By Graham Joseph Hill (in conversation with Mandy Smith)
With each denominational and congregational crisis, we’re becoming increasingly aware that something isn’t working in our way of leading the church. So, we’re scrambling for models of leadership that are more collaborative, dynamic, and relational (and more Christ-like). If we keep looking in the same places we’ve always looked, we may miss the very thing we need right under our noses. Our sisters’ ways of leading may seem alternative and new to us, but they’re ancient, scriptural, and human. Will we reach for their wisdom for such a time as this?
The value of diversity in Christian pastoral ministry cannot be overemphasized. An often-overlooked element of this diversity is the inclusion of female voices. Most of the published work on pastoral ministry is authored by men, reflecting their experiences, challenges, and perspectives. When I recently asked pastors which one or two books most shaped their vision and passion for pastoral ministry, the books which emerged were almost all written by men (see the post here). While these works undoubtedly offer substantial wisdom and insight, they reflect only one facet of the broader Christian and pastoral experience. To truly understand the full scope of pastoral ministry, including and appreciating perspectives from both genders is crucial.
After doing a social media poll for the best resources on pastoral ministry, I was disturbed to discover how few of them were written by women. In response, I had a conversation with my friend, Mandy Smith, and we set ourselves the challenge to find resources by female pastors on the pastoral call. Sadly, we found very few, but I want to champion these resources to expand the conversation about what ministry can be.
Female pastors offer unique insights drawn from their lived experiences. Women often interact with the world and pastoral ministry differently due to their distinct societal roles and responsibilities. Thus, their pastoral experiences will be nuanced differently from their male counterparts. These differences, far from divisive, enrich our understanding of pastoral work. Reading books authored by women about pastoral ministry equips all pastors, both male and female, and indeed all believers, with a more comprehensive understanding of their faith and service.
Two quotes that underscore the importance of incorporating female voices in Christian pastoral literature are:
“Only when we listen to all the voices God has placed in the body of Christ can we truly appreciate the breadth, depth, and dynamic reality of God’s work in the world.” – Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church, 2015.
“Leadership in the church is not the domain of a few, but the privilege and responsibility of all who respond to the call of Jesus. This includes the voices of women, who so often have been silenced. Their stories bear witness to a God who values the leadership of all people, regardless of gender.” – Tara Beth Leach, Emboldened, 2017.
These authors’ sentiments encapsulate the importance of celebrating women’s voices in Christian pastoral literature. The church has many parts, each with its role and function. The wisdom and insights of female pastors play an invaluable role in enriching this body. By embracing the diversity in pastoral literature, we can genuinely appreciate the manifold wisdom of God and strive for a more inclusive and comprehensive Christian experience.
Women write many excellent books about academic issues in pastoral theology, general leadership theory and practice, female Christian leadership, and fiction by women pastors. Women have also written outstanding books on counselling, preaching, community development, justice, prayer, hospitality, mission, microchurch, church planting, church renewal, urban spirituality, fresh expressions of church, and more. But these aren’t the focus of this post.
In this post, Mandy Smith and I highlight women who write from personal experience about pastoral theology and ministry for both male and female readers. By “pastoral theology”, we mean the biblically-based philosophy and practice of congregational leadership. As far as we know, all these women authors have congregational leadership experience, and these female pastors write about pastoral work for a general (not only female) audience.
See “50 Books to Renew Your Pastoral Ministry and Passion”, which is a companion post to this one. Click HERE for that post.
The nine books by female pastors on pastoral ministry
Barbara and R. Kent Hughes – “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome”
“Liberating Ministry” challenges the modern church’s obsession with numerical growth and proposes a more biblical definition of success. The book is a helpful counter-narrative to the success-driven culture in many churches, offering a healthier vision for ministry. Barbara and Kent Hughes served in pastoral ministry together for over forty years before Barbara moved to focus on writing and teaching ministries.
“Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome” by Barbara and R. Kent Hughes is a powerful counter-narrative to the traditional success metrics in pastoral ministry. The Hughes invite readers into a paradigm shift, challenging the conventional wisdom that equates pastoral success with numbers and acclaim. Instead, they present a liberating approach that reframes success regarding faithfulness, servanthood, prayer, and love. Their insight redefines the landscape of pastoral theology, unshackling ministers from the burdensome chains of worldly expectations and aligning them with God’s perspective of true success. The book is not merely a critique; it’s a spiritual journey to freedom and authenticity in ministry. Through their lived experiences and wisdom, the authors craft an inspiring roadmap for navigating the demands and pressures of ministry. If you yearn for a ministry rich in meaning, integrity, and divine approval, “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome” is your guiding light. This transformative book will renew your passion for ministry and ignite a refreshed sense of purpose and fulfilment within you.
Eileen R. Campbell-Reed – “Pastoral Imagination: Bringing the Practice of Ministry to Life”
Informs and inspires the practice of ministry through slices of “on the ground” learning experienced by seminarians, pastors, activists, and chaplains and gathered from qualitative ministry studies. The book provides a framework for understanding ministry as an embodied, relational, integrative, and spiritual practice. Campbell-Reed served as a Christian education and youth ministry pastor, among other ministry roles, before becoming a visiting associate professor of pastoral theology and care at Union Theological Seminary, New York City.
“Pastoral Imagination” by Eileen R. Campbell-Reed is an illuminating beacon within pastoral theology and ministry. It invites readers to venture beyond the boundaries of traditional pastoral practice and into a realm where imagination becomes a divine instrument for transformative ministry. Through her pastoral experience and vast academic knowledge, Campbell-Reed artfully merges theory and practice into a vibrant tapestry of insight and wisdom. She advocates for the ‘pastoral imagination’, a concept that urges ministers to engage their creativity and intuition in service of a more dynamic, impactful ministry. Her book is a passionate call to view pastoral work as a living, evolving practice where imagination and creativity are just as crucial as tradition and doctrine. If you seek to invigorate your ministry, to infuse it with vibrancy, creativity, and meaningful connection, “Pastoral Imagination” is an indispensable guide. Embark on this journey with Campbell-Reed, and you’ll reimagine your ministry practice and bring it to life in ways you never thought possible.
Julia Gatta – “The Nearness of God: Parish Ministry as Spiritual Practice”
While many books tell clergy how to run a capital campaign, handle conflict, and lead a vestry, this book helps pastors, chaplains, and lay professionals appreciate the spiritual depth of their calling and reminds them that Christian ministry is Christ’s ministry working through them. Gatta served for twenty-five years as an Episcopalian priest and is currently a Professor of Pastoral Theology at the School of Theology at Sewanee.
Julia Gatta’s “The Nearness of God” is a revelatory exploration into the intimate terrain of spiritual practice within the pastoral ministry. This compelling narrative pushes the boundaries of conventional pastoral theology, inviting ministers and parishioners alike to view their day-to-day parish life as a wellspring of spiritual nourishment. Gatta eloquently deconstructs the concept of ‘ministry’, revealing it not as a mere function of the church but as a living, breathing spiritual practice that reflects and fosters the divine nearness of God. Gatta creates a breathtaking mosaic of insightful wisdom and heart-felt experience by crafting an intimate dialogue between theology and practical ministry. The wisdom encapsulated within this book has the potential to recalibrate your perception of spiritual practice and pastoral ministry, drawing you closer to the heart of God in unexpected yet enriching ways. If you yearn to deepen your spiritual journey and find God in the ordinary, the extraordinary, and everything in between, “The Nearness of God” is an essential addition to your reading list.
Justine Allain-Chapman – “Resilient Pastors: The Role of Adversity in Healing and Growth”
Pastors, including clergy, must provide the right kind of circumstances, teaching and care to enable people to face crises and overcome difficulties stronger as human beings and as Christians. They also need the quality of resilience to be involved in Christian ministry. This book draws on the experience and literature of the desert, resilience studies, and contemporary theology, particularly that of Rowan Williams. It applies theological understanding to the pastoral task. Justine Allain Chapman is a British Anglican priest and academic.
