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July 13, 2009

Mark Chaves: why are there (still!) so few women clergy?

Despite large percentages of female seminarians and increased numbers of female clergy in some denominations, overall women lead only about 8% of American congregations. And women are more likely to lead small than large congregations, so only about 5% of American churchgoers attend a congregation led by a woman.

Of course, some denominations have many more female clergy than other denominations. About 1 in 5 Presbyterian, Methodist, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America churches are now led by women. And congregations that describe themselves as theologically liberal are much more likely than other congregations to be led by women. More than one-third (37%) of congregations whose leaders describe them as theologically “more on the liberal side” are led by women, compared to only 5% of congregations whose leaders say they are “more on the conservative side” and only 7% of congregations whose leaders say they are “right in the middle.” Having women pastors in one-third of self-described liberal congregations may seem like a lot, but remember that only 9% of congregations call themselves liberal.

After several decades of women entering the ministry in large numbers, why are there still so few congregations with female head pastors?

Several factors are relevant. First, even though the percentage of women enrolling in Master of Divinity programs grew dramatically in recent decades, that percentage peaked in 2002 at 31.5% and fell slightly to 30.6% by 2006, according to the Association of Theological Schools. The percentage of women seeking the M.Div. degree may have stabilized after three decades of rapid increase.

Second, women with a Masters of Divinity degree are less likely to pursue pastoral ministry than men, and when they do work as pastors they are less likely to report satisfaction with their jobs than their male colleagues.

Third, and probably most important, gender discrimination continues to exist within American religion. Several major religious groups still do not permit women to lead congregations, and, even within denominations that have ordained women for decades, many congregations still resist hiring a woman as their pastor. As Jackson Carroll reported in his 2006 book, God’s Potters: Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations, female clergy now earn the same salaries as male clergy when they work in congregations of comparable size and location. But women still do not land the most desirable congregational jobs at the same rate as men.

What does this mean for the future of women in congregational leadership? The percentage of congregations led by women should increase somewhat in coming years as younger, more female, clergy cohorts replace older, almost completely male, cohorts. But the presence of women in congregational leadership will continue to be widely variable across denominations and religious groups, and the overall percentage of congregations led by women will remain below 20% for many more years.

Mark Chaves is professor of Sociology, Religion, and Divinity at Duke University and Director of the National Congregations Study.


As a clergywoman, I am

As a clergywoman, I am grateful for those people who look beyond the gender to the call. Although I do not believe that the church stands or falls on this issue, I believe that we must ever be diligent about inclusivity...and, truthfully, this perhaps makes me more sensitive to gays who seek to be pastors.

Women in Ministry

It is still very difficult for women in the pastoral role. I serve a small rural church and there are many members and people in the community who see women as "less" than men. Many also still believe that the theology suggests that women should not preach or speak in church, and certainly not teach men. I serve as the president of our Ecumenical clergy association, and I know there are several men who will not come to meetings because I am a woman president.
God's call on my life gives me however, the strength and courage to serve despite the "nay-sayers". I am honored and privileged to serve a God who is greater than gender!

why are women relegated to

why are women relegated to small, rural churches? Is it better for women to be allowed to be ordained and yet not *serve* significant numbers of Christians?
the ministry is still dominated by middle-aged and old men; if governing bodies of denominations prioritized women and young people in hiring and placement processes, the face of Christianity would change for the better in America.

I have always marveled at

I have always marveled at those who claim to know the mind of God better than God does. God calls into ministry whomever Gods chooses to call. Who am I or anyone else to tell someone that they are mistaken, God didn't actually call them into ministry after all. By the same token, I don't think I would make the sweeping generalization that prioritizing some over others would change the face of Christianity for the better. YMMV...

Does size matter?

I am male, and 62. I have been in pastoral ministry for 28 years and have never led a "large" membership church. I wonder what percentage of males in ministry have?

As a female clergyperson who

As a female clergyperson who serves six small United Methodist churches in rural West Virginia, I can appreciate the difficulties faced by many female pastors. I was the first woman to be appointed to these churches, and I still have people at one church who stand up and walk out when I arrive for the worship service because they don't believe women should preach. But they tell me, "Don't take it PERSONALLY." I guess what that means is they would walk out on ANY woman, not just me. Still, it saddens me that they are turning their backs on God's word because of the gender of the messenger (whose gender was determined by that very same God they profess to love and obey.) I figure God knew I was a woman when God called me into ministry, so if it's ok with God, I'm not going to worry about what other people say. (But I'll continue to pray for them.)

On the internet today, it

On the internet today, it said Jimmy Carter is leaving the Baptist Church after 60 years because of their stand on women. It was a great article primarily because I agree w/ the stand he took. Unequal treatment of women is justification for mistreatment of any group. It is unfortinate that it took him 60 years to decide that working within the system wasn't going to work. Women should not be kept from reaching their potential.

Women in Ministry

I have been in the ministry for over 30 years, 20 of that in pastoral appointments. All of my appointments were in small, rural churches and I was thoroughly pleased with all of them and we worked together for the glory of God. Where I felt the discrepancy was with the denominational leaders. I never felt that I was on an equal footing with the men. Nothing was ever spoken in words but always by body language. Women today may not be in ministry due to the fact that the leadership of possibly all denominations do not see women in the same light as men.

Women in Ministry

I wonder. Wonder with me.
Are there women in ministry who are going out and starting new churches? And if so, how are they doing? Do they want to just go into churches started by men after...?
Also, I have heard a lot of talk lately about women in ministry not getting large churches. My question is, do the women get small churches and grow them?
Just some more questions that never seem to get answered.

