Friday, February 15, 2013

Where are all the women pastors?

by Dr. Tim Moore

When I was in seminary 25 years ago women were in the majority of my school’s student population.  While I knew that Andover Newton’s northeast location made those numbers more female friendly compared to most seminaries and divinity schools across the country, I still felt I was witnessing the beginning of a great shift in the American church.  I imagined that by the time I crossed over into my 50’s women would be pastoring churches by the same numbers they were sharing seats in my seminary classrooms.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.  It’s been a trickle, not a shift.

Churches send their daughters to seminary and divinity schools.  They brag on them before the whole congregation.  Ask them to guest preach the Sunday after Easter.  They gladly ordain them into ministry.  They just don’t call one of their daughters to be pastor.

And these are the “progressive” congregations who will consider women for clergy positions.

Of course the Catholic Church still refuses to consider female priests and evangelical congregations remain opposed to female pastors (that’s a-whole-nother blog), but recently even the Church of England failed to approve a measure allowing women to become bishops.  And while women pastors are no longer a rarity in mainline Protestant denominations, they are often segregated to small congregations that can no longer afford to pay “a man.”

Where are all the women pastors?

Called but not recognized.  Ordained but not placed.  Affirmed but underemployed.

First, this was the mainline church’s shame, now it is part of it’s undoing.  Today’s young adults have little patience for a Church that preaches one thing and practices another.  They are leaving in droves.  The hypocrisy about women in ministry is just one of our preach-but-don’t-practice problems.

The Festival of Homiletics is possibly the premier preaching conference in the country.  To its credit keynote speakers annually include the likes of Barbara Brown Taylor, Anna Carter Florence, Lillian Daniel, Lauren Winner, Barbara Lundblad, and more.  They are some of the best preachers in the country, who also happen to be women.  But most of them work in jobs other than as a pastor to a church.  Since this is not true for the male preachers at the conference, I don’t think it is a coincidence.

The sexist questions about a woman’s competency for the role have long been answered.  The Biblical question about a woman’s place in the role has long been answered for mainline churches.

So, what will it take for congregations to more frequently call women to be pastors?

I’ve shared my duties as one of the pastors at Sardis Baptist Church over the years with two talented and exceptional female pastors and currently meet with a lectionary group of gifted colleagues where at times I’m the only male pastor in the room.  (In that way I’m living into my seminary experience.)  My friends are the fortunate ones.  Having been given the opportunity to pastor, they excel.  But recently I was in a conversation about vocational futures with one of them and she said, “It must be nice to feel like you have numerous possibilities.”  The words stung a bit, but they made me realize how much my long-term pastorate has been a privileged choice and not a vocational necessity.

What has been your experience?  Am I too pessimistic?  Is there more than a trickle of openness to calling women as pastors (and not just as minister to youth or children)?  What specifically should male clergy be doing for their female colleagues?  Or would such good intentions be counterproductive?

Tim Moore is the pastor of Sardis Baptist Church in Charlotte. This article originally appeared on his blog, Abelard's Workshop.


  1. Here in NC, there are Baptist churches that are still "ex-communicated" from their associations for calling women preachers (cf Flat Rock Baptist Church in Mt. Airy). If we are "truly" Baptist, then what are we doing telling others who they can and cannot call as pastor? I think another issue is education and empowering the lay-persons, who are, after all, the ones serving on the pastor search committees. Open and honest conversations, (perhaps led by the current pastor in preparation for when he moves on?) with the church members about what the Bible really says about this, what it says about standing up for truth no matter what others say, for courage to move forward, etc. I attend the wonderful CBF Assemblies and feel SO supported, but I am baffled by the lack of females as lead pastors, as well. I think there are 150 Baptist lead pastors in the US (per Pam Durso's count last summer).

    Thanks for bringing this up...and keep the conversation going!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Rachel, and thanks for speaking out about issues regarding women in ministry! Blessings, Laura