Archive for the ‘Ministry’ Category

How I Became An Egalitarian: Called to Be a Pastor

This is Part 13, and the last, of a series that began here.

Over the next several years, Sam and I settled into our lives as egalitarians.  We began to take classes together at seminary, still believing that God had called us to be missionaries overseas.   We found a church that empowered women in ministry.  We became foster parents.  We got involved in our church.  We became biological parents.  We got really involved in our church.

Through it all, there was something that was hanging over our heads.  It bothered us a little lot.  Was God still calling us to be missionaries?  Somewhere along the way, Sam put a halt on his seminary studies, because we got the sense that maybe God was not.  And, while we sensed that God still wanted me to continue at seminary, we also did not feel like there was any clear direction or strong impetus for us to go overseas.  So what had it been all about then?  Had Sam and I misread and  misheard God?

As I reflected on my years in ministry and all the conversations I had ever had with God about the surrendered life, I realized this one thing — all along, he had gifted me with being a shepherd and a teacher.  That was where all the fruitfulness had been.  So, like the dawning of a new day, everything became clear to me.  All along, I had known but had been afraid to admit — God had been calling me to be a pastor.  Because I had mistakenly thought that women could not be pastors, it had not occurred to me that it was an option for me.  Missions had been the logical option.  No doubt, God had wanted to cultivate in me a heart for the nations, but, as I looked back, I could see that his calling on my life has always been evident.  God has called me, first of all, to be a pastor.

And this is how we ended up here.  Sam and me, in a marriage of equals.  Me, called to be a pastor.  Sam, unequivocally supportive of my calling.  And the two of us, hopeful, that others could experience the life-giving power of believing in a God who loves and values his children equally — both male and female — with the same kind of fierce love that cost him his Son.

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Will there be a place for me?

The last year and half or so, I’ve been on another maternity break from seminary.  During the haze of a newborn baby, my brain went to mush, I felt drained and anti-social, and this led, of course, to doubting and wondering about my calling as a pastor.  When I got out of the haze, I had to face the financial reality of the cost of seminary, and this precipitated questions of whether I should return at all.  The fact is, I really can’t afford seminary.  And for all the money I will pour into my seminary education, will there even be a place for me in the end?  Will there be a church that will hire me?  How will I repay the debt I will owe if I take out loans?  Looking at the handful of churches in my city that are egalitarian, I can’t help but feel discouraged.  And I wonder… do men ever wonder this?  Over the years (and I have been at seminary for six years), I have watched my fellow male seminarians graduate and find positions in churches with ease, and (the truth is) I have felt the pangs of jealousy that finding a position came so easily for them.   And while I know that the road is never easy for anyone in ministry, I know also that my male colleagues will never have doors closed to them based on their gender.  There will always be a place for them.  They don’t have to worry about opportunities because they have so many churches to choose from.  When will it be the same for women who are equally trained, called and gifted?

So what are my options for after I graduate with a Master of Divinity? 

1.  Start my own church

2.  Take a position at a church without the proper pastor title

3.  Search/wait for a pastor position at a church

At this point, not sure I’m ready to do #1, though I know that is something God has planned for me eventually.  #2 is not my ideal, though my chances of finding a position would be higher.  #3 is what I really desire at this point in my ministry journey, but the opportunities are so few and far in between.  But — and this is a big but! — I live and breathe and keep taking steps forward because I trust that the God who has guided me to this will be the one who will provide for me — the exact kind of position for me to fulfill my calling.

I love seminary.  I love studying and delving into the Scriptures and being reminded of the great and mighty God who loves me and has done everything he can to demonstrate his love for all people for all of time.  I love counseling others to know who they are in God and how they can live out who they have been called to be in him.  I love showing others God’s deep and unfathomable love for them and how they can love him back in the same kind of unhindered and unencumbered kind of way — and find that, in this pursuit, they have found who they were created to be and what they were created to do for all their lives and all of eternity.  We were made to worship the one true, loving, living God, and our hearts and souls are not whole until we are engaged in this every moment of every day.  And this is my calling — to help others be inspired, encouraged, enabled and empowered to do this very thing.  And this is why I am back at seminary, and this is why I am trusting God to provide for my financial needs — because there is nothing else worth pouring my time and finances and life into than this.

