We associate pastoring with men because the pastors we have seen are men.
Some older Christians recall the women ministers they knew in childhood and how they led them to faith and service. But these folks are thinning out. We are shaped by what we see and do not see, what we experience and do not experience.
Even in churches that affirm the ordination of women, women pastors are not common.
Relatively few evangelical women who go to seminary start the ordination process, or remain with their first denomination after graduation. I grew up never dreaming that women could be pastors, even though during my many hours in church as a kid, I often thought pastors were very lucky. They had the joy of helping people, studying the Bible and culture, and making disciples.
But pastor was a word for boys.
I was called by God to the ministry of university teaching my first year of college. I went to seminary in the 1970’s, but did not initiate the ordination process when I graduated.
As a Free Methodist, I affirmed women as pastors (against the church of my childhood), but I did not feel called to pastor a church. I was called to teach Bible and pastor university students. I wished more women would be called to the ministry.
But I had the notion that I should not advocate for myself or for women’s ordination—this would be self-promotion.
Instead, I thought caring Christian men should advocate for women. And they should; but so should I!
My transformative education, in this regard, began when my students at Seattle Pacific University asked me to teach a class on women in the Bible and ministry. In preparation for this class, I decided to attend a lecture by New Testament scholar, Dr. Gordon Fee, entitled “Women in Ministry.” Fee exposed 1Tim 2:11-15 (“I don’t allow women to teach . . .”) in the context of the concerns expressed throughout 1 and 2 Timothy about the church at Ephesus.
Fee argued for the ordination of women, claiming that the words about women in 1 Timothy 2 were not part of a discipline manual created for all churches for all time.
Even when properly translated and interpreted, they were particular words for a particular crisis caused by false teachers in the church of Ephesus. Women across the world today are not all young widows, vulnerable to false teachers who settled in their Ephesian homes to teach false doctrines and proselytize.
While I was listening, I felt God speak.
- I realized that I needed to be ordained to be a model for girls and women who might not hear God’s call if they had never seen a woman behind the pulpit or Table.
- I needed to be seen and heard, so their experience would include women standing behind the pulpit and the Table.
- I needed to serve as a Christian minister for the sake of boys and men so they could be inspired by what I said, and so that they would never thwart anyone called to serve God and God’s church.
Twelve years after graduating from seminary, as the mother of three children, a professor at a university, and childbirth instructor at a hospital, I began the ordination process.
I was ordained in the Free Methodist Church in 1991. As I began to preach and serve communion along with teaching courses on Bible and women in ministry, many women recognized a call to serve God as pastors. I minister with women today at Azusa Pacific University who were in my classes at SPU.
Still, the vocation of pastoring never occurs to many women because they do not have a grid for it.
Even those who go to seminary are discouraged by how women are treated in our churches. The only thing that will change this is for church leaders—women and men—to:
- believe women when they say God is calling them to ministry
- weigh their gifts and graces for ministry
- invite them to preach
- encourage them to be ordained
- help them go to seminary
They also must educate their communities concerning a proper use of Scripture and accurate Scripture translations, including the significance of contexts and the difference between particular advice and universal principles. Not every woman who is a Christian feels called to serve God in this way, but many more would if more models appeared before them, naturally, without fanfare, as they simply do what their community has confirmed is God’s vocation for them.
Many women can and do serve God without the ordination process, but ordination should not be withheld from them just because they are women!
The founder of the Free Methodist Church, B. T. Roberts, said it best when he wrote in his compelling treatise, “Ordaining Women,” in 1891:
Why then we repeat does not Christianity root out all false religions? And why does it not have a more marked effect upon the lives of those who acknowledge its truth? There must be a cause. The reason is that the vast majority of those who embrace the Gospel are not permitted to labor according to their ability for the spread of the Gospel.
It is impossible to estimate the extent to which humanity has suffered by the unreasonable and unscriptural restrictions which have been put upon women in the churches of Jesus Christ. Had they been given, since the days of the first Apostles, the same rights as men, this would be quite another world. Not only would the Gospel have been more generally diffused among mankind, but its influence, where its truth is acknowledged, would have been incomprehensibly greater.”
