An “Affirmative Action” Proposal For The Free Churches


I have heard from many women ministers over the last couple months. Overwhelmingly, the message is this: “Even though I’m in a denomination that ordains women, no one will hire me.” I am beginning to wonder if we don’t need an affirmative action program for the church.

Let me outline the problem the best that I can. There are many evangelical and pentecostal denominations that have been ordaining women for some time. But given that many of these churches have a free church ecclesiology and are on a “call system” of hiring pastors, even if women pursue eduction and credentials, feel called to the pastorate, and exhibit gifts for that call, they still may not get hired to pastor a church. If they do get hired, recent research shows that they will make between $10,000 and $25,000 less than their male counterparts, depending upon their position. Much of the conversation with my colleagues has indicated to me that if they get called for an interview at all, there is often one or two search committee members that thinks that the Bible forbids women pastors (which I address here and here). This is even in fellowships where the churches have come to the conclusion that this is not what the Bible actually teaches.

In some denominations, such as the United Methodist Church where my wife is an ordained pastor, the system is such that they place their pastors (an episcopal system) and therefore competent pastors of both genders will have opportunities. But in these free church ecclesiologies, there is no central authority that can demand someone take a female pastor, even if the national leadership is in agreement in favor of women’s leadership.

There are a number of things that can be done to resolve this issue. I think the most important one is advocacy, especially by men that do have power (pastors, denominational leaders, etc.). That is precisely why I keep writing on the issue. We need more people that will educate those that will serve on church boards. And they need to see people with power elevating women into positions of leadership.

But what if something really could be done at the national level? What if there could be incentive for churches to hire women, without forcing them to do so?

Here is my proposal: I want to see grants from denominational resources to incentivize hiring female pastors. For example, a church that hires a female senior pastor could receive a grant of $5,000 for each of the first two years of her appointment. I suspect that churches that appreciate her ministry would be able to find that $5,000 dollars to keep their pastor after the grant period was over. Some would not. Some kind of graceful transition would then need to be instituted, either to a smaller salary or the pastor could then move on having had two years of ministry leadership experience. My assumption is that this would not be the norm.

This proposal does not limit the autonomy of the church or hinder the Spirit’s direction. It simply adds one more factor into the discernment process.

Would churches consider a female pastor with this incentive to do so? Some would. But this program and its promotion would also be a mode of educating search committees about the policies and theological positions of the denomination.

I suspect that there will be three objections.

  1. “Don’t we trust the Holy Spirit’s leading in pastoral selection.”  Well of course I do. But I don’t trust the search committees to hear the Spirit on an issue which has been so woefully misunderstood. For those that would have a negative position, my hope is that such a program would help them to reevaluate. The Spirit sometimes leads via open doors like financial windfalls as well. The church would still be free to hire the men if the Spirit led them to do so.
  2. “Where would the money come from within already tight budgets?” We will always find the money to do what we value. Maybe it would mean increasing required dues or whatever mechanism the denominations use to fund the national offices and programs. Maybe there would be external funding sources (Here’s looking at you, Lilly Endowment!) or large gift donors. Probably the most important logic behind prioritizing dollars here is the number of women pastors that these denominations are losing to mainline denominations that are more supportive. As I argued in “4 Reasons Why Ordaining Women Is No Longer An Option,” we are losing even more women to the pastorate because too many young women do not consider their own calling to pastoral ministry because they have never seen female leadership in their church. Let’s find the money.
  3. “Finding a job is hard for all pastors. This will make it even harder for men.” Well yes. Yes, it will. But men have already had it easier for a long time because they have not had to compete with equally qualified women. It’s too bad if you they do not want to play on an even field.

I want to hear from you. Do you think this is a viable proposal for making a path for women into the pastorate? What modifications would you suggest? What concerns do you have? (Please don’t bother with raising the “concern” that women shouldn’t be pastors. I’m glad to discuss that over on one of my posts about the biblical argument.)

Now. Go share this post with your denominational officials and let’s see if anyone tries it.

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Related Post: Double Standards, Women, And The Church


  1. greghahn4 says

    Even though I’ve held strong reservations about affirmative action programs in the past, this makes a world of sense if done correctly.

    And I’ve found the same thing about church boards. I almost got a woman elected deacon of a church I used to belong to and was a board member. I had strong support from 3 or 4 board members, and we all voted on a scale that gave higher points to those we favored more strongly. She should have been a shoo-in. But the two or three that thought it was scripturally wrong were just enough to to tilt the scales away from her. None of this was said out loud… but I watched it happen.

  2. says

    Wow! I discovered your blog a couple of days ago, and have been eagerly going back to read past articles ever since. This is one of the most creative solutions I’ve ever heard to the hiring problem! As a woman pastor in the Church of the Nazarene (which has a modified “call system,” as you say, of hiring pastors), I have been fortunate to have been gainfully employed for some time. However, I’ve watched many of my female colleagues spend tens of thousands of dollars and many years on theological education only to find out that our District Superintendents “can’t find a church to hire them.” Many of them, in fact, end up pastoring in your denomination!

    We can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting things to change. Your solution is simple but brilliant, and I’ll champion it every chance I get.

    • says

      Thanks for your kind words, Tara. I’m still not sure if having been hired on a grant wouldn’t undermine the new pastor’s confidence or undermine her leadership with the church. But I hope some similar creative solution would enable churches like yours and mine to empower female pastors.

  3. Carmine says

    I am a member of the search committee of our church seeking a senior pastor. You speak of affirmative action, but I have been going crazy trying to find a womens medium where I can post the position. We would like to get resumes from women with at least a D.Min degree from an accreteed school. Any suggestions?


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