All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us. (Hebrews 11:39-40, NLT)
In the words of the late Elton Trueblood, every generation has the bittersweet task of “planting shade trees under which we know full well we shall never sit.” To plant those trees with joy or resentment is a choice. At times, pride, pain, regret, and bitterness prevent persons, even those with a wealth of wisdom and experience, from helping others who are coming after.
If we are honest, realizing and accepting that some ceilings will not be broken during our lifetime is painful. As women in ministry, we are still blazing trails. Yet we as women can take the proverbial mallet in our hands, determine to join together, and beat upon the glass ceiling to make a million cracks. We must decide that the hardships have been endured will not embitter us but instead will embolden us to help bring about change. Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston once declared, “Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at de sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.” (87)
Recently, I was privileged to moderate a panel discussion. In response to the question, “What can we do to get beyond the struggles we as women have embracing and supporting one another?” one panelist wisely suggested that we can begin to speak with girls about the importance of encouraging, affirming, loving, and supporting one another. If we plant and nurture those seeds in girls, maybe we can grow a generation of women who will embrace and lift one another, rather than tearing one another down. The unfortunate post script to the recommendation, however, was, “maybe it is too late for this generation.”
Another panelist shared how the lay women in her home church, who opposed female ordination, filed a law suit against the church and its pastor because women (including herself) were scheduled to be ordained.
For a variety of reasons, women are often the “barrier keepers” when it comes to female clergy becoming senior pastors. While women opposed to female pastors may think their theology supports their resistance, pastors, other factors that are less evident may be at play. For some women, the male pastor is the only man in their lives. He is the only man for whom they can bake a cake or a pie. They may relish the authoritativeness of his voice, or cherish how proud he makes them feel as he represents them in the larger community. They appreciate the male pastor as a role model for their sons, especially for those young men who may not have a father figure at home. The male pastor makes them feel safe and satisfied psychologically. (35-36)
While these and other obstacles may appear formidable, hope still springs eternal. Through positive examples, advocacy from respected women and men, excellence and preparedness on the part of female clergy, prayer, and faith, God can carry us beyond the stained glass ceiling. With hope and confidence, we as women in ministry can choose to model grace, encouragement, and affirmation, and we can support other women coming along.
Healing will not happen overnight. Doors will not fling open immediately. The cracked ceiling may not shatter and fall rapidly, but together, we will break through in God’s time. Let us not grow weary in well doing. There is still time for us!
Chris Smith is pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, Wickliffe, Ohio, and is author of Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors, which is available from Judson Press. Chris blogs at ShePastor.
Quotes are from Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling.