If They Don’t Affirm You? Preach and Pastor Anyway

Randi Shepherd

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And If They Don't Affirm You-

Woman holding bible preach and pastor

Pastor’s wife problems: Getting slapped on the behind after your husband’s sermon while the congregant calls out, “Good message from Kris today”.  Almost like “good game” after a sporting event.

Woman pastor’s problems: Getting grabbed by the face after your sermon and pulled nose-to-nose with a congregant while she gruffly declares, “I don’t believe in women pastors!”

I’m 32, an ordained reverend, a pastor’s wife, and the co-pastor of a church plant. God called me to preach and pastor long before I knew that God’s call and peoples’ opinions don’t always jive. Before I knew that many people feel preaching and pastoring are not roles women can hold. In the pursuit of my calling, however, I have seen these unfortunate truths play out more times than I care to talk about. I have been turned down from ministry positions, sent degrading emails, and told to my face I would not be respected as a pastor all on the basis of my gender.

I used to spend a lot of time trying to defend myself.  I wrote papers laying out the theology behind accepting women as pastors and preachers. I read books such as Four Views of Women and Ministry and How I Changed My Mind About Women In Leadership. I argued about Miriam, Deborah, Huldah (my personal favorite), Priscilla, Junia, and the way Jesus interacted with women. I’d throw out questions like, “Why can women serve as missionaries but not as pastors?” and “If we are going to adhere strictly to the ‘women should be silent in churches’ verse (1 Cor. 14:34), why do we still allow them to teach children, teens, and other women?”

But I came to realize that defending myself is often futile. First, the people who want to argue want just that: to argue. Second, my calling was never to convince people of my legitimacy. (Though I do believe some women and men are called to be a prophetic voice on this topic.) My calling is to preach and to pastor and leave the heart change to the Holy Spirit.

Now, if we were sitting down together having coffee you might ask me, “How can a woman preach and pastor if people reject her calling and her legitimacy?” Or, making it more personal, “How can I preach and pastor if they don’t affirm me?”

Lean in close, friends – this is profound… You do it anyway.  You do the work, you join a church that supports women in ministry, you start a blog, you create a podcast, you stand on the street corner and “set yourself on fire and let yourself burn” (a quote often attributed to John Wesley). Wesley promises that people will come from all over to watch. The truth is this: You are accountable to God, not people. What if the heroes of the Bible would have folded when people didn’t acknowledge their legitimacy? No ark. No Exodus. No King David. No Queen Esther. Mary wouldn’t have given birth to Jesus. No cross and no resurrection.

Here is what I know: Never let the opinions of others keep you from becoming the person God called you to be. Never let the opinions of others keep you from doing the ministry God called you to do. Your sanctification requires it and others’ salvation depends on it.

So, for the women just beginning this journey, for the women who are contemplating quitting, and for the women in the back who have the crazy idea that God just might be calling them, here are six suggestions on how to preach and pastor anyway:

1. Confirm your calling with God.

This is the affirmation you will need, especially when things get tough. It will be a pivotal moment you will come back to over and over in your ministry.

2. Study what the Bible says about women.

The only way to put this is to be smart. You should be able to articulately teach the scriptures and God’s missional use of women. People will question you, and if you want to be taken seriously you have to know your stuff.

3. Seek out a denomination/church that values women in leadership.

I have seen people with the call to pastor and preach waste their time in denominations that do not affirm them. They end up stifled, underutilized, and often bitter because deep in their soul they know God created them for more. Time is short…why waste it?

4. Walk through the open doors.

Most likely you know or will know the feeling of standing on the outside of many doors wondering if you will ever be able to do the thing you were created for. It is easy to continue standing at those doors, knocking (maybe even trying to kick them in) hoping they will open. Remember this: If God has called you, God will open doors for you.

I was recently with a group of women pastors. As we shared our experiences of ordination, the one theme that consistently stood out was that God was our advocate. We all could clearly see where God had stepped in, opened doors, and given us positions to preach and pastor.

