In late January, Dr. John Piper argued that if the Bible doesn't permit women to be pastors, then they also shouldn’t be seminary professors. As an Assemblies of God minister, I’m shaking my head and asking: are we still having this conversation?
The Assemblies of God is a Pentecostal fellowship of churches. Pentecostals believe that God poured out his spirit on both men and women at Pentecost, inspiring both sons and daughters to prophesy (cf. Acts 2:16-8; Joel 2:28-29). We believe Scripture indicates women’s inclusion in the ministries of the new covenant age. Not only do we not have a theological problem with women in ministry in my denomination, but we fully embrace them.
But do we really embrace women in ministry? Do we hire them for teaching and executive leadership positions or do we throw up roadblocks and excuses for not passing the pastoral mantle to women?
I’ve observed that some of our best and brightest women have few options for upward movement from children and youth ministry, or after they return from the mission field—even in denominations that ordain women. Many women go into children’s ministry simply because they don’t have other options. But if we really believe that women should be in ministry, then the question becomes: why don't we see more women in executive and teaching ministry roles?
The philosophical usually plays out in the practical. And nothing is more practical than money.
Labor Economics for Women in Ministry
Here are two economic principles that help explain the absence of women in leadership positions in the church, and even in churches that ordain women: Taste-Based Discrimination and Time Value of Money (TVM). Taste-Based Discrimination is discrimination against a group of people that leads to inefficient allocation of economic resources to that group. Time Value of Money (TVM) is the idea that money available at a present time is worth more than the same amount in the future due to its potential earning capacity. I realize economic language can seem a little complex, but I’ll break it down.
Let’s take a look at the brutal economic reality and gender discrimination experienced by a hypothetical woman in ministry over a ten year period. We’ll apply these two economic principles over a decade of projected work life/income.
This is a potential Time Value of Money (TVM) trajectory for a female pastor, based on what I hear from other lead pastors. This is also where we see the insidious narrative of structural sin.
"Well, I'd hire a woman but I can't find a woman that is qualified."
Age 22—Called and Educated
A single (unmarried), female pastor is called to ministry. She earns a BA in ministry, but then can't find a job. Why? It's not that she's unqualified. She is just as qualified for an entry level ministry position as her male counterparts with BAs. It's because a forty-something, male lead pastor believes it's not "appropriate" to mentor a twenty-something, female pastor.
Age 28—Called, Educated, and Not Mentored
Fast forward a few years. Because our called female pastor can't find a paid position with a BA, she goes to seminary and earns an advanced degree. Yet, she still can't find a job because she is educated but has very little real and/or paid ministry experience.
A male, forty-five or fifty-something lead pastor says, "She’s educated, but she doesn't have the professional experience we need." She's passed over for an associate role.
What's really going on here? Many male lead pastors will say they don't feel "comfortable" hiring a twenty-eight year-old female with an MDiv. But when a male pastor cites “uncomfortableness” as the reason he won’t hire a female candidate, what’s often really at play is his own insecurity at the idea of mentoring a woman that is younger and more educated than him.
This is where we see Taste-Based Discrimination in labor economics.
Our fifty year-old lead pastor believes he would not be the "right person" to mentor an under-thirty, female pastor. He uses words like "uncomfortable," "inappropriate," "not the right fit," and other soft and polite language. He practically justifies the non-hire because the female pastor doesn't have the experience to win the post. He doesn’t recognize his own bias or consider the reason the female candidate might not have as much “experience” as a male candidate.
Age 33—Called, Educated, Not Mentored, and Unemployed
A decade has passed, and now the real TVM labor economic issue comes to bear. She can't find a job in ministry, so she goes to earn a DMin, thinking: Who wouldn't hire Dr. Me? Now she's a thirty-three year-old, possibly married with preschoolers. She holds an MDiv/DMin and has volunteer but no paid ministry experience.
So then a sixty-something lead pastor says, "Well, she's educated but 'young in ministry' with no paid experience.” She’s also now over-qualified and “too old” for an associate pastor role.
Now she’s ten years (TVM) down the ministry road and, since she never obtained paid ministry experience, she can't compete for a post that pays $50,000-60,000. If she could win a post, she can't afford to take that $28,000 entry level salary because she has student loans and perhaps also a family. Reality sets in. She lacks ministry experience, especially paid ministry experience. She’s loaded with educational debt. More importantly, she doesn’t have mentors and therefore, networking ability.
What happens now?
She becomes a "consultant" and "speaker." She never really fulfils the pastoral calling God has put in her heart. But she has a great blog.
Female Pastoral Career Reality Check
Now, let's ask the obvious: why didn’t our hypothetical female pastor’s career ever take off?
Well frankly, it's because our hypothetical male lead pastor engaged in a Taste-Based Discrimination practice known as the "Billy Graham" rule. Our male pastor hid behind the "Billy Graham Rule" for a lifetime, all in the name of holiness. Justified or unjustified, he’s allowed his own bias to obstruct the careers of female pastors.
He will never hire a younger woman, nor a woman who is more educated than him. And he’ll justify it because those women don’t have professional paid ministry experience. Moreover, he’ll defend his action, citing a desire to "avoid the appearance of evil" (I Thess. 5:22).
Our talented female pastor is now pushing forty. She’s never had space and freedom to discover "God's will for her life." She’s never been mentored. She’s never been hired. She’s over-educated, in debt, and working as a "consultant and speaker."
A result of systemic sin.
And yet, this happens to women in ministry all the time.
What can we do about this? Here's a few thoughts, mainly for male church leaders and pastors who theoretically support women in ministry:
- Interrogate your own response to women pastor candidates. Are your concerns legitimate? Are they informed by what you know about systemic bias and Taste-Based Discrimination?
- Understand and trust that most women pastors are not predators or threats; acknowledge that it’s wrong to treat them that way.
- Be comfortable and confident in your own marriage (if married) and make sure your sexuality is in a healthy place before mentoring anyone else or serving as a spiritual leader/counselor.
- Ask a team of spiritually mature Boomer/Gen X women to mentor younger women pastors on any issues that you aren’t equipped to advise on: sexuality; how to break the glass ceiling; pregnancy and motherhood; etc. Use common sense, respect boundaries, and don’t speak on topics you experientially can’t understand.
- Don’t make a fuss about riding in a car with a female pastor. It’s offensive and demeaning to assume that her femaleness makes car-pooling dangerous/taboo.
- Work in teams with other women; intentionally point young women pastors who you’re mentoring toward other professional role models who are female.
- Don't be stupid. Leave the doors open in your office. Meet in public places. Don't get in a hot tub. Exercise non-discriminatory and reasonable caution.
- Most of all, ask any young women you’re mentoring what they feel comfortable with: "Would it be okay if we went/did ______?” Let her say "Yes” or “No." Empower her by giving her an opportunity to articulate what she needs to feel safe and respected.
- I should not have to say this one, but: simply respect and treat her like the professional that she is.
- Pray for her, like you would any person who has been entrusted to you and who looks to you for spiritual guidance.
Let’s all work a little harder to ensure that a pastoral career is actually an option for gifted and called women in the church.