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  • Suspicious Spouses and Our Ability To Minister

    Anonymous blog post Years ago, I was part of a cohort being trained to be coaches for pastors. I was the only woman pastor in a cohort of about 8. During one of the sessions, each of us was assigned a partner with whom we would do the homework for the next session. My partner and I weren't able to meet to do the assignment before the next session but at that session, he raised an issue that is an example of the kind of resistance & fear I've encountered as a woman pastor in a mostly male vocation. My partner was surprised that his wife was upset by the mere idea that he had been paired with a woman for the assignment. He loves & respects his wife but was at a complete loss for how to handle her discomfort with him working with a female colleague. I was glad that he brought it up for discussion with the rest of the cohort and our instructor, but I was also uncomfortable that it had even been an issue, especially since he and I failed to do the assignment together. I was also uncomfortable being the only woman present to address the issue. I didn't want to make it personal and criticize his wife, but I also didn't feel comfortable sharing how I felt. I'm happily married and have never had a problem with the wives of other pastors whom I've actually worked with, each for several years. My first thought after an initial flush of annoyance was—why would my partner's wife assume that anything inappropriate would occur between her husband and me? As if! Another time a member of my church, who had been so grateful that I had been willing to meet with her husband to help get him to address a serious addiction, came to believe that her husband and I were having an affair because her husband had gotten so upset when our senior pastor decided that he should meet with him instead of me. I was completely blind-sided and even insulted. Did she distrust me after she was the one who wanted me to meet with her husband because she thought he would listen to me? Did she think I would be unfaithful to my own husband? Again, as if! I'm still at somewhat of a loss for how to respond to the fears of women like this. It's not enough to just say it's their own insecurities and I didn't do anything wrong or unprofessional. I don't want to dismiss their fears, yet at the same time, I don't want to feel like I have to defend myself against other people's feelings and unfounded fears. I'd like to hear what other women pastors think and how they've handled similar situations themselves. I've been blessed to work with several male senior pastors who have been very supportive of my call to pastoral ministry. Unfortunately, it has been other women and men who say they support women in ministry—as long as they're not the lead pastor—who have made it difficult for me as a pastor. We’d also like to hear how you’ve handled these situations. At AWL, we don’t subscribe to the idea that women and men can’t counsel, teach, and support one another one-on-one. We don’t believe they can’t be friends and colleagues. We DO believe we can all treat one another as images of God and siblings in Christ. We can do this for suspicious spouses, too! But how, without compromising our call to minister to everyone? It’s an excellent question.

  • Problematic Teaching Experiences

    Quote from the Article: He taught that Psalm 8 meant that there is a hierarchy, with God at the top, and then angels, and then husbands, and then wives. At family camp, a non-FMC speaker was invited in to teach about family. He taught that Ps 8:4, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor” (NKJV) meant that there is a hierarchy, with God at the top, and then angels, and then husbands, and then wives. When several women elders expressed concerns about this teaching, the Superintendent had a private conversation with the speaker, who then joked with the attendees in his next session that “some of the wives weren’t very happy about my teaching last night.” No effort was ever made to correct that theology for those listening. A male elder told jokes about “the differences between men and women” as an annual conference keynote. I confronted him about the damage done by those kinds of jokes. I discussed the default they presented as “the man’s point of view is the right one and the woman’s is unreliable” in every difference between men and women he mentioned. I mentioned how condescending and paternalistic it came across. Finally, I talked about how damaging it was to imply, by conference sanction as a keynote, that this type of speaking was acceptable and appropriate for FM pastors and could be replicated in their pulpits. He was apologetic, attentive, and kind throughout the conversation. His defense, however, was that “my wife thought they were funny,” and “my wife is ordained, so I obviously support women.” He did not seem to understand that neither statement proved my experience of the jokes to be wrong. No apology to the larger body for damage done occurred, despite leadership knowing this conversation had happened and being present at it. One FMC leader, while speaking publicly about pastoral abuse, mentioned that in one instance a woman’s husband was greatly impacted by what had happened to her. I tried to point out privately that it is problematic when women’s mistreatment is measured by how badly the men in her life are impacted. He disagreed. When I continued the conversation, he brought in another leader to whom my boss’s boss reports. I tried to point out how unsafe that made me feel because of the way it changed the power dynamics. He was greatly wounded by this idea that I found him unsafe and became so fragile that further fruitful conversation became impossible. My male senior pastor regularly told sexist jokes from the pulpit. Over the course of several years, I occasionally brought up to him how damaging that was. I spoke to him myself, and also sent articles that discussed why it was a problem that harms the whole congregation, men and women alike. He never stopped. I confronted a pastor who had “biblical masculinity” as one of the values of his church. After back and forth emails in which he kept talking about how busy he was, we eventually set a time for a phone meeting. I had written out in front of me 6 different reasons why that was inappropriate as a value for a FM church. He began the conversation by assuring me condescendingly that once he explained to me what it meant, I would understand why it was okay. He tried to tell me that what he meant by biblical masculinity didn’t include the subordination of women. He understood biblical masculinity from the perspective of the "feminization" of the church (an equally problematic and sexist viewpoint which he assumed I didn’t know about or understand). One of my arguments was the way the term “biblical masculinity” had been used to silence women, and therefore the way it sounded to women elders in our conference, reminding them of some of their worst experiences of marginalization. He responded, “Well, that just sounds like political correctness to me!” The argument that seemed to resonate with him the most out of my six was that everywhere else that phrase is used it does mean the subordination of women, so that’s what it communicates to anyone coming to his website. He tried to tell me that he didn’t know whether that was really true, but I volunteered to send him 10 examples once we got off the phone, and he didn’t pursue that line of discussion. Eventually, he said that he was going to have to end the conversation. Since he had not been able to convince me that it was okay for him to have “biblical masculinity” as one of his values in an FM church, I asked when I could expect him to take it down. He got really mad then, told me he was busy, and he had no idea when he might get to it.

