The Gospel Coalition has a blog series called, "On My Shelf," where they ask different people about books they'd recommend. I hope TGC won't mind, but I want to adapt what they do for my blog and give book recommendations once a month.Read More
An audio transcript of John Piper answering a question about female professors in seminary has garnered a lot of (negative) attention since being posted yesterday. He says, "The issue is whether women should be models, mentors, and teachers for those preparing for a role that is biblically designed for spiritual men." His answer? No, women should not play any role in the formation of male pastors. Click here to read the full transcript at Desiring God.
Friends, we should be careful appealing to logic that goes beyond the witness of Scripture and in this case runs antithetical to it. As I argue in my book, the entire witness of Scripture paints a picture of men and women side-by-side worshipping and serving God, for both genders bear the image of God and both have something unique that the other doesn’t have. What we don’t find in Scripture is the idea that only men are to spiritually form women, not women form men.
So should women play any role in the spiritual formation of male pastors? If we are going to pose that question to the biblical text, then we should take the whole of Scripture into account and not just a rigid interpretation of the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus). What we find is Moses and Miriam leading together, even composing songs together. We find God speaking through Deborah and Huldah to deliver and interpret God’s Word and instruct according to it. We find Abigail speaking a Word from the Lord to David and David saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.” We find women in Jesus’ close circle of disciples (beyond the Twelve) and in Paul’s close circle of fellow diakonos -- servants and ministers (Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Euodia, Syntyche, and others in Rom. 16).
And let it not be lost on us the many women in Scripture at whose feet we sit learning about God because He determined that his revealed Word come through them, too. We find Miriam’s song, Hannah’s prayer, Deborah’s song, Mary’s song, Huldah’s interpretation all included in Scripture as the inspired Word of God. God wants us to learn something about himself from these women. Unless men in pastoral ministry choose not to read these passages, male pastors still cannot escape being spiritually formed by women, at least by these women in Scripture.
Last, let’s not forget Lois and Eunice, who taught the faith and Scriptures to their grandson/son Timothy. Paul began 2 Timothy by commending these women again to Timothy, who was now shepherding the congregation in Ephesus, and urges him to continue in what he learned from them (2 Tim 1:5; 3:14-15). Their formation of Timothy wasn’t a past event but continued to reverberate throughout the rest of Timothy’s life and ministry. I thank God that they were “models, mentors, and teachers” to Timothy.
If we argue that only men can teach men for pastoral ministry, then we are forcing Sripture on a trajectory that it isn’t going. We are saying to God that he has nothing to teach us (men) about himself through his other image-bearers. We are saying that there’s something inherent in the female gender that renders them incapable or incompatible for God to use in the formation of shepherds.
Friends, especially females, be encouraged. This is not who God is. Not only does God use women in spiritual formation of his ministers, but he even used women, like Deborah, as shepherds! He used Huldah to instruct and teach. He inspired the mouths of women to speak his Word. He used women like Phoebe to interpret Paul’s letter to the Romans (you’ll have to read my book or another book for more on this). He used Priscilla in the spiritual formation of Apollos. Women contended for the gospel at Paul’s side.
And if God is willing to use an ass to speak on his behalf to Balaam, we should not be surprised, as we see in Scripture, that he is most glad to use women to speak his Word and be part of the spiritual formation of men. Because we are people of the Word and want to be faithful interpreters of the Word, we must not ignore these women or God’s use of women. If anything, we see it is not against God’s divine nature to use and speak through women in salvation history. (William Webb’s book, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals, is really helpful on this point.)
To those brothers called to pastoral ministry, invite women into your spiritual formation. Choose a seminary with females on the faculty. Why? Because God has made clear that the bride of Christ is made up of men and women, that the body of Christ is made up of men and women, that his image-bearers are to be both men and women, that his family is made up of men and women, that his inspired Word is not complete with just the testimony of men, and that he himself is neither male nor female. Choosing, then, to be trained for ministry within Christ’s bride, body, and family devoid of female mentors, teachers, or models runs antithetical to the kind and type of ministry to which you are called. That kind of spiritual formation could communicate that women are necessary parts of God’s plan in every realm except training for pastoral ministry and that men are sufficient in themselves for all things necessary to prepare and train for pastoral ministry.
What I’m not arguing for (and never have) is a spiritual family ruled only by mothers. I’m arguing that Scripture makes clear that the family of God needs both fathers and mothers working together shepherding the people of God, spiritually forming the children and each other.
For those of you women who feel called to ministry and are considering seminary, don’t let Piper’s article discourage you. Seminary is not only for senior pastors, and there are many that will welcome you not just as students to receive learning but as valuable parts of the community who will be part of the spiritual formation of others, yes, even men.
One of my earliest memories as a child was crying to my mother that God didn't make me a boy because, "I wanted to be a preacher." My dad was a Southern Baptist pastor of a small, rural church at the time. The church was so small that he was the only staff member. The only people I saw in vocational gospel ministry other than my dad were the occasional travelling evangelist or the music minister at my grandparents' church. These were all men. The only women I had heard of in ministry were Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, two missionary women for whom our Christmas and Easter offerings, respectively, were named after. But there was one problem: they were both dead! Plus, I was not interested in moving to a far-off country or eating weird foods (as you can see, my understanding of missions at that time was limited).
