I watched a sweet 7-year-old girl climb across giant boulders to her daddy. Waves crashed against them as the tide began coming in to her right. A hill sloped steeply upward to her left. She was careful and confident, taking time to intentionally place her hands and her feet with each move. Then a realization hit me. It was a snapshot of a woman pastor in training. Confident. Courageous. Curious.
Shaping future pastors doesn’t begin with college or even a call. It begins with parents and church families who intentionally foster the idea that our little boys and girls alike can be anything God calls them to be. It begins with communities who nurture strength and bravery in their little people from the very earliest ages; who foster a faith in Jesus and a confidence that they are created in the image of God.
There are four things that we can actively do to raise little girls today to be pastors tomorrow.
More yes than no
“Stop. You’ll get hurt. Don’t run. That’s too fast.” These are words that we often use with our kids, especially our girls. Our intention is to protect them. However, sometimes good intentions send an unintentional message. “You’re not strong enough, smart enough, or brave enough to do that.” Or even worse, “That’s for boys.” While we don’t want kids running out into a busy street or participating in destructive behavior, we do want them to learn, explore, and gain confidence.
The next generation of pastors will need to be strong and brave. They will need to be able to push themselves to the limits mentally, physically, and emotionally. They will need to be great problem solvers and courageous in any number of circumstances. And they will need to march with faith and confidence into the unknown of the future. We need to nurture these qualities in our little girls if we want them to be among the pastors of tomorrow.
In safe and intentional ways, we need to tell them yes more than no.
- Yes, you can try to climb that tree.
- Yes, you can play softball.
- Yes, you can try out for the play.
- Yes, you can help serve communion.
- Yes, you can try to build something with this scrap lumber.
- Yes, you can imagine faraway places with exotic characters.
- Yes, you can get dirty.
- Yes, you do have value.
- Yes, you do have something to offer.
- Yes, you are created in the image of God.
- Yes, you are called.
Several months ago, I spent a week with a different 7-year-old girl who had heard way more “noes” than “yeses”. Though she is bright and capable, she has yet to learn to ride her bike without training wheels. She was afraid to play in our fenced yard, struggled to try new things, and constantly tried to refrain my son from his normal activities. “Don’t go so fast. Don’t climb so high. Don’t jump, you’ll get hurt,” were her words all week long.
Obviously, she’s been getting this message from the adults in her life. While their intention to protect her is a good one, their message is clear: “You can’t do that. This is something to fear. Don’t take risks. There’s no need to be brave. ” Those messages translate to a million other areas of a girl’s development.
On the other hand, my neighbor recently told me how her extremely shy daughter expressed interest in the theater club at school. She was tempted to discourage her, nervous that she would experience failure. Turns out that this little girl excels at learning lines and comes alive on the stage. This mom’s simple “yes” turned into a confidence-building, character-shaping activity.
As much as we need more yes than no, we also need to raise girls with wise and intentional boundaries. We need pastors who have self-discipline and a sense of responsibility. And we need pastors who know what holiness is and how to seek to live holy lives.
It’s important to have boundaries that help us be our best—bedtime boundaries, healthy food boundaries, completing homework on time boundaries, financial boundaries, etc. These boundaries help our children develop the discipline they need to be the very best contributors to society they can be.
It is also important to have boundaries that help our little girls learn how to participate in and contribute to a community – things like how to speak respectfully, how to serve others, and how to lead. That might mean being firm when a little girl’s attitude rares its ugly head. It might mean placing importance on chores and on working together as a family. Boundaries also help us live holy lives. We need to consistently help our children make choices that tune their very souls to Jesus.
Each boundary we set needs to be surrounded by age-appropriate conversations that explain the “why”. This is not a, “Because I said so” type of scenario. This is a, “Let me explain why this boundary is important, and why I am going to stick to it” type of intentionality. Our future pastors (girls and boys) need parents who are consistent and intentional about their formation.
Role models that rock
My husband felt called to ministry at eight-years-old. I felt called to be a teacher. Today, we are both pastors. I believe I am 100% called to be a pastor-teacher. But I have to wonder. If I had ever known or seen a woman pastor as a role model, would those conversations about what I wanted to be when I grew up have gone a little differently?
It’s hard to feel called to something that you can’t imagine. I knew great pastor’s wives, and I could imagine myself in their role. I knew great teachers, and I could imagine myself in their role. But I didn’t know any female pastors.
If we want to shape girls today to be pastors tomorrow, we need to be intentional about pointing out women who answer the call to ministry as lead pastors, co-pastors, children’s pastors, youth pastors, university professors, church planters… any number of ways. We need to tell their stories to our girls so they hear the message loud and clear, “Some people are called to full-time pastoral ministry. That just might be you. Listen to the call of God on your life, and don’t be shy to say, ‘Yes!’”
Real-life leadership experiences
There were lots of things my home church did well. One of them was giving me opportunities to lead. I was in elementary school when I read scripture and lit the Advent candle. I was in middle school when I got to be a part of a youth group leadership cluster. I was in college when I was a part of planning Vacation Bible School. I had barely graduated from college when I was elected to the church board. In age-appropriate ways, they gave me responsibilities and asked me to serve. They put me in charge of things I could handle. They sought out ways for me to lead, understanding that it was critical to my formation. They didn’t wait until I had it all figured out, had a degree under my belt, or had attained a few gray hairs and wrinkles.
Future pastors need to be given opportunities to lead early and often. They need to learn to be confident in their voice and their decisions. They need to learn when to seek wise counsel and when to go with their gut. They need to learn how to balance firm decisiveness with gentle compassion.
Raising the next generation of women pastors begins long before they’re thinking about career paths or ordination requirements.
It begins when they are very young. It begins as parents and grandparents, church and community members send purposeful messages about whether or not the dreams the Spirit places in their hearts really can take flight.
I don’t know what that little girl clamoring across the rocks in flip flops and a pink sun hat that day will become, but she did tell me she wanted to be a pastor, a teacher, and a mom. It just might be the earliest inkling of a call. I smiled as I told her that.
Either way, if her adventurous spirit is nurtured, her boundaries are well-defined, great role models are set before her, and she’s given opportunities to lead, she’ll be ready to say, “Yes!” to whatever God calls her to.