Church researchers and consultants have almost universally stated that the post-Covid church will never be the same as the pre-Covid church.
Virtual church and activities will not be going away even after we are all vaccinated. The shape of committees and church governance will be altered to reflect a different mode of living. And, unfortunately, for many churches, the financial impact of Covid will not disappear overnight.
In this age of churches needing to adapt to new models of ministry on leaner budgets, an overriding theme that I have identified in commentary about the future of church staffing is the need for many churches to adopt a bi-vocational or co-vocational model for its ministry leadership.
For example, one article told the story of a congregation which made the change to a part-time minister and found financial freedom from the burden of funding a salary and benefits so that they were able to make necessary repairs to their building and invest in their local food pantry.
Certainly, co-vocational models are an option, and ones that might be advantageous for some congregations and how they continue to adapt their ministry, but widespread shifts from full-time to part-time ministry roles will have considerable impact on women.
First, women are already disadvantaged in the ministry job search process. When a woman’s resume is considered alongside a man’s, even if she has equal education and experience, research demonstrates that unconscious bias may influence those hiring to view the male candidate more favorably than the woman (Lipman, That’s What She Said, 84, 105-06). Therefore, with less full-time jobs and more candidates for every position, women’s progress in leadership within the church could be affected.
Second, it has been suggested that some churches may turn to “retired” pastors for their part-time ministry needs since these pastors, while experienced in ministry, do not need the same level of income. But in Baptist life, there are very few (some to be sure, but few) women who have concluded a career in pastoral ministry. Ministers who are currently retiring likely started their careers in the 1970s or 1980s—a time not known for abounding opportunities for women in ministry among Baptists.
Third, many women who have children are already co-vocational even if they have full-time jobs. In 2018, a study estimated that on average women spend an additional 9 hours a week on childcare and housework than men spend (Lipman, That’s What She Said, 25-26). So if a woman feels called to ministry she will have to consider a part-time ministry job, in addition to finding another part-time job to pay the bills so that she can continue to fulfill her calling of ministry, while still performing her part-time job at home.
Moreover, it is a common refrain among anyone who has been employed in ministry less than full time, “Part-time ministry never means part-time hours, only part-time pay.” When a church member calls in the middle of the night, the part-time minister is faced with the difficult decision: protect her ability to continue ministering by not overworking herself though potentially angering the person who helps pay her bills, or work more than her allotted 20 hours a week for which she receives some level of compensation (though likely less than a man would receive for the same 20 hours per the gender pay gap). More often than not, she chooses the latter and quickly becomes burned out.
None of those potential impacts seem like positive steps toward elevating women’s voices and leadership in Baptist churches.
But before we throw in the towel, I have a few suggestions for how we might embrace necessary change and think creatively, while not sacrificing the goal of a Galatians 3:28 church in which we are all one in Christ Jesus, a church in which all people and their gifts are valued.
First, begin having conversations in your church now, before the need to move ministers to part-time is immediate, about developing co-vocational programs among your congregation. Are there any business owners in your congregation that might be able to provide reasonable co-vocational employment to ministers? Employment that can provide benefits, have flexible scheduling, and be attentive to the needs of the minister’s family? Being able to offer a minister the equivalent of a full-time job, even if it is comprised of a couple of jobs in which both employers are aware of the needs of each, can help offset the strain of needing to look for additional work and support the minister’s overall ability to thrive.
Second, help your congregational leaders understand that looking for a part-time minister among those who are retired does not simply mean looking for a retired male senior pastor. A woman who has retired from other church staff roles, or even from another field such as counseling, teaching, or non-profit organizational work, may bring fresh energy and creativity to the ministry of your congregation out of her diverse experience.
Third, consider employing virtual part-time ministers who are women. In the new age of the virtual church, perhaps the field of potential ministers for your congregation does not have to be limited to women who can move to the location of your congregation. Virtual ministers can develop and run virtual programming, provide pastoral care virtually, participate in virtual worship leadership, and assist in the overall administration of the church. Seminary students who are women might be perfect for such a role.
Finally, and most importantly, continually emphasize the importance of the equal leadership of women and men throughout your congregation. If we only talk about the value of women’s gifts and leadership when we are in a moment of church staffing transition, then the message is that it is really not that important in the day-to-day ministry of the church.
Regularly demonstrate and discuss the fact that your church will better thrive when the voices, perspectives, and experiences of all people are valued, affirmed, and celebrated. When a consistent message of equality permeates your church’s culture, then a present-day challenge will not be able to overpower your congregation’s expression of Christ’s beloved community.
If you have other ideas about how BWIM can help congregations prepare for post-Covid shifts without sacrificing a commitment to elevating women in ministry, we would love to hear from you. We are anticipating that our work at BWIM will only grow in the years ahead and we value your partnership.
Meredith Stone is executive director at Baptist Women in Ministry.