Editor’s Note: The following is an interview CBE International conducted with Kristen Padilla and Tara Beth Leach. Kristen and Tara were two of the organizers of the Day of Prayer for Women in Ministry, which took place on November 17, 2019. In the wake of this event, and with all the excitement it generated, we wanted to hear more from these tenacious church leaders and thought you might like to hear from them, too. Perhaps their example can help us as we all work together to support and encourage women in ministry.
Kristen Padilla is a speaker, Bible teacher, wife, and mom, and she serves as the marketing and communications coordinator at Beeson Divinity School. She is the author of Now That I Am Called. Tara Beth Leach is the senior pastor of Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene (“PazNaz”) in Pasadena, California, where she enjoys hiking with her husband and two sons. She is the author of Emboldened. Kat Armstrong also cosponsored and co-organized the Day of Prayer, but she was unable to join us for this interview. She is author of No More Holding Back.
CBE International: What inspired you to create and organize the Day of Prayer for Women in Ministry?
Kristen Padilla: Following the release of the video of John MacArthur telling Beth Moore to “go home,” I was deeply troubled by the sentiment and response of a few who seemed bent on seeing orthodox women as enemies instead of coworkers and partners in gospel ministry. During my morning walk the day after the video was posted, while I was praying, I had the idea for a day of prayer for women in ministry. I thought a day of prayer would encourage women who are in ministry, unite women in ministry and the men who support those women, and foster a Christlike response to MacArthur and others who oppose women in ministry.
The idea also came to me during Pastor Appreciation Month, which is in October every year. Often women in ministry are not acknowledged or included in pastor appreciation celebrations since many (if not most) women on staff at evangelical churches are not given the title of minister or pastor. Thus, having a day of prayer would acknowledge women who may otherwise go unnoticed or unrecognized.
Immediately I thought of Tara Beth Leach and Kat Armstrong as two possible collaborators for this event, since all three of us have written books for women in ministry leadership roles. It seemed fitting, given our shared interest and work, if we could cosponsor this event. I also thought it would be a good opportunity to demonstrate ecumenical charity and Christian unity, since we come from different church traditions (Kat is nondenominational; Tara Beth is Nazarene; I am Anglican).
Tara Beth Leach: Kristen’s passion for this day of prayer was truly contagious. We shared a common grief about the recent controversy over #GoHome. While it was not a unique experience for what many women endure in ministry, it was a moment for women and churches to rise up and pray. Jesus asks us to pray for those who persecute us, and this was an opportunity to do exactly that.
KP: It was also important to us that this event encompass women in complementarian and egalitarian spaces. The goal was to change the conversation—at least for the day—from debating about women’s roles to praying for one another. Additionally, I wanted this event to go beyond the South where I live, so having collaborators in different parts of the United States (Texas, California, and Alabama) helped achieve a broader reception. Thankfully, Tara Beth and Kat agreed and shared this vision! Initially, we wanted this day of prayer to occur in October, but we ended up pushing it to November 17 so that we would have time to organize a grassroots effort, and so that Tara Beth would be able to share about it during an online conference she was speaking at in November.
CBE: What was the general response to the Day of Prayer?
TBL: I think we were all going to be happy even if 100 people responded to the event, and we easily quadrupled that. We were all shocked and thrilled by the response!
KP: We hoped that the Day of Prayer would be received well, but I didn’t anticipate how much it would resonate with women. I work at a seminary, and I wrote a book about women discerning a call to ministry, so I hear from women who are in ministry or discerning a call to ministry regularly. I knew before this Day of Prayer that women in ministry can feel lonely, isolated, ostracized, questioned, belittled, opposed, discouraged, overlooked, and judged. To be sure, men in ministry can experience these same attitudes, but for women these experiences can be more intense. This Day of Prayer confirmed these realities for women.
Because this event was planned at the last minute, and we did not have the help of most well-known Christian influencers and publications, I expected a small turnout. However, our Facebook event had more than 500 people say they were planning to attend or were interested. We also heard from churches and individuals who were participating but did not respond on Facebook. We had participants from Australia, Germany, Canada, and all over the United States.