5. Make friends with other women pastors.

I can’t stress enough how valuable this one has been in my life so I will just list some of the benefits: camaraderie, wisdom, encouragement, shared experiences, networking, inspiration, soul care, and mentorship. It can be easy to fall into the mindset that you are alone on this journey. You’re not. The journey is a lot more fun with friends, and the burden is a lot lighter.

6. Take people with a grain of salt, and remember the Holy Spirit’s ability to change hearts.

Remember the lady I told you about at the beginning? The one who grabbed my face and told me she didn’t believe in women preachers? She followed it up with this statement: “But WOW! God spoke through you.” So don’t worry about your defense and don’t look at people. Look at the work God has done in you and through you and continue to preach and pastor anyway.

Randi Shepherd

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50 Comments

  • In all of these posts that report on changes in women’s roles I think it would be good if the original author and those who comment would tell what denomination they are a part of. From my perspective women are just as silent now as they were 50 years ago and I would like to know where the change is occurring.

    • Great idea. As you can see in the bio Randi is with the Free Methodist denomination. The author of today’s post is ordained by the Assemblies of God.

  • If it is God who calls, why should mere mortals object to it? As long as the call is from God, the frustration is only a stepping stone for the call if you trust and look up to Him that calls.
    Afterall, we see the Samaritan woman as an evangelist in John 4:27-42 particularly in verse 39. Rev. Randi may God continue to guide you and others as well. God bless you

  • Sorry this is off topic. I’ve just watched a video of Derek Prince and his wife. She’s dressed up like some Romanian peasant in a headscarf wafting about ‘helping’ him. It’s so hard to believe a man as Godly as Derek Prince seems would do this… Even in 1974. The Holy Spirit is our Helper, we don’t command authority over it and expect it to do the dishes for us. Also it occurred to me today that Jesus served at our table, he came to serve us. So if men are closer to him, surely they should be serving at our tables as well. Why the obsession with women doing housework, how does that bring the Kingdom? I think my pastor steers me away from certain men because I’m not a natural housework person. I see Hoovering as a real trial. It is actually an issue in churches isn’t it? Incredible.

  • This is a good article. I am a solo woman pastor in the Presbyterian denomination. I was called by God to become a pastor in my 50’s. One of the problems I have is I went about it in a non-traditional way. First I went to my denominations School of the Laity and then I received a Certificate of Ministry from Austin Seminary. I am looked down on by other “ordained” pastors, women and men. I pastor a church and have the exact same duties as traditional ordained pastors, however I am still not considered “real”. It is very discouraging, however GOD called me and I will continue to pastor in His name until He leads me to something else.

    • Blessings to you. I am so sorry you have had to walk the road without affirmation.

      I think your story illustrates my point that even if others do not affirm us, God will. He has placed you and made a way for you. Your call is real and your gifting is real.

      I pray that you will reach many in the name of Jesus and they will be transformed by the real work you are doing and the real power of his name.

  • I’m from a denomination that has been ordaining women for the past 60 years. Although we can still make some more progress in certain areas of female leadership, I can honestly say I haven’t experienced any kind of the disrespect and sexism you are talking about as a female pastor. I have never experienced my pastoral authority been undermined, nor needed to defend my calling as a female. Since I am the only pastor at the congregation I serve sometimes we will have a newcomer who will express suprise that the church is lead by a female clergy. That is about it when it comes to a “negative” response to my status a a female pastor. But I have read the stories of the first women in my denomination who were ordained and it sounds very familiar to your experiences. Those women were the pioneers who laid the groundwork for me and other female pastors in my denomination. I am deeply grateful for their sacrifices and resilience. You too are the pioneers in your church tradition, you are making even the path for the female pastors who will follow. Well done!

    • Thank you. 🙂

      I feel like the generation before me paved much of the way. I am so thankful for their obedience and faithfulness!

