Women In Ministry: Action Learning Team Leads the Way

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Women In Ministry: Action Learning Team Leads the Way

This story was originally published in our fall issue of ABCUSA Connections. The images of women included are women who serve in ministry across American Baptist Churches USA.

Over the past year and a half, the Women In Ministry Action Learning Team (WIM ALT) has prayerfully considered adaptive challenges for ABC churches concerning calling women senior/ solo pastors.

The team settled upon the following:

Focus: To break down barriers that hinder clergy women from gaining access to paid senior/solo/lead pastorates.

Adaptive Challenge: How can we change the hearts and minds of barrier keepers? How can we change or influence structures that maintain barriers?

In order to address the above, the WIM ALT developed and launched three experiments:

  • A “Mentor/Mentee” database for prospective female pastors and “veteran” female pastors, connecting mentors and mentees for encouragement, guidance, development and opportunity.
  • Create and nurture opportunities for American Baptist women and American Baptist Women In Ministry (lay and clergy women) to have small group discussions regarding the barriers that exist between clergy and lay women, how those barriers may play a role in the “call” process for women to serve as senior/solo pastors and what strategies might we put in place to reduce and ultimately tear down those barriers.
  • Identify senior/solo pastors retiring within the next 3-5 years who would be willing to adopt some specific strategies (recommendations provided by WIM ALT as well as ABWIM/Ministers Council) to intentionally prepare congregations to be open and willing to call the best candidate, irrespective of gender, to serve as their next senior/solo pastor.

All three of these experiments are currently up and running:

Team member Rev. April Van Ness, with support from Rev. Pat Hernandez, recently led a dialogue with clergy and laywomen, continuing to cultivate open dialogue and support for one another.

In the second experiment, team member Rev. Dr. A. Paulette Birchett, supported by Rev. Pat Hernandez, developed and launched a “MentorMentee” National Survey to identify female clergy who would be interested in participating in a mentor/mentee relationship, beginning with this experiment. Approximately 33female clergy from across the USA responded, “yes.”

Team members Rev. Dr. Jim Kent, Rev. Susan Crane and Rev. Chris Smith, developed and launched a 3 phase, “Retiring Pastors Initiative.” Phase 1 entailed a national survey to identify senior/solo pastors retiring from their current pastoral position in the next 3-5 years, who would be willing to engage in specific activities by Rev. Chris Smith, WIM ALT Facilitator (small group bible studies, guest speakers, panel discussions, lecturers, greater female leadership involvement, etc.) and use materials from a specific resource list to prepare their congregations to be open to calling God’s best for them, irrespective of gender. Approximately 85 senior/solo pastors from across the nation took the survey, and approximately half of that number agreed to participate in the experiment. Phase 2 (currently underway), is a series of follow-up surveys with questions about how pastors are using the resource list and changes they may or may not have observed within their congregation.

Phase 3 (long term goal) will happen over the next several years, with the National Ministers Council Office keeping track of congregations whose pastors participated in the experiment, looking to see how many of those congregations seriously considered and actually called a woman to serve as senior/solo pastor.

The WIM ALT worked together to ask hard questions, enhance surveys, offer suggestions, etc. to make our efforts fruitful. Additional team members include Rev. Steve Bils and Rev. Allison Tanner, along with coach Rosey Oaks-Lee, and staff members Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson, executive director of the ABC Ministers Council and Rev. Patricia Hernandez, national director of American Baptist Women In Ministry.

Although the WIM ALT will end its official work at the close of the 2015 Biennial, it is understood that the experiments will continue, with the help of the national offices (Ministers Council and ABWIM) and others.

Story written by: Rev. Chris Smith, WIM ALT Facilitator