Friday, May 30, 2008

The Ministry Can Adapt to Returning Moms Better Than Other Professions Can

All working mothers juggle work and family. For professionals the problem is usually worse. Professionals normally work longer hours than wage-workers or most white-collar workers. Professions that directly provide service to clients can be particularly demanding, both in expecting long hours and in being available to clients at odd hours. Many moms trained for professions are not practicing at all at any given moment. Some drop out and never come back. One study found that only 7% of mothers aged 25-49 with children under the age of 18 work more than 49 hours per week outside of the home. 50+ hours per week is normal for professionals.

Moms in ministry face the same kinds of challenges that other professional-career mothers do. In some respects, ministry is worse, because most women pastors work alone or with very few colleagues, so it is difficult to share the load when family duties make unexpected demands. On the other hand, pastors have more control of their hours than most professionals do, so in principle their jobs could be more flexible about motherhood.

More than any other profession, the ministry has gotten used to the idea of second-career pastors. Seminaries and hiring committees are used to seeing middle-aged adults, often married and with kids, starting their careers, even just starting their professional schooling. This poses some problems for churches, and especially for seminaries. Still, they have learned to cope, and to see some advantages of fully mature grown-ups entering the profession.

I see a further opportunity in the fact that the ministry is used to gray-headed beginners: the pastorate should be an easier career for mothers with older children to return to after a child-rearing break.

If we are ever to really adapt the professions to motherhood, we have to institutionalize easier off-ramps and on-ramps. The ministry has already developed the late on-ramps for late-bloomers. Now we can explicitly incorporate these same late-start career structures to minister moms, so that they, and their families, can have a saner life.

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