  • Power: Don’t Let It Get in the Way

    Power I was at a birthday party this week, and someone had tied a helium balloon to the birthday woman’s chair. It stayed there, bobbing around and occasionally hitting her on the back of the head or catching her arm in the string, until during dessert she finally said, “Get that thing off of there!” One of the concerns I have regularly heard from CMCs and pastors, as well as observing myself, is the way people with power seem unaware of the effects of that power. Power can come in the form of organizational power (Lead Pastor, Superintendent, Board Member, Bishop), social power (White, Male, Middle Class), educational power (degrees, or conversely no degrees and popular wisdom), or group identity (longest membership, generational membership, best representative of the group). Whether they wield it like a helium balloon, and it just gets in the way, or they carry it more like a loaded gun that occasionally misfires, it is vital that those with authority understand how the power they carry works. Two Kinds of Conversations The very presence of a power difference causes some of those with less power to watch their words. Imagine the break room at Target. Employees are relaxing on lunch break, chatting about work and home, laughing, joking. Then the boss walks in. Laughter stops, and all eyes turn to her until she makes clear whether she is coming in for coffee or to chase some of the employees back out to the floor. If it turns out that she is only refilling her mug, conversations will resume, but they will likely be more subdued than before, and the topics, possibly even the vocabulary, will be different than before. The difference between the conversations before and after the boss walks in, if it could be measured, indicates the amount of oppression the workers feel. Even the best boss, however, will not have direct access to everything said when she is not in the room. Think about the people you talk with. Do you have the power to fire them? To assign them to the worst tasks? To give or withhold appointments? To speak about them well or poorly with other leaders? If so, then you should assume that no matter how wonderful and approachable you try to be, there are conversations going on that you don’t know about. There are truths that everyone knows except the leaders. Believing Your Own Press I used to work at a Seminary library at the check-out desk. We regularly had retired pastors who came to the library and wandered around, not reading, not looking for specific books, not even really browsing. They just seemed lonely. Inevitably, they would approach my desk and start talking. It was clear that they did not want a conversation—they didn’t leave room for any responses from me—they just wanted to talk to someone the way they used to talk to their congregations. They would passionately expound their favorite themes on Christian living. And they seemed completely bewildered that all the people who had given them their full attention for so many years were now absolutely uninterested in hearing what they had to say. Their experience carrying a power invisible to them tricked them into believing that everyone thought they were brilliant. And when they lost their power, they became lost and confused because in reality, it was only their power that had kept people listening. Power may be invisible to the one who holds it. Power is not invisible to those one has power over. Of course, leaders can choose to ignore these truths. Pastors can continue to preach, teach, and lead in the ways they feel are right and assume that congregation members who refuse to follow are unfaithful to God, bitter, rebellious, worldly, or otherwise sinful. And when we get wind of the rumblings of that break-room conversation, we can dismiss it as gossip. But there is another way. Using Power Wisely Practice Listening to People You Disagree With: Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 tell us that gifts are distributed throughout the congregation. Anyone speaking with you may be offering God’s corrective to your vision. If this is not a skill you excel in, practice using podcasts, talk shows, or other sources and look for what you might learn even from those you disagree with. As you get better, or if this is a skill you already possess, approach every conversation assuming that another person’s perspective is meant to improve your understanding of God’s guidance. Get curious about what your occasional anger tells you about you, instead of what it tells you about them. Find Intermediaries: Maybe it will be your spouse, maybe the church secretary, maybe the youth pastor or the worship leader. All these people will inevitably hear conversations that you won’t. Know first that they will need to respect the privacy of the individuals who are speaking to them. However, they can be valuable conduits for you to hear the corrections from the congregation that God is sending you. Disagree in Private; Agree in Public: Whenever you can, thank publicly those who helped you to see a truth that you missed. This signals to everyone else that you are open to being corrected by people with less power than you have. Back that up by continuing to be open to others, particularly critiques from people different than you. Listen to Other Communities: If you are having trouble hearing from certain groups in your church, find out who they listen to and follow them as well. This may overlap with #1. You may find that these other communities fall outside of FMC doctrine, but resist the urge to “fix” this from the pulpit. You must first demonstrate that you have listened to them and that you recognize that some of their points of view are helpful for the church. Find ways to show that you value them. Do Not Dismiss Other Conversations as Gossip: If you are newer to the church, there may be years of hierarchical teaching that you need to counteract before people are willing to open up to you. All the progress you might be making can be reversed by a race-based or gender-based joke from the pulpit, or the public shaming or private de-valuing of a member or a subgroup within the church. As annoying as we inevitably find certain people, they are gifts to us and to the church from God, and whether we agree with them or ultimately disagree, we must recognize their value. Notice Those Who Disappear: Be proactive when you see people stepping back or getting mad. Make room for their anger in your presence. As leaders, we need to be aware of the suffering of God’s people, even when it occurs at our hands. We may be able to act differently in the future, understand people better, and ultimately lead better. Men in particular will want to think about ways to make sure they are not inadvertently tying lead balloons to women’s chairs. What women in your congregation are you listening to? Is there a representative cross section of ages and races? What women are you following on social media? What female pastors and theologians are you reading? What resources do you have in place for women in your congregation or conference to bring up concerns or disagreements? If you have the power to make or break their careers, you may need to put processes in place to hear from them anonymously. Where are you building bridges from women’s groups to leadership groups? How are you publicly affirming women who have helped you to grow in your understanding of gender dynamics, or your interpretations and applications of Scripture? As you build answers to these questions into your leadership practices, your knowledge of and love for all the subgroups within your congregation will keep you from using your power to cause harm. And those following you or serving alongside you will be less hampered by balloons.

