Editor's Note: This is a Top 15 CBE Writing Contest winner. Enjoy!
“When you grow up, you can be anything you want to be; anything God desires you to be, no matter who you are,” the director of ministries said.
Every Sunday morning before the children were dismissed to their Sunday School classes, they would gather around the stage facing the congregation and listen to a short message from a staff member. This was the message that Sunday.
When I heard this statement, I was twenty years old. It wasn’t even directly stated to me, but it threw me into season of confusion and frustration. This wasn’t a statement of hope for me. Instead, this statement had hidden limits attached to it. Limits that nobody around me seemed to have a logical explanation for.
I sat in my chair with tears streaming down my face as I looked at the little girls on the stage. Through the rawness in my throat I managed to mumble in response, “Except a pastor.”
I didn’t hear the rest of the message. The children were dismissed, and the service went on. I sat there feeling more defeated.
I heard my call to ministry from God when I was fifteen years old. At least, that’s when I put a name to the passions that were brewing inside of me for years prior.
When I was ready to make sense of my call, I told my youth pastor. Actually, she was called the student ministries director because the tradition of our church did not support women in pastoral leadership roles. That didn’t stop me from referring to her as my pastor. That’s what she was, a shepherd to a flock of teenagers. She empowered me, pushed me, and equipped me as best she could to embrace this calling that I thought I couldn’t do.
A few years later, I graduated from high school and began attending a university that also prohibited women from serving in pastoral leadership roles. Up to this point, I had read the passages that seem to say no to women in leadership. I had heard from someone who heard from someone who heard from a pastor that women couldn’t be pastors. It was something that I had just understood to be a reality all around me. But for the first time I asked one very important question: Why?
During my junior year of college, I was challenged on this particular topic: Is it biblical for women to be in pastoral leadership roles? I was in a theology class when the professor presented us with this question. He outlined his side using Scripture references to back up his convictions and reasons for why he does not think women should be in leadership. Then it was our turn. “What do you think?” One by one, my classmates, both men and women—but mostly men—shared their thoughts.
“I believe women can be in leadership, just not as pastors.”
“Allowing women to teach other women and children isn’t limiting. At least they have a place to serve.”
“What is the big deal about women being in leadership? Why is that even an issue?”
“Women can be directors, but not pastors.”
“The Bible is very clear . . . women can’t teach or lead men because men were created first. It’s just the way God ordained it, and we all just need to accept that.”
After being silently enraged for half the class, I raised my hand.
“Professor, if a woman were to stand up in front of a crowd of both men and women, read from the Scriptures and explain to the crowd what God was saying through them, would she be sinning?”
My professor was taken aback.
“Well, that’s a good question,” he said in response. “If a woman were to come up to a pulpit and share a passage and something that God put on her heart, that would be okay. But if she were to come to the pulpit, pound her fist, and speak authoritatively, . . . well, then I would say . . . hmmm . . .”
He didn’t answer my question. So, I followed-up.
“What if that a woman who shared from her heart said the exact same thing in both circumstances? Would it be wrong, and would she be sinning in the second circumstance?”
He laughed. And didn’t answer. He opened it up to the class again.
Silently, I observed as my male classmates attempted to explain the difference between the two situations I presented and the difference between a director and a pastor. But what filled my heart with anger and sorrow most was listening to my female classmates defend the complementarian position. They were deflating themselves without even realizing it, verbally limiting their own abilities and the power of God living inside of them.
I heard the message about being “anything you want to be” the following Sunday at church.
For three and a half years, I didn’t get a straight answer as to why women couldn’t be leaders in the church. I read books explaining both complementarianism and egalitarianism. I talked to professors. I talked to pastors. It never made sense to me how someone could justify this exclusion, prejudice, and sexism by calling it biblical.
If Jesus opened the door for Gentiles to also receive salvation, the Holy Spirit, and a call to go, why wouldn’t he also do that for women?
When I step out of those few verses in the New Testament that seem to push women down and look at the whole story of the Bible, I see a God of justice. A God of inclusion. A God who goes against cultural norms, even religious norms, and shatters manmade glass ceilings. These characteristics of God are emphasized throughout the Bible.
- I see Jesus encouraging women to learn from a rabbi, something that was completely unheard of at that time (Luke 10:39).
- I see a woman being empowered to go share the good news and change an entire village. She would also be the first to know who the Messiah was (John 4:1–42).
- I see women told to go and share the gospel that Jesus is alive to his closest friends and disciples (Matthew 28:8–10).
- I see leaders like Deborah calling the shots in combat (Judges 4–5).
- I see a woman motivated to action because of her fear of the Lord (Joshua 2).
- I see church leaders and apostles, like Priscilla and Junia, set apart for sharing in God’s work in the world (Acts 18; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:1–15).
No double-standards. No favoritism. All called to serve a God with no limits. In the Bible, we see that God chose men and women to further his purposes, no matter who they were.
But the battle that we are facing as women is still raging now. Women are told every single day in classrooms and churches that they are valued, but there is no space for them to lead unless they lead other women or children. The young, eager minds of women are being molded to fit into a manmade cultural norm and given no concrete explanation as to why they are being called if God doesn’t want women to lead in ministry.
So many women are walking away from their callings. It pains me knowing that the chasm between men and women in the church is so wide. How much effectiveness are we losing because we don’t work together to close that chasm?
Since college, I have gone on to become a youth pastor. I am part of an incredible Christian tradition that empowers women in pastoral leadership. These traditions do exist.
To my women readers who sense a call to ministry: Don’t give up. God has chosen you. He has called you. There are men and women out there who will champion you and your calling, and they won’t be afraid of it. They will make space for you to lead. Push through your confusion and frustration. Don’t avoid the opposition but educate yourself so you can engage the opposition with clarity and boldness.
You are valued. You are worthy. You can be anything God desires you to be.