When I felt the call to full-time ministry at the age of 15, I remember asking myself the question, "What now?" I had felt that tug on my heart years before; I had a sincere passion for God's Word and discipleship. I couldn't think of anything else I wanted to do but to serve Him. But I hesitated from surrendering to the call for several years prior to the age of 15. Why? Because I thought the only two full-time ministry options for a female were being a pastor's wife or a missionary.
When I finally did surrender it wasn't because I had heard there were more options for me than these two vocations, but because I couldn't deny the call any longer; to continue to do so was disobedience to God on my part. So I committed to ministry believing that God had a plan for my life but not knowing what it was. All I knew was I did NOT feel called to be a pastor's wife or missionary.
If it weren't for my parents' guidance, I don't know if I would have followed through in obeying this calling. Published materials about vocational calling for women were nonexistent (and still are to a big degree!) to help me, nor were there any female full-time ministers to mentor me. The church, though not unsupportive, did not play a major role in getting me prepared for vocational ministry. In fact the same 6 year old girl who had literally cried "I wish I had been born a boy so I can be a preacher," was still crying out, this time on the inside, "Why hadn't I been born a boy so I had many options of full-time ministry?"
Since then I have had countless conversations with other young women who share similar stories with mine. My husband and I just returned from a trip to my alma mater, Ouachita Baptist University, where I spoke to a group of girls who feel called to the ministry. Listening to them describe the process of discerning their calling and how to follow that call brought to mind someone walking in a pitch black room with her arm out trying to find the light switch.
Even if a church holds to complementarian beliefs (that is, women must be subject to men and not teach or hold authority over man), I still believe it needs women who are theologically trained to serve on staff. And larger than the local church, the Christian community, the global Church and the World (i.e. secular/unbelieving) need women who are theologically trained, who know how to interpret and explain the Bible in a faithful, orthodox way.
It is my opinion that churches have an important role to play in encouraging and supporting its girls who feel called to vocational ministry. The goal is that by the time they are in college or beyond they don't feel alone, confused or abandoned.
So to all you pastors, church staffs, and church members, here are 3 things I suggest you tell your girls who feel called to full-time ministry.
1. "We affirm God's work in you." Every person longs for affirmation. So it is no different that both male and females who feel called to vocational ministry long to be affirmed by their church body. So often churches don't or won't recognize young girls who feel called to the ministry in front of the church. Or, churches will recognize a young girl's call on a Sunday morning during the invitation but then she will never hear anything else from her youth pastor, pastor or any other church leader. As the body of Christ we are called to recognize and acknowledge what God has already done and is doing in these individuals as well as affirm the work of the Holy Spirit. I think some churches are afraid that if they affirm a young woman's ministerial call they are affirming an egalitarian view of women in ministry or they are giving her permission to become a pastor. Here's some news: Most young girls have no desire of becoming a pastor of a church. Especially if your church is complementarian, then most likely she will think the same way you do. So putting those fears aside, what a girl who feels called wants to hear from her church is: We affirm the work that God is doing in your life; we affirm the calling He has placed on you; and we SUPPORT you as you follow this calling on your life. Pastors, youth ministers, deacons, and lay leaders, consider writing personal notes, e-mails, making visits or phone calls to communicate your affirmation. REJOICE over this young girl who is willing to commit her entire life to ministry and to sacrifice worldly things and desires in order to do His will. Perhaps throw a celebration once a year for all the young people (both male and female) who have surrendered to full-time ministry. Acknowledge these girls in front of others, as much as your young males, and continue to check-in on them every so often. Make sure they have people purposely walking with them down this new journey, mentoring and encouraging them along the way! Sometimes we think that following God's call won't start until college, so we let them be during middle and high school. This is an incorrect assumption. These are formative years that will provide a foundation so that when they go to college and are perhaps tempted to abandon God's call and substitute it with something that will make them more money or that is more appealing to mom and dad they will hopefully not waver. Be intentional in AFFIRMING your young girls who feel called to ministry; it will make a world of difference.
