Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Woman Pastor?

“Why would anyone want a woman as a pastor?” A female friend asked me this recently when she heard about the action of the Georgia Baptist Convention to withdraw fellowship from First Baptist Church, Decatur. The church’s pastor is Julie Pennington-Russell.

The question points to one of the major barriers to a church calling a woman as pastor. My friend, like so many of us, has never seen a woman as the lead pastor in a local congregation. The concept is foreign to us because we have never seen it in action! We see similar stereotyping if we think about all nurses as being women or all physicians as being men. There are enough examples today of men nurses and women physicians that we have to rethink such assumptions.

Given that sixty percent of our church members are women, shouldn’t we expect that—from time to time--a woman might receive the call to pastor?

How can we address this? One way is to seek opportunities to have women preachers in our pulpits. Even if she is not in the pastoral role, just seeing and hearing a woman preach models a different role for women. On a couple of occasions recently, I have been asked to supply on a Sunday morning, and have declined but asked if the church might welcome a woman in that role. Both agreed to the suggestion. In our state and national meetings, we can—and do—take the opportunity to feature women as preachers.

In assisting churches with pastoral placement, I always ask if they would accept the resume of a woman candidate. Three out of four times the response is, “Well, I wish we could consider a woman, but our congregation is just not there yet.” In the other cases, I thank God for the openness of the congregation to consider a woman candidate. The odds seem to be improving as time goes by.

These are small steps, but we have to continue to push forward if we expect a more open attitude about women as pastors. We have already lost too many talented women pastors to other denominations and to institutional ministry.

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