Women in Ministry

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The Unique Challenges And Joys Women Face In Children’s
Ministry.

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*Names changed.

While on the staff of an organization that ministered to college
students, I attended an associational luncheon for my denomination.
After lunch, the associational president stood up and said in his
most austere voice, “We need to have a ‘committee on committee’
meetings in this back room. I’d like all of you men to join me for
a few minutes.”

The men exited, leaving me — the only female staffer — sitting
there with their wives. The men took care of the “real” business,
and I fumed as I listened to the women talk about diapers and
breastfeeding.

That was 10 years ago. To borrow a not-so-holy slogan, “You’ve
come a long way, baby.”

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Or have we? As we talked to women in children’s ministry, we
discovered there are still unique challenges that women face as
they try to serve God in a professional ministry role.

THE GENDER GAP

It’s a subjective evaluation — whether women are treated
differently from men. But our female sources pinpointed these
challenges women face:

Limited roles — In many churches, there are
certain positions a woman cannot hold. Pope John Paul II recently
reaffirmed the ban on women priests and many churches don’t allow
women pastors. Church leadership points to 1 Timothy 2:12 for
biblical support to exclude women from certain roles. Some churches
even forbid women to teach males who are 13 or older.

Less respect — Children’s ministry is often
seen as “women’s work” so women may get less respect. Kelly*, a
director of children’s ministry, says, “Women are supposed to take
care of the kids. Where a man, in my position, would command a lot
more respect…So I think men probably have a little more of an
edge.”

“Being in church work,” says Kim Rice, a Christian education
director in Arizona, “I notice that as a woman, I’m expected to
fulfill many clerical duties that the males in the office do not.
Clerical staff tend to see me as an equal because they’re women.
And they’re not as willing to be helpful to me or to support me in
my role.”

Difference in people’s responses — Men seem to
have better results at recruiting. “I see people come forward a
little bit quicker and more willing to help the men,” says Rice. “I
have to be much more assertive and willing to go out and ask people
for help.”

Kelly also recognizes men’s effectiveness in recruiting men. She
says, “A lot of our leadership is men and they attract other men.
If your leadership is all female, you have a harder time attracting
men.”

Balance — Women face greater demands to
balance home life and their ministry. “The #1 difference is the
challenge that [women]have in running a home as well as a
full-time ministry,” says Mary Van Aalsburg, a director of
children’s ministries in California. “That would probably be done
the same as any woman in business, except that in this position you
have 600 or whatever-plus children that you’re caring for as well
as your own kids who are #1.”

Being heard — As with my experience, women
often have less of a voice in decision-making. One woman actually
wrestled with resigning from her position because she felt the
children weren’t represented well since she was a woman.

“I think ministry is still predominantly a married, male
environment,” says Kelly. “I’m a single female. I know that here on
this staff that I’m respected, but I think there are times when I
voice things…[and men think]‘Oh, that’s just a typical female
response.’ If I were a man, I don’t know that I would get the same
response…Every now and then I have to work through, ‘No, this
isn’t a hysterical woman. This is someone that’s got some
responsibility for these kids and you need to hear this.’ “

PERFECTLY DESIGNED

Although being a woman presents unique difficulties in ministry,
every woman we spoke to affirmed that God had given her special
ministry gifts in her womanhood.

Motherly touch — “I think that, on the whole,
people are perhaps more open to me because I am a woman,” says
Rice. “And they’re more willing to come to me — whether that’s the
children or the youth. They see me kind of as a mom figure in the
church and someone they can talk to.”

Natural nurturers — “I think I have a
God-given nurturing [ability]that God gave women,” says Tanya*.
“That really enhances what we do because we care for children, and
because we’re trying to nurture leaders who deal with children.
It’s a real advantage.”

WOMAN TO WOMAN

We asked these women what advice they’d give to a woman just
starting out in children’s ministry. While all of these tips aren’t
gender-specific, they will make you more effective as a woman in
ministry.

  • Pray. The #1 thing these professionals pointed
    out was to bathe your life in prayer. Pray about everything you do.
    (Sounds biblical!)
  • Put your family first. Even with “liberated”
    families where the husband helps out, the main responsibility for
    the home falls on the woman. Before you jump into ministry, make
    sure your family is 100 percent behind you. Prepare family members
    for the sacrifices they’ll have to make as they share you with a
    church.
  • Communicate well. “Communicate regularly with
    the supervisor and pastoral staff,” advises Rice. “Clarify
    expectations, and have a clear job description so you know what’s
    expected of you in your job.”
  • Find support. Network with other ministerial
    women so you can talk about special challenges and joys. Look to
    these people to brainstorm how you can resolve conflicts and
    problems.
  • Manage your time. Use a time-management
    program or a good calendar to help you juggle everything.
  • Burn the chip on your shoulder (if you have
    one).
    Submit to God in your ministry. If church leadership
    says no to a suggestion, see it as God’s direction. Don’t make
    every issue a “women in ministry” issue. Find your significance not
    in your ministry but in your relationship with God-and that doesn’t
    rise or fall on whether you have a Y chromosome.

Christine Yount Jones is the executive editor of CHILDREN’S
MINISTRY Magazine.


CONFRONTING SEXUAL HARASSMENT

As a woman in ministry, you may someday face the unimaginable in
a church setting — sexual harassment. If so, here’s what to
do.

  • Take action immediately.
  • Don’t make excuses for the perpetrator.
  • Document everything in writing.
  • Confront the perpetrator. Then go with someone to the church
    board.
  • Make sure your church addresses sexual harassment as a
    sin.
  • Because sexual harassment will leave scars, ask the church to
    pay for your therapy.
  • Finally, see that your church has a written policy on sexual
    harassment before anything happens.

– Stephanie Martin

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