Expositions and arguments are persuasive for some, but personal experience is far more effective for most people.
We can have the greatest impact if we educate our congregations and if we give them women pastors.
1. The full text of B.T. Roberts’ book “Ordaining Women” can be accessed in pdf format here.
2. For a fuller discussion of these issues see Karen’s full-length article, Wesleyan Perspectives on Women in Ministry.
Photo Credit: http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-of-the-day/girl-church-pews-pod/
Thanks so much for this. I have just been consecrated as a bishop in the sacramental Old Catholic Apostolic Church ( http://www.liberalcatholics.co.uk) and the only things people outside my church want to talk to me about are being a woman or being a lesbian, not about what I, Bridget, can bring to my church and the world. There were 2 other women ordained priest at the same service and I’m so proud to be part of a church where these are not issues.
Thank you for this article! As a pastor who happens to be female, I am sometimes very frustrated. Just today I had to leave a facebook group for pastors – today I made a new one and would especially love those who resonate with this article to join! https://www.facebook.com/groups/MainlinePastorsSharingStrength
Thanks for the reminder of why not to give up, despite all the obstacles…
Thank you for rekindling the zeal within women pastor’s like myself who had shy away from the important relevance to make serving in ministry more transparent for the women in and outside our congregations who are struggling with the call upon their lives to serve as ordained pastors. In continuing the encouragement our future pastors WILL be our daughters and granddaughters referred to as a pastor called of God and not a woman missionary called to serve God.
I was ordained in 1980 and became chaplain of a girls school. I have never forgotten the power of the first time I gave communion (Episcopalian-style) and looked at that long row of girls’ faces looking up at me. I thought “This is the first time this presence of God has come to them from a woman–from one of themselves.” I saw myself in them and I hope they saw themselves in me. And perhaps we all saw a new face of God.
1891?? Now, that is impressive! Our denomination began ordaining women in 1974 and I’m grateful they did. But it’s still much tougher for women to find a call and most especially, to be lead or solo pastor. It’s beginning to shift a little as we were quite intentional about providing more advocacy, but man, it’s a slow process. Thank you for this – it is right on target. I was ordained at in 1997 and loved pastoring, even though I got a very late start. I’m with the ECC.
The founder advocated for women’s ordination, but the others voted 41 37 against his resolution. After fits and starts, FMs Voted to fully ordain women in1974.
Story here. http://fmcusa.org/blog/1995/08/01/fmc-statement-on-women-in-ministry/
Karen, thanks for providing the link. I read through the FMC’s position paper on women in ministry. Well-reasoned, hitting the essential points blow by blow. Moreover, historical evidence shows J.I. Packer’s argument to be built on faulty reasoning. (Not that I slam J.I. Packer–I certaiinly don’t! But in this case, he goes astray.)
Plus, I love historical documentation and research!
Excellent article, Karen! Women and men are BOTH called by God, to a multitude of ministries.
Of course, I am a bit prejudiced. I attended Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, a UMC seminary in the Chicago area. I don’t have the most recent figures at my fingertips, but lots of the recent graduates are ordained women (not all being ordained in the UMC). Case in point: I am ordained, and serve a small congregational church in Morton Grove, a northwest Chicago suburb. My Easter sermon was all about Mary Magdalene’s witness, as I realized after I wrote it. (Check it out: http://wp.me/p5Nfg4-v )
UM s are a great example of a church that ordains and locates pastors who are women.
Karen, one of the great barriers to achieving a role is not seeing people who look like oneself already in that role. Whether it’s sex or race or social status, an unfortunate but common refrain is “I don’t see anyone who looks like me.” Thanks for getting in there and becoming one who looks like others who can follow in your path.
My granddaughter at age 5 preached on her deck one Sunday when she could not go to church. I hope and pray she will not learn that pastor is a word for boys!
