During this seven-year period of largely waiting and silence, there was one area in which I continued to hear God speak to me. I didn't hear anything from God when I prayed about a ministry position. When I prayed for more opportunities to speak, teach, and write about his Word, I continued to hear, "Wait," and "Not yet." But when I prayed with open hands and open heart, "Lord, show me what you want me to do. Why have you called me?," God continued to speak to my heart a call to help women (especially young women) called to gospel ministry. During this time, the one area that grew in intensity was a God-given desire to help and serve women whom God had called to ministry. I was beginning to see that perhaps a large part of my calling was to help train and raise up women for gospel ministry. At the same time, I continued to wrestle with the question, How can I help other women when I am not serving full-time in a church ministry position?Read More
The implications of what I saw worked out in the church for me, someone called to ministry, was that if I wanted to be taken seriously as a Bible teacher and if I was to have any merit in my vocation or my seminary degree, men must be in the audience. As a result, I had a personal crisis: was I wrong in discerning my calling or was the church wrong in its view of women? Simply put, there was little to no vocational ministerial space for me in which to serve as a complementarian with theological training. And as a result, I began to perpetuate the lie that teaching women the Bible was not enough, not worthy enough, because women themselves were not as important as men. I was in effect allowing an incorrect view of my audience to determine the worth or value of my calling.Read More
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.
When I graduated from divinity school in 2008, I was filled with the excitement that consumes many graduates, namely of finding a job in the field for which I had spent so much time preparing. I began looking for a ministerial vocational place where I could exercise my gifts and learning. However, after several months of not finding a job in ministry, I settled for an internship position at a Baptist newspaper doing work that typically a 20- or 21-year-old college student would be doing.
It was humbling. And a little embarrassing.
I thought my degree – a M.Div. – from a reputable divinity school would place me on a fast track into ministry. I was wrong. Although I am extremely thankful to the managing editor of the newspaper for giving me work when no one else would, not to mention the internship eventually turned into valuable full-time work, this experience laid the foundation for questioning my call to ministry that I was so certain of at age 15.
Did I really hear the voice of the Lord call me into ministry? Or, was this a call born out of a desire to give my whole self to the Lord no matter what vocational form it took? Had I just wasted time and money training for something where there is no work for someone like me?
And I am not alone. I have listened to many women describe similar experiences. In fact, one example of this can be found over at The Gospel Coalition, where several months back Liz Lockwood gave her story in an article titled, “My Wonderfully Confusing Call to Ministry.”
Liz, like myself, felt called as a teenager and went on to seminary to train for this calling. During her years at seminary, though, she encountered some obstacles that put into question her calling.
She writes: “While making lattes or selling running shoes may be great for building relationships or earning money while in seminary, those jobs didn’t seem to fit the criteria for full-time Christian service that I had seemingly been drafted into. Right?”
Liz reconciled the tension between her original call and reality saying, “I began to recognize that, while there are certainly specific callings within the realm of Christian life and polity, all Christians are called to live an intentionally gospel-saturated life. … Rather than keeping ‘ministry’ in a specific silo or quadrant within the walls of my life, the Lord was giving me wisdom to understand that living, moving, breathing, eating, and all other activities find their end in him. These truths freed me, as I began to grasp that my surrender to the Lord in high school was less of a vocational declaration and more of a defining mark of spiritual growth.”
To be sure all Christians are “called to live an intentionally gospel-saturated life” and I have often wondered if what I interpreted as a vocational ministry call was actually just this – the call of every believer. And for Liz this is her conclusion, a reinterpretation of her calling, and this is a conclusion that many women are arriving at.
Perhaps it is a simple case of a misunderstanding of calling. But as I have been reflecting on the issue for the last several years I am coming to a different conclusion. While to be sure there are both men and women who mishear or misunderstand a call to vocational ministry, I believe that many women are questioning and redefining their call as a result of a lack of a vocational space for women in ministry.
Historically, Christian ministry has been mostly a man’s world. This doesn’t mean that it is a man’s-only-club where women aren’t allowed. It does mean that there are fewer jobs for women and fewer women in certain spheres of ministry. Sadly, too often the conversation has been on what women cannot do. As a result, the conversation we are not having sufficiently is how can we create a larger space for women in vocational ministry.
Having a conversation
I think the first step toward creating a larger and more welcoming space for women in vocational ministry is by simply having the conversation. Pastors, denominational leaders, seminary presidents and deans, publishers, and presidents of Christian entities, my hope is that you will be leading the way in discussing what women can do and how valuable they can be to reaching the world with the gospel and strengthening and discipling God’s church. I am not talking about a revolution in the church for women to be accepted as senior pastors. Scripturally, I am not convinced that this should be done. Rather, I believe by building on the following statements, the Christian community can begin to have intentional conversations about how we can create a larger vocational space for women called to ministry.
- The Imago Dei is complete in both men and women. This means that both men and women are needed to display the image of God. The Imago Dei isn’t confined to marriage but extends to all areas of life, most importantly the church, where men and women are complementing each other in displaying the image of God.
