Glass Ceilings and Ministry by Frances Tuck

With all the recent talk about women in ministry and submission, I originally began writing my take on the matter. In doing so, I realized that it bothered me that the question even comes up.

Even though the Bible says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21) to both men and women before instructing women alone, no one ever asks whether Bill Hybels or Rick Warren is submitting to their wives (or even loving their wives sacrificially in accordance with Ephesians 5:25, for that matter).

Every saint is called to love one another, serve one another, and honor one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We should ask for this evidence of the Holy Spirit in our pastors’ and leaders’ lives, but the only question that  has arisen is whether women ministers are submitting sufficiently.

I am very aware of the glass ceiling I face in ministry. I see it when pastors favor men with less education, experience, and maturity than me simply because of gender. I see it when I arrive at seminary to find a flyer for a seminary wives support group in my mailbox (as if women are not in seminary). I see it when my classmates use gender exclusive language. I  see it when I am looking at job openings in churches that are not open to me because I am a woman.

I literally wept this morning thinking how conservative Christians have an easier time believing that God can speak through a donkey (Numbers 22:21 ff.) than he can through a woman.

The funny thing is, I don’t think being a woman is my primary characteristic when it comes to ministry. I am called to ministry for the sake of furthering God’s kingdom. I want to preach the gospel and make that my focus, but my brothers (and even some sisters) in Christ choose instead to simply see me as just a woman. I want to be about the gospel, but somehow it becomes about my gender more than Jesus.

Ultimately, even if you think that my motives are wrong for wanting to minister, Paul himself says, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18).

What does it matter that I am a woman if I am gifted and called by God? Perhaps our time would be better spent preaching the gospel than trying to keep women away from the pulpit.

Frances Tuck is a student at Western Seminary and lives in Los Gatos, California. Read her blog.

“Me, Too” by Susan Rogers

Wherever we find ourselves on life’s journey, there are some powerful words I believe we all long to hear. Hearing them lately has reminded me of why. It first happened during a recent night out with other moms. I was introducing myself and sharing a little about our recent move and about how Kevin was still working in Atlanta. When I was finished, two of the women seated around me commiserated, sharing about their situations. One woman’s husband is in the military and he gets home every 6 months (talk about getting a little perspective!) and the other’s husband has to work very long hours. In the midst of listening to them share, I felt less alone. It was as if upon hearing my story, they were saying “yeah, me too.”

It happened again today when I ran into two ministers that I first met a couple of months ago. They asked me what I had been up to and I replied that I was still gathering, learning, and discerning for this new church start (they could probably hear the impatience in my tone!). They said, “us too.” Although they are not starting a new work, they shared how their ministry is always a work in progress. It made sense to me, and it also made me smile. Yeah, them too.

I guess the power in “me, too” is the subtle reminder that we are not alone. Somewhere deep down we tend to think we are the only ones experiencing heartache and impatience; however, “me too” reminds us that we are in the company of fellow strugglers who also feel, think and experience the ups and downs of the journey.

Susan Rogers is a church planter in Jacksonville, Florida. Read her blog, Losing and Finding.

Kids in Seminary: Making it Work by Melissa Florer-Bixler

I’m half way through my first semester at Princeton Theological Seminary . . . with a two-year-old child. I’ve completed all my work. We are generally happy. Here are some of the ways we’ve made it work.

1. Accept your limitations. No, you won’t make it to that 4 p.m. philosophy colloquium. Zizek lecture? You will so not be there. Your experience is going to be different than many others, but that’s okay. Your life will be enriched in different ways as well. Some days you won’t get all the reading done. Do write all the papers and definitely show up for class.

2. Remember that you bring something amazing to the table. All those maternal references in Augustine? You get that. Discipline, discipleship, love, fear, commitment, ceaseless devotion, gut wrenching selflessness, care for the helpless, the recognition of our helplessness. What is motherhood apart from these things? These are also the defining characteristics of the Christian life. And you’ve been in the 24-hour a day school for those things for a while. People are going to stay stupid things. You’re going to get push back, especially if you try to make changes to the way things have always been done. Remember that you are a gift and you bring the seminary the gift of your presence.

