Discriminating tastes

Recent conversation with Someone Who Would Know:

SWWK: Pastors are having a really difficult time finding jobs right now.

Me: Really? Why is that?

SWWK: Because, if there’s anything wrong with them, if they’re overweight, if they have a disability, churches just won’t call them.

Then, SWWK told me a couple of stories. I heard about the man who had a disability, and wrestled with whether he should tell the pastor nominating committee. He didn’t think he should have to, he thought it was his own private matter. But he also knew that the church would find out eventually, and he didn’t want them to resent him. So he told them. And they turned him down. No one said officially that the disability had anything to do with it, but those closed-door conversations have a way of seeping out into the hallway….

I know congregations who have a lack of imagination when it comes to younger pastors. If there are no gray hairs to be found, then committees automatically assume that the person has not had enough experience to manage a church.

And, I’m told about the other end of the spectrum as well. If a person’s over 55, then she better find something quick, because her options dwindle significantly as the clock keeps ticking.

When I graduated, I was informed that I would have a difficult time finding a job because I am short. I laughed. But now I wonder… is it really a factor?

We know that it happens. It happens a lot in our workforces. We know that a woman’s weight has a significant affect on her income, especially in male-dominated fields. I once read that a woman has a better chance of a promotion if she loses 20 pounds than if she gets another degree.

We hope that it would be different in the church. We hope that our spiritual communities would be able to look beyond appearance, age, or disability to what God was doing in through a person’s life.

Evidently not. That is becoming more and more apparent as I see who churches call.

“Because you’re in the public eye,” PeaceBang reminds us, “and God knows, you’ve got to look good.”

I’m disheartened by it. Hearing the stories, realizing the utter lack of imagination on the part of so many congregations. Seeing solid pastors turned down for cosmetic reasons. Knowing that we need to look good, but not too young…and not too old.

And then, on the other hand, hearing congregations moan about a leadership crisis in the church. Like there’s no one good available.

It’s all becoming increasingly annoying.

The photo’s entitled “Pastor Miguel” and it was taken by Chris Wigginton.


21 thoughts on “Discriminating tastes

  1. OMG–is this REALLY happening? I am so saddened and repulsed. I guess it’s a good thing I was looking for a call while living in a foreign country where I lost a ton of weight from being sick all the time. If I were looking today, I’d be in trouble–having gained 20 pounds since moving here. (sigh)

    Also, can I just say: people always want the pastor who’s had a ton of experience, like the ones they grew up with who’d been pastors for 50 years or whatever. guess what? That means they went into the ministry when they were young, probably younger than me because there was a time when you only needed a BD from Princeton to get ordained. So stop telling lies like “you’re the youngest candidate we’ve ever had under care” (I was told that when I was advanced, reluctantly, to candidacy at age 25. I wonder if the 75 year old parish associate with whom I celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination *in that presbytery* agrees with their statement??). Young and old, small and tall, skinny and round: people have gifts to offer, so take them already, or else stop complaining.

    (end rant)

  2. The way someone who should know put it to me recently was, “you’ll have no problem finding a call, but you may have a problem finding one you like.”

    Related to such questions, I wonder about dropping the fact that I’m married on my PIF. I have friends who’ve done so for just such reasons. Currently I don’t mention it, because I think–like some of the issues you suggested–it’s not appropriate.

  3. Teri, it most certainly is happening. More over it has gone on for some time. In my old denomination the first call was difficult but doable the second was nearly impossible, especially for women.

    One church told us they were not calling us because we had no children. Which was “fine” for us as we had decided we wanted nothing to do with them. ;}

  4. Carol – I wonder if this is an excuse Pastor Nominating Ctes are giving when the problem is really something else. For one thing, the church has changed so dramatically in the past 10 and especially 20 years – not to mention the last 50 years – that congregations are not equipped to call a pastor for the 21st Century. For example, if they want someone with “experience” and usually some gray hair, then that pastor is most likely not conversant with how to serve a church for these postmodern days. And, as you said, they don’t realize that someone with zero gray hair who speaks of podcasts and blogging seems foreign to many of our traditional churches. This is why so many “big churches” (read: traditional, wealthy, think they don’t need to change much) are having such a hard time calling new heads of staff. The pastors they’ve been calling haven’t really been what they needed – although they look like they were. And the pastors they really need (somebody like you, let’s say) they are perhaps overlooking.

    Welcome home.

  5. Watching things unfold in this Presbytery in the last couple of years has been startling. There are so many solid churches that are having trouble finding pastoral leadership or keeping the person they have… it seems like something is broken, but it’s hard to say what.

    Maybe the cultural shift is part of it. I mean, we used to get away with the shift if we had a pomo assoc… but maybe the changes have gone deeper now. I do hate the thought of those congregations suffering.

  6. I have yet to serve a church that does not begin, “We want to grow!”. Each have either lied outright or deceive themselves.
    There is an expectation that churches will grow, attract young families with children and be welcoming to all. The truth is otherwise in most cases. Granted that I have served only eight congregations in mostly rural areas I know I do not have universal understanding. The primary desires I do encounter have been for comfort, care of those in decline, validation that the present and past work of the church is appreciated and that there is enough value in it that others will continue what has been institutionalized in the local church. A little creativity in these things is usually seen as progressive ministry. Give ’em what they want and they will be happy.
    If pastors can see themselves as hospice chaplains to dying churches they will have secure work for years and be loved for their efforts. If they persist in being agents of change it becomes a risky calling.
    BTW, I think most church growth ideas are bunk. Good relationships will trump theory every time. The pastors who truly love their people will draw others in, theories and seminars aside. But troubled, clergy-hating churches are another story and they do exist.

