Most mornings I wake up to a certain heaviness in my body. I feel it from the inside out. It is as if every bit of unresolved brokenness from the day before wells up overnight and now balances on my chest like a heavy bucket of water brimming to the edge… The woman who lost her job and has to support her family… The child who is battling chronic illness… The man whose dad just past away… The mother whose heart is breaking for her son… The struggling marriage… Oh, and I need to follow up with so-in-so to see how her doctor’s appointment went.
It’s all there at the first light of dawn. Right at the surface.
So, as the activity of the home begins to stir in those early morning hours, I spend my first few moments breathing slowly with God. Quiet and steady. I don’t even have to tell God what I need anymore in this point of stillness. He knows. We’ve been at this together for a while now. Deep breath in, I take his hand as he pulls me out of bed and says, “C’mon girl. Let’s do this. I’ve got you.”
Amidst combing through my daughters’ tangles, reminding children to brush their teeth, and taking breakfast orders, I do the work of unloading the heaviness back onto God. Cup by cup, I pour the water into his hands. Sometimes I want to take the entire bucket and dump it in his lap all at once, but I know that what he invites me into is the slow and nurturing work of his kingdom.
So, I offer those on my heart to God and seek to respond to how I can join his activity in their lives… Send a text of encouragement, schedule a meeting, provide a resource, holy listening… And as I do, I make a necessary exchange with God– what I can do with what I can’t do. It’s the recognition that I am a vessel, but God is the answer. I am the hand that reaches out, but God is the muscle to change things. And what am I given in return? Reverent gratitude. A deep honor for the way I get to experience God at work in the lives of those I love around me. Their journey of awakening to his presence is my great joy.
And is this not what a pastor does?
To sit in the tension between the dark moments of the human existence, while holding steadfastly to the wondrous light of resurrection? To wade in the pool of death while keeping hands firmly gripped onto the life-filled hope and joy of Christ? Is it not to say, I will be present there because God is present there? The pastor willingly follows God into the depths of human suffering, the confusion of silence, the heat of anger, and the emptiness of loss because it is in these places where she gets to observe God hard at work. The pastor is willing to die in the places where God comes alive as her cry becomes, “If death is what is necessary for resurrection, take me with you Jesus!”
Reflecting on the Call: Female vs Male
When the apostle Paul writes to the Romans, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God,” I find an invitation to be fully accepted and useful to God. He further goes on to challenge, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
In other words, resist any script or any way of doing, being, or thinking that is not in alignment with the original created order and as you do so, everything will become more clear. It is in this place of resistance to the way of the world, and clarity of the mind and spirit, that we lock into the heart and will of God.
I have found a common narrative among most all of my American, female pastor friends. In the same moment that they are receiving affirmation and Spirit-led epiphanies in their calling, they are being challenged by the old scripts and channeling resistance. It can be a journey of two steps forward, one step backward. For those willing to resist the script (or worldly pattern if you will), this predicament causes them to do the hard work of testing and approving the will of God as they long to know what truly pleases him. This process is transformational. For some, seeking God’s approval will mean they will have to defy the instruction of home churches, parents, and mentors.
One young woman pursuing seminary reflected with me, “I am thankful for the experience I had in my church growing up, but I will never be able to go back there. I know too much now.” You see, because of her renewed mind, she had clarity on what was pleasing to God—what was good to God. Because of this, she was unable to return to former scripts and patterns not in alignment with the heart of God for her.
The testing and approving process is instrumental to being unwavering in the call to pastoral ministry. Sadly, many young men are mistakenly robbed of this refining process for discovering the will of God in their lives. Because of anatomy and perhaps a theology minor in college, the role of “pastor” is ascribed to them without a testing process. They may be given a summer job as a youth “pastor” because of their magnetic personality, or worship “pastor” because they can skillfully play the guitar. These roles fit the need of the moment, but, in many cases, become stepping stones to what they are really meant to do and be. As a “pastor” they discover that they really are not one and the role is shaken off as quickly as it is given to them. The threat I find in this scenario is that these men inevitably attempt to flex muscles that do not belong to them. They step into battles they are not equipped for and have yet to discover their utter dependency on the Spirit of God to go before them.
Interestingly, however, I have yet to meet a female pastor who has been so easily shaken from the truth that has been revealed to her in regards to her purpose and calling.
Why? Because, the freedom to live out her calling as “pastor” came on the heels of immense testing, wrestling, and pursuit of God’s will. Her journey to the altar took years of resistance to conformity, undoing of scripts, and pressing into God’s heart for her. It took hundreds of affirming words, a gazillion “that can only be God” moments, persistent theological reflection, and countless hours standing very still, allowing God’s presence to wash over her.
The result? Focus and sacrifice. The unwavering, relentless hunger to be where God is at and to fight to the death for her flock even when it’s cold and dark. Because, she knows, yes, she knows that resurrection is on its way. To this end the pastor pushes forward, because she knows whose muscles win the war.
Thank you Abigail for this wonderful article! I also enjoyed your husband’s article as well. I am a lead pastor in North Carolina and my children attend a small Christian school where they and maybe two friends are the only ones who “believe in female pastors.” My daughter cannot pray if a boy is present. Women cannot be president because they are too emotional. It is wearing me down and I have considered just quitting because I feel I stand alone all too often and I continue to question my calling. Your article was timely in affirming my calling as a pastor. I cannot quit… I must continue for the sake of other women. You are making a difference!
Press in dear one as you are equipped by God alone! We pray for our brothers and sister who are called by God which includes YOU!:)
Yes…keep going…keep pressing on. He called you. I’ve seen people rise and leave when a female pastor begins to preach, I work with men of other religions who disrespect women pastors and mock women in general because they are not capable, in their minds, of the call. We’ve nothing to prove and we already know we have been call d, and that knowing is our strength.
I attend Fuller as well, and I’m honestly very inspired by all that Fuller does to embrace both our calls into ministry, both women and men. It’s a blessing that there’s a seminary where women do not have to be scared about receiving instruction and training.
However, I’m curious how you might respond to this question:
You quote Romans 12:2-3 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world…” but it appears as though the world is moving towards “gender fluidity” where masculine roles and feminine roles are found to be less relevant. How is Fuller, in your opinion, as a woman called into leadership, NOT conforming to this pattern we are seeing in Western society?
Thanks for your engagement, Matt! In response to your question, I would say equality doesn’t mean sameness. If anything equality brings celebration to differences. As the church, we celebrate that the full image of God is equally represented in both male and female. In regards to Fuller, I honestly am not connected enough on campus to know how the school is addressing a societal trend towards gender neutrality.
This is so good!! And so true. I wrestled with my calling and even asked God to take it away from me at one point because the process was painful. Even when we KNOW we are called by God, the opposition is tremendous. I’m so thankful to finally be in a place where I can be free to pursue that calling with full support, but grieve for my sisters who are not there yet.
Praise God for your freedom. I, too, feel a level of true grief when I see so many still operating under systems of oppression and not freedom.
Wonderful, powerful ! Living in it! Bless you Abigail!
Thank you for saying what I feel.
I love the unity of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not divided and we experience this in shared experiences. Blessings.
Thank you for pointing out not only the struggle for women, but also the unfairness of our gender bias towards men in discovering and pursuing their true calling. We will all be able to better discern our call when we get some of this cultural baggage out of the way.
I so agree. True restoration will happen only when we experience it at all levels.