A seasoned pastor once told me, “Ministry can be broken down into two categories: difficult and more difficult.” I’m not convinced that his pessimistic outlook is entirely accurate. Still, some truth exists in this statement.
As a woman in ministry in a small community, I have certainly faced difficulties. Are the challenges that I face altogether different than those faced by my male colleagues? The answer is both a definitive, “Yes” and a resounding “No.”
One of the most significant challenges women in pastoral roles face is the battle within our own minds. A man may wrestle with a call to ministry, certainly. A woman often wrestles both with the call and with the theology associated with it. Does God really call women to preach? Am I somehow being disobedient to the scriptures by responding to the stirring of my heart?
I grew up under the impression that pastoral ministry was meant only for men. I learned from a very young age that the only church roles suitable for women were teaching Sunday School for children or serving in the kitchen. This mindset is a substantial obstacle for anyone raised in a similar setting. Women who find themselves drawn to pastoral roles must do their homework and be prepared to answer those who question her calling or refuse to sit under her preaching and leadership.
For those of us serving in small towns where tradition often trumps progress, this can be especially disheartening.
When my current congregation raised some questions about whether or not I should be allowed to preach, my senior pastor came to my defense. He preached a two-part sermon on women in ministry and advocated not just for me, but for all the women in our congregation.
In this case, the voice of our trusted senior pastor was required to calmly and gently answer the questions being raised. He presented a thorough look at Paul’s teachings on women as well as Jesus’ interactions with them. The congregation responded warmly. Although we lost a few families over this issue, I felt empowered by his effort on my behalf.
When women are empowered in pastoral ministry, we all win! Advocating for women who are gifted in preaching, teaching, and leadership can make a difference in the life of your congregation, and it just may bring freedom to a woman who is wrestling with her own calling.
If you are a man in pastoral ministry, would you advocate for your fellow ministry partners who happen to be female? Sometimes, we need our brothers to do this work of advocacy for us.
If you, like me, find yourself in a traditional community who are resistant to women in pastoral ministry, please be assured; you are not alone. God is calling women all over the globe to rise up as leaders and pastors in the church.
Challenges in ministry will always exist regardless of one’s gender or geographical location or size of congregation. The exhilarating joys and profound heartaches of ministry are par for the course for pastors everywhere. One of the greatest gifts we can give one another is encouragement and championing one another through it all.
May God’s presence be near and his voice clear in whatever you’re wrestling with. You are not alone!
Small Town USA
Vicki Esh is the associate pastor of Vineyard Church of Marysville, Marysville, Ohio. Prior to this position, she planted in the small town of Urbana, Ohio as well as in the inner city of Reading, Pennsylvania. She and her husband, Conrad, are raising their 3 teenage daughters in their adopted home town of Marysville. Vicki enjoys strong coffee, dark chocolate, and long conversations.
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