Does the title “pastor” mean I’m power-hungry?

I had a conversation once with a pastor and his wife that I have not seemed to be able to forget.  My husband and I had been visiting that church for a few months and considering the possibility of making it our spiritual home.  It was important to us, though, that the church valued women in leadership to the same extent that it valued men.  So we sat down with the two of them and asked many questions.

And this is what they told us:  They were a couple who did ministry together.  Women served in all ways in the denomination.  Women in the denomination could even serve in a pastoral capacity, but they would not have the title “Pastor”. “And,” said the woman, “I am awfully suspicious of women who are looking for titles anyway.  Any time a woman is trying to get the title, it makes me think she is hungry for power.  I am happy to serve alongside my husband in full capacity without the title.”

At that time, I was silenced by her statement.  I didn’t want to appear to be power-hungry.  I wanted to check myself, “Am I power-hungry, Lord?”  It seemed so much more humble to not seek a title.

However, much reflection brought me to the conclusion that I am not in fact power-hungry any more than any other man who takes on the same title.  Why is a woman declared power-hungry but a man given a complete pass?  I wish I could go back to that conversation and ask her that question.

It has been years since this conversation took place.  Through all the time that has transpired, I’ve grown into a deeper understanding about this title “Pastor”.  I’ve realized that I didn’t start being a pastor when the title was conferred to me by a church or that I will be even more so a pastor when I graduate seminary with my Masters of Divinity.  Whether I am in a church-paid position as a pastor or whether my friends and colleagues call me “Pastor MaryAnn” or not, I am still a pastor.  It is who I am.  And being a pastor is being a shepherd who walks alongside others.  It is not, to me, a position of power but of servanthood.

Invalidity

Every day, I have the pleasure of teaching my child something new and of seeing her grasp that new skill or knowledge.  Today, particularly, I was reveling over the privilege I have as a parent to participate in my child’s growth.  My thoughts strayed to the reality that every day, dads and moms are teaching their daughters and their sons many things from the basics of walking and talking to deep biblical truths about God and redemption.  So when does a mom’s teaching become invalid for her son?

According to certain camps, women are never to teach men.  I have always puzzled over the departure from logic that is required in holding on to this literal, non-contextualized interpretation of a few verses of Scripture.  It doesn’t make sense when you break it down to specifics.  Some say that a woman can teach boys until they turn into men.  What is the designation of manhood — when they reach the Jewish age of manhood at 13 or the American definition of adulthood at 18?  And if  these persons have really  chosen one of these arbitrary age designations, I want to know what changes in a God’s ability to use a woman as a mouthpiece for his messages just because a boy has had his birthday?   Consider how absurd this is.

In a few interesting conversations I had with fellow believers who decided that I couldn’t teach or have authority over men, I asked them whether or not they felt like they had ever benefited from, been encouraged by, or inspired by something I had taught them in the past.  The answer was yes.    And yet, at that juncture, they decided that I should stop teaching men.    My heart just aches when I think of all the church has missed and all it would continue to miss out on if women remained silent.

When we look at specifics, it is very difficult to hold onto the belief that the Apostle Paul meant that women were to “remain silent” for all time.

A pastor or a pastor’s wife?

I used to half-jokingly say that I wanted to go to seminary to get an “MRS degree”.  That was because, beginning at the age of 18, I felt a strong certain conviction that the Lord wanted me to dedicate my life to serving him.  I had seen him use my shepherding gifts to encourage others along their spiritual journey, but the church culture around me told me that women didn’t become pastors.  But they could become pastor’s wives.   Sadly, that seemed like the only option I had to utilize my giftings.  I felt called into ministry but barred from being a minister.