- Women are important to the work of God.
- Women, who are teaching Scripture and representing God and the gospel to his people as a vocational ministry, need to be theologically trained.
- Even when men are taken out of the equation and who is left are women and children, they, just as much as men, need to be taught sound doctrine by sound, theologically-trained ministers.
Further, I want to see intentional, balanced, Gospel-centered conversations about women in ministry turn into intentional acts of using women in ministry.
Creating a larger vocational space
The following are some suggested conversation starters and practical ways to create a larger vocational space for women in ministry.
How can we broaden the vocational space for women in churches? Most churches have either no woman on its ministerial staff or one or two at best. Many times the churches that do employ women on staff will be at a larger church where the ratio might be 10:1, men to women. Let’s look closer. Vocational ministerial jobs (not secretarial or administrative) for women are often part-time, underpaid and do not require any theological training. In order to make vocational room for women, one suggestion is when there’s a ministerial position open for which a church has no biblical objection to hiring a woman and when it already has a male-only staff, it could choose a woman for the job instead of a man. Other suggested changes are to hire women who have theological training, create full-time positions, pay women ministers at the same or similar salary to the men in comparable positions, and intentionally use female ministers’ gifts even if it takes her outside her job description. Perhaps place her alongside the male ministers for the response part of the Sunday service. Ask her to read Scripture or pray during the service. Ask, What are we communicating to the world and Christian community about the importance of women in ministry by whom we hire and the positions for which we hire?
How can we make vocational space for women in Christian publishing? Often time women are published based on their marketability rather than their credentials or quality of material. Also, the field for publishing Christian women seems to be much more competitive than its male counterpart thereby making it more difficult as a woman to get published than a man. One suggestion is for publishers to work with seminaries to find its best women graduates who feel called to teach and who are solid theologically to write for them. I can count at least 5 women who I know and who have graduated from Beeson who just want to write Bible studies but cannot find an open door into publishing to do so. Perhaps publishers can do a better job at engaging in intentional relationships with the female population of seminaries and divinity schools so that they are cultivating the next generation of women writers who will give them the best material possible and so that they are communicating to women who follow through with training that it is of value. Through these partnerships publishers could invite seminary female students to its conferences and events giving them opportunities to teach. Ask, What are we communicating to the world by who and what we publish? What are we communicating to young females about the importance of theological training for publishing?
How can we broaden the vocational space for women within seminaries and divinity schools? Consider evangelical Christian studies departments at colleges and universities or consider seminaries and you will find a small number of women on faculty. Perhaps you will find no women. Consider the female population at seminaries and you will find it is very small. Also, consider what degrees are being offered to women. Two spheres within Christian higher education are highlighted here: female faculty members and female students. A simple solution to both is for Christian institutions to intentionally hire more female faculty members and recruit more female students. Ask, What conclusions can be drawn by the outside world when it looks at the faculty and student population of seminaries? Would it be that it is a man’s world? Is there any value to female students taking courses like biblical theology, biblical languages and preaching courses in preparing them to teach Scripture even if only to other females, youth and children? What are seminaries and divinity schools communicating about the importance of women in vocational ministry by whom it hires, recruits and the degrees/programs offered to women? Are we only training ministers to teach sound doctrine to male Christians or are we training both male and female ministers to teach sound doctrine to both genders and to all ages?
Are we, the evangelical community, guilty of creating and abetting a system that makes it difficult and sometimes impossible for God to use women in vocational ministry?
Are we limiting what God can and wants to do through women by simply not having a big enough space for them to serve?
What blessings as a Christian community are we missing out on simply because we are not having a conversation or taking positive steps to engage more women in gospel-ministry work?
Grant it there are Christian entities, seminaries/divinity schools, and churches that are doing a good job or at least intentionally trying to create a larger vocational space for women in ministry. Places like LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, and Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham are a few that come to mind in my area. (And to be sure there are more!)
I believe it is important that we have this conversation about how we can create a larger vocational space for women because:
I believe our churches are only as strong as our weakest members.
I believe that together as men and women we make up the Imago Dei, and therefore, we can do better.
I believe that as we watch the salvation story unfold from Genesis to Revelation and see how God intentionally uses women far and above the cultural boundaries of the day, we can do better.
I believe that it doesn’t follow that just because a woman should not teach men means women and children should be taught watered-down theology or Scripture.
I believe that because many women are being taught watered-down theology and pop-psychology tinted Scripture we have created an environment where false teaching is growing easily and quickly among women.
I believe we should expect the same training of women as of our men. However, unless we have places for our trained, called women to go and serve, receiving theological training does not make sense. Getting into debt for seminary without the possibility of paying it off while using the degree is unwise.
And like Liz, women like us who once felt a call to vocational ministry might just conclude that we misheard the calling. To be certain, I do not judge or fault Liz for reaching this conclusion. We must assume that as God has revealed more over time to her that she did not necessarily hear a call to vocational ministry.
But what if?
