I Didn’t Go to Church Today…

Gail Wallace

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girl in front of a church

This post originally appeared on Preston Yancey’s website as part of his “What Do Women Want From the Church?” series. We are thankful for Preston and men like him who intentionally encourage women’s voices in the church!

I have always loved the Church.

I grew up in church, the daughter of a Baptist pastor who later became a missionary. I believe it is important to live out our faith in the context of Christian community, and my DNA as a Christ-follower compels me to support the local church.  But too often these days, going to church is a source of discouragement for those who long to see God’s vision of biblical equality played out in a more visible way.

This poem is an aggregate of my own experiences as well as the experiences that others have shared with us here at The Junia Project. Perhaps hearing them all together in this way will better illustrate why the full inclusion of women in the church is such an important issue.

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I didn’t go to church today.

I didn’t go to church today because with few exceptions, only men’s voices and perspectives are heard from the pulpit. I long to hear teaching that integrates my experiences as a woman. But it’s not Mother’s Day, Christmas, or Easter.

I didn’t go to church today because I’m tired of not being able to invite my non-Christian friends (male or female). They would be offended by the male-only leadership and dismissive attitudes towards women. I don’t know how long I can stay myself.

I didn’t go to church today because although my pastor is not against the full inclusion of women as equals, he is not an advocate either. His silence is deafening. 

I didn’t go to church today because I find more affirmation outside the doors of my church than inside of it. Within, I am less than; not taken seriously and restricted because of my gender.

I didn’t go to church today because men who oppose women in leadership have been appointed as elders, despite our long-standing tradition of gender-balanced governance. There seems to be no recognition of the impact this will have on women.

I didn’t go to church today because my pastor consistently uses illustrations and examples that are about men or relate to men’s experiences. As a woman I often can’t relate to how he applies his teaching to daily life.

I didn’t go to church today because in the time I’ve attended there has not been any teaching on sexism, domestic abuse, human trafficking, gendercide, or any other serious issue impacting women. I want to be part of a church that leads the way in addressing gender injustice, not one that doesn’t seem to know it exists.

I didn’t go to church today because while my husband is often asked for advice or invited into leadership roles, in three years I have only been asked to bring refreshments or work in children’s ministry.

I didn’t go to church today because when I volunteer, rather than being invited into a discussion about my gifts I am asked to fit my non-traditional peg into a gender-specific hole. 

I didn’t go to church today because I don’t need to hear one more sermon about a man in the bible. At my church the women in the bible are often overlooked or spoken about in stereotypical or negative terms. 

I didn’t go to church today because every week the platform is filled with men; praying, reading scripture, preaching, giving communion, leading worship.  I wonder how many of them would continue to attend if it was the other way around.

I didn’t go to church today because my church is still asking “what should women be allowed to do?” when we should be asking “how can we help every believer develop and use their gifts to build up the body of Christ?”

I will go to back to church another day.

I will go back because while the Church is not perfect, it is where the body of Christ gathers and where His saving and restoring message is proclaimed.

I will go back because of valued friendships, because my family is there, because you and I, we need each other.

I will go back because only by staying is there any hope for change.

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Your Turn: Have you or others had these kinds of experiences? If so, what has been the impact of those experiences on your faith and commitment to attend or serve in the church?

Graphic Credit – the amazing David Hayward.

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43 Comments

  • Loved this, Gail. I could relate to each word and emotion. Well done in holding the tension of acknowledging the frustration as well as the hope for the church. Authenticslly Inspiring!

  • Oh, Gail, thank you so much for writing this. I have lived this out more times than I wish were true. And then, of course, when someone like me, who was raised in the church, loves the church, stays home… the guilt ensues. I’m so thankful to be where we are now, but I so vividly remember the pang of emotions, oppression, sorrow, etc. Thank you for your honesty. xoxo

    • I can relate to the “guilt thing”. But sometimes we need a break! I’m glad you are in a welcoming community now.

  • Gail,
    Thank you for putting together a powerful “snapshot” of what it is like to be a woman in many church settings. I chose to “vote with my feet” a few years ago, and, fortunately, as Anne V. mentioned in her comment, have recently found a truly inclusive church body where my full presence and giftings matter within the community. This was my first experience with full inclusion in over 35 years of church attendance in a wide variety of denominational and non-denominational affiliations. I guess the thing that was most impactful for me in your poem was the language it gave to something I was experiencing in those other settings but could not let myself believe was real.