  • Share Your Story: Do you have a story to tell? Send it to us.

    Women are sometimes thought to be more emotional and/or less rational than men. Have you experienced treatment like this from FMC leaders? Women are sometimes thought to be dangerous to a man’s ministry (as a threat to his leadership). Have you experienced treatment like this from FMC leaders? Women are sometimes thought to be dangerous to a man’s ministry (as a threat to his sexual purity). Have you experienced treatment like this from FMC leaders?

  • One FM Woman’s Journey of Calling

    The day I told my home congregation I thought God was calling me to be a pastor, the silence that met my pronouncement felt like someone had just dropped a weighted blanket around my shoulders. A relatively new believer, I had no idea I’d said something controversial. My pastor took me to lunch and told me honestly and kindly—“In this denomination, women can’t be pastors. They can be missionaries and do the exact same things. They can lead churches in areas in the US that no man is willing to go. But they can’t do what you want to do. I’m sorry. I don’t think it’s particularly fair.” The funny thing was, I didn’t want to do it. I had wanted to go to law school. In retrospect, that career certainly would have been easier. The irresistible push toward ministry hadn’t been my idea. From now on though, I’d often be treated like it was solely my erroneous idea, because God couldn’t possibly have authored it. I didn’t know that silence on the subject would be the last time anyone would be quiet when I mentioned my call to ministry. More often, people had a lot to say. In college, I stood beside a young man at our church, in line for the Sunday night dinner they served college students. I told him I believed I was called to be a pastor. He replied, “It would have been better if you’d never been born than you do that.” In seminary, a fellow student critiqued my first sermon with his summary—“I couldn’t pay attention to anything you said because you’re so pregnant; it was distracting.” Another student told me that he should have won the preaching award, not me, had the judges been using the “right” criteria. One of the Old Testament TA’s in seminary let slip to me that my papers were better than those of the men who kept getting A’s, while I received B’s from that particular prof. Of course, Twitter daily reminds me that I’m a heretic, an unrepentant apostate, and a Jezebel who has never read her Bible, among other things. That we just get used to. But surely, after seminary, in an egalitarian denomination, these things would change, right? I would be recognized and appreciated for the gifts I could bring to the denomination and the church. I could work side by side with men also called to pursue the kingdom of God, and no one would care about my chromosome makeup. Many days, this has been true. I’ve met many supportive men in the FMC, and many that go the extra step to advocate for women’s equality in the denomination. I’ve met far more, the majority, who consider themselves to be supportive but who fail to recognize their own patterns, beliefs, and inaction that unintentionally but firmly keep men in the positions of power. I’ve also met those who think like that man in the dinner line long ago, who would rather I’d not exist than dare to teach men. We have a wide range. To borrow a thought from MLKJr, I’d rather deal with the latter group than the middle one, who believe themselves good and right (and they are good people) but who do things every day to preserve the unequal status quo. Some of those daily acts I’ve witnessed: It was after about the fifth time I asked that we had our first woman keynote an annual conference a few years ago. It hasn’t happened again. I don’t know what the percentage is on that, but it’s minuscule compared to all the men who have spoken there. In all the books we’ve been assigned each year for conference, one has never been written by a woman. A