She Needs a Job 

Those of us who hold a complementarian view of women’s ministry are isolated from the mainstream and considered out of touch. Those who hold to egalitarian principles of ministry struggle not to consider complementarians sexist, they believe we are saying women are not equally human.[1] Those who are not Christians cannot begin to understand a position that encourages a different role for women and find those who do so inherently offensive. We won’t change these attitudes easily but we bring the gospel into disrepute if we do not actively work out in practice complementarian ministry and this will mean employing women.

I have avoided discussing salaries for women in the past but have come to the conclusion that this is something we need to address urgently. Our culture has gone through huge shifts in last few decades not least in the role of women in the workplace. Women have arrived in force in every area of life and although there are still some glass ceilings girls now out number boys at university so it may not be long before tables are turned in the board room too. This shift means that most women of working age are in paid employment including young mothers even if it is only part time.

What does this change mean for women’s ministry? In the past many churches have relied on the minister’s wife, or stay-at-home mums to be engaged informally in a variety of roles but both these groups are often in secular employment. I think rather than shrug our shoulders and ignore this situation we need to address it head on. It is time for church leaders who are committed to complementarian ministry to step up to the mark and actively encourage women in ministry by providing more paid jobs.

Whether we like it or not we must recognize the economic realities of the world in which we live. It is not appropriate to rely on unpaid women to do all the women’s ministry in the church. There are two dangers in this approach first it restricts women’s ministry to the few who either can afford to be stay-at-home mothers or the retired; the former group are unusual and tend to be found only in the more wealthy middle class churches. If we want to encourage gifted and able women from all social backgrounds and incomes, single as well as married we need to give them a salary. The second is that it communicates a lack of value in a society that gives value through economics. This can be sacrificially tolerated by the servant hearted Christ centred woman but it looks like sexism to the outside world.

I am also aware that there are huge amounts of women’s ministry to be done. I was greatly encouraged by the model being developed by 20schemes in Scotland of actively valuing and recruiting women in ministry. They have identified the need and call the church to concrete action. My concern is that despite statements to the contrary there is an unspoken idea that getting young men into ministry jobs is more important than training young women. I suspect that the fear of the feminization of our churches means women’s ministry takes third place in a list of priorities which runs as follows: first get the men in, secondly have a great children’s and youth work and finally think about the women (they come anyway so we don’t need to work to attract even more). But each woman that comes is valuable and each one needs discipling.

I often speak with women who have a passion for the gospel, are gifted in ministry and long to serve but have no idea about the way forward. I have to tell them that generally there is no way forward in paid ministry. There are exceptions to this in youth and children’s ministry or with an organisation such as UCCF but women’s ministry in a church setting is much more uncertain. The churches in the South East have more women in ministry positions than most but the overall picture in the UK is very patchy. I know that ministry is not an ordinary career path for anyone but it has to be said that it is a much more secure and stable one for men. Jobs as deaconesses, which existed prior to women’s ordination, are now virtually non-existent (a strange irony that women’s ordination has reduced opportunities for women who hold to the complementarian model). I know churches are financially constrained but it is interesting how many employ a woman to help with admin but not to teach the bible.

We must show that we are committed to women’s ministry, that we consider women intellectually able, that women are invaluable to the church family and are respected and esteemed. We need to train up able bible teachers among our women who can publicly testify to the truth of God’s word and pass it on to others. We should be seen to excel in women’s ministry in practice and not just talk about it in theory or some of the accusations we face will be justified. It is time to act. In short we need to employ women in ministry.

[1] Rev Jody Stowell BBC Woman’s hour 21/11/13 

 (This is the third article in a series  on women’s ministry – see also ‘I need a name’ and ‘She needs a name’) 

© 2021 Karen Soole