The past few weeks I have talked with several recent seminary graduates who are searching for their first full-time ministry position. July has been a hard month for them. Graduation is now history, two months have passed, and the cloud of unemployment or underemployment hovers around them every day. Waiting is so hard. Rejection is painful. The roller coaster of emotions is unsettling. Talking about the feelings seems to help–and so in these conversations I mostly listen.
The one feeling that we as ministers are slow to confess even to ourselves during the search process is jealousy. We surely don’t want to confess that we are envious or resentful. That doesn’t sound very ministerial. But the truth is that jealousy is often our close companion–as we look for a new ministry position and sometimes even when we are not looking.
Back in March I preached at the Baptist Women in Ministry of North Carolina Convocation, and I told a story that struck a nerve with many of those present. It went like this:
When I became executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry eight years ago, one of the first things I did was to launch a blog. We started slow but over the years the BWIM blog has grown into a weekly enterprise with two or three posts each week.
A few years back we ran a series that we titled “Dear Addie.” People emailed us questions about finances, job searches, surviving deacon’s meetings, and we had several seasoned, wise women ministers who answered those questions—we called those wise women Addie . . . after a woman most beloved in BWIM circles, the first woman to be ordained to the gospel ministry by a Southern Baptist church: Addie Davis.
One of the questions we received was this:
In the last few months I have watched as women ministers that I know and that I love have been called by churches, and I am so happy for them. But I am also so jealous of them. I love my current ministry position and don’t want to leave it, but I keep thinking… “That could have been me. I could do that job. I am as qualified as they are.” I didn’t even put my name out for these church positions, and to be honest, I don’t really even want to have those positions, and yet I feel so jealous. I hate feeling this way! What should I do?
-Signed Green with Envy
A honest woman minister confessing her jealousy. Sound familiar? Well the question sounds very familiar to me, because . . . I wrote it! Yes, I wrote this question to Dear Addie. I was green with envy. A friend I knew and loved had been called as pastor of a church—and instead of rejoicing, I was resentful and angry and jealous.
Maybe the question sounds familiar to you as well. The truth is that we all struggle with jealousy at times, even ministers! But I think jealousy is especially problematic for Baptist women ministers. The pool of ministry positions open to women in Baptist life is still too small, and women all too often compete against other women for those few prized church opening. In so many ways we as Baptist women ministers are set up to resent each other, to be jealous—because our sisters are our chief competitors.
That day at the BWIM of North Carolina Convocation, I confessed my struggle with envy out loud to all those in the sanctuary. It was a freeing moment in many ways. But also left me feeling vulnerable and exposed. Near the end of my sermon I made another confession: I wrote that question to Dear Addie, and then I wrote Addie’s answer. (Yes, I occasionally was Addie).
Here is the advice I gave myself:
Dear GWE (Green with Envy),
Your honesty is refreshing. We Baptist women ministers too often do not admit, even to ourselves, that we are envious or that we struggle with anger, and even fewer of us will speak about those feelings. But I suspect that most every woman who serves in ministry has experienced such feelings. So what should we do with them?
Acknowledging the dilemma is a great place to start. Realize that we live in a competitive society. From childhood, we were taught that winning, achieving, and succeeding are valued. We learned and were often told that “beating out” others somehow made us better. Those lessons are not easily forgotten—even if we are now adults and are called to be ministers of the gospel who are expected to love everyone, to work for justice, and to treat all others with kindness.
Add to the already disturbing complexity of living in a competitive society is the reality that in our Baptist world positions available to women are more limited than they are for men. As women, we often compete against each other—sometimes against our closest friends—for the few spots that are available, and because of the smallness of our Baptist community, we generally know exactly which women are applying for the same positions for which we have applied. We know the names of the other women “on the short list.” Whether it is fair or not, whether it is healthy or not, we are pitted against each other to vie for those coveted places of service. While this reality is true for Baptist men as well, their opportunities tend to be wider and deeper than those of Baptist women.
So some practical advice:
Give voice to your feelings. Admitting to yourself and perhaps even confessing to a few close and trusted friends will help you begin to more readily recognize these feelings and be able to understand what is happening when jealousy creeps up unexpectedly on you.
Refocus your jealousy into positive thoughts and actions. Refocusing will help you slowly move away from those feelings. Remind yourself that you are HAPPY, that you are CELEBRATING with your women friends who have been called to new positions. Tell your friends and colleagues the news. Say it out loud, “I am so thrilled for her. She is a gifted minister, and this church will be blessed by her leadership.” Send her a note, an email, a text—expressing your support.
Cultivate habits that preempt jealousy. Become a strong supporter of your sisters in ministry by encouraging their work. Be proactive in sharing good news about their accomplishments, their successes. Offer to be a reference for those seeking a position. Write letters of gratitude for your women minister friends to their supervisors or congregations. Speak out on their behalf when you hear critical words or jealous words from others.
Finally, hold on to the truth that to be the body of Christ in all its fullness, we need each other. We need our sisters in ministry. They are a vital component of our journey, and jealousy robs us of healthy relationships with them.
Blessings on you in your journey!
Somewhere in the midst of confessing my jealousy to Addie and writing Addie’s advice to me, I found peace. My jealousy didn’t fade completely but telling Addie helped, and searching for practical ways to address my own resentment also helped. “They” say that confession is good for the soul. If that is true, my soul is good for a while.
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.