This week I attended a presentation about the prospect of employment for women after graduating from seminary. The findings, which only reflected my particular school, were still pretty discouraging–only a small percentage of women who obtain a Masters of Divinity are able to find full-time jobs in ministry. The study represented a very limited sample (which is why I haven’t cited the exact percentages here–they’re not necessarily representative of the larger population), but I have heard similar statistics in the past. What surprised me about this particular study, however, was the finding that marriage can increase a woman’s odds for employment. Women from my school are much more likely to get hired if they’re married, all because of the life experience they offer. Single women, on the other hand, are perceived as having much less to offer in the way of ministry…minus their Masters degree in ministry and Biblical studies, of course. 🙂
These statistics are a real eye-opener for how the church values the leadership of singles (both male and female). Some churches won’t even hire men as pastors if they aren’t married. Aside from the fact that Jesus and Paul were single, I understand that churches have their reasons for these standards, so that is a discussion for another day. What I want to focus on today, however, is what this state of affairs indicates about the direction of women’s ministries in our country.
First, let’s zoom out and consider the leadership of the church at-large. In particular, consider what the leadership team of a church communicates about the church’s heart. The theology, vision, and direction of a ministry staff say a lot about a church, but so do their race, gender, education, and background. For instance, a multi-ethnic church staff is likely to place a strong value on the diversity in the Body of Christ. A church in which few leaders have attended seminary but many of them have experience as leaders in the secular workplace might promote a business model of church leadership. I could go on, but suffice it to say that the face of your leadership says a lot about what you value as a church or ministry.
With that principle in mind, consider the following statistic: According to a 2008 study conducted by Revive Our Hearts ministry of 900 women’s ministry directors, approximately 1% had attended seminary. Although only 15% of these women were actually paid employees, there is still a clear discrepancy between the number of women who are leading women’s ministries and the number of women with any sort of ministry education.
In addition to the great absence of advanced educational degrees, the Revive Our Hearts survey found that the second most common characteristic of women’s directors is that they are married (90%) and the third most common characteristics is that they are moms (72%). These statistics are surprising given that women constitute one third of students in seminary, and the number of single women in the church is only a third less than the number of married women. Clearly the characteristics of the average women’s director is not representative of the diversity of women in the church.
What these characteristics do represent are the priorities of women’s ministries. When it comes to leadership, the vast majority of women’s ministries value life experience (particularly marriage and motherhood) over Biblical proficiency and ministerial training. That is not to say that women without a seminary education are unqualified to lead–by no means! God’s ministry through the twelve disciples guards us against such academic arrogance. We need women of all backgrounds and experience (most certainly wives and mothers!) contributing to the growth of our churches. However, most churches expect their pastors to go to seminary, and they have good reasons for doing so. Why is our standard for women in leadership so incredibly different?
Experience is indeed an important part of being a good leader. But experience does not a Biblical teacher make. I fear these statistics reflect a preference for teachers who tell funny anecdotes about diaper blow-outs or share the same frustrations in marriage and parenting, over women with a solid knowledge of Scripture and theology. If we begin with our common life experience and then turn to Scripture for advice, we are not teaching women how to read the Bible in a responsible way. We are not equipping women with the skills to study God’s Word and then teach it to others.
When choosing leaders and teachers for your ministry, think carefully about how your choices reflect upon the direction of your group. Make sure these women are first and foremost students of God’s Word (seminary grads or not). They must be Biblical teachers who begin with God’s Word, and then look to experience. Your teachers may be young or old, single or married, but Scripture has the power to bridge the gaps that are often created by our wide array of life experiences. It is the Gospel, not our common life experience, that unites us. Does your ministry reflect this truth?