Perceptions Women in Ministry Face

Scriptures teach “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). He shows no favoritism. I am especially thankful the Holy Spirit is not controlled by humanity, but like the breeze or wind, woos and works on human hearts as He wills. And whosoever will may respond to His gentle, still small voice. That voice speaking through life experience finally dawned on my senses that I was called to the gospel ministry. Work in New York City further motivated me to respond to the deepening conviction that I was chosen to be a disciple to make disciples of Jesus. As evidence of that calling, I acted on faith and attended the SDA Theological Seminary unsponsored to better prepare for a life of service to my Savior and for His people.

As a middle-age single female I realized that not all church leaders and members support my gender in pastoral ministry, but my calling was not based on church polity. Too many providential interventions led me through seminary and beyond. Women have played significant roles in the development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and increasing numbers of enlightened church officials recognize the potential of a female pastor and the valuable contribution they can make. I am most grateful for conference leaders who are willing to allow the Holy Spirit to work through them in extending a call and employment to females as intern pastors. Their faith in us often brings criticism and some risk, but their understanding and support is deeply appreciated. I, for one, will not betray their trust or disappoint their support.

Female pastors often bring a perspective that is sometimes neglected or overlooked by males alone. We can reach groups of people with tender understanding that males find harder to intuitively express from the heart. Our ministry reaches men as well as other women and children. Many a man in the extremes of life responds well, even sharing personal feelings to a nurse, and especially to a trusted female pastor. We can be a mature model of Christian womanhood, femininity and motherhood to the half of our church that does not see that kind of a living, practical leader.

The widely discussed issues circulating throughout the denomination around women in ministry and their ordination have already given church leaders, fellow pastors and church members various perceptions about female ministers and especially new single, female pastoral interns. Perceptions are real to the holders, but may not always be accurate or reality. These perceptions could also pertain to young, single male interns, but for sake of this article, only seven concerns about single female interns will be addressed:

1. Misperceptions about the inferiority of women in general. Men often stereotype women into sexist roles, e.g., they cook, care for kids, gossip, spend money freely, love to shop, know nothing about cars, running church business, etc. Such bias may or may not be true; similar sexist roles could be applied toward men; e.g. insensitive, “workaholics”, etc. Generalities must be set aside to relate with the intern as she is.

2. Relationships with male clergy. Some males will feel threatened by a female intern. She is invading their turf and might steal loyal admirers. Others will want to smother her as a “father protector”. We need fair support and equal inclusion, but please do not put us on a pedestal as some kind of unique trophy. We are beginning pastors needing to learn the challenging work of becoming a professional clergy person who can provide effective spiritual leadership, guidance and training for years to come.

3. Balance in all things. Being single, we need a personal life and time as does any other person. In fact, it takes us as much time as anyone else to care for the apartment, car, laundry, etc. And we do not have the help of a spouse. Though not totally helpless and dependent, times may arise when help is needed. If I ask for it, believe me it is needed. Please respond in a caring manner. I will not abuse by over-expecting or asking.

4. In some cases female interns may come from a special cultural heritage that can be enriching to a church, but may need a little more time to assimilate into the life of a North American Adventist church. As a Latina, I am naturally exuberant and out-going, though not all Hispanics have that personality. I will never intentionally embarrass or offend others, and will try to accept your actions and responses to me as genuinely respectful and caring. I believe difference enhance life and help bring people together if we are open and a little more patient in being honestly transparent and understanding.

5. Crime in America is a constant threat, particularly towards single females. The work of a pastor often leaves her vulnerable: visits to homes, late evening church meetings, driving on official business, etc. While I wish to think of people as good, prudence also requires caution to avoid becoming a victim of crime. President Reagan used to say, “Trust, but verify”. That is true in personal and public life today as well as politics.

6. Marriage. Particularly women want to know whether I plan to get married, or if I have a special friend in hopes of getting married. Even conference leaders feel more comfortable with a pastor who appears settled into family life. A pastor who is courting or dating can be distracted from pastoral duties, or show favoritism or even poor judgment and embarrass the church or themselves. Marriage is a personal decision and by this time in my life, one I would enter very prayerfully and with much deliberation.

7. Appearance. While men are strong physically, women also have much power in the natural attraction of males towards females. How I dress will be a topic of judgment by both sexes. Women will see me as a standard for church attire, or as flirting with their men. Of course, I want to appear professional, modest and with sensible attire for the season and occasion. So while I am open to constructive suggestions, I must also be myself and comfortable. 

Regardless of these perceptions, I know God is blessing my efforts in ministry and has worked through me to meet the spiritual and religious needs of many people.

I recall an incident involving a young man who was experiencing major problems in his life due to alcohol, broken relationships, and suicidal ideation. He felt isolated, unworthy and a failure. We talked on the phone for some time. He related how he was once a Christian, but was no longer practicing the faith. I was able to share some words of encouragement from Scripture and pray with him. Three days later he called and asked for help in returning to Christ. I shared the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15. He is now attending a church and reading the Bible again.

I have also noticed changes in perceptions by those that I serve in the church and the community. I sense greater levels of acceptance, inclusion and support. I know that many prayers are offered for me. The conference leaders have been exceedingly helpful and supportive, yet do not micro-manage my work. With all these advantages who can fail? Serving in the Gospel ministry is a rare privilege and great responsibility to which I have dedicated my life for the Lord Jesus Christ and His Remnant people. I claim the promise that “if God has made you a shepherd of the flock, He has given you qualification to do that work” (Evangelism, page 685; and I Thessalonians 5:24).   

Yepsica I Moreno is the associate pastor for the Gallup, New Mexico church and is also engaged in Native American church planting