    I wonder what people think it really means when Paul so eloquently and from his own spiritual developmental growth and journey is able to say clearly that in Christ there is no male/female, Jew/Gentile, slave/free, etc. I would love to hear preaching on this passage where male pastors give concrete examples of how this plays in their own churches related to gender and equity in leadership and other roles in their worshiping community.

    Anyway, thanks for all the ways in which the Junia project is making a difference for women and leadership in the church.

    • Stephanie, you will have to share your experiences with our readers in more depth sometime. I am so glad you are in a community that affirms your worth, but sorry it took 35 years to get there 🙁 Love your suggestion that pastors should give concrete examples of how equality functions in their churches!

  • This poem speaks to me because it is exactly where I am right now. I had a meeting with my pastor last night that left me in tears of frustration and heartbreak and I still haven’t answered that question of should I stay or should I go. As a young woman just beginning to figure out what I am going to do with my adult life, facing this kind of pressure to fit in a gender specific hole is almost too much. I don’t want to “give up” or leave my friendships and community but I don’t know how much longer I can stay especially since leadership now knows my opinions.

    • Heather, the question of whether stay or go is a difficult one, and it certainly is hard to leave a community you’re committed to. Praying for wisdom!

    • Heatbreaking, Heather. Is your church completely and definitively committed to Complimentarian teaching ? Answering that question may help you reach a decision. You were brave to meet with the leadership. Rest assured, the Holy Spirit will use what you said – ‘we wrestle not…’

      We have stayed in our traditional denomination, where the debate has yet to occur openly. I have experienced/experience the heartaches described in Gail’s poem. That gnawing sense of injustice – which can be hard to handle sometimes – can become an effective cry to the Lord. Looking back over the last 7 or 8 years, I’m amazed to realize that I have influenced people, like ripples from a stone – after the Holy Spirit influenced me, of course. God threw the first stone into the calm waters of my ignorance.

      Even if you leave, that won’t be ‘giving up’, as it would be a ‘message’, however unintentional, to your leaders. You are not responsible for what they believe.

      But whatever you decide, don’t let yourself be abused or intimidated. Don’t be ashamed of your opinions, whilst always being polite. If you stay, or until you decide to leave, I would encourage you to serve Christ’s imperfect body as well as you are able.

      I think you are and will be a ‘shining light,’ by the grace of God.

      (Not sure if this fits in with comments allowed on ‘The Junia Project’!)

      • I’d like to add that by ‘leave’, I assume in order to join a more open-minded community. I’ve carried on reading below and it just breaks my heart to see the alienation precious young women of God are experiencing. (I’m a 47 year old mother of 2 daughters aged 20 and 15.) Being my husband’s ‘unofficial-official’ co-pastor (!?!) I have a very strong theology of the church – Jesus said ‘I will build my church’ – HE is building it. You are living stones and the Church needs you. Hold on to your hope! I believe He will make a way, and that ministries such as CBE (I wept for hours when I first came across their website about 4 years ago) and Junia Project are proof of that. I pray that God will help you and guide you.

        I was obligated to go into children’s work for a time – I don’t think it’s my gift – but I had a whale of a time, children are so refreshing and what’s more, appreciative! They really need listening to, too! They need our protection.They are the future leaders, male and female. We had one little african boy in Sunday school, and one day he asked me why the devil was ‘black’ – what a shock! – because Satan is associated with darkness, he had come to believe the evil one was a black person. (I think there’s an analogy there somewhere – when I first started to preach, we had visitors come to ‘see’ the Jezebel.) I also learnt one day, when teaching about ‘anger’, that one little girl’s father slammed doors and slapped her – this turned out to be a situation of domestic abuse against the mother too.
        Although I understand the unfairness of it, I guess I’m trying to echo that we should be careful not to write children’s work off because of the ‘negative’ or ‘inferiorising’ association. ‘Women and children’ – over two-thirds of the church! It’s a good place to be trained in communicating God’s word – in our church we now have more women than men who are capable of leading adult house groups…!!
        One of the best sermons I heard as a young woman was that EVERYTHING in my experience – even the negatives – is part of God’s training for the work he was preparing me for, and that has proved to be true. And another great piece of advice more recently received whilst agonizing over women in ministry was ‘Prepare yourself for when God opens the doors’. That too is proving to be true.

