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Ministry Shouldn’t Hurt

What to do when the church starts acting like an abusive boyfriend

It’s true that ministry is hard. It’s true that ministry takes sacrifice. But ministry shouldn’t hurt.

We teach young women the same concept in romance: love shouldn’t hurt. We say if a man says he loves you but hits you or treats you badly emotionally or psychologically, then it isn’t love at all.

It’s the same with ministry. If you find yourself in a ministerial setting where you’re taking a pounding from the congregation, the senior staff, or the denomination, it isn’t ministry at all.

We don’t tell female clergy this enough, so hear it from me now.

It’s the elephant in the room: women in ministry often aren’t treated well. In fact, the church sometimes acts like an abusive boyfriend. The tales of abuse are as shocking as they are numerous.

Tales of violence. I know a female minister who endured inappropriate comments about her clothing, her body, and her sexuality. Another woman I know experienced inappropriate touching in the receiving line after the benediction every Sunday—members getting just a little too close, hugging just a little too long.

Tales of bullying. I know a woman who was attempting to run a leadership meeting but couldn’t get through the meeting because a hostile trustee openly and aggressively undermined her authority as pastor. I’ve heard from a woman who was trapped in her office as the senior minister yelled at her until she was nearly faint with fear, pain, and grief.

Tales of disrespect. I know a minister who was denied the opportunity to serve Communion—even though she was fully ordained—simply because she was a woman. Another woman I know is paid least of anyone on her church’s executive ministry team, even though she has the most experience.

Unfortunately, I could go on and on lifting up the abuses that women in ministry face in the church. It shouldn’t be this way.

Why Does This Happen?

If one in five seminarians is female, if more and more women are serving in full-time professional ministry, why are women in ministry facing such abuse?

The answer is twofold. First of all, women get trapped in abusive ministerial environments because of bad theology. Pastoral leadership is a vocation that is steeped in the language of divine calling. We do not choose pastoral ministry—we are called by God into pastoral ministry. So even if the ministerial position causes pain, harm, or abuse, women in ministry often rationalize it by telling themselves that God must have called them to the pain, harm, or abuse. Moreover, women in ministry may normalize pain and abuse by equating it with the suffering of Christ. They rationalize: “I’m hurting, so I must be doing something right. I must be like Christ.”

December10, 2015 at 8:00 AM

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