      I’m so happy to hear you are received well in your denomination and church!!

  • Well written, Randi. I am a retired pastor but still a pastor’s wife. Your article described my experience so accurately.
    It is in the end it is all about call. I see my call these days as that of encourager. Encouraging young women to follow the call of the Spirit, to trust that call, to trust and believe that God’s presence will be their constant compapanion and sustainer. That as the beloved of God, women to are called/ invited to use their God given gifts …..yes even the gift of being pastors and the gift of preaching.
    Thank you for your article. It has encouraged me to continue encouraging others.

  • Great job Randi! I am a pastor as well, but single and have experienced MANY of the things you mentioned here. I started my ministry work in the military as a chaplain candidate and now work in hospital chaplaincy. No matter where I go in the US or what environment I am working in someone also takes the liberty to tell me what I should or should not be doing as a woman in ministry. I use to get SO angry, but now I laugh because God has and continues to do great things in my life and uses my leadership gifts and talents in unique ways. I finally learned to not let others define my life or what I know God has called me to do. It is so freeing! When the door opens, I jump through it… even with tons of fear and rejection from people- God has ALWAYS shown up to comfort me. Thanks again for writing this article.

    • Thanks for your comment, Anne. It sounds like we can relate on a lot! I bet we would be good friends. 😀

      I definitely agree that there is so much freedom in jumping through those open doors, despite the fear and rejection. God is so faithful and I agree, He always shows up!

  • Your suggestion #3 bothers me. I have such strong denominational ties that changing denominations seems to be as drastic as “forsaking the assembly” or “looking back” with your hand on the plow. When people with egalitarian beliefs leave a denomination it does two things: it says you weren’t that attached to the teachings of your church in the first place and it doesn’t leave anyone to carry on the crusade to bring about discussions about women’s roles in the church.

    • Joe, what about the scripture that says if you are not received, shake the dust off your feet? There are times when people leaving is the way in which denominations realise that it’s time to change. IN addition, sometimes when you’re in a church that is profoundly anti egalitarian, you become a cancer in that place, just by staying and expressing your opinion… schisms are very hard in a church setting.

      • My concern is that in all the discussion here on gender equality I don’t read anything about salvation. I don’t think anyone thinks equality on earth is a salvation issue but changing denominations could effect our home for eternity. It is better to suffer the indignities of second class citizenship here than to spend eternity in hell. That is why I think it best to find the church whose doctrines align with scripture and then work for gender equality within the system.

        • Joe, I understand your concern but there are plenty of denominations that stick to orthodox (lower case) theology and support gender equality. For example, Church of the Nazarene, Free Methodist, Wesleyan, Evangelical Friends, Salvation Army, Cooperative Baptists, and so on. And there are many solid mainline churches as well, like American Baptist, United Methodist. There is also a lot of variance from church to church in even the same denomination about acceptance of women. A lot seems to depend on the attitudes of the pastor and governing board. So one could move to another church within the same denomination. None of our writers would suggest leaving behind our belief in Jesus for salvation, the authority of Scripture, the Trinity, etc. Often churches add their own extrabiblical doctrines. But certainly there is a core of beliefs we should evaluate when looking for a new church. I think the Nicene Creed is a good place to start.

          • I hesitate to bring this up because I don’t want to appear critical of other people’s beliefs and I realize the main thrust of the discussion is gender equality but I have problems with all of the groups you mentioned, including, but not limited to, the method and purpose of baptism (full immersion of adult believers to bring about the remission of sins), the frequency of the Lord’s Supper (weekly) and church governance (no hierarchy above the congregational level) and I view these as salvation issues. This is why I say for some of us change has to come within our individual congregations and leaving for another belief system is not an option.