I was sensitive to the things of God at a very early age. When I was four, while my dad was in seminary, we were part of a church that put on a big Easter play each year. I was one of the children who ran to Jesus in the play, and I remember crying brokenheartedly when they crucified Jesus. When we moved to that small, rural church in East Texas, I remember my parents looking for me after a church service only to find me in the prayer room. I was six. That was also the age I heard Billy Graham preach the gospel at a crusade and as a result told my dad that I wanted to give my life to Christ. I was baptized a month later on my 7th birthday.
So it was no surprise to my parents that I wanted to be a preacher and had a heart for gospel ministry and Christ's church. But as a female in my denomination, I realized quickly that I would never be a preacher. So where did that leave me?
During this past Christmas holiday, I was cleaning out a closet full of my stuff at my parents' house. Every year my mom threatens to send it all home with me, so I wanted to get rid of what I could to appease her! During this process, I found a journal entry written in 1992 when I was 9.
By age 9, I figured the closest vocation to ministry for me was to be a school teacher like my mom (later, I would say pastor's wife), though I never felt a strong desire to be one. Even though I don't explicitly say this in my 1992 journal entry, I was grappling, in a way, with a desire to communicate God's Word. As a female, I could be a writer! (As you can see from the image above, I had to improve my spelling to be a writer–I was never a good speller, but thanks be to God for technological advances like spellcheck!) I remember from early on, probably around 7 or 8 years old until 15, I was processing what I could do with my life that could get me as close as possible to gospel ministry.
When I read this journal entry over Christmas, I got teary eyes because of the visible reminder of God's faithfulness to me even at the age of 9! For, by God's grace, I did become a writer when I grew up–a writer who seeks to communicate God's Word to others. By God's grace. But, little did my 9-year-old self fully understand that it wasn't up to me to figure out how God would work out my life and calling. If God had called me, he would see it through. He would provide a space and a place for me to serve; he is able to do what I see as impossible.
From 1992 on I continued to live in between a God-given desire to give my life to the work of Christ and what I saw in my context--a vocational sphere where there were little to no women. How could I reconcile what I was sensing God calling me to do and what I saw in my piece of reality?
By the age of 15, God's call on my life to serve in vocational ministry was so strong that I couldn't resist it anymore. I remember the big step of faith in God it took for me to surrender to this kind of call (which was only possible because God enabled the faith I needed), for, up to this point, I had not seen or met any women in full-time ministry. I made my calling public to my church and was met with affirmation of this calling. Yet even though my parents and people in the church were encouraging and affirming, I felt as if I had just entered a dark room with my arms outstretched stumbling around trying to find a light. The church knew how to direct and usher young men with a call to ministry; the path was laid out. But for young women? Not so much. With the help and leading of the Holy Spirit and my parents, I did my best to discern this call and the next steps. But the path was difficult during those early years.
When it came time for college, I chose Ouachita Baptist University because of its Christian Studies department as a way to prepare me for ministry. After college, I went on to seminary, to Beeson Divinity School, because I believed that if men were required to receive theological education for ministry so should every minister of the gospel, including its women. Plus, if I was going to be speaking about the Living God and interpreting his Word for his people, then I believed (and still do!) that type of calling should receive the best kind of preparation as possible.
Yet, from the time I surrendered to ministry at age 15 until rather recently, there were several questions that I wrestled with: What did it mean to be called to vocational, gospel ministry? Could I, as a woman, be called to a ministry of the Word of God? What is a biblical and theological understanding of a call to ministry? What is a biblical and theological understanding of a woman in vocational, gospel ministry? Of course at the age of 15, I couldn't articulate my questions in this way, but they were at the heart of the questions I was asking then. I wanted to understand my calling within Scripture, history, time, and space. I wanted to know what I could do with this overwhelming sense of calling on my life, particularly as a female. What steps should I take?
During my second year of studies at Beeson, I began intentionally praying about what was next. "God, what do you have for me? God, I trust you with my calling, but I still do not know what comes after seminary or where you are leading me." As I was praying about what was next, God brought to my mind young women he was calling to ministry. The thought was unexpected, something that had never crossed my mind on its own. And the more I prayed, testing these thoughts about mentoring and helping young women called to ministry, the more my thoughts drifted to them and the more passionate I became. God was planting and growing in my heart a desire to help young women–15-year-old Kristens–discern a call to ministry so they didn't feel alone or have to go at it alone and so that they would be able to live out the calling faithfully.
Coupled with this desire to help them, I also felt a strong leading from God to write a book for young women. But, how? What would I say? I was still in seminary and hadn't served in a church in a full-time capacity. Plus, in many ways, I still felt alone in a dark room with my arms stretched out looking for the light. How could I help them? This occured during the years 2006 and 2007. Little did I know that it would take 10 years before this book would begin to come to fruition.
Stay tuned for Part II.