God calls women into the

God calls women into the ministry as well as men. What a great God we serve. He is calling daily humanity to go forth and preach the Word.

I used to serve a large

I used to serve a large suburban church as a staff minister, and on the day it was announced I was being ordained as clergy, I had people come up to me and tell me I would rot in hell for breaking the "Scriptural imperative" that women should not preach. Our Methodist denomination has not only ordained women for over 50 years, but have given them full voting rights for that long. Now, after serving many more churches over the years, I have experienced the range of responses to me as a female pastor that range from families quitting the church, to folks walking out when I get up to preach, to those who will stay but will not shake my hand as "the woman pastor." But through all of this I feel God is reminding me that he called, I responded, and I may have been given a 40 year appointment to wander the desert. Answering God's call was never a promise to any of us to have an easy life, and perhaps it is a way for us to identify with oppressed peoples around the world. Does it make us stronger - you bet. I fear most women would not stay in parish ministry a long time unless they were able to hold fast to their call and what the Gal. passage confirms that we are all one in Christ Jesus.

John 20 reads that Jesus rose

John 20 reads that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared first to Mary and told her to go and tell the others that he was alive. Mary was a woman. She was the first proclaimer of the Word. This call was straight from the mouth of Jesus.

Women in Ministry

Women in ministry: One guest wrote on July 13th, that she is “honoured and privileged to serve a God that is greater than gender.“ On the surface, this comment sounds noble. Yet, we Christians confess that the Word of God became flesh and lived among us who are people of gender. For many people sitting in Christian pews, the Word of God was and is God’s only son, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
50 years ago, when I was a little girl in Sunday school, I remember thinking that I was included in the word, Son with a capital “S”. I grew up believing that God’s Son died and rose again. This was good news. It meant that I and everyone who believed in the Resurrection story inherited eternal life as a son of God. Of course I also learned that receiving the Holy Spirit was part of the Resurrection story too.
As an adult I have learned that the language of salvation separates humanity and creates divisions among us. Partaking of the Holy Communion Meal is supposed to remind us Christians of the way the body of Christ was broken and the blood of Christ shed for us. During Communion, the Minister or Priest breaks the bread and invites the congregation to come forward and consume the blood and body of Christ so that heaven and earth can become one. Traditionally, the Minister or Priest has been male.
So, seeing the Lord Jesus as both a male and a female who represents God’s only Son seems incongruent with our tradition. It is easier to see the Lord Jesus as neither male nor female, as someone who is simply a disembodied Spirit who transcends gender. But the easy way is not always the correct way or the best way.
The concept that Jesus Christ was/is both a female and a male in dialogue with each other and with their different faith traditions, may seem strange to people—perhaps blasphemous. Perhaps this is because people find it easy to recognize the male Teacher as Jesus. However, people can look and see how the Resurrection of Jesus happens as a woman and a teacher who have suffered and endured the trauma of the Cross enter into dialogue with each other “face to face” at long last.
On Easter morning Mary stands outside the tomb weeping. The disciples have gone home without understanding the significance of the linen sheets and the folded kerchief. The sheets are lying together. The kerchief is folded up by itself—separate from the linen sheets. Mary like the kerchief is alone apart from the others (John 20:10-17). The disciples do not understand that in order for Jesus to rise from the dead—the Jesus of the sheets and the Jesus of the kerchief need to speak “face to face”.
Lay and clergy read from scholarly translations of the Gospel that have been produced reflecting a male bias that Jesus, God’s Son was/is male. Thus it is easy to misread the Easter event and allow the ecclesiastical authorities to take away her divinity and give it all to him. But we can turn from this sin.
We can dry Mary’s tears and all those who suffer with her. We can serve a community of faith who recognizes our Lord and Saviour as the Resurrected Children of God. We can stop taking Mary’s divinity away. We can celebrate Jesus Christ dwelling among us by giving Mary Magdalene, and all those who love her, a place of honour at the Teacher’s table, not under it weeping. We can open our hearts and believe this good news. The Teacher and the Magdalene survived the humiliation and separation of the Cross. They spoke to each other “face to face” and forgave each other their trespasses, giving glory to God who created and is creating humanity, male and female in God’s own image and likeness.

Women in Ministry

I am a United Methodist from Iowa and am proud to say that 50% of our clergy are women. I am also proud to say that year after year there are more women who get larger churches. I am less proud to say that there are also churches that still don't want women and treat them badly. My wife, who is also UM clergy cause a split in a church before she even arrived. We continue to learn and grow.

Thank you

Thank you for the article! It arrives just in time for me to share it with the class I teach next week on "Women in Ministry."

women in ministry

I've been serving the Lord for 30 years and have just recently been ordained as the Women's Pastor in a non-demominational church. I found your site while searching for a supporting group of women pastors as mentoring would be greatly appreciated. Any upcoming events, classes, newsletters, books, web sites, etc. would also be appreciated.

Thanks and God Bless


One commenter asked if women started and grew churches. I know that women have started record numbers of small libraries, which they grow into various sizes. Once the library is larger, the library is taken from the women and given to a man to run! Women have historically started missions and mission societies, and when these grew to any size and power, the organizations were taken from the women by men. Check the history. Men are horribly sexist.

Few Congregations Led By Women

I believe women can lead and Pastor and preach the Gospel- The important thing is that they are called to do so. I think because women have been discouraged from these leadership roles due to past teachings they have a mindset that they cannot be used by God is this capacity. But no where in the Bible does it say that women can't preach, lead and even Pastor. I wrote a book to defend women preachers called "Should Women Preach" you can get a copy at http://www.revsalmancinibooks.com/ please take a look it will free you!! God Bless!

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