        • Great point about children’s ministry, Vicky! It is certainly an important area of focus. I served as a children’s pastor for a couple of years and worked just as much with adults as with children. That is also an area we can have great influence in in terms of curriculum – making sure curriculum is balanced in its teaching about women. Most curriculum has to be supplemented with additional information about women – something that is fun to do during a summer session as well as throughout the year. And sorry to hear you were labeled as a Jezebel when you started preaching 🙁

  • A friend sent me this link after I preached on 1 TIm 2:11-15. Gail, your comments are stated well, that it would be a Spiritless person not to consider the thoughts patiently. You are also correct that since Pastors are males (often) you hear a male description of life in the preaching. Pray for us who desire to be truthfully teaching and preaching the Word of God with all sincerity, knowing Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. My hope each day and not Sunday alone is that since he rescued me, I hope i’m not a hindrance to those being transformed this day. Mark 9:50. Blessings.

    • I guess when I read your reply to Gail’s thoughtful post, I feel frustrated. You affirm that Gail’s “well-stated” comments need to be patiently considered and that a person would be “Spiritless” not to. You acknowledge that male pastors speak from their male experiences when preaching and recommend that we pray for you who are teaching and preaching so as not to be a hindrance to others. Nowhere in your reply do I see you willing (or if you are you have not clearly stated your willingness) to do the self-examination and work it would take to really not be a burden to women in the church or in your spheres of influence. So, for example, what women will you now go and speak with to honestly discern what their experiences have been and how will you further gain knowledge through reading, study, etc. to make a difference? We need advocates and allies who will step up with more than a request for prayer and a “hope” that they are not a hindrance.

      • Great points, Stephanie. Actions speak louder than words, and only intentional action will effect change. Many pastors preach with all sincerity, but sincerity is not enough. Our theology of women needs to be deepened and our study expanded to include the new biblical scholarship that has been produced in the past 30 years.

    • Props to you for preaching on 1 Tim 2! I find it to be a passage that is either ignored altogether, or preached poorly. It seems to me that if pastors and the worship team would keep in mind when they prepare for services that half their audience will be women that might help!

    • Thanks, Sarah! It is most unfortunate, but I believe the Holy Spirit is moving and things are changing in churches where people are being brave enough to speak up, and where pastors are being brave enough to challenge the status quo!

  • Unfortunately, I understand these feelings all to well. I’m currently in the place of “Do I even want to go to church this Sunday?” I leave feeling drained. Glad to know there are others who understand saddened that we have to feel this way.

    • I’m sorry to hear that, but understand the part about feeling drained all too well. Praying for you!

  • This resonates with me so deeply. I am a young woman who has not been able to go to church for a long time because I just can’t stand it anymore. The silence is what kills me; the fact that women are not given a voice, and no one even seems to notice or address it. The world outside the church is no picnic for women, but it often seems to be far less overt in its discrimination against my gender.

    • Kate, in my case the only thing that helped when I was ready to give up was going back to the gospels and being reminded that Jesus always attended to and included women. Even his parables and illustrations featured both men and women as examples, which was very unusual for that time. I encourage you to visit some churches that do include women more fully every once in a while. It might be a good reminder that not all churches are like this!

  • Well stated poem. For decades I felt this way and was treated like I was alone in my thinking. Sadly, this all occurred in a denomination that ordained women as pastors, yet in reality at the local level they fell into this whole complementarian mindset. I questioned this often and was met with some pretty hostile attitudes. Now I am so thrilled to have ways of connecting with other like minded individuals to get informed (through scripture), equipped and perhaps strategize about how to get complementarians to “connect the dots” in God’s Picture. Thank you Gail. Thank you The Junia Project. You are truly a God send!

    • Valerie, you are voicing a disturbingly common problem, in which churches that have traditionally held egalitarian positions are becoming functionally complementarian. Rest assured, there is a growing movement to make sure these rich traditions are not undermined!

  • Come over to our church, where a woman is Pastor, the Council is made up of men and women, and my.husband begs me for sports metaphors more often. I don’t want to steal sheep, but before you give up, come worship with us.

    • OK, sounds like we need the name and location of your church so we can put it on the Egalitarian Churches Pinterest board!

  • “I have only been asked to bring refreshments or work in children’s ministry.”

    This really struck a chord with me. I have mentioned this situation to many people in my church before but, whenever I do, I have always been greeted with a retort/reaction that I am somehow undermining those who relish these roles. I truly appreciate that some are amazingly gifted in these areas but I feel wholly unequipped to fill either of those roles. That doesn’t often seem to come into it though. Thanks so much sharing this poem – really appreciate it! 🙂

    • I’m sorry you are getting that kind of response – almost a shaming reaction. It is harmful not just to women, but also to men who have gifts in the area of hospitality or teaching children. I think we need to start getting more creative in our ministry opportunities!

