Taking the Backseat of Christianity

Sharon Klingemann


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Taking the Backseat of Christianity

I was a freshman in college and I believed I had to take the backseat of Christianity.

We were headed to Columbia, Missouri to do homeless ministry. People were piling into cars, and it came down to who would get to “ride shotgun” in the front seat. Without a fight, I told one of my peers: “I will take the back seat; I am going to have to get used to this submission thing anyway.” Defeated, I quietly slid into the back seat.

Growing up I was always the group leader; the one to take charge and make team decisions. I naturally took the leadership position in whatever setting. In high school, I recognized society’s disposition against me, and I recognized the value of feminism. I got behind it and participated in my high school’s feminist movement.

But then, I became a Christian.

I can remember the first time I realized that people in the church thought of me as lesser because of my gender. I was told no when I wanted to help serve communion. I was shocked when I was told why I couldn’t. I had been baptized, I had baptized someone else. I had been on a mission trip, led small groups, and invited all my friends to church. Why couldn’t I serve communion? Because of my gender.

At first, I was angry, but then I accepted it. I sat and listened to all the reasons why women can’t hold leadership positions. I didn’t understand why Paul had so much animosity towards me, but since he wrote those things in the Bible, I bought it. I just wanted to honor the Word of God. I sincerely desired to glorify God with everything I was. I was told that to glorify God, it would be best for me to take the backseat.

I figured I could still serve God from the backseat, and I had the burning desire to do missions, so I went to Bible College. With each semester that passed, more and more of the strong leader inside me died off.  I was told more and more that I needed to take the backseat. I changed my major from Cross-Cultural Ministry to Christian Education, because at the end of the day, all I could do was teach small children.

I wasn’t going to be able to preach like I longed for.

I wasn’t going to be able to lead like I longed for.

I wasn’t going to be able to be an elder like I longed for.

I wasn’t going to be able to reach the lost like I longed for.

So why bother?

I settled for Christian Education, because that is all I could do. I had one half of a credit hour class on Christian Education and realized I could never do that. I could never home school, or be a children’s minister. It wasn’t who I was. It wasn’t my passion. It wasn’t my gifting. But I believed that it was my only option if I wanted to serve the Lord.

Then I encountered Junia and I realized I didn’t have to be in that box they had put me in – that I had put myself in.  I can remember it like it was yesterday, I was sitting on the couch in one of my professors’ homes, Dr. Paul Axton.  We were gathered around the word of God studying Romans. It was our last week of the study and he was teaching the sixteenth chapter. He had different people with different translations read Romans 16:7. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why he was making us do that.

But then, he explained how Junia became Junias.

From that day forward I never doubted who God created me to be.

I never doubted that God had given me an ability to lead for a reason.

I never doubted that I could fully participate in the Gospel.

If God endorsed the ministry of Junia, and if Paul praised her for it, I could do the same.

From that day forward I realized that I don’t have to take the backseat. I can sit at the feet of Jesus, and learn more and more about the non-discriminatory love Jesus has for all people. And you can, too.

Sharon Klingemann

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  • Thank you for speaking and publishing about this matter. I grew up in a church that restricted women’s ministry roles regarding shepherding, teaching and serving as elders. Thanks be to God that I sensed that dissonance between their interpretation of Scripture and the reality of God’s gifting in people (female and male). And that I had the time to research the subject and change my mind and know why Scripture does not say what the complementarians’ insist it means. God bless you as you continue to press this issue. I suspect that it will become more difficult in the days to come because this is so often confused (intentionally in some cases) with questions regarding homosexuality and gender identity. People sometimes argue that if we change our understanding of gender roles then we are effectively yielding on the complex moral and practical issues related to healthy God-honoring human sexuality. Press on!

    • Thank you, Jason! I am hopeful for the generations to come after me. I am fighting this fight for them! And I am SO thankful for the generations ahead of me that have fought on my behalf. Blessings!

  • Hi Sharon, great article! Like yourself, I too had a come to Jesus moment by meeting Junia for the first time. It changed everything! I’m now in seminary getting a masters in theology and planning to do doctoral work. Im also scheduled to preach my first sermon in September. I couldn’t have dreamed this up had the Spirit herself not come and revealed herself to me, and in so doing, revealed myself to me as if for the first time. Grace and peace to you as you continue to press into your calling!

    • Junia is a life changer. When I realized how people have tried to silence her, and the rest of women, it changed the game for me. It opened my eyes to the world around me.