CBE: What were some of your joys and difficulties in organizing the Day of Prayer?
KP: Once Tara Beth, Kat, and I decided to cohost a Day of Prayer, I experienced sudden feelings of anxiety and depression. I do not normally struggle with anxiety or depression, and I felt this oppression for six days in a row, which caused me to wonder if I was experiencing spiritual warfare. During these six days, I had no desire to plan our Day of Prayer. I almost gave up on it.
TBL: It was a challenge for all of us. As pastors, ministers, and teachers, we have our own day-to-day tasks, and each of us was going through some unique trials. At one point, it even seemed as though it was spiritual warfare because we were all in the trenches of ministry as we were planning for this event. Both Kat and I were enduring some of the hardest weeks of ministry to date.
KP: I later learned that both Tara Beth and Kat experienced some very dark and difficult days related to other events. Because these events were extraordinary, and we all three were facing a trial of some kind, we felt that we were experiencing spiritual opposition. Thankfully, God brought us through those difficult weeks leading up to the Day of Prayer, and by his grace and through the power of his Holy Spirit, we felt emboldened, encouraged, and strengthened during the week of the Day of Prayer and on the day itself.
We experienced great joy in planning this Day of Prayer. First, we felt joy in uniting with Christians in a common cause to pray for women in gospel ministry. Instead of us focusing on negative comments aimed at women, we were able to focus on the ways in which God is at work among women in bringing sons and daughters to Christ. Second, I found great joy in planning this event with Kat and Tara Beth. I have not met either of these women in person, nor did we have a friendship going into the planning of this event. But these women became a gift to me when I was experiencing anxiety and depression, and I hope I was to them. I found comfort and encouragement in our emails. I know the following saying has been overused, yet there is so much truth in it: we are better together.
TBL: For me, the greatest joy was seeing the responses on social media. People were truly praying and engaged. One of the greatest gifts we have as Christians is the gift of prayer in adversity. Prayer ignites joy, unity, and healing. Watching all of this unfold was beautiful and stunning.
CBE: Do you have any stories or testimonies from participants’ experiences of the Day of Prayer that you could share with us?
KP: I am sure there are many more, but I’ll mention a few ways that highlighted the participants’ experiences. First, on our pinned post to the Facebook event, many women shared prayer requests. By sharing requests, it encouraged greater participation and unity.
TBL: I received private messages from several women who were in really seemingly grim circumstances—either sidelined from ministry, experiencing first-hand attacks, or spiritual warfare. Many of these women felt seen, understood, and loved [by the Day of Prayer].
KP: We also heard from several pastors that they led their churches in participating by praying for women during their morning worship service. We also heard encouraging testimonies from women, like this female seminary student and my friend, who posted the following to her Facebook page the day after the Day of Prayer:
If you would have told me a year ago that I’d be leading worship every week in a room of SBC pastors, I would have giggled in disbelief, much like Sarah did with the Lord in Genesis upon hearing news of what was to come.
While there have been disheartening stories of sexual abuse, misogyny, and devaluing women in the SBC, that has not been the case here.
Today was another day of deep joy. Another day that I was given the privilege of joining together with brothers who have accepted, respected, and encouraged me as a leader… another day to feel valued.
No place is perfect. And I’m sure that our complementarian views differ, but each Monday morning we join together around the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord and acknowledge that He uses his people, male and female, to further His kingdom.
Be encouraged, friends. I know I have been.
We also heard from a wide range of participants on Twitter. Some even posted their prayers as tweets. And I just returned from the annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the American Academy of Religion where I heard from many female scholars and church leaders how much they appreciated the Day of Prayer.
CBE: Are you planning to organize similar events in the future? What is the future of the Day of Prayer?
KP: Because of the overwhelmingly positive response, and the clear need for continued support for women in ministry, we would like to make this an annual event. We are still in the early stages of deciding on a date and the best course of action, but we will let you know once something is in place.