When I was a child, I wanted to be just like my father. He was a preacher, and I loved watching him share the Word of God with his flock. I especially loved it when he expounded on the original Greek and Hebrew in the biblical text. I thought the most wonderful thing in the world would be to attend seminary, learn these languages, and then share my insights with others like my father.
Unfortunately, I faced one very large hurdle: women weren’t supposed to preach. I knew this because I heard my parents discussing it. One day in our house they were complaining about how our denomination was simply becoming too extreme. I distinctly recall hearing my mother say, “Why, I hear that in some of our churches they’re even allowing women preachers!” A couple of years later Dad was called to another church. Before we left, we found that a woman preacher would replace him at our current one. Again, I remember them worrying. We lived in a small town. Would the people in our church accept the new lady preacher? The message couldn’t have been clearer. God doesn’t want women to preach. It’s against the natural order of things.
When I got to college, I joined a ministry group run by a different denomination. Several of the staff members were women, and they took turns preaching with the men. My mind could not reconcile what I saw with what I believed, so I rationalized it. Since most of us lived at home, then it was acceptable because the guys in our group were still under their parent’s authority. In a sense, they were still children. When I graduated, I applied for a position with this organization, but the Lord closed that door.
I continued trying to answer my call without really answering it. Next I decided being a missionary made female preaching acceptable. After all—and I cringe to admit this now—that wasn’t really preaching. The natives didn’t have the blessing of Western civilization. Didn’t that make them like children?
So I wasted several years of my life trying, and failing, to become a missionary. Eventually, I met my English husband and moved to Britain. There I saw an entirely new world, where people accepted equality for women because it seemed so natural. Here women preached and everyone accepted it.
When I shared my calling with my husband, he didn’t hesitate. Become a local preacher like me, he said. You’ll have good company, because most of them are women! After interviewing with our pastor, he recommended me to our district’s association. The happiest night of my life came when my husband returned from the meeting where they had voted to accept me.
I served for three years alongside my husband. Now we live in the States, and we attend a church that allows women to pursue their callings. I am thrilled that God has used me to soften my parents’ hearts so that they have come to accept that this is biblical. However, I still very much regret the years I spent in the spiritual wilderness. I mentioned my campus ministry group. What I didn’t say was that I only joined them towards the end of my time in college. Until that time, I was an angry feminist who felt like I had no place in the church, so I simply left it.
If I could tell young women one thing it would be this: don’t just follow your calling, but marry someone who will support you in it. I speak from painful experience when I say that it won’t go away. Denying it will cause you a lifetime of heartache. If God has called you to do something, then avoiding it means you’re running from God. And if you have a husband who denies you your holy calling it will only cause bitterness and resentment because he is standing between you and God.
Instead, look to Mary the mother of Jesus and follow her example. When the angel Gabriel appeared to her with the news that she would bear the Messiah, she did not appeal to her father or even her betrothed for approval. They did not act as her “head,” or “covering.” Instead, Mary triumphantly accepted her calling and grounded her identity in God: “And Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.’ [Not the word of those men who in the ancient world had authority over her.]” (Luke 1:38 KJV)
For young men, I would urge you to follow the example of Joseph. He did not feel threatened or jealous by Mary’s calling. Rather, he recognized that he had one, too, to keep the precious baby and his mother safe. Together, they worked together in bringing God’s kingdom onto earth. My husband and I have found this in our own lives. When we were first engaged, I talked about headship and submission, because that was how I understood marriage. In practice, however, we have never followed that model. We have such genuine love and respect for each other that we simply have no need. We each accept the other’s calling and encourage the other in fulfilling it. This has provided a tremendous source of joy and freedom for both of us. I pray that it will do the same for you.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Billinger.