I grew up in a traditional, warm, and well-meaning suburban Baptist church in Western Canada. No one who looked like me ever brought a word, prayer, sermon, or exhortation from the chestnut pulpit that elevated speakers to near-heavenly status. Certainly not on Sunday mornings or at Sunday evening services. Not on Wednesday nights either, unless they were visiting missionaries from a “far-away land” and even then, they “shared” their experiences. They never preached.
In time, my own curiosity about Scripture and church life took deeper root, and I began to study and search for answers on my own. Soon, I was invited to teach Bible studies and lead Sunday school classes; join the deacon team and various committees; and take on more leadership from the sidelines—never from the front.
My senior and youth pastors during those first twenty-five years of my life shaped much of my biblical worldview and my spiritual practices—in both healthy and uncomfortable ways. Looking back, I think they both knew I was created for much more than what our man-made denominational rules and cultural practices allow. I think they themselves struggled with what they truly believed about women gifted for ministry and what it meant for both women and men to be fully empowered to use the gifts imparted by our Creator.
So I was caught between conflicting messages of “you’re a gifted and intelligent leader, Brenda” and “there’s no room for you to be that here.”
An ambitious and relentless twenty-year-old, I pursued education and calling outside of the church in pre-law and public service. I worked alongside and for highly gifted women who ran for office, and shaped policy and laws. I also interacted and worked with women leader-affirming men in that same sphere. Yes, the glass ceiling in these arenas existed, but it was being cracked, shattered, and smashed in breathtaking ways.
And yet, I still taught Sunday school classes and served on committees at my church. I ran their VBS’s and advised them on strategic policy issues. But I left leadership to the men like I was supposed to.
I faced a career transition in my 30’s, and my fast-growing urban church had a new staff and was navigating fresh winds of change. I was invited on staff in a part-time capacity to accommodate my own desire to raise my kids and to do meaningful capacity-building work alongside my ministry role. As I immersed myself in this new arena, I soon discovered I was really good at it.
Pastoring. Teaching. Leading. Empowering. Shepherding. Preaching. Speaking.
So I began to enroll in classes and workshops. I attended every conference I could find and read everything I could borrow or order online. I began to study my Bible like never before. Not only was I good at the work, but my soul was awakened. My calling as a catalyst for change in the Western church, and in my church and community, was ignited.
And our staff grew and my hours grew and my title grew.
And it felt right. Mostly. And I was thrilled. Mostly.
But I knew that my role as children’s pastor was thought of as second-string ministry (a whole other problem), not the starting line-up. My skills, influence, and passion for ministry grew. I poured even more energy into my flock, my fellow servants, my growing staff, and my community.
The next few years were some of the most beautiful and heart-breaking of my life.
“Don’t ask questions.”
“Stick with your job.”
“You need to lose weight or you will never be effective in the kingdom.”
“Don’t ask if he makes more than you; he has a family.”
“You are actually a better candidate than him and would make a better executive pastor, but we want him because he is a ‘he.’”
“You will never really be on the same playing field as your male colleagues, because you are a woman.”
Some of these hurtful things were said explicitly and others were implied, but the message was very clear.
“You’re a gifted and intelligent leader, Brenda” but “there’s no room for you to be that here.”
I eventually got to preach one sermon from the plexiglass lectern that years earlier replaced our chestnut-stained pulpit. Soon after, I left my life-long ministry, my deep friendships, my pint-size congregants, my eclectic community outside of the church doors, and the only church I had been part of for forty years.
Broken. Utterly shattered. Disillusioned.
The stained glass ceiling left me bruised and battered.
After months of bed rest and therapy, I grabbed my laptop and prepared to travel an uncharted pathway. Little did I know my journey would involve six years of deconstruction and reconstruction—from the inside out. In the process, I earned two graduate degrees.
I went to seminary.
Seminary, God? Are you kidding me? But I am done with the church, God.
Apparently, God was not quite done with me.
Over the next six years, I pursued both an MA degree in Christian studies in the area of apologetics and an MA in leadership. I discovered I was gifted for both.
Teaching. Preaching. Speaking. Studying. Exegeting. Writing. Communicating. Leading. Empowering. Challenging. Changing.
I experienced freedom to grow and flourish in seminary that I never had before. Yes, seminary had its own stained glass clock tower, but I could see there were some cracks—places where the light had broken through. Cracks made by gritty, gifted, God-infused women who came before me. Cracks that widened as more and more women pressed against the glass, willing the light to shine through.
This past June, I completed a two-year commitment at a different church as a pastor of community life and missional engagement. It was a huge step of faith to once again work in church.
Becoming a pastor was a faithful answer to God’s calling on my life. It was also a declaration. A declaration that I am created and qualified to open these ancient texts; to lead groups of two or two hundred Christians; to preach with authority and conviction. I have been supernaturally equipped by the Holy Spirit to explain the nuances of the ancient languages and the context of the ancient life. I am called to proclaim that these texts live and breathe today—that they have the power to sear us with truth and love and hope.
But I didn’t become a pastor for myself. I became a pastor so I could proclaim the good news of Jesus, and so that the young women who sit in the pews on Sundays mornings or padded chairs on Tuesday nights would be able to speak aloud the whispered callings in their hearts—to preach, to study, to exegete, to lead. So they can look up at me and know there’s room for them too.