“Resilient Pastors: The Role of Adversity in Healing and Growth” by Justine Allain-Chapman is a profoundly impactful exploration of the power of resilience in the face of adversity, specifically within the context of pastoral ministry. Allain-Chapman masterfully weaves narratives of struggle, triumph, and transformation, offering readers a nuanced understanding of resilience, not merely as a trait but as a spiritual journey of healing and growth. Her work breaks new ground in pastoral theology, establishing resilience as a core component of effective and sustainable ministry. Through engaging stories, practical advice, and insightful reflections, she illuminates the transformative potential of adversity, portraying it as an opportunity to deepen faith, foster growth, and cultivate resilience. This book is not just a guide; it’s an empowering companion for anyone in ministry navigating the turbulent waters of adversity. If you seek to cultivate resilience, transform your trials into triumphs, and foster a robust, enduring ministry, “Resilient Pastors” is an invaluable source of inspiration and wisdom. Embark on this journey with Allain-Chapman and uncover the resilient pastor within you.
Kara K. Root – “The Deepest Belonging: A Story About Discovering Where God Meets Us”
Explores questions such as How does God meet us? What is the church for? What is a pastor? What does it mean to be truly human? The Deepest Belonging is a call not to resist but to embrace our vulnerability. As a move away from religion seeking security, protection, and influence, this story invites individuals and congregations to return bravely to the core of our belonging to God and one another. Root has been pastor of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis for over a decade.
In “The Deepest Belonging”, Kara K. Root leads readers on an introspective journey through pastoral theology, brilliantly redefining the concept of divine encounter. This book is not merely a narrative; it’s an invitation into a transformative, intimate space where the perceived borders between the human and divine blur. Root’s keen insights and tender storytelling cultivate a novel understanding of divine communion and redefine how we perceive our place within the cosmic tapestry. She masterfully articulates the profound truth that God meets us not only in our joy and triumph but also in our despair, brokenness, and deepest uncertainties. Her thoughtful prose explores how we experience a sense of profound belonging that resonates deep within our souls in these raw, honest spaces. This book is more than a contribution to pastoral theology; it’s a tender, compassionate hand reaching out, guiding us to a transformative understanding of our connection to the divine. “The Deepest Belonging” promises to revolutionize your spiritual journey, granting you a newfound perspective on where, when, and how God meets us. Root’s book is an absolute must-read for those seeking a transformative, profound exploration of spiritual communion.
Maggie Ross – “Pillars of Flame: Power, Priesthood, and Spiritual Maturity”
Is the priesthood a power to exercise or a call to share in the broken Christ? Ross sets modern questions about ordained ministry in the church within a much broader context, encouraging us to reflect anew on the relationship between administrative power and spiritual authority within the church and redefine the priesthood. She minces no words in her critique of the contemporary church. She proposes such sweeping and fundamental changes that we sense what a truly Christian church would be. Ross engaged in pastoral work before becoming a vowed Anglican solitary (or anchorite).
In “Pillars of Flame”, Maggie Ross penetrates the superficial veneer of pastoral ministry and theology to unearth profound insights into power dynamics, spiritual maturity, and the essence of priesthood. Ross challenges traditional paradigms, proposing a transformative vision of ministry where power is wielded through humility and service rather than dominion and authority. At the heart of her book lies the compelling invitation to mature in spirituality to embrace the essence of the priesthood as a journey into more profound love, wisdom, and service. Ross masterfully weaves scholarly wisdom with poetic eloquence, crafting a narrative that is both a challenge and an inspiration for those who seek authenticity in their spiritual leadership. In a time when the world needs humble, wise and compassionate leaders, “Pillars of Flame” is a beckoning light, a guide towards transforming the priesthood into a beacon of hope and love. Suppose you aspire to serve in ministry with depth, integrity, and profound spiritual maturity. In that case, this book is an invaluable and essential resource.
Mandy Smith – “The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry”
Offers an alternative to contemporary business- and personality-based models of ministry, exploring in practical ways the possibilities in Paul’s model of allowing God to reveal strength through our weakness. Smith has been in pastoral ministry for the past eighteen years.
