Many of the female ministers I know have an “and” in their title. When I was the convener of women in ministry peer groups for Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, I heard this story over and over again. I am a minister and . . . . I teach school . . . . I work retail . . . . I teach a class at the community college . . . . I am a mom. Female ministers, particularly Baptist ones, tend to be underemployed. My story reflects that.
I graduated seminary and was ordained in 1994. In the past seventeen years, I have worked in full time salaried ministry for four years. I have been employed in ministry full time for only 24 percent of my career. This leaves 76 percent of my career as a minister “and” a ______. I have served a church as a part time children’s minister and worked part time in retail. I served a church full time as a Minister of Education and Youth. I have worked for a temp agency. I worked professional part time with TN CBF for seven years and I was an on call chaplain. And for the past four years, I have been the at home parent as well as blog writer, pulpit supply preacher, Sunday school teacher, and school volunteer. Most of my career has not been what I expected upon graduation from seminary.
As a new minister, I envisioned working on church staff in education, children and youth. I expected to juggle kids, day care, and church programming. That has not been the case for me. But my story is not unique because full time, salaried ministry is not the norm for many women ministers. Female ministers tend to have an “and” ______ in their title. That is just the way it is.
We can embrace the “and” ______ because there is a rich tradition of bi-vocational ministry. Ministers who serve in positions outside of a church or ministry setting have a broader base of friends and life experiences. It is valuable to be “in the real world” because it connects you to your congregants. However, it is difficult to embrace being underemployed when you have the same degree and training as your male colleague who is in full time, salaried ministry. There is certainly an inequality there. I don’t like it, but this is reality.
So what if you (like me) are an underemployed minister? Well, first, value what you do and acknowledge it as ministry. I am the parent of two girls. I do laundry, help with homework, and shuttle kids to after school events. I teach Sunday School. I volunteer at the elementary school. And I write for BWIM. All of these roles embody ministry. I am not less valuable because I do not have a title or a paycheck. Coming to peace with the minister “and” ______ takes time. It has taken me four years. The second way I deal with being underemployed is I look for open doors. When Pam asked me to write for BWIM, I agreed. I get energy from being connected to other people in ministry. I grow my faith by writing about God in my life. I walked through the open door. And finally I have resolved not to despair over my underemployed status. I know my ministry will not look like this forever because the “and” _______ is constantly changing.
I don’t know what my ministry will look like next year or even in five years. As my kids get older, will I pastor a church? Will I complete my training as spiritual director and work with spiritual friends? I don’t know what the next open door will be but I do expect I will always be a minister “and” a ______.
Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.