          • Thanks for explaining what you believe, Joe. It’s hard for me to grasp how the frequency of the Lord’s supper and church governance are salvation issues, but I do know the baptism question can be problematic. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Southern California I would love to have you visit a couple of these denominational churches. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

        • I have wondered if self-exhaltation/pride could be a serious issue for men with this view of themselves. Especially if the reasons they give are on lines of headship, we have a head. Trying to take the place of Jesus in our lives is an error. Or to the status of the 12 – complete with your name on the pearly gates then????
          Is what comescto my mind. Also there is calling yourself father or teacher. He commanded us not to do that. But yes I take your point, it is completely valid. I keep attending my local complimentarian denominational church because, otherwise they are mostly biblical. Although membership seems to mean agreeing to an extra-biblical covenant with four blokes. Not something I am prepared to do.

    • I can appreciate your comment on this because I do think there is something to be said for loyalty and being able to remain in one body despite disagreements. When we can do that there is room for growth and forward movement.

      Some women are part of a denomination long before God calls them to preach or pastor. I have friends who have had to walk the hard road of reconciling their church teachings with their new call. In some cases women do choose to stay and be a prophetic voice, in others, they absolutely feel like they must leave.

      I recognize that my article did not affirm the role of women who felt called to stay and be the prophetic voice. I do see the value in this.

      My concern, and probably the reason I stated it as matter of fact as I did, is that I have seen women put their loyalty to church rules over their loyalty to God’s call on their life. They are not staying because God called them to stay. They are staying because they are afraid to step out into what God is calling them to be and do or, in some cases, they are staying because nobody told them that it is okay to part ways.

      Thanks for the push-back. It made me think more deeply about the words I wrote.

  • Thank you for this great encouragement! No matter what, it is God who called us, that is the undeniable reality. When I speak of this, no one argues. All glory to God! Forever and ever Amen!

    • I feel like God is so gracious to us! Blessings to you!

  • Randi, I love your blend of grace and truth and your undying humor. It serves you really well. And, everyone, I can vouch for the fact that Randi is a great preacher. So glad the face-grabber ended up acknowledging that God spoke through you! Keep calm and carry on. You’re doing a beautiful job.

    • Thank you, Linda. I look up to you and am so thankful for the roles you have played in my life and on my journey. 💜

  • That’s really great, thanks. It’s a bit like Feminism in academia. I’m not interested in it. Just want to do my thing. But I know it has to be done. We will walk on water if we keep looking at Jesus, and if He wants us to. I feel called to speak of God and His word but not to Pastor. Is that a thing? I’m a very new Christian, so it’ll be down the line. I’m on fire to speak, but don’t see myself as a Pastor ever. My Pastor already encourages me in speaking. We have an all male Eldership rule in the Church’s denomination, which I have found difficult but our pastor is very encouraging of women. Ad is fine with me not joining because of it BTW the yoga thing. I’d be careful, I had some dodgy experiences with it before Christ finally took me.

    • I definitely think you can be called to speak and not pastor. Pastoring is a spiritual gift that often is about caring for people and it doesn’t have to go hand in hand with speaking.

      Blessings on you as you begin your new calling to speak!

      • Thank you so much for responding! I do care very much for people but I don’t think I have the pastoring gift… I am very ready to speak though and study the bible like crazy.

  • Just do it! During my journey towards pastoral leadership, I was one of the people who had to be “converted.” It was in the doing that I was transformed, and to some extent the people around me, too. How do you put down the Spirit in action? There will always be naysayers, but once they have benefited from one’s ministry, sometimes there voices become quieter.

    • One of my favorite things in ministry is watching the spirit move among the naysayers. ☺

      I had to be convinced that this call really was for me. I kept saying, “Maybe other women. Not me.”

      I guess the spirit moved this naysayer too. Haha

  • Thank you. Coming from a denomination that ordains women, but a district where Anglo, female, senior pastors are not found, and coming from a ministry home where my husband has been the “pastor” for 24 years and people are still trying to come to terms with the idea of me as pastor after being ordained 4 years ago, my goal is to keep the frustration to myself and trouble no one with my desire to understand how to navigate the journey. But the truth is, I desperately need your affirmation. Most days, I just follow the call and feel so blessed to do so. But on those days when it feels like my “place” is still very undefined, and the only One to whom I can address my heartache is the Lord – it is good to feel I am not alone.

