During the month of June our LeadHer Local chapters are talking about the topic of trust. Specifically- we have been discussing the trust that is required to go deeper into our relationship with God and follow his call on our lives. Members of our chapters were challenged to pray a prayer that I have used many times in my own life and leadership, “God, give me the faith to step out of the boat and develop in me the trust to keep walking with you on the waves.”
I have been using this prayer for several years as God has called me out onto some deep waters to face some large waves. One of the large waves that I have been asked to walk in has been in answering the call of ministry both beside the church through LeadHer and inside the church through a staff position at my local church that allows me to lead and to teach several times a year. This has not been an easy journey for me and today, as this month is winding down, I feel God prompting me to share a bit of my journey and my struggle with you. It is my hope that my personal story will help you examine the issue of women in ministry in your own heart – much as I have had to do in my own.
I was raised in a Southern Baptist church in Southwest Missouri. I saw only men preach, teach, pray, and lead in our services each week. I remember our Sunday School classes (except those for women only) were led by men. There were women on staff at this large church- but they were all serving in support roles behind the scenes; drama director, nursery coordinator, kitchen and hospitality director, etc… Growing up I did not question this- it was normal for me to see and to accept. It was not until I became an adult that I suddenly found myself wrestling with my upbringing and the influence that it had on my own identity and ability to serve.
When I entered college, I was on a path to be an elementary school teacher- going into ministry and church leadership was not even on my radar screen. Why elementary education you wonder? Well- my mom was a teacher, my dad was a teacher, my grandmother was a teacher, my uncle was a teacher… you see where this is going. I felt like being a teacher was what was expected of me… it was what our family did. However, the moment that I had my first child in the middle of my bachelor’s degree… my chosen career path no longer felt right. For years, I struggled to find my calling and my passion. I tried and failed at many different things. I envisioned many different plans and possibilities. None of them felt right.
Fast forward about seven years… my first marriage had just fallen apart and I thought to myself I have no plan B for my life. Little did I know that God was trying to get my attention and whisper to my heart that I had been living MY plan B and now it was time for HIS plan A. He called me into full time ministry. I tried to run away. Two main things fueled my desire to escape the burden that he was placing on my heart for His church; my past mistakes and my gender.
I struggled with feeling that my past sins, struggles, and failures disqualified me from serving God. Yet God reminded me he was bigger than my guilt and my shame. He promised me that if I was willing to lead transparently and openly that he would use my mess for his message. I was willing and I knew that he was the God who redeems and restores so I trusted him to keep his promise. I am far from perfect- and I do not try to hide that in my past or my present in ministry. I found that trusting him in the other area has been much harder.
For the first few years of my ministry… the thing that I found myself tripping over the most, was not my journey but my gender. I found myself lacking confidence in not my skill-based ability but in my sex-based ability. In other words- I knew that I could do the things that I felt I was called to do; however, I was not sure that I was allowed to do the things I felt called to.
I had to wrestle with this calling in my own heart first. I had to confront my own internalized limitations that were based on what was modeled for me growing up. I had to dig into scripture and form my own opinions about women and ministry that were based on God’s word and study of it- rather then basing my answer on tradition or history. In the early days of LeadHer, my heart broke at my previous willingness to accept boundaries without question. I knew that I was one of so many women who believed that they were limited to only certain roles in the church. It was my heart that through our local chapters we could challenge women to see themselves as more and see that God has called and created them for more.
I have a deep passion for God’s word and know without a doubt that I am called to teach The Word- as LeadHer began, I answered that call through our monthly teaching videos and LeadHer Live events. Yet, as LeadHer began to grow, I sensed that there was still more to my calling then what I was seeing. I began to boldly ask God to show me. Not long after that, God led our family to a new church in Springfield, MO called NorthBridge– after attending for more than a year, an opportunity presented itself for me to join the teaching team and staff of our church…our Baptist church.
Stepping out onto these the waters of ministry definitely rocked my boat… and the boats of others as well. It has led to many tough conversations with friends, family, and fellow believers who were not sure how or if they could support me in the area of teaching and preaching because of their own views and thoughts of a woman’s role in the church. Through my leadership role in LeadHer, I have had people tell me that I was out of God’s will as a woman. A very small handful of people in our body of several hundred have avoided church on days that I was speaking. I have experienced the pain of being told that despite my ability and qualification there are things inside The Church that are off limits to me because I am a woman. Each time my calling puts me in the path of a problem that I need to navigate I have to remind myself that the same God who called me out onto these waves is present with me as I walk through them. I put my trust in his calling and his presence.
I often get asked this question: Why do you stay in the Baptist church? Why not go to a denomination that welcomes and accepts women preaching and leading? My answer is simple. God called me to the Baptist church and my heart and heritage is here. Is it the easy road? No. God seldom calls us to the easy road.
I have found that for every outspoken critic of my ability to preach and lead as a woman… there are many others that have encouraged me and thanked me for not giving up. I am blessed beyond words to be a part of a church that has leaders who not only support my call but allow me to use it. I have the deepest respect for not only their hearts for me personally, but their hearts to see the issue of women in the church be a conversation topic not taboo.I have had the chance to watch God working in the hearts and minds of some of the same friends, family, and fellow believers who did or still do struggle with the issue of women in the church. I celebrate their struggle! Their struggle represents a willingness to seek God’s direction on this issue and wrestle with their own preconceptions. That is my biggest prayer for my leadership inside The Church, that my willingness to stay in a denomination that as a whole may not fully support my call does create opportunities for conversation and serves as a catalyst for individual hearts to be changed. I pray for more church leaders to be like mine at NorthBridge– willing to support and struggle with me as we trust God together to guide us forward.
Are there times that I am tempted to take an easier path… I would be lying if I did not say yes. Yet, I know that God has trusted me with the gifts and passions to preach and teach – just as he has called me to the church that I serve. My faith in who God is fuels my trust to be who he has called me to be- where he has called me to be it. I know that partial obedience is not what God desires. For me to pack up my preaching passion and take it to a different church would be just that… partial obedience and I do not believe God would bless and honor that activity. Total trust is the catalyst for total obedience.
My heart is deeply burdened and passionate about engaging The Church as a whole in conversations about women in the church. I have overcome my own self-imposed limitations to come to a whole-hearted belief that we are missing out on so much by silencing and sidelining women in the church. As a woman with a deep love for The Church and as a woman who has been called to speak into her– I have to trust that where God is calling he will guide and direct me. I pray that my leadership through LeadHer challenges other women to explore their own callings with boldness and confidence- in and out of The Church.
My biggest prayer is that the people who make up the The Church would also seek to trust God in the issue of women. I pray for a day that trust not tradition guides the hands of those who open and close doors to women in the church. Imagine the impact that type of movement could have on not only The Church… but the world as well.