Looking back, I wish I could tell my younger self that I didn’t have to feel like I had to put a cap on my gifts and stand behind a man.  Because the sad reality for me at that time was that I knew I couldn’t sign up to be a pastor’s wife as one would sign up for a class.  It wasn’t exactly something I could pursue no matter how much I felt like it was a calling for me to pastor.

This fall, I am starting seminary again — not in pursuit of an “MRS degree” but of an M.Div.  After taking a year break to focus on my calling as a mom, I am making my return to answer my other calling.  During my break from my studies, I had time to reassess.   What was my reason for going to seminary?   Should I continue?  I am a true academic, and I will always crave learning the depth and breadth of God and his Word whether I am in seminary or not.  I could be a pastor or missionary without a degree.   I searched my heart to see if I was trying to validate myself or prove something to the world by obtaining an M.Div.  I didn’t want defiance to be the root of my pursuit.  In my heart of hearts, I know that I don’t need a human-created degree to ‘prove’ my suitability to minister to others.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t pass us up if we don’t have seminary degrees.

But the answer always came back to me that despite the reality that I don’t need a degree for myself or for God in order to validate his calling on my life, I need it in order to fulfill his calling in my life.  My pastor worded it perfectly when he wrote me to encourage me.  (He wrote this not knowing that I was even considering not completing my degree.)  “I’m really glad you’re pursuing the degree.  Unfortunately,  I think it is more important for women to be credentialed than men.   The degree is going to help you live in your God-given authority and gifting.”  Yes, unfortunately, it is true that if people are opposed to listening to a woman, they are even less likely to listen to a woman who has no degree.  And the more I searched my heart, the more I realized that it was as much a calling for me to finish my degree as it was for me to use my degree to serve God.  How I do pray that the M.Div. would really allow me live out his purposes in my life.

I’m writing this tonight, hoping that by chance these words could be read by someone in the same shoes I was in when I was 18.  Don’t believe the lie that you are a second class citizen.  If you feel called to be a pastor, don’t think you have to settle for being a pastor’s wife, the title of “Director” or simply being a layperson.  Pursue the gifts he’s given you.  Get a degree.  Do any less and you would not get to experience the freedom and joy of living out the destiny that he has for you.

Why aren’t women preaching?

A dinner conversation many months ago still sticks out clearly in my mind.  The dinner party consisted of some peers and some parents of peers.  One of these elders asked one of my friends about his current occupation.  When he replied that he was studying at seminary, the elder exclaimed, “That’s wonderful!  Are you going to be a pastor?”  His many questions and well-wishes made it clear that he was enthusiastic about my friend’s endeavors to become a pastor.  Sadly, I remember having a similar exchange of information with this same elder with the stark contrast of a lack of enthusiasm from him.  I knew, from my knowledge of his worldview, that he was excited about my friend’s seminary studies because the friend was a male.  To the elder, a male studying at seminary meant that he was answering a high and noble calling of being a pastor.  My endeavors at seminary meant that I was going to… — he had no idea.  It just didn’t fit into his worldview at all.  For me, this incident paints a clear picture of why there are so few women preachers.

Women aren’t preaching because there are very few opportunities for them to do so.  Some women may get educated at seminary, but when they graduate with their M.Divs, there are very few positions available for them.  Without a platform, it is hard to preach.

However, many women don’t even get to that point.  Some seminaries don’t allow women to study there at all — or if they are permitted to be students, they are barred from the more ‘serious’ academic and ministerial programs such as the M.Div.

In addition to this, many women don’t have the support of their family, friends or pastors.   Without the encouragement of those closest to them, it is hard to take these courageous steps forward.  In some cases, they are even dissuaded by the most influential people in their lives.  They are disheartened by the pessimism and disabled by the peer pressure that they ought to maintain the status quo.  It’s simply too hard to to rock the boat, and they wonder if it’s worth the bother.

