At eight years old, I realized that—even if I started that very moment—I would never be able to reach every person in the whole world with the love and grace of Jesus. This was devastating to my young self because I earnestly desired that other people would know what I knew, experience what I had experienced, and love the Jesus I loved. What started as an urgent spark in an eight-year-old’s heart to see others encounter the transforming, life-altering power of Jesus grew into a passionate flame.
Fast forward almost twenty years: I was studying theology, working at a church, and raising my young son. I’d long ago accepted my calling and was pursuing that spark from my childhood into pastoral ministry. With vigour and confidence, I began the formal process to become an ordained pastor. I knew myself. I knew what I was made for. I had purpose and passion—and naivety!
I knew that, somewhere-out-there, there were people who didn’t affirm the ministry of women. But I hadn’t yet encountered them myself. I’d grown up in the Church of Christ denomination and began going to youth group as a teenager at the Baptist church I later attended as an adult. There, I saw females leading in all aspects of church life. I saw women as pastors, ministry leaders, and denominational leaders.
I'd been married for five or six years to a wonderful man. We were partners in all aspects of life, from parenting and home duties to ministry. I worked as a youth pastor in a small church in a socially and economically marginalized community in the northwest of Melbourne, Australia. My ministry colleague was a wonderful male senior pastor who encouraged me, empowered me, and affirmed my gifts for ministry. We ministered side by side. It was because of his encouragement and affirmation that I began to consider ordination.
I knew what I thought about women in ministry before I pursued ordination, but I’d rarely had to defend it. As I got deeper into my studies and more involved in the broader life of my denomination, my eyes were opened to subtle bias against women in ministry and sometimes overt objection to it.
I remember feeling genuinely caught by surprise. It was like I’d been walking around with blinders on, until someone came along and removed them without warning. All of the sudden, I could see hostility that I never saw before.
I noticed how easily people made assumptions about me. Out at denominational events, I must be my colleague’s wife, simply because I was there and female. I must be a volunteer in the church because I was obviously too young and inexperienced to be a leader. I must be the children’s pastor because I’m a mother.
I watched as my incredibly gifted and experienced female ministry colleagues at college were overlooked for senior pastor roles in churches while young and inexperienced men were welcomed into dynamic, leading pastoral roles.
As I entered new positions or changed churches, I was consistently stereotyped by all my congregations. Statements like, “Oh good, you’re here. You’ll know where the tea towels are,” were the least of my troubles. My arrival at any new church inevitably meant that several men would decide to leave the church, and some members would only attend services when I wasn’t preaching.
At first, I tried to ignore the issues. I didn’t want to seem bitter. I ignored because I didn’t want to be stereotyped as an angry woman—overly-sensitive and emotional. But with each question asked, each assumption made, and each expression of surprise on someone’s face when I explained that I was a pastor, I was slowly being worn down.
Sometimes, I've wondered whether there’s something wrong with me. People are so surprised by my existence that I began to wonder if I wasn’t doing it—being a pastor—right. I knew I didn’t look like a pastor to them. I thought to myself:
Perhaps if I yell more when I preach or dress differently, people will start to see me. Maybe I will finally fit their image of what a pastor should be. Or maybe ministry is just not for me, because I certainly don’t look like most other pastors at our denomination’s annual “pastor days.”
Yet I knew deep-down-inside me—unequivocally and unreservedly—that I am called by God to minister in Jesus’ name.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).
Something shifted. Not a change in my circumstances or in others’ opinions of me but within me. I began to reach out to mentors and ministry friends to ask them about their experiences—to gain insight into what had inspired them and kept them going.
One of my college lecturers was the first female to be ordained in the Baptist Church in Australia. I asked her: “How did you keep going in the face of opposition over many years in ministry?”
I don’t think I’ll ever forget her response. It was both nothing and everything. She told me that she was surrounded by many older and more experienced women who encouraged her and affirmed her gifts—and that made a huge difference.
As I looked back on my own life, I could see the importance of such trailblazing women. I had grandmothers who broke the mold by working at a time when moms and married women didn’t work or pursue professional careers. In the churches and denomination in which I grew up, I regularly saw women pastoring and ministering in all areas of church life. I’d also worked alongside fabulous women who affirmed, mentored, influenced, and modelled ministry for me.
It was clear that God had always been nurturing me to enter the very place I was in! My ministry was possible because God was at work, sending women to support and empower me. The Jesus that I was passionate about was also passionate about me freely using my gifts!
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth (Psalm 139:14-15).
A powerful book called Emboldened by pastor Tara Beth Leach also helped me own my pastoral calling. A prayerful, discerning friend recommended it to me and I devoured it eagerly. For the first time, I saw a woman preacher in the pages of a book who was just like me. She was my age. She was a mom like me and a pastor in her own right. Leading and shepherding, preaching and teaching—she was truly doing it all.
I realized then that I don’t need to be a little more masculine, or a little more feminine, or less opinionated, or gentler, or louder, or more apostolic or less—or anything other than exactly who God created me to be. I can just be me. I am not a lesser pastor because I don’t look or sound like other pastors, who are usually men. I am a pastor in my own right. I can embrace my gifts and talents, my voice, my failings and insecurities, my opinions, my humor, my personality.
It was healing to read about a woman in a similar life stage to me and facing similar struggles, but who owned her calling and giftings so uncompromisingly. It was a lightbulb moment: I didn’t need to choose between bitterness and ignoring the bias I encountered. Instead of pretending that bias against women pastors isn’t there, I’m now able to simply recognize it and progress despite those who oppose me.
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Heb. 12:1).
God doesn’t want me to hide my womanhood or be a second-class member of the church. God wants me to be the person I was born to become: a pastor who brings people to Jesus. Today, it seems obvious, but it was a truth that took a while to reach deep into my spirit.
My passion for Jesus, and for emboldening other women on their journey with Jesus, has only grown since my eight-year-old-self first sensed a call from God to minister. Being a woman pastor can be hard and lonely sometimes, discouraging and tiring. But I refuse to hide my womanhood. I’m declaring it boldly—not just for me but for other women too.