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It happens every few weeks. But guaranteed, every time it does, I am caught off-guard.
When you are the person preaching from the Bible each Sunday, leading events, organizing meetings, and pastoring people during the week, it’s very easy to forget that being female and a pastor is a very odd and challenging thing for some people.
It’s easy to forget the discouraging emails and conversations you had eight or nine years ago that threatened your budding confidence when you were just starting out in ministry, the discomfort you used to have at being the only woman at a clergy meeting, the season during which you knew zero other woman leading a church. It’s easy to forget that you’ve gotten used to being you and doing what you’re called to do, regardless of what some people say.
But inevitably, the conversation comes. And when it does, it catches me off-guard.
Still. Every single time.
“Doesn’t the Bible Teach Against Women Being Pastors?”
“The Question” usually comes from churched people.
As a church planter, I have yet to receive that question from someone who is new to faith or new to church. While some of these churched people who pose the question are strangers visiting my church for the first time on a Sunday morning, or meeting me at an outreach or community event, others who pose the question are friends and ministerial co-workers from other churches local to me—people for whom I have great respect.
While I am still caught off-guard by the question, I have also realized the question I once feared hearing, the question that provoked disappointment (“how can they believe this?”), nervousness (“what if they go away and don’t come back?”), anger (“I hope they go away and never come back!”), doubt (“do I have the right arguments?”), or even insecurity (“maybe I’m not cut out to do this”), I am able to see differently now—and I receive it as an opportunity.
The choice to receive this question as an opportunity, rather than a threat, has come with time and practice. Because I know I am not alone in hearing “The Question,” I want to share five things I ask myself when I encounter a person challenging my role as a pastor.
Five Things to Consider When My Calling as a Woman is Questioned
1. Who is the true enemy here?
There is an Enemy—but they are not it.
In seminary, I took a class at Reformed Theological Seminary, which does not support women in pastoral leadership. I knew someday I would serve a church in community with other churches, and I wanted to have a first-hand experience with what my brothers in Christ down the street believed.
In class, I found talented young men with a heart for reaching people for Christ and communicating God’s Word effectively. At lunch, I had non-threatening discussions with the instructor and my fellow students about their perspective of biblical interpretation. I learned a lot from these men. And I would like to think they learned from me as well; I was told by some that it was indeed the first time they had gotten to know a female evangelical pastor.
I believe most of these folks are doing God’s work. There’s a megachurch by me that does not allow women to be pastors, but it has amazing ministries to families with special needs children and continually has an impact on youth and young adults in the region. I may never be invited to preach there, but they are not the enemy.
I have a neighbor who goes to a church that supports a strict complementarian view, yet she supported my church by passing out our door hangers to her neighbors, inviting them to my church since it’s in our neighborhood, while hers is far away. Again, she is not the enemy.
I’ve found that it takes a certain Spirit-humbled posture to step into spaces and relationships with people who have questions about what I am doing. I believe spiritual maturity results in becoming explorative rather than defensive, continuing to be who God has called me to be.Spiritual maturity results in becoming explorative rather than defensive. Click To Tweet
2. Who am I talking to?
This a necessary question I ask of myself each time I encounter The Question. Who is this person who is challenged enough by my presence and role that they have mustered enough chutzpah to talk to me about it? Is this a confrontational stranger, seminarian, friend from another tradition, or a struggling congregation member? I have to give them credit for speaking up and jumping into what could be an uncomfortable conversation. It’s a lot easier for people to resort to ghosting when they’re unhappy with a minister—meaning they silently stop showing up, serving, giving, or even talking to you.
Jesus always probed deeper when someone came to him concerned that he seemed to be changing the Law. He knew there was a story behind the question. It’s my task to ask the right questions and understand the person’s background. What tradition/denomination/tribe did they grow up in? Who has been influential in his/her life? Where are they getting this question from—is it even their own?Jesus knew there's always a story behind the question. Click To Tweet
Of course, sometimes questions are merely confrontational. Jesus knew the difference between a typical Pharisee question that desired to trap him and a Nicodemus question which desired to learn—even if not leading to a change of mind.
