We associate pastoring with men because the pastors we have seen are men.
Some older Christians recall the women ministers they knew in childhood and how they led them to faith and service. But these folks are thinning out. We are shaped by what we see and do not see, what we experience and do not experience.
Even in churches that affirm the ordination of women, women pastors are not common.
Relatively few evangelical women who go to seminary start the ordination process, or remain with their first denomination after graduation. I grew up never dreaming that women could be pastors, even though during my many hours in church as a kid, I often thought pastors were very lucky. They had the joy of helping people, studying the Bible and culture, and making disciples.
But pastor was a word for boys.
I was called by God to the ministry of university teaching my first year of college. I went to seminary in the 1970’s, but did not initiate the ordination process when I graduated.
As a Free Methodist, I affirmed women as pastors (against the church of my childhood), but I did not feel called to pastor a church. I was called to teach Bible and pastor university students. I wished more women would be called to the ministry.
But I had the notion that I should not advocate for myself or for women’s ordination—this would be self-promotion.
Instead, I thought caring Christian men should advocate for women. And they should; but so should I!
My transformative education, in this regard, began when my students at Seattle Pacific University asked me to teach a class on women in the Bible and ministry. In preparation for this class, I decided to attend a lecture by New Testament scholar, Dr. Gordon Fee, entitled “Women in Ministry.” Fee exposed 1Tim 2:11-15 (“I don’t allow women to teach . . .”) in the context of the concerns expressed throughout 1 and 2 Timothy about the church at Ephesus.
Fee argued for the ordination of women, claiming that the words about women in 1 Timothy 2 were not part of a discipline manual created for all churches for all time.
Even when properly translated and interpreted, they were particular words for a particular crisis caused by false teachers in the church of Ephesus. Women across the world today are not all young widows, vulnerable to false teachers who settled in their Ephesian homes to teach false doctrines and proselytize.
While I was listening, I felt God speak.
- I realized that I needed to be ordained to be a model for girls and women who might not hear God’s call if they had never seen a woman behind the pulpit or Table.
- I needed to be seen and heard, so their experience would include women standing behind the pulpit and the Table.
- I needed to serve as a Christian minister for the sake of boys and men so they could be inspired by what I said, and so that they would never thwart anyone called to serve God and God’s church.
Twelve years after graduating from seminary, as the mother of three children, a professor at a university, and childbirth instructor at a hospital, I began the ordination process.
I was ordained in the Free Methodist Church in 1991. As I began to preach and serve communion along with teaching courses on Bible and women in ministry, many women recognized a call to serve God as pastors. I minister with women today at Azusa Pacific University who were in my classes at SPU.
Still, the vocation of pastoring never occurs to many women because they do not have a grid for it.
Even those who go to seminary are discouraged by how women are treated in our churches. The only thing that will change this is for church leaders—women and men—to:
- believe women when they say God is calling them to ministry
- weigh their gifts and graces for ministry
- invite them to preach
- encourage them to be ordained
- help them go to seminary
They also must educate their communities concerning a proper use of Scripture and accurate Scripture translations, including the significance of contexts and the difference between particular advice and universal principles. Not every woman who is a Christian feels called to serve God in this way, but many more would if more models appeared before them, naturally, without fanfare, as they simply do what their community has confirmed is God’s vocation for them.
Many women can and do serve God without the ordination process, but ordination should not be withheld from them just because they are women!
The founder of the Free Methodist Church, B. T. Roberts, said it best when he wrote in his compelling treatise, “Ordaining Women,” in 1891:
Why then we repeat does not Christianity root out all false religions? And why does it not have a more marked effect upon the lives of those who acknowledge its truth? There must be a cause. The reason is that the vast majority of those who embrace the Gospel are not permitted to labor according to their ability for the spread of the Gospel.
It is impossible to estimate the extent to which humanity has suffered by the unreasonable and unscriptural restrictions which have been put upon women in the churches of Jesus Christ. Had they been given, since the days of the first Apostles, the same rights as men, this would be quite another world. Not only would the Gospel have been more generally diffused among mankind, but its influence, where its truth is acknowledged, would have been incomprehensibly greater.”
Expositions and arguments are persuasive for some, but personal experience is far more effective for most people.
We can have the greatest impact if we educate our congregations and if we give them women pastors.
1. The full text of B.T. Roberts’ book “Ordaining Women” can be accessed in pdf format here.
2. For a fuller discussion of these issues see Karen’s full-length article, Wesleyan Perspectives on Women in Ministry.
Photo Credit: http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-of-the-day/girl-church-pews-pod/