A few years ago, my daughter landed the starring role of Mary in her school nativity. My heart thumbed in my chest as she took to the stage. My smile beamed from cheek to cheek as I watched her play the part brilliantly.
Every Christmas, many young girls are given the role of this unknown, unmarried, unnoticed teenager who was told by an angel that she would give birth to God’s son.
Yes, you read that correctly—she was to give birth to God’s son, Jesus. In our eyes, she was an ordinary girl called to do something extraordinary. Yet to God, she was an extraordinary woman called to do something pretty ordinary (to him).
I have often wondered—what would we do with Mary today? If she was to come into our lives and churches announcing that she was pregnant with God’s son—how would we handle her?
I suspect we wouldn’t know what to do with her. We would probably dismiss her claims and question her mental state. We would hope for her sake that her crazy news would not fall into the wrong hands and end up all over the media. She would most likely be signed into a mental institution.
Mary’s experience is meaningful beyond the Christmas season. She lives on today in the lives of every woman who is called by God to do something that doesn’t meet society’s expectations for women.
Many women are “pregnant” with a calling, a vision, an idea. They are called to lead, pastor, preach, teach, speak out, plant, champion, and take risks. These women are all waiting for the right time and place to give birth to their visions.
Therefore, my question to the church is: what are we going to do with all these “pregnant” women?
Many of these women with a calling are waging their own battles deep inside. Like Mary likely did, many feel inadequate and incapable. They question God over and over again, just as Mary did, ‘”how will this be?” (Luke 1:34).
I once shared a vision of a calling from God with a group of male elders. I believed that God was calling me to plant and pastor a church community. I was nervous and didn’t know much beyond those two things: plant and pastor.
I felt like I was sitting before a panel of judges, not my brothers in Christ. I stood before them seeking and longing for their approval. It was obvious that they thought I was crazy. Mind you, I thought I was crazy!
I quickly realized that it was not possible to give birth to my vision in my current church environment. Women could not be pastors there, let alone planters. So I left the church, holding onto God for dear life.
The most severe opposition to my vision would come from those who were both followers of Jesus and members of a community I thought I could rely on to cheer me on (even if they didn’t fully get my calling).
Nothing prepared me for it. I was told not to plant in their neighborhood and not to take any of their people with me. Leaders refused to work with me. I was told to pull out of events. They cautioned me to “tread carefully.”
Some said the vision sounded exciting, but I was not “really ordained.” Others said (after I got ordained) that even if this vision was of God, “there is no way he would do it through a woman.”
I was misrepresented, misunderstood, and misinterpreted. Those years were a very lonely and a painful time for me. However, I survived. And I now have the courage to call such behavior and reactions what they plainly were: flat-out wrong, mean, and arrogant.
Whatever our feelings are concerning a church plant in our neighborhoods, or even if we differ on our views regarding women’s role—it is never okay to simply dismiss the calling and vision of others.
May we, the body of Christ, always, always, always cheer each other on.
God was faithful as the vision was birthed—against the odds! I currently lead a Celtic Community (The Down Community) based in the heart of County Down in Northern Ireland. I’m also the founder of The Elizabeth Programme.
There is no doubt that we still have a long way to go regarding women in the church. “Pregnant” women are sitting in our pews and serving all around us, waiting to give birth to their callings as pastors, leaders, and church planters.
As I type these words, the tears well up. I think of all the women who have contacted me and shared their stories of frustration. So many women don’t know what to do with God’s calling on their lives.
Church, what are we going to do with all these “pregnant” women?
No matter how much you oppose or restrict us and no matter how many times you throw your interpretation of a woman’s role at us, we will give birth to our church callings. What God has called women to accomplish will happen. God will see it done.
This is the very reason why I set up The Elizabeth Programme. God gave Mary an Elizabeth—someone also pregnant, someone a little further on in the journey, someone who would cheer her on, someone who would pave the way for her.
However, let’s not forget that Mary also had Joseph. A man who chose to stay with her, and who risked disgrace, rejection, misunderstanding, and misinterpretation too. Joseph believed God. I believe the answer to my question is not only found in the rising up of more “Elizabeths,” but also in the courageous commitment of “Josephs”—brave men who partner with women to fulfill God’s purpose.
To the “Marys” who may be reading this:
I know your frustrations, questions, wonderings, fears, feelings of inadequacy, tears, confusion, and opposition. But I also know the force of hearing God’s voice calling you to give birth to your calling as a leader.
I’m not going to lie to you, it will take time for this vision, this calling, to develop and grow. The birthing process is always painful.
Know that God is faithful, and he will do what he says he will do.
As long as I have breath, I will advocate for women and men leading together, not only in the church, but in all environments. Yes, I have studied theology. Yes, I have my own story. But more importantly, I have two teenage daughters who I must pave the way for.
May they, and every girl and woman, be free to give birth to their callings.
“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil His promises to her” (Luke 1:45).