Thank you for this! As a pastor, many have asked me when I felt God’s call to ministry. The truthful answer is age 6 or 7, but I thought women who wanted to tell others about Jesus were only allowed to be missionaries. So, I always thought that was where I would end up. What we see absolutely does matter.
YES! Your reasons for becoming ordained were exactly what God spoke to me about a decade ago when I started the ordination process. Great article!
Excellent article. Any organization who excludes half the population from full participation within it’s parameters of structure is doomed. Many thanks,
Reverend Katie McClelland, Church of the Valley, Santa Clara, CA
Katie, I added your church to The Junia Project Pinterest board, egalitarian churches! https://www.pinterest.com/juniaproject/
We are not “women” pastors but female pastors. I do wish that important distinction would be made. The words woman/women are nouns, and we surely don’t say men pastors, do we.? The words we use are important; please remember that in future writings.
Linda, I hear what you are saying, and I’ll take responsibility as editor for the title. Honestly, it was a personal thing – the term “female” has often been used in a derogatory fashion, and so we tend to avoid it. How about “Why We Need More Women to be Pastors?”
You are right, Karen. HOw will they see us unless we are there, visible and identifiable. When I moved to UK and began to lead in a church there which had previously not had a woman minister (although it had been founded by a woman in 1926, and taken from her after it was a going concern because … women can’t be pastors) I had a young woman of 14 speak to say she was intending to be a pastor/preacher when she grew up… shocking and disconcerting the older women, many of whom wanted to lead but would never have considered saying or doing that as a teenager.
The difference was made by a role model!
Not to worry, Gail. “Woman” can be used as both a noun and an adjective, and occasionally even as a verb. See the definitions and use notes here: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/woman
Thank you for this! It’s very helpful 🙂
One huge example is “Women’s Suffrage”. No one has said that is an improper use of the word, and that we should instead say “Female Suffrage”. We could say it, of course, but we don’t have to.
You are an inspiration to my daughters in their calls to ministry. Thank you for your courage.
Yes! Thank you for this, Karen!
This is wonderful Karen! Thank you!
Very good and universally applicable. Pray for women pastors in the sacramental churches.
Thanks for your entry, Karen. You are right on point. I believe more women would enter ministry if they could hear the call, all too often muffled by the noise of patriarchal hegemony and rigid fundamentalism. I agree that females as pastors needs to be normalized within our churches. You decision to be ordained contributes greatly. I wonder what other suggestions you have for women who may or may not feel “called” but as lay women want to advocate for more female pastors and leadership. Perhaps stepping outside our comfort zones and seeking church board positions so that women are in positions of power to speak up for, recruit, and support female pastors, including at every opportunity as a Sunday School teacher a lesson which uses female pastors and/or biblical women leaders as examples, to name a few. Other suggestions that come to mind?
Patti, I think you’ve been reading my mind and we don’t even know each other! I’ve been thinking a lot about how women are going to need to “step up”, so to speak, as more doors begin to open – are already opening! I am starting to hear from pastors that women are turning down leadership positions. And this is understandable when we look at history. Even for me personally, I’m hesitant to put myself out there again and be marginalized – it is not a fun thing to experience. Also, women who are married and/or have children continue to carry the lion’s share of responsibilities at home. So women are more likely to weigh the cost before volunteering and may have to be asked more than once. Churches could go a long way in making ministry more feasible for women by offering childcare during meetings, scheduling meetings at more flexible times, etc. But I’m encouraging women to take every opportunity they have these days to get experience and be prepared for what is coming – God is on the move!
Your suggestions are ideal. I’ve talked to women who are wanting to minister throughout the church, but don’t feel called to ordination. Sometimes they feel excluded because they don’t have that call. But more women on boards and who teach and serve in many ways who also advocate for women who are pastors and church leaders would bring more gender equity throughout denominations.As you know, some women are against women as pastors and advocate strongly against it, even leave our churches if a woman preaches or serves communion.
Thank you for this. It has spoken to a deep ache of soul.