, and they are working with financial restraints set by the church—both the expenses of the committee and the compensation package for the candidate.

In their first few meetings, they get oriented to the process, the position description, their given parameters, their chemistry as a group, their varying levels of experience, and trying to sense God’s presence in their endeavor.  All these factors are in place before the committee even begins considering candidates, which presents another dilemma.

They must decide how to gather résumés—via announcements in selected publications, denominational and specialized sources like BWIM, seminaries, word of mouth, and perhaps proactively inviting some folks to submit their profile.  Inevitably, they will receive names from less reliable sources like the Internet or well-intentioned church members who have a cousin who wants to try ministry since becoming unemployed.  Individual committee members may even propose specific candidates and advocate for them, clouding objectivity.

Next there are the questions of screening candidates’ credentials, researching their performance in previous positions, and background checks.  The committee may find their initial pile of résumés lacks diversity, or the candidates are falling short of expectations, or the most desirable candidates are beyond their financial reach.

Historically most ministers have been male.  This means that the “picture” most church folks have of a pastor they’ve known and loved through the years—is male.  Considering a woman of God may not be on their radar.  It looks like another hurdle to clear before they can get on with the interview and selection phase.  You can see how a search committee, already feeling stretched and uncomfortable at this point, is looking for something—anything—to make their job easier.

But let’s presume they agree to seriously consider female candidates.  This means they could end up recommending a woman for leadership.  How much energy do you think the committee has to deal with the obstacles they might face from church members?  The search committee is reticent to create conflict and fallout in the congregation, so they surmise “the church just isn’t ready yet” for a female pastor.  They correctly confess that turning minds around is a lengthy educational process that needs to involve the whole church.

All these realities are symptoms of the deep misunderstanding of God’s call as it relates to gender.  It is unreasonable to expect the search process alone to bring enlightenment.  That’s why it is our ongoing challenge to help churches take many “baby steps” frequently.  When we have a guest preacher, invite an ordained woman.  Call a female Interim Minister.  Denominational gatherings featuring women pastors provide leadership and opportunity for churches to contemplate the same for their own house of worship.

Ultimately the search committee is a group of individuals, and each one is free to participate, to obstruct, to lead, to follow.  They need information and encouragement to address their concerns and help expedite their task.  The good news is that times of transition often create an atmosphere of anticipation and openness, along with fear and anxiety.  We all can play a role in helping search committees—and their congregations—see whom God is preparing to lead them into the future.

Rev. Dr. Z. Allen Abbott is senior benefits consultant with the Ministers & Missionaries Benefit Board.

Right or Wrong: Women Pastors by Pam Durso

The column, Right or Wrong, is sponsored by the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology and is published weekly in the Baptist Standard, both in its print edition and on its website. Each column features a question posed by a reader, and a guest columnist offers feedback. This column appeared in the October 7, 2010 issue and is used with permission.

I am a woman who heard God’s call to pastoral ministry. But I’m hesitant about following that call and attending seminary, because so many Baptists oppose women pastors. I’m not interested in changing denominations. What do you suggest?

Your hard question calls for some hard truths and honest words. If you decide to attend seminary and pursue God’s call, you will discover it is very difficult to find a Baptist church that will call you as pastor. Southern Baptists have passed resolutions against women pastors, and only a handful of Southern Baptist churches currently have women serving in that role. And even the Cooperative Baptist and American Baptist churches are hesitant to call a woman. Less than 5 percent of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and about 9 percent of American Baptist churches are led by women. In Texas, only about two-tenths of 1 percent of Baptist churches have women pastors. That is the hard reality you face.

But the flip side of this hard reality is that today more women are serving as pastor of churches than ever before in Baptist life. Hundreds of Baptist women now lead churches, both here in the United States and around the world. In this country, nearly 500 women are pastor of American Baptist churches, while 125 women pastors, co-pastors and church planters lead congregations that affiliate with moderate denominational bodies. And those numbers increase each year. Slowly, ever so slowly, a shift in Baptist life toward more openness to women pastors is occurring. So, this also is your reality—after 400 years of existence, more and more Baptist pulpits are being filled by women on Sunday mornings. Chances are better than ever that a Baptist church will sense your calling and your giftedness and call you as pastor.

So, given those two realities, what do I suggest? First, seek God’s leading, study the Scriptures, pray alone and with wise leaders and supportive friends, and discern what you understand about God’s call for you. Ministry is a challenging vocational path, and ministry as a Baptist woman is an even more challenging vocational path. I suggest your sense of calling needs careful self-examination, lots of prayer and reflection, and outside guidance and encouragement.

My second suggestion is for you to be faithful. You were not called to ministry by your church, your denominational body or your Baptist heritage. You were called by God. Thus, your calling is not based on whether denominational bodies or local churches are following God’s leadership. Your calling is not given with assurances of vocational fulfillment. Your calling comes with no guarantees. But your calling comes with promise of God’s presence. So, my best suggestion is that you be faithful, allow God to lead and get ready for an exciting journey into ministry.

Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry.

Island Inspirations: A Micro-Enterprise Supporting the Working Women of Indonesia by Lindsay

On the occasion of my ordination into vocational ministry, a stole made by Palestinian women in Ramallah was placed on my shoulders as a reminder of the servant life I had chosen to lead. To this day, I am still inspired when I think about the weathered hands that created that stole.

Recently, I was talking to an Indonesian friend who was looking to hire some more women to work in her tailor shop.  She didn’t have the steady income to support such a venture but desired more help. Then I thought, “Why not use the beautiful batik of Indonesia and the willing hands of women on the islands to create stoles? In other words, create a temporary demand to get her on her feet so that she can employ more local women?” And Island Inspirations was born.

An unofficial fair trade micro-enterprise, Island Inspirations supports two local Muslim women as fabric suppliers and two local Hindu women as tailors by generating interest for ministerial stoles from Christian ministers in the United States.  The overall cost for each stole includes fabric and sewing, tips for each of the artisans, and shipping and handling.

In today’s world, we all need a renewed global vision.  The news and newspapers overwhelm us with negativity, injustice, and need.  On Sunday mornings, it is easy to direct our services away from the worries of the week, essentially turning our sanctuaries into worship centers that are disconnected from reality.  What if your minister’s vestments reminded you of what each and everyone of us could do, big or small, to make a difference in the world?  Consider a batik stole made by local female artisans on the islands as a way of opening your mind and heart to the beauty of Southeast Asia.

Orders can be placed at http://web.me.com/lccomstock/Island_Inspirations/Welcome.html

Username:  islandinspirations

Password:  visitor

Lindsay, former associate pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, is an affiliate with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and has been living and working in Southeast Asia since 2008 where she is an advocate for women and children.

Around Here by Suzanah Raffield

Rachel didn’t get up that morning intending to pilfer her sister’s husband. “That’s not how we do it around here,” Laban would later tell Jacob.

He could have spoken those same words seven years earlier. Laban could have told Jacob by firelight the first night his future son-in-law appeared proclaiming to the local boys they needed to head back to the fields. It was “too early to come in for the day.” But that’s not how they did it around there.

It seems like no amount of dark night or stout wine could conceal one’s beloved. Oh, but it did and then it was fourteen years later and Rachel was dead. And I wish with all my might that she wasn’t buried by the side of the road and that her maternal mortality wasn’t the way we did it around here.

Suzanah Raffield is a maternal health advocate, currently researching Rachel while writing her dissertation chapter on body theology in the Old Testament. Suzanah lives in Jacksonville, Florida.  She also writes for her blog, Sparkfly.