Why I Wrote a Book for Women Discerning a Call to Ministry (Part II)

Why I Wrote a Book for Women Discerning a Call to Ministry (Part II)

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?

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Yes, Women Can Be Part of the Spiritual Formation of Men

Yes, Women Can Be Part of the Spiritual Formation of Men

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

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Is teaching Scripture to females just as important as it is to men?

Is teaching Scripture to females just as important as it is to men?

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.

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Where are the mothers in the family of God?

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Last week I had lunch with my friend and minister, Deborah.

Deborah is on the ministerial staff at The Cathedral Church of the Advent in downtown Birmingham, where my husband and I are members. Deborah has the gift of teaching and preaching. She is not only one of my favorite women Bible teachers but on of my top 10 favorite Bible teachers. She has a heart for the Lord and the gospel, is smart, and learned in the study of theology and exegesis. I'm so grateful to have her on staff at my church.

Deborah said something during our lunch that I've heard her say before, but today it struck me a little differently.

Following my most recent post last week about "Lost Women" she said something to the effect of "I want to move past these debates and get to the work of the Church, serving as a co-laborer next to my brothers and sisters." Then she said, "I believe we need in the Church, just like in our families, fathers and mothers."

Last year this summer we waited and watched as the Supreme Court made its ruling on marriage. Marriage--and all the benefits of marriage including having a family--was equally granted to homosexual couples as it has been for heterosexual couples. Christians mourned the loss of children not having both a father and mother in the home. Even though there are situations where children might be raised in a single family home, the ideal, nonetheless, is for every child to have a father and mother.

Whether it is the deep voice of my husband in times of discipline, his strength when I want to be too easy or tender, or the way he relates to our son differently than me, our son needs both his father and mother. We each have something that the other doesn't have, and together he sees the full image of God.

As I drove back to work from lunch, I thought about what Deborah said and I thought about most churches I know. In the family of God, we have lots of fathers. But where are the mothers? In egalitarian churches, this of course won't be the case (at least probably not). In fact the opposite might be true: Where are the fathers?

When we lived in England two years ago, we attended a church where the vicar was a male but the other two staff members were female. When lay leaders/deacons were involved with communion, prayer, etc, the majority of these were women. On some Sundays the absence of fathers was strong.

But in the States, and especially in complementarian churches, the absence of women in leadership is abysmal. Where are the mothers in the family of God?

Who are the fathers or mothers in a church? They are those called by God, set apart by him, for vocational gospel ministry to administer the Word of God for the people of God. These are the people called to shepherd and care for the souls. These are the ones who are called to feed the flock, take care of their physical and spiritual needs, and remind them of the Good News of Jesus. These in leadership--at least with men--are expected to have some kind of training because of the type of call that involves an authoritative teaching of the Word of God.

But even in complementarian churches where it is believed women can only have authority in preaching and teaching to other women there is room and ever need for mothers. We need men and women called by God and trained for this work helping with Sunday services. We need these called men and women available for prayer during an invitation. We need both fathers and mothers as co-laborers working together to raise up the children of God for the work of God. We need fathers and mothers co-laboring side by side to teach and preach the Word to the flock. If our families need both a father and a mother then why doesn't God's family need both too?

At the Advent the preaching is shared by all ministerial staff members even though our lead pastor--called "dean" because our church is a cathedral--carries most of the preaching responsibility. My husband has remarked on several occasions after Deborah has preached that she was able to speak to him in a way that Andrew or Matt cannot. He says, "In the same way a mother can provide for a son in a way that a father cannot, there are some things that a female preacher can provide that a male preacher cannot." He is not saying that her exegesis does not matter; rather, God uses the whole package--including gender--to minister.

God uses the complementarity of the sexes to minister to each of us--male and female. If God saw fit to give both a father and mother to children, then why should the family of God be void of mothers?

Recommended: A Peace Plan for the Gender War

By Timothy George November 17, 2005

There's a story about a Texas rancher who threw a big party and filled his swimming pool with man-eating sharks. When the guests had all gathered, he announced that he would give anyone who swam the length of his pool the choice of $50 million or the deed to his ranch. Before he could finish speaking, he saw someone swimming furiously across the pool. When the swimmer arrived on the other side, the rancher said, "I'm astounded. I didn't think anyone would try that, much less do it. But I am true to my word. Now tell me, what do you want: $50 million or the deed to my ranch?"

"What do you mean?" the swimmer exclaimed. "I want the guy who pushed me into the pool!"

I won't accuse anyone of pushing me into this pool, but I confess that I would not be writing on this topic if I hadn't recently been invited—even prodded—to give a plenary address on it. I am not a card-carrying member of either party in the evangelical gender wars. I have no special expertise in this issue; I have read widely but not deeply in the enormous literature it has generated. I have no new interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 or headship or submission to offer. I am merely a participant-observer in the evangelical family who recognizes that in the polarization over gender, something crucial is at stake.

That polarization is found even in our seminaries. Evangelical theological schools tend to fall into one of three camps. Some are unequivocally egalitarian and would not likely hire a faculty member who did not share this commitment. Fuller, North Park, Palmer Theological Seminary (formerly Eastern), Ashland, and the Church of God School of Theology are among the schools that hold this view. Other theological institutions take the opposite view. Westminster, Dallas, Covenant, and, more recently, the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention fall into this group. Beeson, my school, belongs to another group of theological institutions, including Trinity, Gordon-Conwell, Denver, and Regent College (Vancouver), which do not make this matter a test of fellowship but welcome faculty and students who hold differing convictions. Read the rest at Christianity Today.

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.

7 Ways Churches & Pastors Can Support Me As A Woman In Ministry

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.