My Pastoral Calling Is Fulfilling, Yet Challenging
Calling and passion are the foundation on which you move forward
by Gabriele Rienas
Q: I am a woman who is a pastor. I hold a full-time staff position at a church. I feel strongly called to this ministry, and I love what I do. My husband and family are supportive, but I have few role models to follow as examples of what this should look like. Sometimes I feel alone, especially when struggles arise surrounding ministry. Both men and women in our church are generally supportive and affirming of my contribution. There are moments, however, when I become aware that they have not walked in my shoes and cannot relate to my experience.
A: You are a pioneer in a rapidly expanding ministry group — women who hold ministry credentials and/or pastoral positions. In 2011, females accounted for 77 percent of the net growth in U.S. ministers.1 This surprising statistic brings great reason to celebrate as the volume of potential leaders expands to make a greater impact on God's kingdom. At the same time the addition of more women who are pastors introduces new quandaries we must work through.
You mentioned that you strongly feel called to this ministry and that you love what you do. Two essential pieces are already in place: calling and passion. These two forces are the foundation on which you move forward even when it seems difficult or when you feel others misunderstand you. If you have a strong sense of God's leading in your life, it becomes a strong foundation to fall back on when you feel alone or marginalized.
Work to overcome personal issues of insecurity and inferiority. While these struggles affect almost everyone to various degrees, they will be particularly lethal in your present calling. Take responsibility for their presence in your life and intentionally pursue healing. Do not allow insecurity to either silence you or tempt you to lash out in toxic ways.
Along with knowing your calling, remain clear about your purpose and refuse to go to war over mindsets that are not your obligation to fix. Reserve the best of your energy for the task at hand. Continually bring your mind and heart back to the job that is before you. Keep your eyes fixed on the goal to glorify God through your life every day. Do not let petty annoyances distract you from that passion.
One female youth pastor noticed a number of small inadvertent slights from the guys on their multigender staff. For example, the guys would occasionally go out for an impromptu lunch. For the most part, they were accepting and affirming toward her, but they rarely, if ever, invited her to lunch. Inevitably, they would end up discussing church business and making minor logistical decisions. Most of the time they forgot to tell her, and she found herself in the awkward position of being uninformed. These men's insensitivity was largely unintentional. Most likely, it did not occur to them that she might want to join them. Still, she struggled with the subtle message that she was less valuable to the team.
Fortunately, she recognized the crossroad when she came to it. She had to make a decision either to remain true to her calling and purpose or to allow these subtle messages of inferiority to derail her. Not wanting to be derailed she chose to give the male staff members the benefit of the doubt when it came to their motivations. It required something from her: a choice to be the bigger person (not easy by any means) and a determination to form a tougher skin.
In the above example, the slights were most likely innocent, if tactless. However, given that we live in a real, fallen world, you may even encounter blatant dismissal or machoism from others. By all means pursue grace and forgiveness and resist the urge to fight back. Nothing good can come from this kind of a war. More than ever, turn your attention to the One who has called you. Remember your calling and your greater purpose. Focus on the task before you with resolve and determination. You will not be able to fix all of the injustices of your situation and still remain focused on your goals. Leave what you cannot control to God.
Deal with your perfectionistic tendencies. Most of the time, perfectionism is an indication of issues with control. In other words, it is striving for a false illusion of control by making your world as perfect as possible.
Do not fall into the trap of constantly having to prove yourself. Before God, you have nothing to prove. You are in the process of becoming more like Jesus just like anyone else who walks in faith. Live each day listening to God's voice, putting your hand to the present task, and doing the best you can. Do not become preoccupied with results or validation.
Give yourself grace for forging new territory and learning as you move forward. You can only learn some things by experience over time.
You mentioned that your husband and family are supportive. This allows you to be free to explore God's call without the restraint of family disapproval.
If your husband was not supportive of your current role, I would have suggested you take another look at the timing of your current ministry pursuits. Ministry callings are difficult to reconcile with a reluctant spouse. The same God who calls you is perfectly capable of calling a spouse to a supportive role when the time is right. If this is the case, continue to dialogue in an honest way, but wait until it can be a team effort.
Even with a spouse's support you will at times encounter difficulties, as all ministry couples do. You will need to negotiate time, finances, family involvement, your spouse's contribution, and the focus of your energy.
One of the issues that can arise in situations like yours is the challenge of having a spouse who is uncomfortable with a less visible role. I spoke with a pastor whose husband was by nature quite shy and contemplative in contrast to her outgoing, animated personality. The differences worked in their marriage and in their interactions with their children, but at church it became another issue. He often felt invisible and struggled with where he fit. Before accepting a ministry position, she had been the catalyst for building social relationships with other couples. This changed with her position because she was now more focused on her ministry group and the volunteers who worked with her.
This woman maintained an open dialogue with her husband about his level of comfort. She let him know that she cared about his well-being but asked him to extend grace to her as she figured out how to blend family and ministry. They discussed and revisited his crucial supportive and prayerful role in their ministry. She made an effort to invite him into church social situations and remained intentional about staying by his side when it was appropriate. Last, they used their creativity to find a niche for his involvement and input, giving him more ownership of the vision.
No matter what gender or nationality of the minister, family harmony and cooperation are one of the most important keys.
I cannot overstress the importance of support from those who are walking in similar circumstances. Seek out other women who are church leaders and build relationships where there is mutual learning and support. At first it might seem that you are alone and that no such opportunities exist. However, begin by asking questions about resources in your ministry circles and turn your attention to the growing dialogue that is emerging on this very topic. Check out The Network: A Called Community of Women website: http://wim.ag.org/. This network resources women who are in your shoes.
I pray that you will know that you are not alone. As stated before, you are part of a growing number of women who are humbly and courageously following Jesus to new places of influence and impact in the world. I am convinced that everything you learn through this journey will be valuable not only to your own growth but to many others who will certainly be following you.
1. From 2011–12, The Assemblies of God had a net growth of 384 ministers in the U.S. Of these, 294 or 77 percent were female. Of the net growth of 294 females, 112 or 38 percent were ordained; 125 or 43 percent were licensed; and 57 or 19 percent were certified.