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Evangelical Women and Pastoral Ministry

For (too) many evangelicals, this title contains a contradiction, if not an outright scandal: Evangelical women are not supposed to engage in pastoral ministry—or, at least, not outside the spheres of “women’s ministry” and “children’s ministry” . . . and counseling, and music, and Christian education…

Clearly, then, the pastoral ministry to which we are referring just now is the “ministry of Word and Sacrament,” as it is sometimes put: preaching and leading worship, and providing shepherding to the congregation as a whole. And the question I’d like to ask you is this: Does it seem to you to be difficult and rare for women to find work in such roles, as 2013 gives way to 2014? Are the relatively few pastoral studies programs offered by evangelical schools that do train women (whether a small program such as ours at Regent or a big program such as Fuller’s), plus the other programs that train evangelical women in a pluralistic context (such as Princeton Seminary), in fact graduating most of these women into frustration?

Women with such skills have always served valuably in the church, but they have often had to improvise, compromise, and otherwise (!) find or make places in structures that tend to exclude or subordinate them. For any particular woman, God may well have a sociological miracle in mind, placing her in a situation that normally would not be open to a woman (such as a church desperately in need of a senior pastor and hiring one of the women on staff to fill that role). But most women need to face the normal social facts and plan their lives accordingly.

Parachurch and missionary ministries, of course, have long been places where women could minister in ways identical to pastoring in (evangelical) churches that forbid such ministry (as an early article of mine points out, referring to the former as the “parachurch parenthesis” and the latter as the “missionary exception”). Working at one of these organizations, moreover, then gives a women the regular income + the social status (“What do you do?” “I’m ___ at ___”) that provides a foundation for local church ministry without having to be a (full-time, fully salaried) pastor.

In poorer parts of the world, someone interested in pastoral work has to be a “tentmaker” or “bivocational,” whether female or male.  I fear that that’s what a lot of women who, if they were men, would be hired as full-time pastors, still need to be…if they are to remain within the evangelical ambit, rather than seeking a church in a pluralistic or liberal denomination. And, further along this line, I wonder if church-planting initiatives among evangelical churches tend to be restricted to male leaders (or husband-and-wife teams), so that even the “missionary-minded” woman has to go overseas to be supported in work for which she is gifted and would prefer to do here at home.

But is that the best advice someone like me can give to the many outstanding women among the students and alumnae of Regent College interested in pastoral work?

What is your perspective? Do any of you know of actual “placement data” from evangelical schools or denominations that are open to women in these traditional roles of pastoral leadership? Are there good articles or books on this subject?

Are we training too many women for too few jobs?


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