“The Vulnerable Pastor” is a game-changing addition to pastoral theology, redefining strength in ministry through embracing vulnerability. Mandy’s book serves as an engaging, empathetic guide to reinterpreting human frailty as a conduit for divine grace and a transformative tool for robust, authentic spiritual leadership. Rooted in her own experiences, Smith’s approach challenges traditional norms and expectations, inviting pastors to find strength in their limitations and, thus, amplify their capacity for ministry. She effectively dissolves the illusion of pastoral invincibility by breathing new life into pastoral theology with her unique and powerful perspective. This isn’t just a book; it’s a paradigm shift, a call to action for pastors to unmask their vulnerabilities and, thereby, humanize their spiritual leadership, fostering more profound, more genuine connections with their congregations. This invaluable contribution will revolutionize your understanding of pastoral ministry and empower you in unexpected ways. If you are a pastor, spiritual leader, or simply an individual who aspires to lead with authenticity and grace, “The Vulnerable Pastor” is a must-read.
Margaret J. Marcuson – “Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry”
An introduction and guide to “sustainable ministry,” which empowers pastors and church leaders to focus on their inner resources for proactive leadership. Church leadership does not have to be a recipe for burnout. There is an easier way, one that is doable, effective, and sustainable. It is counterintuitive, so help is needed to get it right. Marcuson served as a pastor, ordained American Baptist minister, and is on the Leadership in Ministry workshops faculty.
“Leaders Who Last” by Margaret J. Marcuson is an indispensable treasure for anyone in ministry looking for sustainable leadership wisdom. It is more than a book; it’s an infusion of vitality and longevity in a field often marked by burnout and brief tenures. Marcuson provides a groundbreaking approach to pastoral leadership by integrating critical aspects of systems theory with profound spiritual insight, fostering an understanding that leadership is not about fixing everything but managing oneself within the system. By advocating for a shift from an anxiety-driven model to a self-aware, non-anxious presence, she breathes new life into the concept of pastoral resilience. Her potent blend of practical advice and compassionate wisdom invites leaders to engage in meaningful ministry without losing themselves. This revolutionary contribution to pastoral theology and ministry promises to transform your leadership approach, helping you navigate the tumultuous waters of ministry with grace, perseverance, and enduring passion. Marcuson’s book is the beacon you’ve been searching for if you seek to be a leader who thrives and lasts.
Sue Nilson Kibbey – “Ultimate Responsibility: When You’re in Charge of Igniting a Ministry”
It’s not your noteworthy, public accomplishments that inspire and encourage those around you to run the race excellently. God uses your practical, moment-to-moment choices as their servant leader for spiritual growth and ministry deployment. Great leaders are willing to sacrifice ego, self-significance, and self-imagined importance to live downward into increasing effectiveness, no matter what it takes. God uses their relentless commitment to learning this art to transform ordinary people into intentional leaders. Kibbey is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church. Her local church ministry included ten years as the Executive Pastor of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, and twelve years as director of ministries and interim senior pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“Ultimate Responsibility: When You’re in Charge of Igniting a Ministry” by Sue Nilson Kibbey is a trailblazing pastoral theology and ministry masterpiece. Kibbey delivers an empowering manifesto for those sparking life and vitality within their ministries. Her book isn’t simply a guide—it’s an initiation into a transformative journey where the mantle of leadership transforms from a burden to a conduit for a divine purpose. With a unique blend of practical wisdom and spiritual insight, Kibbey unfolds an inspiring roadmap to navigating the challenges of ministry leadership, underscoring the transformative power of visionary leadership and fostering an environment of creativity, adaptability, and growth. Her work empowers leaders to ignite their ministries with the fire of purpose and resilience, turning the seemingly impossible into achievable miracles. If you are a spiritual leader seeking to inspire, energize, and take your ministry to unparalleled heights, “Ultimate Responsibility” is not just a book—it’s an enlightening experience you can’t miss.