  7. so… what we’re saying is that a 40-year old, tall, good-looking, married with kids, white, male pastor was called for one of those reasons. Not perhaps that they were the most qualified candidate for that community at that time? Seems a bit discriminatory to me. To say “that’s not what we’re saying” is disingenuous because the implication is there.

    It actually reminds me a bit of people who might say that an African-American got to where they are because of preferential treatment – a bit unfair, don’t you think? – not to mention something that they had NO control over.

  8. the “devil’s” advocate?~

    I don’t think that any 40-year old, good-looking, married with kids, white, male pastor is the one who needs to be worried about discrimination in this equation. They are already hired. If their only concern is that people criticize them because they get exactly what they want because of superficial reasons, well I have a hard time feeling sorry for that.

    I think you question mark is funny and telling.

  9. the “devil’s” advocate?,

    My concern is not that a 40-year-old, tall, good-looking, white, married-with-kids male pastor got a good job. I am married to a 40-y-o, (not so tall), good-looking, white, parent, pastor, after all!

    I was down-right angry to hear about discrimination against someone with a disability. As a child of a brilliant NASA scientist who had a neurological disorder, I find that to be infuriating.

    Furthermore, over 50% of our seminarians are women, and we have been ordaining women for decades now. So why is it that only 3% of large church pastors are women? Why is it that women are on the bottom of comparative pay scales? Obviously, there is some discrimination.

    Am I blaming the men who got the good jobs? No.

    Do I think that nominating committees have a lack of imagination? Yes.

    And, no, I don’t think it’s unfair to point that out.

  10. Dear all- I am in my senior year at a seminary- looking at last year’s grads, at the time of graduation (mid-May) there were only 6 people I knew who had calls to churches- and 5 of those were male, married, with children…what does this say? What about the rest of us? Based on who gets asked to serve on high profile committees (board of trustees, etc) there is a definite bias towards white, male, young seminary students- who then go on to get the “juicy” calls-

  11. My church recently called a new pastor. From conversations, I know the PNC never seriously considered a woman. I know of an imminently more qualified woman who applied.

  12. Yes. This happens a lot. I know, because it happened to me when I was looking a few years ago. I was turned down because of lack of experience, and then I would find out that the person who was hired had less experience than I did.

    When committees are pressed, the decision often boils down to “it just wasn’t a good match.”

    Which means… what?

    I’m concerned for the churches. If congregations are not more creative in imagining what church leadership could look like, then they will continue to cut off half (or more) of their qualified pool of candidates before they even start the search.

  13. Thank you for this post. I think you hit the nail on the head that churches don’t have imagination when it comes to who they call. Perhaps this is an element that is stuck in the 1950’s like many of our denominational churches.

  14. Notice the race, gender and age of most of the people involved in the Wall Street fiasco or any other example of less than stellar leadership? I don’t think the problem you have correctly identified is in any way, shape or form limited to the church. It remains one of the primary problems we have as a nation. There is a reason we had to work long and hard to get laws passed against gender, disability and racial discrimination. It will take an even longer time to see the total impact of these laws and moral persuasion on the workforce. In the meantime, highly skilled leaders will get passed over for the most outrageous reasons. There is a reason I’m a Calvinist.

  15. Teri, yes that is correct that “back in the day” almost all pastoral candidates were 25. (The BD thing, though is confusing. The BD was a 3 year second bachelors that required a normal first BA….so pastoral candidates weren’t younger then than now. They were the same age.) I loved it when one of my references, when asked, “do you really think she’s old enough for this job?” responded, “well, I was 3 years younger than her when I was ordained so, yes.” (I took 3 years between).

    And Devil’s Advocate, being 40, MWK, white, tall, good looking and male doesn’t mean you’ll get a job. I don’t think people are HIRED for those reasons. I believe, though, that this is how you get heard. Clearly, lots of wonderful men fit those demographics–they didn’t get their jobs for their demographics. But they probably got their interviews due to them.

  16. as a recent graduate – single white female – i look at CIF’s and find myself knowing that female is no where on the list of potential candidates…COM’s make the inclusive language come through on a CIF – but even in churches i know are searching, the first inclination is toward the male…

    i also hate the word “match”…i have recieved two “we don’t match up” responses to calls…i had to wonder – are we in a dating service? i’m not an idiot, and i do know there are preferences – but “match?” is that what the CLC is? a dating service for clergy and congregation? or is “match” just another word that means “your not male”?

    if so, i am in trouble…john w. – i am trying to let my confidence in doctrinal hope guide my journey…but my experience is really beating up on the doctrine…

  17. Dear all- I dont know definitive numbers, but last year’s grad class had roughly 50 – 60 people in it- so…1/10th had calls at grad- that has increased somewhat post grad- but still, in a seminary where the student population is split evenly along gender lines, more males received calls- is this a southern thing? Are things better for women up north/out west? And, despite what we say about call and vocation, in many ways it is like a dating service…..sigh…Im not Lutheran, but having an appointment for your first call looks good right about now. ….

  18. Monica: I was told by lots of folks that Western was a bad “match” for me (and Western was told it was an even worse match for them!). But like you, I wasn’t looking for a date. I was looking for a place where I could put my gifts to work. 25 years later, I think the relationship is still pretty good. Keep hope alive!

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