The Lost Women of In-Between Land

Peter Pan was a favorite fairytale of mine. The idea of being able to fly away from one’s problems and fears (in Peter’s case, of never growing up) was appealing to me even at a young age. I also related to the fictional Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. They didn’t belong. Of course they thought (or perhaps pretended) that they were having the time of their lives in Neverland, but throughout the story there are glimpses of sadness and a longing for home—to belong. We catch these glimpses in Peter’s desire to hear stories and to find open windows, and in the Lost Boys’ reaction when they were given a “mother” and when Wendy had to leave.

The analogy isn’t perfect but the feeling is comparable. The feeling of not belonging. The feeling of being lost and exiled to another place.

I’m talking about my reality and the reality of so many women called to gospel ministry.

I have been thinking about the role of women in ministry before I ever publicly surrendered to God’s call on my life at 15. As a small girl I cried, “I wish God had made me a boy so I could grow up to be a preacher.” The call I felt at such a young age didn’t seem to fit with my gender.

Over the last 10 years I have been thinking, researching, and talking about the issue of women in ministry. The issue is important because I believe God calls women to ministry and because I believe the Church and the World need God-called and trained women to take the gospel and disciple others.

But in American evangelicalism, the line is drawn; the two sides are clear. You must choose between being a complementarian or egalitarian. And not any kind of complementarian or egalitarian. You must meet all the criteria. There’s no room for any “softness.”

So since I do not feel comfortable in either camp nor do I agree 100% with all of their applications, I find myself living in In-Between Land. Like I said, the analogy breaks down with the story of Peter Pan for this land is far from magical, and, unlike Peter, I do not want to live here. But I live in this land because I don’t belong anywhere else.

And I know I’m not alone. I know there are other Lost Women of In-Between Land. The problem, though, with In-Between Land is that—to state the obvious—it’s not a real place. So to find these other Lost Women is sometimes difficult. We often come across each other by accident, in conversations.

Two years ago I spoke at a weekend retreat to a group of around 30 young female students at Ouachita Baptist University who feel called to ministry. The sentiment was the same. They felt called but they didn’t feel like they belonged.

Who are these Lost Women? Most (if not all) are theologically conservative, evangelical, feel called by God to full-time gospel ministry, desire or have theological education, and have a nuanced interpretation regarding spiritual gifts, especially the gift of teaching and preaching.

With complementarianism, most Lost Women feel frustrated by the constant and ever-growing Don’t List. Historically, instead of complementarians telling us what we can do and encouraging and affirming women, the conversation has often been dominated by what we cannot do. We feel frustrated, not at the statement that women cannot be senior pastors (in fact, most of us don’t want to be senior pastors), but that too many complementarian churches have no full-time, called, trained women on staff.

On the other hand, some Lost Women feel frustrated by certain strands of egalitarianism, where there is an overemphasis of the good work of women to such an extent that the good work of men is eclipsed. In addition, women who “merely” teach other women and children can be looked down upon or even discouraged. Sometimes the push is too strong to be a senior pastor, and we feel frustrated also by the lack of jobs in some egalitarian contexts.

The feeling is: We are forgotten. We are discouraged. We are written off if we do not hold to either side completely. We are not only the Lost Women, we are the causalities of this gender war.

What happens to us conservative women who value theological education and the spiritual gifts but who are often ignored in these gender debates? Where do we serve? Who is encouraging us to receive theological education and who will hire us when we are done? Who will publish us or who will ask us to speak and teach?

What about us who are called to a writing ministry? If we don’t hold to a traditional or certain complementarian framework of Scripture or interpretation of 1 Timothy, we will be unable to write for most theologically conservative ministries. If we don’t hold to a traditional or certain egalitarian framework of Scripture or interpretation of 1 Timothy, then we will most likely be unable to write for other ministries.

This should not be! Is there no vocational space for us who are neither complementarian nor egalitarian? Actually, is there little place for women to serve at all even if we are 100% complementarian or egalitarian? How long will God-called women remain overlooked, unheard, lost?

While these two camps continue their debates and wars, my guess is us Lost Women will quietly try to find a place where we can serve (thankfully there are some!). We may leave and go overseas. We may change denominations, even if unwillingly. At worse, we may become embittered or quit the ministry all together.

Please join me in praying that God will move in our churches and in these debates so that more laborers will be able to serve in the field. For at the end of the day what we want is to not be Lost Women of In-Between Land but co-laborers in the Lord Jesus and in his Church.

If you would identify yourself as a Lost Woman caught in between the gender debate, I'd love to know about it and hear from you. Would you simply comment to this post with some kind of affirmative or send me a message? My prayer is that something good will come of us knowing about and praying for one another.