I usually steer clear of those issues that historically plague the church – the ones that generation after generation never seem to agree upon. But this issue of women in ministry is one that circles around my life again and again and I figured maybe it’s time I stopped hiding from it and stopped being afraid of rocking the boat. I’ll be posting a series over the next few weeks about women in authority in the Body of Christ. And I’ll be digging into the Scriptures, too, so don’t let this first introductory post come across as rhetoric. Stick with me.
I believe that God is, and will be in greater measure, using women in powerful ways as He seeks workers to plant and reap the Kingdom harvest. In fact, I believe God is calling women to step into their rightful positions, that He’s seeking to restore to them the authority Satan has stolen, and that only when this happens will a full and complete outpouring of God’s Spirit within our homes, our communities, and the nations happen. Women have been part of God’s plan from the beginning and as long as they are restrained than the fullness of God’s desire for the earth and His Kingdom cannot be fully realized.
Many women are holding themselves back – though their spirits within them are straining with holy passion – as they seek to be submissive and honoring to their pastors, their husbands, and their bosses. On the flip side are those women who trample the God-given authority of men and muddy the waters between male and female in an effort to be who they want to be. Very few of us find that righteous place of honor where we can be who God made us to be while simultaneously esteeming others.
I’ve long felt called to ministry. Specifically, called to teach, and speak, and write. In essence – be a voice. And voices are heard. And this presents problems when there’s an atmosphere of strong belief that women should be silent in the church in mixed company. I’ve endured a heartbreaking journey as I’ve encountered more than once the “establishment” who would seek to call me rebellious for even entertaining such thoughts. Indeed, I have in actuality literally been labeled a rebel.
As a young, single woman I felt called to ministry and I was pretty single-minded in that pursuit. But I was young and needed direction and help to figure out where to go and what to do once I got there. I joined a group of other young people and went through a program our church coined “Timothy College.” It was a three-year correspondence program intended to provide the education necessary to become licensed and ordained within that denomination. We were required to study, be involved in church leadership, be faithful in church attendance, and meet regularly with the pastor. In addition, we were supposed to preach a certain number of times in a year.
I studied diligently, worked tirelessly in the church, and moved forward faithfully. All the while I watched my “class” dwindle as one by one the others gave up. I watched as many of the young men hit the bars on Saturday night, missed Sunday morning church, and dragged in Sunday night clad in sunglasses and with a story to tell of a wild night. I watched month after month as my pastor invested diligently in these young men. Meanwhile, I showed up several times for my required meetings, only to be told he didn’t have time that day. I took my exams and moved forward anyway. I never did preach a message, though.
Finally, I took my final exams, wrote my final essays, and appeared before the regional board for an evaluation and interview. All five-feet-one-inch of me walked into a darkened room and faced an intimidating collection of middle-aged men, dressed to the nines in full suits and polished dress shoes, their cologne tickling my nose and making my eyes water. Not one of them smiled. I quaked in my high heels.
The interview didn’t go well. They tossed out at me that dreaded word, “rebel.” But the most devastating thing of all was when one of the men rumbled, “If you want to be in ministry you should marry a pastor.” And that was that.
Except it wasn’t. When I went to my pastor afterwards, not fully understanding what had just happened and hoping for some direction, some encouragement, maybe even someone to go to bat for me, his response was, “You brought this on yourself, girl.”
Girl. Girl, he called me.
I’m a slow learner because I hopped right back in for a second year and made it almost to my final exams before I got engaged and that pastor left the church. Between those two events the program closed down. Whether I quit or they quit on me I’m still not sure.
But what I do know is that the experience brought my confidence to a screeching, painful halt. I began to question everything I thought I knew about who I was, who God was, and how I related to Him. Everything I thought I knew about my relationship with Him suddenly seemed uncertain. And the questions began, gnawing away at the core of my identity.
Did God really call me to ministry? Does God really talk to me? Did I really hear His voice? How can I be sure I heard His voice? How could I – young, little, inexperienced Marnie – how could I think I’d heard His voice so clearly when others were telling me that God wouldn’t call a woman to ministry?
And so I gave up. I decided I’d been wrong. I decided that God had called me to be a wife and a mother and it was wrong to desire anything more. I decided it was a shameful thing to dream about being part of anything else. I decided to shut down that part of my heart.
I decided. But God didn’t. He’d planted something in me before I was ever born and it was as much a part of me as the color of my eyes or the need to breathe. It was His very unique fingerprint seared into the core of my being. It was relentless. It couldn’t be hidden. It couldn’t be suppressed. It couldn’t be given away or stolen away. I couldn’t run away from it.
Indeed, it was confirmed over and over again, through person after person. Years of “older” people telling my parents, “That girl has a call on her life.” Years of men and women coming to me for guidance. Years where my hunger and passion for the things of God never waned. Years of men, and women, and young people seeking me out, though I didn’t understand then why, or what, I possibly had to offer them. Years of watching with uncertainty as God repeatedly used me to speak truth into the lives of desperate people. Years of seeing fruit produced in those lives. All confirmation that there was something there, no matter how I tried to deny it.
You see, while I was trying so hard to “submit” and “honor” those men over me, years were passing. And God was placing me again and again in situations where I opened my mouth and lives were changed. He was showing me that I didn’t need man’s favor or approval and I didn’t need a certificate to hang on my wall. I needed to fix my eyes on Him and be still long enough for Him to do through me whatever He wanted to do. And gradually I came to realize with full force that those men were wrong. I know who I am. I know who God called me to be. I know His voice. I know His presence. I know His leading. And there is no force, no person, no circumstance that will ever cause me to doubt those things again.
But there are many other women out there who’ve been left with those same heartbreaking questions, that same sense of being disregarded, and that same feeling of being undervalued and disrespected. But Scripture actually has a lot to say about women in positions of leadership and authority, and in the next few posts I’ll be exploring those things.
See you next week!
Keep reading? Click here for Part 2.