Immerse Yourself in this Broader Pastoral Canon
Books on pastoral theology and ministry written by women pastors offer a unique and invaluable perspective that can significantly enhance our understanding of faith, leadership, and community. These works provide a nuanced narrative that embraces both the strength and vulnerability inherent in spiritual leadership, often emphasizing the transformative power of empathy, resilience, and authentic connection.
By reading these books, you gain fresh insights into pastoral ministry and witness the rich tapestry of diverse experiences and wisdom women bring to the field. This can profoundly enrich our understanding of the Gospel and its application in our lives and communities, breaking down barriers, challenging stereotypes, and promoting inclusivity. Reading these books is not merely an intellectual exercise—it’s a transformative journey that can renew and reinvigorate churches, breathe fresh life into pastoral ministry, and foster a more compassionate, inclusive, and dynamic Christian community.
How My Ministry Has Been Challenged and Enriched
In the beautifully crafted books mentioned above, I have encountered a treasure trove of insights, wisdom, and transformative ideas that have significantly influenced my personal pastoral theology and practices. Here are some of the insights I’ve gained and some of the things I’ve personally learnt through these books:
1. Embracing Vulnerability: I’ve learnt that strength in ministry isn’t rooted in strength and appearance but in embracing our human limitations and vulnerabilities. This perspective amplifies the capacity for ministry by fostering genuine connections with the congregations and the people I serve among. I’ve more toward a biblical embrace of pain, adversity, and weakness in ministry.
2. Deepening Divine Encounter: It’s imperative to redefine the concept of divine encounter and explore how God meets us in our brokenness and uncertainties. Such an approach offers a profound sense of belonging and intimacy with God in life, ministry, mission, and other service.
3. Viewing Ministry as a Spiritual Practice: I’ve understood ministry as a spiritual practice reflecting and fostering God’s loving, gracious, sustaining nearness. This view transforms day-to-day pastoral and ministry life into a wellspring of spiritual nourishment. I’ve grown a deeper capacity for mess and mystery in ministry.
4. Seeking Leadership Longevity: Integrating systems theory with spiritual insight in pastoral leadership helps focus on inner resources for proactive leadership. The idea is not about fixing everything but managing myself within the system, thereby reducing burnout.
5. Examining Power Dynamics and Spiritual Maturity: It’s crucial to examine power dynamics, spiritual maturity, and the essence of pastoral ministry. I’ve learnt that humility and service are vital to transforming power from a tool of dominion to a means of profound love, kindness, and service. I’ve learnt to listen and learn to the voices from the margins, which are surprising and powerful.
6. Igniting Ministry: The ministry’s mantle of service and leadership can be transformed from a burden to a conduit for a divine purpose. Inspiring and energizing my ministry with purpose and resilience can turn seemingly impossible challenges into achievable miracles.
7. Utilizing Pastoral Imagination: Combining creativity and intuition in service of a dynamic ministry can bring vibrancy, creativity, and meaningful connections to my pastoral and ministry service. The “pastoral imagination” encourages me to engage my creativity, imagination, and hope for a more impactful ministry.
8. Rethinking Success in Ministry: Rather than obsessing over numerical growth, results or other external fruit, I’m learning to redefine “success” in my ministry as faithfulness, servanthood, prayer, and love. This approach liberates me from worldly expectations and aligns me with God’s perspective of true success.
9. Understanding the Role of Adversity in Healing and Growth: Adversity can be a transformative opportunity to deepen my faith, foster growth, and cultivate resilience. It’s not merely about overcoming difficulties but leveraging them to emerge stronger as a human and follower of Jesus.
These women’s voices echo the experiences of many, providing invaluable guidance for navigating faith and leadership in the contemporary world. Whether you’re a pastor, layperson, or simply someone interested in the intersection of faith and life, these books are essential to your spiritual and intellectual journey.
Ignite your faith, enrich your understanding, and transform your perspective with these women pastors’ profound wisdom and insights.
See “50 Books to Renew Your Pastoral Ministry and Passion”, which is a companion post to this one. Click HERE for that post.
Photo Credit: Timothy Barlin at Unsplash.