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.