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Women in Ministry

By Wendy Kittlitz

I have been doing some research for several months with the goal of adding a section to the Clergy Care website specifically for women in ministry. Along the way, I have discovered several interesting things.

First, one must define what one means by the term "women in ministry." In some circles, this means "women who are pastors." In others, it means "women who minister to women." In yet others, it refers primarily to "wives of pastors." Another emerging area is "Christian women who are in leadership in various occupations: business, the arts, parachurch ministries, etc." You can begin to appreciate the dilemma I am facing in deciding which of these areas to focus on.

In truth, my original intent was to focus on the first group. This is, after all, the Clergy Care Network. Our mission is first and foremost to clergy and their families. My personal experience, and many stories from other women, suggest that women in pastoral positions find little support and/or respect for their positions of service. It is my goal to provide some of this support. However, as I have wrestled and researched, I have come to a couple of conclusions.

One is that women are not the same as men. Brilliant insight, right? The implication of this is simply that we need to acknowledge that, for many reasons, women in ministry are a diverse group with diverse needs and what we offer for men may not be as applicable to women. Much of it will be relevant, but a significant portion will not. Also, women wrestle with different issues in ministry. In many settings, not all, women are still caught in an ambiguity about their role. Some feel affirmed in what they do, while others do not. That is a tension that most of our male colleagues do not face.

Another conclusion I have reached is that maybe I don't need to draw a rigid distinction between the various groups of women in ministry. Women fill many roles in the home (wife, mother, homemaker, chauffeur, chef, referee, etc.) as well as in the church (volunteer, paid staff, missionary, pastor's wife) and we have a remarkable ability to keep many balls in the air at once. In my own experience, I have shifted over my adult lifetime in and out of paid and volunteer roles in the church, and in and out of leadership positions depending upon many factors. But I have pretty consistently been a woman in leadership, though not always in a paid pastoral position. This is quite different from my male colleagues, who are less often required to transition between roles and identities.

Let me illustrate this with one example. A multi-staff church in our area has recently faced a serious short-fall in giving. The leadership team took a serious look at reducing staffing costs, realizing that five staff salaries were now beyond their budget. The male staff members each took a 10% roll-back in their wages while a female staffer had her position cut in half. The strong likelihood is that the church will continue to get virtually the same service from this woman whose commitment and giftedness for ministry is strong; she will cut back a little, but will almost certainly put in additional unpaid hours in order to serve the people she was committed to serving.

Now, do I say any of this to denigrate men? Not at all! I point it out simply to illustrate that women face unique challenges and experiences in their journey of ministry. That is the point. The purpose of this new feature of the Clergy Care Network is to honour what women are doing in ministry. We will focus primarily on women who are in pastoral ministry, but will be a little more fluid about who fits that category, because we acknowledge that the reality in women's lives in the church is that their roles are more fluid.

This section will feature a variety of articles written by and/or about women in ministry. It will also provide a list of resources for women in leadership.

You may be curious about Focus on the Family's position on this issue. Let me quote from a response of Dr. Dobson's on this question:

The ordination of women is an issue on which Christian believers from varying denominations do not agree; even within the ranks of the Focus staff opinions vary widely. For this reason, when we established an outreach to pastors, we thought it appropriate to design a program capable of supporting the entire Body of Christ, including those who see no scriptural reason to oppose the ordination of women pastors. The language employed in the relevant publications simply reflects this decision, then - to minister to all who minister.

In light of your candid remarks, you may find it interesting to know that there are church denominations that have recognized women in leadership positions for decades - since the 1800's - even before the women's liberation movement. They have interpreted the passages in Timothy against the background of the culture for that particular locality and period of time. (Undoubtedly, this is partly attributable to other Biblical passages that refer to prophetesses favorably.) Therefore, as alluded to above, we do not believe it would be in keeping with our ministry focus to exclude those women who have been recognized within their own churches. Since some are pastors, we feel our materials should be made available to them in the same spirit and mind-set that prompted Paul to pen: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

We welcome any and all feedback. If you are a woman in ministry and would like to contribute in any way to this discussion, feel free to write and tell us what you think, what you need and/or what you might like to share. We want to make this relevant and helpful to you!

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