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
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
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
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.