“So, let me get this straight,” my patient, an older woman in her mid-70s who was married to a pastor for more than 50 years, said to me with curiosity.
“You’re a hospital chaplain, and your fiancé is a church pastor. Does that mean when you’re going to get married, you’ll be the pastor’s husband?” she asked. “If so, it’s about time there are more pastors’ husbands and fewer pastors’ wives.”
Recently, I became engaged to my fiancé who is a church pastor. While both of us are in ministry, I serve as a hospital chaplain ordained by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and she is a small-church pastor ordained by the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Even though I could write a humorous book about the adventures of dating as a clergy person, I really find myself proud of the gifts and talents my fiancé has for ministry and am glad I am able to see her grow into her first call as a pastor.
As a man in ministry, I cannot imagine how hard it can be for female clergy like my fiancé. I often find myself dismayed at the gender inequality I continue to see in the one place that should be inclusive and equal: the church.
While I will soon begin to explore what life will be like being a man married to a woman who is a church pastor, I want to help other men who are in congregational leadership roles to see the imbalances and inequalities women are often faced with and how men can help address them.
Here are four suggestions:
- Working toward gender balance in worship leadership.
One of the most prominent ways that men overlook the gender imbalances in our congregations is often right in front of us. While the unfortunate reality is that there are still more men serving as church pastors than women, we need to be aware of this and strive to make sure there is a gender balance of those leading us in worship each Sunday.
If our pastor is a male, other speaking parts in the service should be female. When it comes to communion servers, ushers and even choir members, we should strive to have the same number of women as men leading us in worship.
A step further would be to have more women serve as guest preachers (especially women in our congregations) when we have male pastors so that we can have gender balance in the pulpit as much as possible.
- Seeking gender balance in congregational leadership.
It’s important for male leaders in the church to make sure our congregation’s leadership roles also reflect balances of gender.
This should not only involve advocating for women to take on supporting leadership roles, such as being an associate or youth minister, but also by calling women as senior pastors and denominational leaders.
During search and call processes, male members of search and call committees should advocate for the need to actively pursue female candidates, especially women of color to fulfill pastoral roles.
While many of us male clergy have great talents and skills for ministry, we need more women, especially women of color, to lead our congregations.
Doing so provides our congregations with the opportunity to explore the many wonderful talents female clergy bring while continuing to reflect the true inclusivity of the body of Christ.
- Knowing when not to talk.
One of the attributes I often notice men exhibiting during discussions in Bible studies, church leadership meetings or other conversations is hijacking the conversation.
While I don’t think most men do it intentionally, men often don’t realize that our domination in conversations tends to limit the ability for others with different perspectives to be heard, particularly women.
This is not to say our experiences and viewpoints shouldn’t be shared in discussions. However, if it’s something that has already been said and we are noticing it’s only the men who are speaking, it’s time for us to listen.
- Knowing when to talk.
For men, especially those of us who are clergy, we will never know what it’s like to have our gifts in ministry be invalidated by others solely on the basis of our gender.
While this is a pain we cannot experience, we must stand alongside our sisters in Christ by offering to be in a supportive role to help break down walls of gender inequality in our congregations and denominations.
One of the most effective ways we can do this is by having conversations with other men, especially those who are struggling to see gender inequality in our ministries as an issue.
Men must be willing to have conversations with our brothers in Christ about the injustices women face in our congregations while also advocating for men to be more supportive of the women in our lives and in our communities and working to end the injustices women face not only in our congregations, but also in our world today.
To my fellow men, being a supportive advocate for greater numbers of female leaders in our congregations, communities and world doesn’t require us to feel as if our gifts, talents and abilities shouldn’t be used because we are men living in a world that needs gender equality.
However, when the gifts, talents and abilities of women in our communities are not being equally used by the church, we cannot remain silent.
Christopher L. Schilling is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, hospital chaplain, and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve.