One of my earliest memories as a child was crying to my mother that God didn’t make me a boy because, “I wanted to be a preacher.”
My dad was a Southern Baptist pastor of a small, rural church at the time. The church was so small that he was the only staff member. The only people I saw in vocational gospel ministry other than my dad were the occasional travelling evangelist or the music minister at my grandparents’ church. These were all men. The only women I had heard of in ministry were Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, two missionary women for whom our Christmas and Easter offerings, respectively, were named after. But there was one problem: they were both dead! Plus, I was not interested in moving to a far-off country or eating weird foods (as you can see, my understanding of missions at that time was limited).
I was sensitive to the things of God at a very early age. When I was four, while my dad was in seminary, we were part of a church that put on a big Easter play each year. I was one of the children who ran to Jesus in the play, and I remember crying brokenheartedly when they crucified Jesus. When we moved to that small, rural church in East Texas, I remember my parents looking for me after a church service only to find me in the prayer room. I was six. That was also the age I heard Billy Graham preach the gospel at a crusade and as a result told my dad that I wanted to give my life to Christ. I was baptized a month later on my 7th birthday.
So it was no surprise to my parents that I wanted to be a preacher and had a heart for gospel ministry and Christ’s church. But as a female in my denomination, I realized quickly that I would never be a preacher. So where did that leave me?
During this past Christmas holiday, I was cleaning out a closet full of my stuff at my parents’ house. Every year my mom threatens to send it all home with me, so I wanted to get rid of what I could to appease her! During this process, I found a journal entry written in 1992 when I was 9.
By age 9, I figured the closest vocation to ministry for me was to be a school teacher like my mom (later, I would say pastor’s wife), though I never felt a strong desire to be one. Even though I don’t explicitly say this in my 1992 journal entry, I was grappling, in a way, with a desire to communicate God’s Word. As a female, I could be a writer! (As you can see from the image above, I had to improve my spelling to be a writer–I was never a good speller, but thanks be to God for technological advances like spellcheck!) I remember from early on, probably around 7 or 8 years old until 15, I was processing what I could do with my life that could get me as close as possible to gospel ministry.
When I read this journal entry over Christmas, I got teary eyes because of the visible reminder of God’s faithfulness to me even at the age of 9! For, by God’s grace, I did become a writer when I grew up–a writer who seeks to communicate God’s Word to others. By God’s grace. But, little did my 9-year-old self fully understand that it wasn’t up to me to figure out how God would work out my life and calling. If God had called me, he would see it through. He would provide a space and a place for me to serve; he is able to do what I see as impossible.
From 1992 on I continued to live in between a God-given desire to give my life to the work of Christ and what I saw in my context–a vocational sphere where there were little to no women. How could I reconcile what I was sensing God calling me to do and what I saw in my piece of reality?
By the age of 15, God’s call on my life to serve in vocational ministry was so strong that I couldn’t resist it anymore. I remember the big step of faith in God it took for me to surrender to this kind of call (which was only possible because God enabled the faith I needed), for, up to this point, I had not seen or met any women in full-time ministry. I made my calling public to my church and was met with affirmation of this calling. Yet even though my parents and people in the church were encouraging and affirming, I felt as if I had just entered a dark room with my arms outstretched stumbling around trying to find a light. The church knew how to direct and usher young men with a call to ministry; the path was laid out. But for young women? Not so much. With the help and leading of the Holy Spirit and my parents, I did my best to discern this call and the next steps. But the path was difficult during those early years.
When it came time for college, I chose Ouachita Baptist University because of its Christian Studies department as a way to prepare me for ministry. After college, I went on to seminary, to Beeson Divinity School, because I believed that if men were required to receive theological education for ministry so should every minister of the gospel, including its women. Plus, if I was going to be speaking about the Living God and interpreting his Word for his people, then I believed (and still do!) that type of calling should receive the best kind of preparation as possible.
Yet, from the time I surrendered to ministry at age 15 until rather recently, there were several questions that I wrestled with: What did it mean to be called to vocational, gospel ministry? Could I, as a woman, be called to a ministry of the Word of God? What is a biblical and theological understanding of a call to ministry? What is a biblical and theological understanding of a woman in vocational, gospel ministry? Of course at the age of 15, I couldn’t articulate my questions in this way, but they were at the heart of the questions I was asking then. I wanted to understand my calling within Scripture, history, time, and space. I wanted to know what I could do with this overwhelming sense of calling on my life, particularly as a female. What steps should I take?
During my second year of studies at Beeson, I began intentionally praying about what was next. “God, what do you have for me? God, I trust you with my calling, but I still do not know what comes after seminary or where you are leading me.” As I was praying about what was next, God brought to my mind young women he was calling to ministry. The thought was unexpected, something that had never crossed my mind on its own. And the more I prayed, testing these thoughts about mentoring and helping young women called to ministry, the more my thoughts drifted to them and the more passionate I became. God was planting and growing in my heart a desire to help young women–15-year-old Kristens–discern a call to ministry so they didn’t feel alone or have to go at it alone and so that they would be able to live out the calling faithfully.
Coupled with this desire to help them, I also felt a strong leading from God to write a book for young women. But, how? What would I say? I was still in seminary and hadn’t served in a church in a full-time capacity. Plus, in many ways, I still felt alone in a dark room with my arms stretched out looking for the light. How could I help them? This occured during the years 2006 and 2007. Little did I know that it would take 10 years before this book would begin to come to fruition.
Stay tuned for Part II.