2. "We want to give you more opportunities to serve and to use your spiritual gifts." One of the best things a church can do for its young people who feel called to ministry is to give them more opportunities to serve in the church. Since these people will be church leaders one day, the best thing you can do for them (and the best way you can affirm them!) is to plug them into more leadership-type roles. This includes your females! Find out what are their passions and spiritual gifts and use them accordingly. Do you have a girl who is gifted musically and has a heart for music-worship? Allow her to be part of the worship leadership team that makes decisions on what songs will be sung or the order of service. Give her more opportunities to be part of the worship team on Sunday mornings. Have a girl who feels gifted in teaching? Ask her to teach a Sunday School class of those younger than her. Or, encourage older women's Sunday School classes to allow her to substitute teach when its teacher is absent. (I remember having this opportunity when I was young teaching a senior adults lady class. They were very encouraging to me.) Assuming she's in the youth group, involve her on the youth leadership team that makes decisions about discipleship, events, etc. Do you have a girl who has a heart for missions and feels called to be a full-time missionary? Encourage her to be involved with local as well as foreign missions. Suggest that she help plan and lead a mission trip, especially by the time she is a senior in high school. Encourage her to find a summer internship working under the supervision of missionaries. You get my point? Even if your church cannot pay for internships, give these young people, and especially your young girls, non-paid ministerial internships as a way of preparing them for future work. And by the way, here's one thing NOT to tell your girls: Do NOT assume what the girls in your church are called to do. We have a tendency to immediately want to place our females in children's or women's ministry. We assume that is where God would have them. We are NOT the Holy Spirit nor do we want to misdirect them based solely on their gender. I remember when my call was made public to the church, people came and asked me if I wanted to do children's or women's ministry. I said, "Neither. All I know is I have a desire and gift to teach and speak." Then they would respond, "So you want to be the next Beth Moore!" Instead of helping me, their limited understanding of what vocational ministry opportunities there are for women left me feeling frustrated and unsure. My desire was not to become "the new Beth Moore" as if she were my idol, but rather to give my life to a gospel-centered ministry even if I didn't know how that would look.
3. "We want and support you to receive theological education." When fellow male peers make known their call to ministry, people immediately talk to them about seminary. Churches and associations give scholarships to their young male members to receive theological education; it is expected of them. But, when it comes to females, the expectation is not the same. Why is that? (Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post about this very question!) In my mind, it doesn't matter if women are leading children's ministries, youth ministries or women's ministries, writing Bible studies or Sunday School material, speaking, blogging, serving as missionaries, or teaching Bible classes at a private Christian school, she NEEDS theological education. The spiritual maturity of our church members, our bodies of Christ, will depend much in part by the kind of teaching they are receiving as children, women, families, young people, etc. What they hear taught and read about Scripture will give them the framework from which they do their own exegesis. You want strong children's ministries and children who have a firm grasp on the gospel? Train up your women. You want women who are strong pillars in your church and who are not spreading false gospel? Send your future women's ministers to the best seminaries. Want solid, theologically sound Bible studies for women, youth and children? Then encourage your girls to take Greek and Hebrew and biblical theology at a sound seminary. Just because you might believe that women cannot be pastors of a church does not mean that they cannot receive a theological education. Your churches will be better and stronger if both your boys and girls are trained theologically. And your girls want to hear from you, pastors and church leaders, that you support them and encourage them, just like your boys, to get a theological education.
So affirm and train up your young girls for full-time ministry. Recognize that God is at work in females too and that they have a place in this vocational ministerial world. Join in what God is doing. I do not believe a girl is better or worse than a boy because of her gender. I believe that because God's image is both male and female, females are important to God in displaying His image. I also believe that the Bible shows that God has used women in salvation history to bring about His purposes. He has raised up women to be leaders among His people from the Old Testament to the New. Why, then, not continue to affirm that God uses women today for His Kingdom work?
Girls and women who have had surrendered to a vocational call: What else would you add? Would you disagree with anything I've said? Do you agree that young girls in churches who feel a call to full-time ministry want to hear these 3 things from their churches and church leaders? I'd love to hear what you think!