3. Reading week is your friend. Use it wisely. Write as much as you can and read ahead.

4. If you have the option of a summer field ed vs. a year long field ed, try to make summer field ed work. Field education sucks time out of your week like nothing else. Our field ed office is incredibly accommodating, and I bet others are as well.

5. Fish around for the right balance of classes. Talk to other people about their experiences with particular professors. I think this is a good breakdown: 1 class with difficult/intense testing, 1 class with intensive/extensive reading, 1 class that is conceptually challenging but low work, and 1 class that you consider easy or working from an innate strength. The reading will eat your time, the testing will use up your stress quota, the difficult class will challenge you without overwhelming, and the class that builds on your academic strength will help your self-esteem and sense of purpose.

6. You get two times to work: nap time and when your kid goes to sleep at night. So think about whether you are disciplined enough to get everything you need to in those hours. Don’t try to do work when you should be interacting with your child. This will only build resentment and stress. If you do need more time, think about getting seriously regimented. I know one family where the dad goes to bed at 8 p.m. every night so that he can wake up at 3:30 a.m. to study. You can do this. You just have to be willing to do what it takes.

7. Find the other women (or in my case the one woman) who is going through seminary with a preschool aged child. Get their lay of the land and their specific tips for how they make it work.

8. CO-PARENTING. Were this not stream of conscious with low editing due to limited time to write this would be number 1. You cannot do seminary and young children with a strict sense of gender roles, particularly gender roles that divide household and family care along gender lines. Now, I still clock in for the Second Shift, but I also highly depend on my husband to parent with me.

9. Babysitting co-ops. Find one. Establish one.

10. Don’t give into your loneliness. Having a young child in seminary can be an isolating experience. There aren’t a lot of married women in general in my program. As I mentioned before, there is only one with a preschool aged child and only two people (the others are men) who provide primary care for their children in the afternoon. The system is not set up for you. This is frustrating and exhausting. But it only will change if you are the voice of change. Get in there and give ‘em hell, mama!

Melissa Florer-Bixler is a first-year seminary student at Princeton Theological Seminary, who blogs at Sign on the Window.

Oxymoron: Unanimous Baptists by Ron Crawford

I have always wondered why reasonable people would think a Baptist committee could ever reach a unanimous decision.  Frankly, it is remarkable “unanimous” and “Baptist” appear in the same dictionary!

As the old saying goes, “Where there are two Baptists gathered together there are at least three opinions.”  By our very nature we are people with opinions.  Our strong historic emphasis on individualism creates a fertile environment for growing opinions – about most everything.

Why, then, would we assume ten Baptists are going to agree on any single issue?

Yet, I hear it all the time, “Our Pastor Search Committee met for the first time on Tuesday night.  We elected a chair and decided we would present a unanimous recommendation to the church….”  How did Baptists, committed to individualism, create the expectation a pastor search committee should ever be unanimous?  What planet did this notion come from?

The answer is in understanding organizational dynamics and human insecurities.

Baptist search committees favor unanimous recommendations because they are insecure; they don’t want to face potential challenges to their recommendation on the church floor.  While committee members will clothe their fears in spiritual language to defend a “unanimous recommendation” policy the real reason is human insecurity.  The search committee’s nightmare is the church will not accept their recommendation.  A unanimous committee minimizes that potential.

This is a also the primary reason we do not have more women pastors in Baptist church pulpits.  Our insecurities lead us to present unanimous recommendations; and there is always one person on a search committee who is small-minded and dreadfully biased against women.  We can write articles about the need for Baptists to change their attitudes about women until the cows come home.  But until we change the expectation search committees should present unanimous recommendations no progress will be made.  It is functional polity, not attitude, which holds back the role of women in local Baptist churches.

While “unanimous Baptist” is an oxymoron, “unanimous Baptist committees” are rarely truly unanimous.  Most search committees committed to being unanimous spend 80% of their time working-out the personal issues of committee members during committee deliberations.  It is an old story; as committee members share their observations about candidates, they become alarmingly aware of diversity in their own church’s ranks.  Illusions are wrecked and preconceived notions about ministers and congregations hit the wall of reality.  And so, 80% of the committee’s time and energy could be characterized as educating committee members and wearing down people until they give up their opinions.