    • Rebecca, It was such a challenge to pastor in that district. I was the only anglo senior pastor during those years and had very little support.

    • Lois is right. That is why I am pastor on another District. This Districts accepts women pastors. However there are a few hold-outs among the people. I just know that a God called me so must keep going no maytervwhat people think.

    • It can be so lonely! When my husband and I are together people often ate hesitant to address me as a pastor as well. I’m excited that you are stepping into your calling as a pastor though!

      Have you heard of this conference? Women pastors from all denominations come together to encourage one another. I found it so beneficial when I attended.

      http://www.whwomenclergy.org

      • Thank you for your words of encouragement, Randi. I will check out the event. Blessings as you continue to serve and obey the call.

  • Slapped your butt… what?!?! Well, unless it was a very close friend, I think I would have probably called the cops on them and pressed charges for assault. Sheesh.

    Also, I am in the same boat. Just do it anyway. I don’t need approval to obey God. Good word!

    • Haha I have leaned that some people have no boundaries.

      I love your quote, “I don’t need approval to obey God.”

  • THIS!. …”my calling was never to convince people of my legitimacy…My calling is to preach and to pastor and leave the heart change to the Holy Spirit.”

    Thank you, Randi.

  • Thank you for this, Randi! What a breath of fresh air you are! Your people are blessed to have you. I, too, am preaching on Sunday mornings. I was raised in a very conservative denomination where we women wore head coverings and kept our mouths shut. It’s been a journey to where I am today– including seminary and getting published. So thankful God has moved me forward from those frustrating days of limitations.

    I’m so thankful for women like you who are encouraging us all to fulfill our calling. We are becoming a choir of thousands, who are already too many to be ignored. So many wonderful books out there to affirm God’s purpose for us. So many wonderful speakers that preach God’s truth with clarity and passion. I’m proud to lift my voice with you and the others, absolutely sure we are doing the work of God. Carry on!! We need you. And so does the Church.

    • Thank you so much for this comment! Your words are so encouraging to me. I absolutely love seeing all the women rising up and taking hold of what God has for them. My women pastor friends are some of the most beautiful people I know and I love watching God at work in their lives.

      You sound like you have an incredible story! How did you go from head coverings to preaching? I’m fascinated! 😄

      • It was a slow journey! We stayed in our denomination for a number of years after getting married, but the women’s issue caused a split in our church and we eventually left. My husband was on the egalitarian side of the issue even so long ago (1980s). I was a school teacher at the time, and started getting asked to speak for womens’ events and retreats. Through a series of comments and urging to speak on a larger scale, I left my profession and enrolled in seminary. The seminary where I earned my degree was very conservative…they refused to let me take “sermon preparation” because it was only for men (2008). I begged my advisor to go to bat for me– there was a course for women, but I was more experienced than the woman teaching it! He finally convinced them to let me take the class, but they changed the name to “message preparation.” After graduation, our pastor was going on sabbatical, and told the elders to put me on the teaching team in his absence. I was pretty nervous about that, and told one of them as we did a sound check the morning of my first sermon to stay back from the platform, so he wouldn’t get hit by my lightning! Since then the pastor left and they decided to keep the teaching team because people loved it so much. I am the only woman on it, for now. The church is egalitarian with no limits on women. It really wasn’t my goal (as much as it was my husband’s.) But I am truly blessed to be able to use my gifts in this way. I wrote a book on Jesus and women entitled “Unexpected Love,” published by Thomas Nelson in 2013. I’m all in. But it was a slow journey getting here.

        • Thank you for sharing your story! I was hoping you would! 😀

          I will have to go check out your book now!

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