Beyond Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry: Cultivating Personal, Academic and Professional Development (Part 3)

This is the final and concluding post of our three-part series addressing this topic. To read part one, click here and to read part two, click here.

Beyond Ministry

Religious ministry can be rewarding, fulfilling, and spiritually empowering. At the same time, serving in ministry, like marriage and motherhood, can limit us from pursuing other endeavors, such as academic and professional development. In Israel, many in the Messianic community not only fulfill spiritual-ministerial roles within congregational life, but also gravitate towards employment in ministries or religious organizations (Messianic or Christian). While some are indeed called into full-time ministry, others simply resort to this type of employment for practical reasons. For instance, ministries and religious non-profits,, tend to offer higher salaries, better benefits and superior working conditions than their equivalent in the mainstream Israeli workforce. In addition, working for ministries is largely seen as providing a more positive, Godly working environment governed by believing ethics and values. Since women in our community disproportionately bear many of the domestic and caregiving responsibilities, they are even more inclined to seek employment in these types of organizations due to the benefits and flexible working hours generally offered in such settings.

This phenomenon carries with it several implications. Since this has become a norm within the community, there are social and religious expectations to conform to this paradigm, which can minimize the importance of an education and professional development or discourage the study of certain subjects due to mistrust and skepticism surrounding secular education. Furthermore, society is largely guided by an implicit gender bias and societal norm that views women as merely holding jobs rather than building careers. Based on the presumption that women will automatically have to relinquish their aspirations and dreams for the sake of family, educational and career development can be less encouraged among women in the community, with ministry serving as a viable alternative. Likewise, those who already have an education or professional background are either less likely to fully utilize these skills or forgo them altogether for the sake of ministry work. Later, should women seek employment in the labor market, they place themselves at a disadvantage due to the lack of education or work experience, and professional networking and connections in the respective job sectors. For those who are new immigrants, it can also serve as an impediment to achieving full integration and assimilation into society.

Most importantly, however, is that this trend has created a reality in which very few Messianic women and men work in mainstream Israeli society. This profoundly limits our contribution and impact on society and thwarts our efforts to share our message of hope and elicit true change and social reform from within. As a community in Israel, it can ultimately diminish our legitimacy and cultural and social relevance, while precluding us from achieving political influence. The trend inevitably encourages and compels the younger generation of Messianic Jews to follow suit, which only perpetuates the phenomenon, further isolating and detaching the community from the rest of society.

While we support traditional ministry service and recognize its value and importance, we want to encourage women (and men) to reach beyond the normative realms of ministry to not only embrace academic and professional pursuits alongside ministry obligations, but to actively take part in the Israeli workforce and contribute to society in an organic and meaningful way. For instance, public service and government jobs offer good conditions and benefits, particularly for working mothers. If the language currently poses an obstacle, there are a plethora of opportunities for English speakers advertised on English job boards throughout Israel.

In many cases, women are their own worst enemies in seeking professional achievement. Numerous studies indicate that men apply for jobs when meeting just 60% of the qualifications, while women often only apply if they fulfill 100% of the criteria due to self-doubt, a lack of confidence in their own skills and abilities and being risk-averse. This can ultimately limit their job opportunities and growth. If you are interested in a position, but do not meet 100% of the job requirements, consider taking a risk and apply for it anyway. It is important to believe in ourselves, be willing to fail, and be determined to try again.

Likewise, take advantage of connections and relationships you have with individuals currently employed in various industries to expand your network and sphere of influence to increase job prospects. Seek out and offer professional mentorship and support to other females as this fosters co-learning and motivation, and is a key driver of success. [1] If employment in the general Israeli labor force is not an option at the moment, consider volunteering in the local community or civil society organizations. Embrace your possibilities and potential, and be a role model for the younger generation of Messianic Jews, encouraging them to be an integral part of society.

Conclusion

The beauty of the body of Messiah, the beauty of humanity, is that our uniqueness is important, and we embrace the myriad opinions of Messianic Jewish women in their efforts to work out their own identities. It is our hope and prayer that our journeys can be of use to other women struggling through similar issues to those we articulate here. We do not have to cede our identity or give up ambition for the greater good of just being a wife, mother or member of a ministry. We can embrace these roles while also pursuing other aspirations outside of these parameters. Our spirituality and journeys of faith are important, the core of our beings, but not the whole. Our identities as individuals and members of communities are important, and we believe that we are able to seek God best when we can cultivate these different parts of our identities in fulfilling ways. This is what it means for us to look beyond marriage, motherhood and ministry.


[1] Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, 2013; also Leanin.org, “4 Things All Mentors and Mentees Should Know,” 2016.

Additional sources for further reading

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women, Naomi Wolf

Fashioned to Reign: Empowering Women to Fulfill their Divine Destiny, Kris Valloton

The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Nicolas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

Heirs Together, Patricia Gundry

How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life, Joanna Barsh, Susie Cranston, Geoffrey Lewis

I Suffer Not a Woman, Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger

Junia is Not Alone, Scot McKnight

Knowing Your Value, Mika Brzezinski

A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Wolf

A Week of Mutuality,” Rachel Held Evans (Blog)

Why Not Women?, Loren Cunningham