My Story Shows There Are Still Barriers to Pastoral Ministry for Women

by I. N. Vera | July 28, 2021

I seldom have time to sit down and think of the ways I am treated differently for being a woman—let alone a woman of color. However, when my voice goes completely ignored, when the stares are long and intense, or when I am harassed, I am forced to be more aware of this fact. As I sit down today and think about the ways my voice was not regarded primarily as the voice of a human being but instead was relegated to the sidelines as the voice of a woman, I am thankful for the opportunity to share my story.

Growing up in a machista culture in South America, I had been proud that my voice had not been quenched—or I thought it had not been quenched. I was very outspoken and a natural leader everywhere I went. I saw women, including my own mother, taking all sorts of roles at church, even that of a pastor at times. I was lucky nobody ever told me I could not teach or even speak among men. However, women leading men in church was still an issue.

The first time I remember someone directly opposing me leading in church came, ironically, from another woman. As a congregational church, our youth group held elections to choose a president. “You must know we need to try to choose a male head,” the female advisor told us. Despite this opposition, I giggled mischievously, because I was confident I would be the first female president of our youth group. It was an exciting prospect that came to fulfillment when I was elected, despite these warnings against choosing a female student.

Four years later, when I was in Bible school, my Old Testament professor taught my class that God had only chosen women like Deborah to lead God’s people because no good men were available. Ironically, the professor was also a woman. Though I wanted to study theology, it had never occurred to me to want to be a pastor, a leader of God’s people. That thought was as foreign as the thought of snowboarding was to me as a tropical child. I must also admit the few female pastors I had seen I did not want to emulate, at least at the time. They seemed a little too sophisticated, a little too “bossy.” My perceptions, no doubt, had also been influenced by the way I had come to perceive femininity and by teachings like my Old Testament professor’s. Even today I am still contemplating how internalized sexism affects my thinking.

After a year in Bible school, I had the opportunity to study at The Master’s College. I had come to love expository preaching—rarely heard in my circles at the time—from the radio show “Grace to You.” The college had been extremely generous with me financially, but I could not understand some of their stances. I remember thinking, “If women are supposed to be silent in the church, why are they allowed to pray and even teach children? No matter what, that’s not being ‘silent.’” In a special conference with Wayne Grudem, I remember asking him at what age, given the diversity of cultures, were woman supposed to stop teaching men. After all, in my culture a man stays in his parents’ house until the day he gets married. He elegantly said the Holy Spirit would let people know that age. It was not necessary to follow up. If we have a clear biblical commandment, why do we selectively apply it? Even so, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in biblical studies without fighting on that point. Frankly, I mostly let it slide.

I went back to Ecuador, and after a couple years, I was now interested in getting my master’s in divinity and becoming a pastor. I asked one of my favorite professors from college to write a letter of recommendation to help me apply for the program at Asbury Theological Seminary, a seminary that affirmed women’s pastoral leadership in the church. He refused. He said Asbury’s theology was not solid and that the program would not be appropriate for me as a woman. I asked another professor, who despite not sharing my theological views, gladly wrote the letter for me.

Sometimes I wish I could say I went to Asbury, got my master’s, and became an ordained pastor. I did not. I could not afford Asbury; I got married instead, and now I am a mother of four wonderful children.

It would be futile to fill myself with regrets. I know I can still work toward becoming a pastor. In the meantime, I am honored to have a husband that supports my gifting within the body of Christ regardless of my gender. I also have a beautiful family. Through patience and endurance at home, God has made me more grounded, and I am thankful for the journey he has brought me on.

But as I write this, I realize one thing: the hurdles that prevent women from becoming pastors are innumerable. From even imagining it is possible to finding support, both financial and spiritual, the world seems to stand against us following this call with all its fury.

I cannot help but wonder…could we finally give way for women to use their gifts, whatever they are, in the church? Could we stop assuming that women are somehow less mature or capable of leading than men? Do we need to belittle men by assuming they cannot handle seeing a woman guide because it hurts their ego?

Jesus loves his church. Let us not rob his church of all voices, especially the voices of women through whom he is eager to speak!

 

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Unsplash.


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