I very much enjoyed your article and am so glad you're asking these questions. As one of those women who made up the 50% at her seminary, I ask them too. It is both alarming and startling that the number of women in senior ministry positions has stagnated. I want to give you a little bit of insight from a young female in ministry.
This is just me, but I haven't the slightest desire to be a senior pastor. I wonder if that isn't part of the situation women my age are facing. Are the numbers of women in associate positions growing? How do those women feel about their positions of leadership? Are they satisfied with their vocation, or do they aspire to the senior pastor's office? For me, my conviction about senior pastoring has to do with how I go about ministry, which I believe is directly related to my gender.
For me, ministry is intensely personal. Every meeting I lead, every lesson I prepare, every pastoral care visit I make is about connecting with the person/people in the room. It is about being Christ to them in that moment. From my perspective, this is simply impossible in the senior pastor's role. There are just too many things to juggle. How can I even possibly be intimately connected to the struggle of a parishoner in the hospital and 15 minutes later have myself completely immersed in the annual budget review, all while allowing next Sunday's worship to churn in the back of my mind? For me, I can't. And so I have chosen the Associate role.
As an associate pastor, I am freed from some of the responsibilities of the senior pastor. I am allowed to prepare to teach without having an inkling of concern about the budget, or the upcoming Elder board meeting, or having the parking lot repaved. I have the time to be completely present in each instance. That freedom is not one I take lightly, and it certainly is not that I shy away from long or challenging work. It is, rather, that I feel most like a minister when I can invest myself entirely in the moment.
You raise the question of mentors, and I respond with an emphatic YES! We need them -- desperately! If you can figure out how to help women who are currently in ministry connect with women preparing for ministry, I believe you will have done a great thing for the church as a whole. Again, women are intimate creatures, and we need one another. We need to know that we are not alone in "filling the cracks" in the stained glass ceiling. Please help us find one another. And help us find the time and the tools to connect.
You ask what you, the Fund for Theological Education, can do for women who find themselves banging their heads against another ceiling. I do believe that some congregations are still not ready for women in ministry. Even in denominations and churches that - theologically and constitutionally - support women in ministry, it is entirely different once that woman is in her role. Not all congregations understand that women are not men. I realize that sounds petty and trite, but what I mean is related directly to what I said earlier: I do ministry differently from my male counterparts. Many congregations expect ministry performed by a woman to be the same ministry performed by a man, and oftentimes it just is not. I suspect that this is part of the issue where women are found to be leaving the ministry.
Whatever it is that will solve the problem, I am so grateful that you are trying to find answers. And you have begun that by asking some excellent questions. Please continue to search for answers and then to formulate those answers into tools for women. The church needs women to serve as much as women need to serve.
Honored to serve,