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Published Date: March 7, 2016

Published Date: March 7, 2016

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Military Versus Ministry

Until I launched my own dream to plant a church, I found more freedom to be who God created me to be, and to exercise my gifts of teaching, leadership, and yes, even pastoring, in the military.

As a Lieutenant Colonel, I have a great deal of latitude in how I lead, strategize, and execute plans to accomplish the mission. I have been trained, equipped, commissioned by Congress, and appointed by the President. The expectation is that I am capable and willing to conduct whatever operations necessary to meet objectives. The fact that I am a woman simply does not enter the equation.

My experience in the church, however, has been quite different. I have been trained, equipped, and commissioned by Christ (Matthew 28) and yet, a pastor told me that I would not be ordained because I am a woman.

The pastor was willing to accept years of volunteer labor in a leadership position to build his ministry, but when it came down to pay and ordination, my sex was suddenly a limitation.  

How is it that our churches support the men and women of the armed forces regardless of rank or military specialty, yet withhold that support from women who wish to lead in ministry? I find it puzzling when Christians who honor military members serving a secular government change their tune when it comes to “God’s Army.”

My service to the country is lauded, however, when I pursued ministry leadership, suddenly the walls went up. It didn’t matter that the most senior levels of the US government declared I was fit to lead. It didn’t matter that I was educated and had proven ministry leadership experience. Somehow, I was unqualified to be ordained because of my gender. 

Jesus told us the kingdoms of this world are temporary. And yet, believers are often more supportive of the military accomplishing its purposes than the church living out the gospel. Church-goers applaud military women for defending the nation and deploying to hot spots, but they treat women pursuing a ministry career much differently.

Despite impeccable qualifications, women are routinely overlooked for pastoral positions and are hired primarily as children’s pastors. In the rare instances they are hired as pastors, the pay is often less than their male counterparts. This does not happen in the military. Men and women are equally paid, given equal opportunity for education and promotion, and are evaluated based on their duty performance with no regard for gender. 

Paul used military metaphors quite often in his writings. He used a soldier’s armor and weapons to teach believers the importance of grasping hold of every spiritual tool to fight the good fight. He explained that our battle is not physical, but spiritual.

I wonder what he would say today to this lack of support for female ministers in American culture. Many theologians who have studied his writings have concluded that the restriction on female teachers was written for a particular church facing a specific problem, not direction for all cultures and all women for all time.

Yet, rather than empower all of God’s children, church leaders refuse to empower women, deploying only men to the front lines of spiritual battle. Left behind are women of strength, strategy, wisdom, and knowledge who could push the kingdom forward in their own unique ways. I have a difficult time believing this was Paul’s intent.

In Ephesians, Paul says we are to equip believers for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.

How can women become full and mature in Christ when they aren’t given the freedom to exercise their gifts? It is one thing to read your Bible, pray, and go to church and quite another to put your theology into practice by using your God-given gifts wherever the Spirit leads. Theology is useless if not put into practice (James 2).   

When I see the many contributions women have made to the armed forces, my heart aches for the Body of Christ. There are so many talented and gifted leaders, teachers, prophets, evangelists, and pastors who have been shut down or shut out simply because they are women.  

It reflects poorly on the church when women have more freedom in the world than they do in the body of Christ; when a woman can lead an Army battalion, Air Force Wing, or even a city, state, or country, but not a local church. This should not be!  

I long for the day when the Spirit of the Lord has become so infused in our thoughts, lives, and churches that the freedom intended for all believers finally comes to pass. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!