  • I love this poem. But I’m not going back. I’m going to just be the church outside the 4 walls of the Man-Cave that we call church. I’m going to gather with my sisters and paint pictures and read scriptures at the beach or in the park. I’m going to have big dinner parties outside under twinkle lights and stars with friends and family as we talk about the goodness of God and what we’re learning. I’m going to go out and love on as many people as cross my path on any given day so they can taste and see that the Lord is good. And I am not going back to sit in a stuffy pew, sing a few songs, listen to the same guy teach (or even the same woman teach!) every week. It’s not just us women who have our voices silenced…it’s everyone who isn’t “leadership material.” That’s not how Jesus wanted the church to function. 🙂 So I’m going to live outside the man-cave, and BE the church. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Thanks for letting me think outloud.

    • Love the idea of breaking our modern paradigm of church. The current church building model with a senior pastor certainly wasn’t the experience of the early church, it was much more organic. We need to recognize the importance of all the spiritual gifts, not just leadership. And I wish we could recover the model of each one bringing something to the table in the service, as Paul describes. But the other side of it is that in this day and age, it is to find people who are willing to carry the load of what it takes to be a church community. It’s easier just to show up, sit through the service, and go home. I hope and pray you find a group of believers to walk alongside you as you redefine church for you!

    • Thanks, Peggy. I know you have been an advocate for women in the church for a long time, and appreciate you popping in here!

  • Thank you, Gail. True words. I spent a long time trying to spur the church I was a part of on to include women, and was flat out told no. I’ve grown weary of waiting for what I believe with everything in me to be right, that women are to be included in every facet of kingdom life. So I’m in the process of moving on. Not sure yet what’s next, but I know that looking for a covenant community where women are fully included will be top of the list.

    • I’m sorry your church was not willing to give you a chance to use your gifts, but glad you are willing to branch out and look for a new community. CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality) maintains a list of egalitarian-minded churches, and The Junia Project also has a Pinterest board with some reader-recommended suggestions. Let us know what area you are in and maybe we can come up with some names.

  • The paragraph about being asked only to bring refreshments or work in children’s ministry hits really close to the bone.

    • Sorry to hear that 🙁 Wish churches would get more creative with their volunteer management. It seems to me that the WHOLE church needs to be involved in children’s ministries. But that’s another post!

  • Wow, I can sure identify. I’m a pastor and church planter who started an egalitarian church 14 years ago, and wanted to continue loving and serving that church after stepping off pastoral staff 3 years ago. But I’ve watched an intentional shift toward “complementarianism” in the church’s leadership and preaching and attitudes, and witnessed all the things mentioned above. It is heartbreaking. I remain committed to the Church, but life is too short to waste my time in a church that marginalizes women.

    • This intentional shift towards complementarianism is all too common. In your experience, what are some contributing factors? I’m wondering about seminary training and the current trend to accept the teaching of some questionable “celebrity pastors” uncritically. Thoughts?

      • Gail

        As a European observer, Complementarianism seems to be a partially cultural phenomenon. Its seems to have a whiff of the ‘deep South’ about it, from my perspective. Plantation homes and Southern accents, belles and beaux…I can imagine the accents twanging in my ears! They are afraid of change (Gone with the Wind of the Spirit?) All this Dancing with Daddy – what!? Makes me very uneasy… I’m not saying my vision is accurate,and I’m willing to be corrected, just what it looks like to me from over here!

        I am now bracing myself for the ‘complementarian wave’ that’s beginning to unfurl in my European country, as some of this material is being translated/transposed into a new language. I fear it will fuse with the predominate view here, which is male authority, even when women can preach. But we’ve been free from this princessy stuff so far. Try preaching that to a European feminist!

        My husband and I feel called to start writing in the area of biblical equality, but face practical challenges. We’re the only full egalitarians we know. But I hold on to HOPE!

        Voilà my point of view!

  • This is such a powerful poem, Gail! It accurately describes the frustrations that many women in the church face week after week. I also appreciate the Hope that you include at the end. For me, “Going back” meant reconnecting with a new church, a wonderful community of believers who equally value the gifts of women and men at ALL levels of service.

    • Anne, I am so glad you found a community that more accurately reflects Christ 🙂

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