woman has never been asked to speak at pastor’s retreat, and very rarely at family camp. I’m honestly not sure on that last one—it could also be never. I’ve sat under a senior pastor who didn’t believe women should be in ministry, but he headed our conference church planting committee and our church. His credentials and promise mattered more than the effect he might have on women, especially women leaders. I’ve had senior pastors who saw me as more of a threat than a co-laborer, so I’ve not received the advocacy, information, or experience that male associates are more likely to regularly benefit from. When they didn’t see me as a threat, they assumed that, since I had kids, I wasn’t interested in opportunities anyway. I missed important events early in ministry because I had three small children and a working spouse. Even when someone considered the option of offering childcare at these events, those in charge always tabled the idea because it wasn’t convenient. This deeply impeded my ability to learn about the denomination, meet people, and be seen as part of the team during those vital early years in ministry. It’s very, very difficult to recover from this kind of sidelining. I’ve been told, after 25 years of service in the FMC, that I didn’t have enough proof of ability to lead a church I applied to pastor, while the man who held the job before me had virtually no experience at all, but he “had great potential.” He was also mentored and coached by leadership, a thing I and most women have never received. Our almost exclusively male leadership is afraid to mentor women because they’ve become convinced by popular Christian teachers and writers that we’ll try to seduce them or someone will think we’re trying to seduce them and in any case, it’s too uncomfortable to navigate. FMC male leaders have gone to conferences, seminars, service trips, and ball games to which I have not been invited, despite the obvious chance to learn and to network. Their desire to have an “all guys” experience overrode any benefit the event could have been to me. Families have left churches when I came on staff because pastors had failed to teach FMC doctrine on women’s equality and had, in fact, reinforced the notion of male headship in the home. I’ve listened to demeaning jokes about women told by pastors and conference speakers more times than I can remember. I’ve heard the stereotypes reinforced perpetually and had men speak from the pulpit about “giving” their wives money as if they were dogs receiving treats. If I complained, I was told I had no sense of humor. Women are too easily offended. “You must be a feminist—my wife thought it was funny.” Only once did a pastor listen and respond with repentance. I’m not listing a litany of grievances here for the sheer joy of complaint. That's not a very joyful or productive pursuit. I’ve overall had a good experience in the FMC. It’s like a family you love and appreciate dearly but love too much to let pass and fester the terrible things Uncle Joe said at Thanksgiving dinner. Some things you have to confront because you love. You might say of the things I’ve mentioned—Oh but that’s not true! That's not been my experience at all! I’m genuinely glad for you. It has been mine, and I’m not alone, and your wonderful experience doesn’t invalidate ours. They can all be true and real. I could list many wonderful experiences and people with a spirit of real advocacy, too. I’ve listed these experiences (and there are many more) for two reasons: To highlight real events for some who might not see their support of the status quo as the detrimental thing it is to women leaders in the FMC; and To encourage women with similar experiences that they aren’t alone and they aren’t imagining it. I’m grateful I found a denomination unlike the one in which I became a believer, where I could not lead except as a missionary. I’m on a mission of love to make it better.

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