What if there was more room at the vocational ministry table for women to sit? What would happen if theologically-trained women had more places to go exercise their calling, gifts and training? What if? Would there be less questioning, less redefining of ministerial calls among women if the ministerial vocational space were only bigger? What is the Church and the World missing out on by the Christian community failing, to some degree, to engage, encourage and train up more women for a ministry of the gospel?
(I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please reply with any positive suggestions or thoughts that can help and encourage the larger Christian community to think through this issue.)
Hi readers! I am working on a project near and dear to my heart for girls called to vocational ministry, and I need your help!
I have created a survey to help inform and shape my project, and I need women who have received a call to vocational ministry to complete the survey. Several ways you can help:
1. If you are a woman who has received a call to vocational ministry years ago or just recently, would you please take a couple of minutes to complete my survey?
2. If you are not a woman called to vocational ministry, would you still please share the following survey link on your Facebook page, on Twitter and/or via e-mail to people you know who are women and called to ministry? https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WJG9YG7
The more responses I receive, the better the project will be in accomplishing what I hope it will do! As things develop a little further, I will fill you in about the project. In the meantime, will you pray for me and for this project? As always, pray that God would be glorified and that I would walk in obedience and faith as I follow God's calling to do this project.
Grace and peace,
The following is a guest post by Brenda Odom, Worship Associate at First Baptist Church, Pleasant Grove, Alabama. After posting "3 Things Girls Called to Vocational Ministry Want to Hear From Their Churches & Pastors," I had an outpouring of responses including one from Brenda. Brenda agreed with the post but also saw the need for a post about how pastors and churches can support their women ministers. This week I asked her to share from her perspective on this topic and the following is what she said. I am very excited to share this with you, as I think it is truly excellent and will have a great impact! Brenda notes that she is currently serving in a church with a very supportive pastor, Dr. Daven Watkins.
1. Know that I am called, too.
Traditionally in our Southern Baptist denomination only the men have been considered as “vocational ministry staff.” In fact, even now it is not uncommon for some churches to use the term “staff” to refer only to the ordained men who serve there. Some church members may also stereotype the women on staff by believing they all choose to work there only because it is convenient to their home or because it allows them to be near their children. While it’s true that these factors may be important to some, women like me who are called to vocational ministry have to say over and over again – to pastors, committees, and members – “I am called, too,” not to preach or pastor, but to minister in other ways. In my case, I have the privilege of serving through the multi-faceted ministry of music. I have educated and prepared myself to do this, and I have pursued this vocation my entire adult life. It is not by accident, convenience, or coincidence that I serve this church. God led me here to serve, too, just like the rest of the vocational ministry staff.
2. Help me educate our church.
You can affirm me by helping enlighten our church about women called to ministry. It may be unsettling for some to hear a woman describe herself as “called,” but help me show them I am not trying to usurp anyone’s authority. I am just trying to live in obedience to God’s call to me, which is to use my gifts in the music ministry in this church.
3. Help see that I am treated as fairly as any other vocational staff member.
This includes matters of compensation, benefits, and opportunities for continuing education and professional growth.
4. Realize the unique challenges I face, some of which are these:
Chances are good that any woman in vocational ministry in the average sized church will be the only one of “her kind,” and that can be a lonely place in a “professional” sense.
Usually staff divisions occur between “the men” and “the women,” without regard for calling or function, and that can be very frustrating. When that happens, I feel I am being put in the stereotypical box I have already described. Please see me as more than my gender. I am a called professional, too.
Communication with my pastor is normally not a problem. E-mails are usually adequate and efficient for routine ministry issues. But there are times when a face-to-face meeting is required because of the nature of the concern. Obviously, I am not able to take the pastor to lunch and discuss the issue as the men can do. That means I have to wait to be worked into the appointment schedule and that can take some time. Please allow me to discuss my area of ministry with you in person in a timely manner when the need arises.
5. Be mindful of the fact that I am able to minister in some ways and situations a man cannot. Allow me to help in those places.
6. Give me the opportunity to do something new.
When there is an assignment to be made for a task or new area of ministry, consider me, too. I would welcome the challenge and would be refreshed by doing something new. Let me stretch my creativity by using my education and experience in different ways.
7. Know that in spite of all the challenges, I find great joy and fulfillment in doing what God called me to do.
My post on 3 Things Girls Called to Vocational Ministry Want to Hear From Their Pastors & Churches really hit a nerve and resonated with many women. As I continue writing some coming posts on this topic, I wanted to share a link I came across this morning. It doesn't matter where you fall on the women in ministry debate, I think this site is very helpful in understanding how God has been using women in church history to further the gospel.
The site is called, Alabaster Jar: Stories of female leaders from church history.
I haven't read all the stories, but it is definitely flagged as a resource I plan to use. What I hope the site will do is encourage women today that God is in the business of using women for His Kingdom. I am not a fan of advocating women for being female or for promoting a gender for the sake of gender. (I also don't advocate that women seek to be lead pastors of churches.) Rather, I hope this site helps us to remember these women of the past and what they did for the Kingdom of God and to allow their stories to encourage us and thereby the women serve as role models in our own calling.