But many women don’t even get to the point of even confiding in their peers that they might have a calling to preach.  Many women don’t even consider it because they don’t think they even have that option.  Most churches teach that only men can have authority over other men; God doesn’t want women to teach men; and women should just stick to teaching the kiddies. It feels so black and white, how can they question it?  There aren’t even resources readily available for them to think that they could question it.

And the ultimate clincher?  Many women don’t have living examples of other women showing them that God calls women to preach as well.  What does that look like exactly?  It’s unfathomable to some, when the word pastor is immediately associated with the pronoun “he.”

The reality is that many people don’t even know that there are two sides to this issue.  They are misled to believe that there is only one “truth”:  they think that only men can preach and pastor.  They are misled.  There are two sides, because that is just one interpretation.  For those who have not heard that the Bible teaches that God gifts women to be preachers and teachers as well as to men, I want to proclaim, “It does.”   Christians for Biblical Equality provides good resources for studying this issue.  There are some free articles that you can read here.  This is where I started my journey and where I have concluded since then that it really is worth the bother to exercise my gifts as I follow Jesus.

Living out the gospel of equality

When I first became a Christian, I was very zealous.  Some might say over-zealous.  I was one of those Christians that make you want to cover your eyes while peeking through your fingers so that you can see what damage was being done.  I was so bowled over by the power of the gospel, I was sure that everyone else would thank me for telling them about Jesus.  Unfortunately, to my surprise, not everyone thought it was as great of news as I thought and not everyone received it as joyfully as I did.  Their response surprised me… but didn’t stop me.  I often continued to pursue them with the truth, because I thought that if I could only explain it clearly enough, then they would see what I was seeing.  Sadly, my well-meaning zeal only served to alienate them from me and from the gospel.

Suffice it to say, this same thing happened when my suspicions were confirmed about God’s love for equality.  For many years, I had been so conflicted because of what I thought the Scriptures taught about men and women.  I feared that if such a hierarchy were true, then an incongruous nature about God was being revealed, and that greatly troubled me.  But it wasn’t true.  It really is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Gal 5:1), and the freeing nature of the truth overwhelmed me so much, I wanted to tell everyone about it.  What I saw and understood was such great news, I was sure everyone would thank me for it once they really understood what those passages of Scripture really mean and how Jesus really views women.   If only I could explain it clearly enough so that they could understand!  My persistent excitement and eagerness to bring freedom dribbled down into an excess of obnoxious argumentation.  Rather than helping people understand, I found myself offending, instead.  I lost a few friends in the process and was so disheartened by it that I was effectually silenced.

Something I learned after I had walked with Jesus for a few years is that if you live out the gospel, then skeptics will eventually inquire about and welcome your good news.  The proof is in the pudding.

Recently, I found myself worshiping next to an old friend who grew up in a church with a strong hierarchical stance in the church and in the home.  I have never had any biblical or theological debate with him about biblical equality, but I assume that he thinks that the office of the pastor is for men and not women and that the head of the household is the man.  I don’t think these beliefs are based on any conscious biblical investigation but exist simply because these ideas are the bedrock of his church culture.  But that day, he chose to be at our church, and, coincidentally, that day, our woman pastor was preaching.  Sitting next to him, I heard him laugh at her jokes and could tell that he was listening attentively.  Discussion about the sermon later confirmed that he had indeed learned from her — a woman.

This is when I realized something I should’ve known all along.  I’ve been saying all these years that it didn’t make sense why revelation from God spoken out of a woman’s mouth would be nullified simply because she was a woman.  If children can learn from a woman, and other women can learn from a woman, why couldn’t men?  Truth is truth no matter who speaks it.  But this time I didn’t have to argue it.  It just happened in real time.  A man learned from a woman (how revolutionary is that!).  And it dawned on me that perhaps that is how this revolution will really take place — not solely and primarily through arguments and debates (although there is a time for explaining and theologizing) but — by living out the gospel of equality.  If it is really true, then it will stand the test of time and prevail.  It will prevail!  And I’m looking forward to that day.