Why would the Christian community reject or fail to support well-trained female ministers when the apparent need for ministers is so great throughout the world? The Barna Research group has investigated gender differences in the American population. Among their findings women are more likely than men to read the Bible, attend church, pray, be born again, believe the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings, and describe themselves as “deeply spiritual.” Historically, women have been the backbone of churches. It is only logical that women would desire to attend seminary as a means of better equipping themselves for ministry. Because of the advances women have made in the non-church culture, however, women now expect the same level of respect, compensation, and leadership opportunities afforded men with similar training.
Unfortunately, the Christian culture in America is still struggling to accept women clergy. Even though women are more prevalent in seminaries, women clergy from every denomination continue to bump up against the “stained-glass ceiling” of longstanding limits, preferences, and prejudices. As part of a doctoral thesis project, I surveyed women who had graduated from a major evangelical seminary between 1996 and 2006. The percentage of female graduates finding appropriate ministry positions following graduation was shockingly low. In all, only thirteen percent of the women responding to the survey said they were working full-time in a ministry position, either within a church or a Christian organization in which they used their gifts and training and could unqualifiedly support themselves financially.
It is clear that American culture and the American church are following divergent paths regarding women. American culture is liberating women at the same time the church is systematically holding them back. Power struggles over what women can and cannot do are playing out in churches and denominations that are becoming more irrelevant to the culture-at-large every day. Seminary-trained women are caught in a vicious crossfire that very few anticipated when they responded to God’s call to become better equipped for ministry in the kingdom of God. Far too many good women are not finding ministry positions that will both utilize their training and abilities and support them financially. Rather than continuing to bang on the doors of these religious structures, women may need to work together to discover viable alternative ministry paths in which they can empower others and thrive in the use of their gifts and training. Trained female ministers are needed to address the serious spiritual, emotional, and physical issues women in America are facing in the twenty-first century. Women and men who believe this need to pull financial support from patriarchal and hierarchical Christian churches and organizations and invest it in those that affirm their equality. With God’s help, and the leadership of both female and male gifted ministers who have been set free, we can change our world for the better.