      I am SO excited for you! That’s awesome! I am so glad you have that opportunity to be able to preach! I pray that opportunities for you to be able to excersise your gifting of the Hoy Spirit continue to appear in your life. <3

  • Hi Sharon! Thanks for sharing your story. My husband is from the Columbia area, and so many people/churches in that area need the message you are teaching! I hope we will be able to attend your church sometime when we are nearby visiting his family.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Your kind words are so encouraging! Thank you!
      When y’all are around visit I would love to connect! There’s some great coffee places in Columbia! 🙂

  • I really enjoyed reading this post! I thank God for your perserverance and faithfulness! Our world needs more young adults like yourself spreading the message! God is good!!

    • Thank you so much aunt Jackie! Love you!

  • I wish more people were aware of Wesleyans who advance women seeking any sort of ministry in the church and society. Fundamentalists including complementarians have convinced too many people that they speak for evangelicals. Methodists are in the Anglican tradition, but they also advance the spread of the gospel–evangelistically. Holiness and Pentecostals often support equal opportunities as well. The spirit of God does not discriminate.

    • Yes! I myself did not realize that really any institutionalized church could be all in on the egalitarian train (that is telling of my experience). That is until I found a disciples of christ community! I have also very much enjoyed visiting the local methodist church! All of it is great, in my opinion!

  • The turning point for me came when I was in a complementarian submitted marriage almost 40 years ago. I was having problems with some of his decisions and choices, but submitted anyway, because God would work it to His glory. Then I read an article in one of the major news magazines about the results of the previous 25 years of IQ studies. What leapt out at me was that the average woman had a higher IQ than the average man. I prayed, God, why did you create us smarter, and then tell us to shut up. It would be decades before I got the answer. He didn’t.

    • Cheryel,
      It is so funny how we each come to our understanding of equality. You are so right, God did not tell us to shut up, someone else did. It can be very frustrating to be in that situation. I am so glad you have found the answer!

  • That is why women are leaving the churches. They won’t take a back seat, the men won’t share, and that is the end.

    Women have learned to walk WITH God, IN Christ…that is enough, especially when the men are so intrusive and demanding…unlike Christ who came to minister and not to be minister unto…

    Of course if women feel called to minister why should they not? That is why Christ came? Who is to tell them not to live as Christ did?

    • Absolutely! It tears me apart to see and know. That is why I will always keep sharing and promoting equality!

  • Sharon,

    I am so glad you sensed the dissonance and nevertheless persisted. It is regrettable empowerment for the women’s leadership in the church is something of a “discovery” for Christians rather than a primary tenet. It should not be a treasure hunt for women and men to uncover the validity of God’s call to all Christians to serve using their gifts and talents and that women’s leadership and grounded preaching is valued equality by God.

    Here’s to hoping your willingness to share your story will contribute to the goal of this message being commonly understood and accepted as normal and providential! I believe it does.

    Thank you,

    • Thank you, Patti!

      And Yes, absolutely women’s leadership definitely needs to be talked about more! The night that I found out about Junia I litterally responded “wait what? Why didn’t I know about this sooner?” And left ready to be a preacher/elder/leader!

      • I had a “wait, what?” moment when I began to study biblical Hebrew. In Hebrew spirit is feminine, and many dismiss the femininity of the Holy Spirit as mere grammar.
        But then you learn that because persons are not objects, a masculine person also has masculine verbs and adjectives.
        And the Holy Spirit has feminine verbs and adjectives. Wait! What?
        I researched further and found many scholars believe that the Holy Spirit is the feminine, the Mother of the Godhead.
        And the Holy Spirit didn’t become masculine until the Bible was translated into Latin in the third century.
        I believe that patriarchal denominations have known but suppressed this knowledge for centuries, suppressing women and contributing to the abuse of women.
        This knowledge would empower women to ministry, and resist patriarchy as a sin against the Holy Spirit.
        After all, when God sent the Holy Spirit to lead the Church after Christ’s ascension, He put a Woman in charge.

        • Woah! That is really awesome. And kind of humorous to think of the irony… It is somewhat frustrating to think how it has evolved for us to view God as a male. I have always subconsciously viewed God as a male, and was another reason I found it difficult to be a christian, but as I become more and more educated the more and more I learn about how freeing the gospel really is!

  • Good for you. I believe in equality in ministry. There is no difference, male and female.God will lead and bless. Just be faithful.

    • Thank you, Dr. Robert Pinder! We need more people like you on this earth 🙂

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