As the pandemic becomes endemic, women in ministry continue to navigate issues brought to the forefront over the last two years. Isolation in ministry, part-time vocational ministry as well as clergy and congregational misconduct are not new issues for women. However, the rapid shift in their professional and personal lives during the pandemic revealed these issues in a new light. Female ministers reassessed what they needed for ministry longevity and personal vitality. I worked with women in several capacities over the last year: as a spiritual director, mentor, Doctor of Ministry coach and a colleague in ministry. These trends were the most common I encountered across all my roles:
Women in ministry were isolated prior to the pandemic, but it was “covered up” by the busyness of life. COVID shutdowns revealed the importance of connectional collegiality, and how women frequently sacrificed community to have more time for their jobs or family. Relationships with other women in ministry develop spiritual wellbeing and professional longevity; they foster resilience. The format doesn’t matter — online, in person or simply a text group. What’s important is that relationships happen.
Part-time and bi-vocational ministry
Pre-pandemic statistics show women taking more part-time ministry positions than men. It is unclear if this is their choice or their only option to do ministry. I worked with women who worked multiple part-time jobs, both ministry and secular. Even with good boundaries, they were exhausted. On paper, it was supposed to work. In reality, it was much harder. Ministry is not a profession that can be turned off or easily compartmentalized. Church leaders at every level need to reexamine sustainability in part-time ministry positions. Just as every other aspect of church life has been reimagined over the last two years, part-time ministry positions need to be scrutinized and updated for post-pandemic ministry.
Women bear deep, silent scars of institutional misconduct. This may stem from clergy misconduct or a “clergy-killing” congregation. Women flee or are fired (“Your contract is not being renewed” or “Resign and we will give you a reference and a severance package”) from awful ministry contexts. Some clergywomen stay as long as they can to serve and protect the congregation. In the aftermath, women doubt their sense of call. Some choose to leave ministry altogether. If you are a woman in ministry who experiences or has experienced this sort of misconduct, it is imperative that you seek a confidential, professional relationship in which you may share your story.
While the pandemic laid bare historic issues facing female church leaders in a new way, the Holy Spirit continued to call women into ministry and equip them. Towards the end of 2021 and at the beginning of 2022, I noticed how women create new ways to serve and share the gospel through entrepreneurial ministry. As old ways of doing ministry collapsed in the pandemic, women launched new ministry ventures. I’ve collaborated with women who have created their own coaching self-care calendars, successfully developed a fair-trade jewelry business, and launched their own wedding business specifically for the LGBTQ+ community. Other women are still in the incubator phase of developing their ideas and not ready to share publicly. If your creativity goes beyond what your ministry context allows, find and collaborate with other women entrepreneurs. This community allows you to hone your sense of call while also understanding that building something new is hard but not impossible, and worth the pioneering spirit!
In ministry, community and connection are vital. Find, join or create your own connectional community. Ask for help if you need it. Seek out professionals for your own mental and spiritual health. Advocate for yourself so that you are your best personally and professionally. Now more than ever, our world needs healthy ministry leadership.