This dynamic is very destructive.  Typically with committees committed to unanimous recommendations, a functional veto is handed to every person on the committee.  In terms of organizational dynamics, the weakest and most small-minded person on the committee is handed a veto and is able to manipulate the committee.  This is the reason most search committees end-up settling for a middle-of-the-road, “nice” candidate.  This is the way creative, out-of-the-box, unorthodox pastoral candidates are side-tracked and end-up fourth or fifth on the “short list.”  In essence, requiring a unanimous committee moves the committee toward the less creative candidate – in an age when local churches desperately need creative leaders.

Pass the word, “unanimous Baptist” is an oxymoron.

Grace and Peace.

Ron Crawford is the president of Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond. This posting is from his blog.

I Spent Monday Praying by Pam Durso

I spent Monday praying.

This past Monday, November 1, was the annual Baptist Women’s World Day of Prayer (sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance Women’s Department). Knowing that thousands of my Baptist sisters were praying on that day made me more mindful and intentional about my praying.

All day long I found myself praying—for women who are suffering, women who are celebrating, women who are oppressed, women who work hard to support their families, women who are ministering to others, women who are working for justice, women who struggle with depression. I prayed for my good friends, and I prayed for Baptist women around the world whom I have never met.

Seems like I had a pretty sizeable prayer list—but as I prayed throughout the day I kept returning to thoughts of my community of friends. On Monday, two members of that community lost their mothers to cancer, and I prayed. On Monday, I was aware all day of a friend who is in great pain, and I prayed.

And today I am grateful for the Baptist Women’s World Day of Prayer . . . I found comfort knowing that women across the globe were praying along with me. And today I have felt a great sense of peace for I know that I am not alone but walk in this faith journey with a world-wide community of Baptist women.

Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia. (The photo is of her friend Jewel London praying with a young woman in Belize).

How to be Firm on Compensation Without Appearing Greedy by Z. Allen Abbott

Let’s start with a dose of reality: Within each committee, there are already several dynamics at play regarding compensation.  For example, search committees are handed a dollar range to compensate their candidate of choice.  This is usually set long before the committee ever begins looking at candidates, thus it restricts which candidates they seriously consider.  There will likely be one committee member who wants to see how cheaply they can hire someone, and one committee member who considers the designated ceiling negotiable.

Most search committees have not adequately researched what is considered appropriate compensation for the job.  Candidates should not assume the committee sought outside counsel on this question, especially if they received a “firm bottom line” figure from the congregation as to how much money they can commit.

Unfortunately it often falls to the candidates to complete the committee’s knowledge.  Candidates can encourage the committee to take advantage of resources that already gather this data for their use: seminaries, MMBB, denominational offices, and specialized ministries like BWIM.  A responsible candidate researches the cost of living in a church’s immediate community and the average compensation for similar positions in that context.

Just in case the committee has not done this homework, the prepared candidate can provide them with the data.  It may feel brash to you, but it also shows preparedness and the use of objective, third-party research.  You will not appear self-serving as much as you will seem knowledgeable and prepared.  Think of this as prevention of future complications and a way to ease the negotiations.

If the church is ready to talk compensation with you, there is a strong chance you are their preferred candidate.  This means you are negotiating from a position of strength.  They want what you offer and want to know what it will take for them to secure your services.

Candidates should have in mind a range of what is acceptable compensation based on these factors.  As with most negotiations, you will start at your high end because you can usually negotiate downward easier than upward.  Their first offer will be close to their floor, not their ceiling.  Be ready to say, “No, that would not be responsible to my family.” Be ready to hear, “Sorry, we are not prepared to provide what you requested.”

Most search committees are willing to consider variations on how the compensation package is divided as long as it does not violate their bottom line.  Knowing what you consider negotiable can make all the difference.  If you show flexibility regarding the duties, they are more likely to be flexible on the compensation.

Finally, as a matter of course, provide a Minister-Church Agreement which delineates the general terms of the call, including compensation.  The American Baptist Ministers Council’s template is downloadable. This provides protection for the church and the minister by putting in writing the understandings upon hire.  You will also find other basic and free documents at this site.

If you need to boost your confidence as a negotiator, re-read Fisher & Ury’s 1981 classic Getting to Yes and its sequels.  You may discover how many of the skills you already use every day making simple decisions.  For your own sake and the well-being of those who will follow you in ministry, be firm and use every tool at your disposal.

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