I once worked as a young adult director in a church. This church was and continues to be a great church, filled with people who love God, one another, and the world with genuine affection and generosity. During the time I worked as a director, they gave me freedom to lead and preach and dream with great liberty. But because they did not license women as pastors, I was called a director. While my male friends got licensed, sought ordination, and received recognition for being ministers of the gospel, I did not.
I advocated for women in leadership and pressed the church to consider the ordination of woman. Some listened, but not enough to do much about it. In hindsight, the rejection I felt, and the intense confusion I dealt with—why the men, and not the women—took a toll on my heart.
Over time, it wasn’t that I ever felt called out of full-time ministry; it was simply that I couldn’t find my way through full-time ministry as a woman. There didn’t seem to be a clear track for me to take within my denomination. So, through prayer and aching frustration, and a lot of tears, I continued to love God, people, and work in lay ministry of various sorts, but I dedicated myself to things outside the institution—mainly the written word and telling stories.
I thought maybe I was selfishly ambitious. We’re not supposed to fight for our rights; we’re supposed to lay them down. So I went down a new road. I continued to minister in Jesus’ name, but expected no title, or salary, no recognition other than the recognition that comes from a job well done.
I cultivated my life with God in other ways. And because God is good and faithful, I grew in grace and in knowledge of Jesus, and God used me in spite of it all.
Two and a half years ago, upon returning home to the United States after living in South America, I made a deliberate decision to only attend churches that believe in and practice the ordination of women. It felt right to me. I didn’t have the energy to be an advocate inside the institution anymore. I needed to visibly see women pastors and be a part of the church that let the women lead without requiring the spiritual covering of a man. Along the way, I met a man named John, a man who was and is a sincere advocate for the ordination of woman.
Never one to let a good thing go, I married John. Over time, he started to say things about my gifts as a woman minister. Things like, “I’d like to help you get licensed as a pastor.” Or, “You’re a minister in your own right.” Or even, “We will find a way for you to go to seminary if you’d like that.” Things no man has ever said to me before.
It unnerved me. It stirred up the dust in a cemetery of buried dreams. I’m a writer now. I let all that other stuff go when it proved too painful. I believe in the ordination of women, for other women, but not for me. Even so, like the slow trickle of a stream that has long been bottlenecked, his words proved to be freedom stones, and loosened the tightly bound blockage. I began to hear the still small voice of God.
Can these dry bones live?
Only you know, oh God.
“Speak to your dry bones and tell them to live.”
Last spring, at a time when I least expected, John threw my name in the hat as a potential speaker for a young adult retreat. It felt like I was returning to a language I knew from long ago, a language I loved. Then the pastor of the church we were attending asked me to preach on a Sunday morning—something I have never been asked to do in any US church. Sunday pulpits are reserved for the men. Then, another invitation came to preach two Sundays at a sister church nearby.
A few good people within the denomination have quietly asked me, “Are you going to become a pastor?” What do I say? I wholeheartedly believe in women pastors, but…
Am I allowed to become a pastor?
Recently, my husband took a job as interim lead pastor of a local church. The other day he referred to someone on the board of elders as “she.” I flinched, having to remind myself, “Oh, that’s right. They have women pastors and women elders in this denomination.”
How is it different being in a denomination that ordains women? If I tried to put my pulse on why biblical equality matters so much to me, I think I would say that, after all this time, it finally feels like the men aren’t the gatekeepers barring me from entrance to something I’ve long felt called toward. It feels like there’s an open invitation to seek God, and find my way, wherever that way might lead.
I’m sure there are imperfections in this denomination, as with any human institution, God-ordained or not. We are an imperfect people trying to love one another and our God with all our hearts, and we don’t always get it right. But finally, I attend a church that doesn’t exclude women from leadership. And that does my soul well.