Motherhood and Ministry

“You don’t have to protect yourself,” he said, as he sat across the room from me. My boss on the couch and I in my desk chair, we were discussing a promotional opportunity. He must have seen the armor I wore and the sword I held fiercely across my chest. He must have heard the hesitation in my cracking voice. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to do it. It wasn’t because I wasn’t qualified.

So what was this deep-seated illness that was haunting me?

I knew the answer but was afraid to admit it. Clinging to my sword, I reminded myself that I was a feminist after all and I could do this. I needed to do this. I needed to be an example. (cue the battle music)

But I also knew, deep down in my armor-protected gut, that the promotion I was seeking was not going to fit with my tender desire to be available to my little ones in the ways that I wanted to be. They are three and one, and I saw them as victims of the battle I was insistent on fighting.

As the words came out of my boss’s mouth, tears sprang and teetered on edge of my eye lids. Refusing to blink so they wouldn’t spill over I bit my lip. “We value that you are a mom. And you don’t have to protect yourself here.”

Here. What he meant by “here” was here in this ministry, here on this staff and here in this church.

Since those words were spoken they have continued to speak like reverberating echoes down the hallways of my soul.

Those words serve as an iceberg tip on my desire for churches to lead the way in supporting and encouraging ministers who are women to continue ministering in the midst of motherhood. [1]

I desire to see churches lead the way.

While the U.S. is embarrassingly behind the rest of the world in offering basic accommodations to mothers, including parental leave, (we are one of only three countries in the world that does not have mandatory parental leave) [2] there are still many secular organizations that are beginning to set the curve.

For example:

  • IBM offers to ship breast milk home to make traveling on a business trip easier for nursing moms. [3] Plus, they offer nursing rooms on site. (No surprise that the CEO is a woman.)
  • Adobe, Microsoft, and Netflix offer 26 weeks of paid parental leave.
  • EY offers 14 weeks of fully paid maternity leave (22 weeks in total). Plus, women can come back with a reduced schedule after maternity leave. [4]
  • General Mills offers amenities like daycare, a cafeteria, and a gym.
  • Most large corporations offer flex schedule options, sabbaticals, and some form of reimbursement plan for breast pumps, fertility, and adoption costs.

IBM and others have faced facts like these: 70% of women with children under the age of 18 participate in the labor force. And 62% of women who gave birth in the last 12 months are working outside the home. [5] These leaders have determined that it is in the best interest of the organization to support and accommodate working mothers.

Has the church faced the facts?

  • Nationally, women make up one-third of seminary students, and this number is growing each year. [6]
  • 60% of church attenders in America are women. [7]
  • “Women, more often than not, take the lead role in the spiritual life of the family…. Women typically emerge as the primary—or only—spiritual mentor and role model for family members,” according to George Barna, founder of Barna Research. [8]

Women are participating and leading in our organizations, seminaries, and churches. I correspond with women in ministry almost every week who are drowning in their attempt to balance motherhood and ministry. Like me, they are holding swords, clinging to armor, and waging battles that they shouldn’t have to wage for the sake of motherhood and ministry.

It is time for the church to face the facts. It is time for more Executive and Senior Leaders to look ministers who are moms in the eyes and say, “We value that you are a mom. We value your leadership gifts. We value what you bring to this organization.” [9] It is time to put our money where our mouth is and talk about flex schedules and the dreaded subject of paid time off.

It is time for more churches to protect, encourage, and support ministers who are moms in their midst. And it is time for those of us holding swords and wearing armor to lay them down, ask for help, and learn to love our limits.

Together we can forge a stronger partnership between family and ministry for future generations.

[1] This is assuming that a church does not hold theological reasons for excluding women from ministry positions. It is not the nature of this post to cover the scope of that topic. That will gladly be addressed at another time.
[2] http://time.com/money/4098469/paid-parental-leave-google-amazon-apple-facebook/
[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/13/ibm-breast-milk-delivery-service_n_7787996.html
[4] http://www.wisebread.com/the-29-companies-with-the-best-maternity-benefits
[5] http://www.dol.gov/wb/stats/stats_data.htm
[6] http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2012/05/25/may-25-2012-women-in-theology-and-ministry/11085/
[7] http://www.thealabamabaptist.org/print-edition-article-detail.php?id_art=701&pricat_art=9
[8] Ibid.
[9] While not the purpose of this article, I think the same could be said for ministers who are dads. I think the church should lead the way in modeling a healthy work/life balance for men and women.
Header image: Westermayer, Till. Autumn walk 02. Taken November 6, 2011. Retrieved from flickr.com. Some rights reserved.

After a decade spent ministering to students and families in domestic and international contexts, Kelly Edmiston has developed a passion to equip the church for works of ministry. Originally from Abilene, Texas, Kelly is currently the Student and Family Minister at the First Colony Church of Christ in Sugar Land, TX. She will complete a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University in May 2017. Her areas of interest are liberation theology, spiritual formation, and practical theology. She enjoys “suburban life” with her husband Ben and two sons. Find her blogging at brophytwinspeak.com.

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Author:  Publish Date: January 25, 2016

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The CHARIS website hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. In partnership with the ACU Library and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX), the website is supported and led by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The Center’s mission is to renew Christian spirituality through engagement of Christian heritage, at Abilene Christian University and beyond. The views expressed on the CHARIS website are those of the various authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Abilene Christian University or CHARIS at ACU. Questions or comments about the CHARIS website can be directed to charis @ acu.edu.

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