3. What ideas have they connected in their mind that they are having difficulty separating?
Once you begin to grasp someone’s theological formative identity, pinpoint the area of struggle. The divisive age in which we live has supported the “lumping” of ideologies that may or may not be connected, resulting in the kind of thinking “if someone believes X, then they certainly are Y and Z too.”
As an example, in the case of women in ministry, the lump of thinking can go somewhat like this: “someone who supports women in ministry must not either care about or believe the Bible and therefore cannot be evangelical, so they must support a liberal political agenda.”
Another lump of thinking may also be: “Someone who is a female pastor must be against the traditional roles of men and women and therefore must be against the family unit and probably is aiding in the demise of marriage.”
Some of these ideological ties I’ve discovered from personal encounters with respected pastors and church leaders, but also in the media. It’s important to discover where their struggle is coming from: their reading of Scripture, your position in the church going against the beliefs of a former pastor they had, or even a fear of “liberals.” When I was starting out in ministry, before I was connected to Missio Alliance, I too wondered if being evangelical meant you had to ascribe to particular facets of faith, including male church leadership. One of the great things about Missio Alliance is that we continue to challenge evangelical stereotyping and to disintegrate “lumps.” Sometimes, hearing my affirmation that I do indeed read the Bible as God’s Word, desire to spread the gospel, and do not lean left begins to put down someone’s defenses and open them to a different approach.
4. What would be most helpful for them to read/hear/see?
Perhaps they simply need to witness the reality of a woman ministering. I was the first woman I heard preach. You or your pastor might be someone else’s first. Receive this as an opportunity and a gift.
Admittedly I’ve questioned why someone with strong feelings about women in ministry would check out my church’s website and still come for a visit, but I’ve come to see the possibility that it could be a movement of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t always work in boxes.
Perhaps they are open to exploring the possibility of women in ministry, and some key resources would go a long way in helping them down that path. Here are some easily-accessible resources I’ve shared with people.
- The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight
- Beyond Egalitarianism and Complementarianism by David Fitch
- The Junia Project
- The Case for Women in Ministry by Greg Boyd
There are many more out there.
5. How can I invite them to experience the fruit of having both men and women as pastoral leaders?
I still remember the conversation we had—how I experienced a strange wave of surprise and humility at the same time. A couple who had been coming to my church for a number of months and was now very involved in serving told me the story of their first Sunday.
They had walked in, taken a seat, and seen that I was preaching that morning. They almost walked out, but they didn’t. They stayed. They stayed despite their previous church background and their initial discomfort. I was told by the end of the service, they felt convicted they had heard God’s Word preached in a powerful way. And they came back. And back again. And as they watched, they observed God’s call on my life and experienced fruit from my ministry. They still wrestled. But they had become open to the opportunity to “come and see.”
Their story humbled me and brought tears to my eyes. Little did I know that there would be more of these stories from people who had questions but decided to stick around. And though I had, and continue to have, plenty stories of failure, insecurity, and questions of my own call, they saw fruit.
Of course, being a pioneer doesn’t come without its scars. There may come a time when ongoing conflict over your ministry as a woman becomes so intense that it interferes too much. In that case, it may be time to consider prayerfully whether shaking the “dust off your feet” and going to a place/ministry/tribe where you can more fully share your gifts is the wise thing to do.
But what if there is fruit to be had by staying? What if, by facing the questions, there is an opportunity for both you and the brother or sister posing the question to mutually grow and learn?
Friends, let’s view these conversations as opportunities to build a bridge, rather than defend a fortress.
What are ways you have embraced “The Question” as an opportunity?
These are the sort of conversations we are looking to advance through the SheLeads Summit. We hope you’ll consider joining us in Pasadena or at 11 other regional venues across the country on Saturday, October, 28. Click the banner for more info.