For most of my life, I didn’t attend a church that affirmed women in ministry. In fact, most of the churches I grew up in held the opposite view. They took the issue very seriously too. One Wednesday night when I was in maybe sixth grade, the male teacher for the boys’ class was absent. The female teacher for the girls’ class refused to allow the junior high boys to join us. Why? Women weren’t allowed to teach males once they graduated from elementary school.
The same teacher encouraged us to aspire to become elders’ wives when we grew up. We were never encouraged to focus on our own gifts for ministry. We were not encouraged to serve the kingdom as writers, singers, missionaries, or worship ministers, and certainly not as preachers.
I never saw a woman teach, read a passage of Scripture, or lead a prayer outside of an all-female class. It was made very clear that God’s prescribed role for women in the church included bringing dishes to the potluck; volunteering in the nursery and children’s classes; and being wives and mothers. These roles are all good and necessary, but what about women whose gifts lie outside this prescription?
When I was in my forties and married with four children, God called me to go back to Bible college to study worship ministry. I was very conflicted because—though I felt deeply called to pursue it—the idea of a female worship leader seemed pretty ridiculous to me. I’d never heard of a female worship leader, at least not in my area. I was not only the wrong gender for ministry, but I was convinced that I was too old and too shy and introverted to speak in front of other people.
I remember calling the Bible college admissions office to inquire about applying to the worship arts program. I asked if it was okay to apply, given my age and gender. The admission’s counselor said, “We don’t have a problem with it. Do you?”
All I could manage was a noncommittal, “No, I guess not.”
During my three years in Bible college, I was exposed to an affirming view of women in ministry for the first time. I was taught how to look at Scripture as a whole rather than at only a few isolated verses. I was taught how to exegete the typical “trouble” passages, and to consider the original cultural context of the author. Basically, all the good stuff you learn how to do in Bible college.
Through my studies, I finally grasped something deep and profound and yet so simple: God loves women and he empowers us to use our gifts to serve and lead in the church.
As part of my degree requirements, I served as a worship intern at my church for a summer. After my internship ended, the worship minister left that church for personal reasons. There was a gap in the church staff. I thought: could I possibly serve there as the new worship minister?
I didn’t have to contemplate this question for long. The lead pastor told me very directly that, although I had done a great job leading worship, they were going to hire a man for the position. They hadn’t found a candidate to hire yet, but the pastor made it clear that his male gender was a necessary criteria.
The pastor also offered his sympathy, since I likely wouldn’t be able to find a job anywhere because most churches are unwilling to hire a woman. As discouraging as this comment was, it turns out he was almost right. Few churches will.
But contrary to his prediction that no church would employ me, I was hired to lead a church’s worship ministry after I graduated! While serving, I went on to seminary to earn a Master’s Degree in ministry. And upon graduation, I was ordained into Christian ministry in that denomination.
If I’d been a boy, I might have grown up with a goal of reaching this particular ministry milestone. But as a girl, I never dreamed or expected to serve the church as an ordained minister. Honestly, it seemed a thousand times more likely that I become the queen of England than a minister. I was perhaps the most unlikely candidate—introverted, over-forty, and female. Fortunately, God’s plans are often quite different than our own.
At times, being a woman called to serve the local church in ministry is still very difficult. When we moved out of state for my husband’s job, away from my first ministry position, it took over two years to find a church that would hire me. Many churches admitted honestly that they could not (or would not) hire a woman, but many completely ignored me and pretended I didn’t exist or that I never applied. These situations stirred up unpleasant memories of that first preacher’s cold, discouraging message: “no one will ever hire you.”
It’s been nine years now since I first called the Bible college admissions counselor, nervous and unsure if I would be allowed to pursue a ministry degree. I am now an ordained minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have a seminary degree. I have served as a worship minister for two churches. I have preached sermons; led prayers; read Scripture; taught college classes on worship; planned worship gatherings; written songs; led discipleship groups; and written an e-book on discipleship and mentoring.
As a woman, I never imagined I could freely use my gifts for ministry. For a long time, I believed that I could contribute to the church only as a wife and a mother, and not as a leader. But now I know that what the church taught me about my gifts as a young girl was wrong. Now, I stand with confidence on the deep and profound truth I discovered in seminary: God truly loves women and he empowers us to use our gifts to lead and serve.
I don’t do this work for me. I’m here to serve God and those in my church, and to show my girls what’s possible for them. I want my daughters, and others like them, to grow up knowing that God wants them to use the gifts he endowed them with—whatever those gifts are.
All in all, I think my Bible teacher would still be proud. I did marry an elder, just as my teacher hoped. Of course, my husband married a pastor. I don’t think she saw that plot twist coming.