Do Women Have to Be Twice as Good as Men?

2 comments Written on March 30th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Rev. Corrie Gustafson is 1 of 11 pastors who lead Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California. She serves as the ACCW board liaison for the Pacific Southwest Conference. Check out her blog at pastorwithapurse.com

corrie gThere’s a belief out there that women in ministry have to be twice as good as men to succeed. Here’s what that looks like.

Some women feel they can’t begin to succeed because they can’t get a church to hire them. I’ve seen men make easy transitions from the business world to ministry, but not women. Women talk about needing resumes that are twice as strong as their male counterparts to get noticed by search committees. How can they put heavy-weight experiences on a resume if churches won’t hire them?

For women who have paid ministry positions, the idea of success seems linked to career advancement. This could mean going from a part-time position to a full-time position; getting to preach more often; having their work affirmed through a raise or added responsibility; or moving from an entry-level position into a lead or senior pastor role. I’ve watched for years as men get “head-hunted” for senior positions. I’ve never once heard of this happening for a woman.

Many women ministers talk about the need to have an X-factor to advance in our male-dominated field. An X-factor could be a popular blog, a published book, a PhD or DMin, being a sought-after guest speaker, or having a results-proven discipleship model. Apparently, doing good, healthy, everyday ministry doesn’t make the cut.

Do women really have to be twice as good as men to be hired, to advance, and ultimately succeed in ministry? I can tell you that certainly feels true sometimes, especially when we job search. And there are real roadblocks for women in ministry. For instance, the existence of a pay gap between men and women clergy is verifiable fact. (You can read an analysis of the data collected from the Bureau of Labor Statistics here.) But I image that the answer to this big question depends on how we measure success. And that, I think, is the underlying, systemic issue to the “twice as good” theory.

Most of the North American churches I know evaluate ministry based on numbers—how many people showed up to this program or that service; how many new converts do we have; how many people became members; by how much did the church budget increase; how many staff does the church employ? The higher the number, the more successful we deem a ministry or church. The type of pastors we hire, and how we pay and promote those pastors, are often linked to these numbers.

Does anyone else have a problem with the church—a living organism of people who belong to God—playing a numbers game?

Is anyone else concerned that the church seems to care more about growing numbers than it does about nurturing the spiritual health and maturity of the congregants we already have?

What if it’s God’s will that not all churches grow rapidly in quantity, but grow steadily in qualities like love, joy, and peace?

Shouldn’t the church be more concerned to hire stable, sincere pastors who will discern the needs of a particular church in a particular community, rather than discipleship-system toting, charismatic pastors that bump our numbers but move on to the-next-best-thing in two or three years?

Sure, we should give some weight to job titles on a resume, but shouldn’t we care more about a pastor’s character and ask about their ability to respond ethically and wisely when those messy ministry situations arise?

This is a depressing view of the church. I believe that we have more depth than what I’ve written here, or at least we are capable of more depth. But I also believe that the church is not challenging itself enough to think beyond the numbers game. What if we looked beyond what we have traditionally valued and what has worked in the past? If we do, we might see something fresh that will energize and mobilize us, and expand the kingdom of God in a new direction.

A church with a myopic vision may only grow in one dimension—it may grow in numbers, but it may not grow in depth. Church leaders with myopic vision may only look for, hire, affirm, or promote a cookie-cutter pastor—the white, married with children, extroverted, able-bodied, male pastor—feeling safe that (only) this type of pastor will build a thriving church. But that is narrow thinking.

I worry that the church’s preoccupation with measurable outcomes means we’ve lost our sacred imagination, or God’s vision, for the church. If we believe that God can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, then why are we clinging to what is “safe” and comfortable? Why are we evaluating a living organism the same way same we do an organization?

It’s this myopic vision, this preoccupation with numbers, this lack of sacred imagination in and for the church, that can create systemic injustices against ministers whom God has called to lead.

Too many American churches have little imaginative space for ministers who belong to any kind of minority group. Could we say the same for the Evangelical Covenant Church?

But if God is the Caller into ministry—if God is the Giver of each pastor’s unique story, spiritual gifts, love for the church, wisdom to interpret the scriptures, and ability to lead compassionately—then why should race, ethnicity, marital and parental status, personality, physical disability, or gender categorically deter the church from welcoming any of God’s ministers?

What if the best minister for your congregation right now is one that you’d least expect? He or she may not tick many of your expected qualifications, but they may have the qualities, character, and faith that you don’t know you need for the future God has planned for your church.

This widespread notion that women have to be twice as good as men to succeed in ministry should deeply trouble us. It should make us look long and deep at our churches to see what is driving us. Have we lost our sacred imagination? Are we using the world’s measuring sticks to build fences around the pulpit? Are we setting up women and men that God has called into ministry to fail? To grow disheartened? To compete rather than collaborate with their colleagues?

In a healthy system, in healthy churches, women don’t need to be twice as good as men to succeed in ministry. They don’t need to be super-women or super-pastors. In a healthy church, all pastors are free to be exactly who they are, and to minister in the ways God calls them. The healthy church delights in the diversity of its ministers just as it delights in the diversity of God’s creation, because a healthy church knows that God’s vision for the church is twice as good as our own.

 

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    2 comments “Do Women Have to Be Twice as Good as Men?”

    Corrie –
    Thanks so much for your words to us. I’ve been preaching this message for far too long too. Women clergy are simply asking for the same opportunities as male clergy to be obedient to call and to have a place to exercise that call well. May God use your words to remind us all of the importance of advocating and naming this places of struggle until we can make this our reality.

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