Is teaching Scripture to females just as important as it is to men?

I stood in the Christian Life section of Barnes & Noble yesterday. As I scanned all the books written to disciple women, I was overwhelmed by one thing. The majority of these women had no formal theological education. When I began counting, the number was outstanding. This is the reality that many publishers and churches have created for women’s discipleship.

Both complementarians and egalitarians agree to these statements:

Men and women are made equally in God’s image and share equally in his image.

Men and women are invited equally to receive the revelation of God and to grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Men and women are equally capable of study, learning, and grasping theological truth.

Men and women equally need firm theological teaching grounded in Scripture and the orthodox confessions of the Church.

New Testament scholar and complementarian Douglas Moo once wrote:

Women, like men, are to use these gifts to minister to the body of Christ; their ministries are indispensable to the life and growth of the church. There are many examples in the New Testament of just such ministries on the part of gifted Christian women. To be true to the New Testament, then, the contemporary church needs to honor those varied ministries of women and to encourage women to pursue them.

Blogger and author Tim Challies wrote a blog post earlier this year called, “I’m Complementarian and I Read Books by Women.” In his piece, he makes the case for why complementarian men should encourage women to teach, write, and think theologically and why men should listen to and learn from these women.

The Gospel Coalition, a complementarian organization, has ten women on staff (a third of its staff). Eight of those women are program staff and several of them have seminary degrees.

I point to these examples to show that at the least we are vocalizing and at the most showing by example that we should do more to encourage and equip women called by God to serve in traditional gospel ministry within the church. But we still have a long way to go in changing the direction of women discipleship.

Shepherding

In Scripture, those whom God calls to be shepherds of his people are given two basic tasks: feed the sheep and protect the sheep. Feeding the sheep is a metaphor for feeding God’s people with his Word. Protecting the sheep is a metaphor for protecting God’s people from false teachers or false shepherds who want to feed the sheep a false word. Shepherding is really a ministry of the Word to the people of God. It is soul caring that is gospel-centered. Jesus asked Peter three times, Do you love me? Peter responded with a resounding, Yes! Jesus responded, Then feed my sheep (Cf. John 21: 20ff).

While the main role of a pastor is as shepherd (the Greek word for shepherd is translated as pastor), I believe all God-called ministers on church staffs are shepherds. Ministers are given the responsibility of shepherding a select group of sheep within the church. They are responsible for sheep within the church, and all shepherds on a church staff work together so that their shepherding is true and gospel-focused.

This understanding of the role of shepherding is not gender specific, in my opinion. Are not ministers to women shepherding the women? If they are in charge of teaching, providing biblical teaching or soul care to the sheep, then yes! Ministers to children and youth are also indeed shepherds of God’s sheep. God’s sheep are not only men. They are also women and children. If this is true, then are we adequately preparing our female shepherds, as we do our male shepherds, for the task at hand?

The lie about women

I grew up in small, Baptist churches where we did not have any women on the ministerial staff. My dad, who is a Southern Baptist pastor, was the only minister on staff at his first church and one of two at the second. And, the second staff minister at the second church was both the music minister and the youth minister! It wasn’t that he or the church leaders excluded women from serving as ministers (in fact, at our third church we had a female children’s minister on staff); the churches simply couldn’t sustain a staff larger than one or two people.

However, as I spent more time at larger evangelical churches in the South while in college and seminary, there was something being communicated non-verbally and indirectly that until recently I had not recognized its pervasive influence on the way I viewed my calling and ministry. It was this: That where men were not present the theological depth of Bible study and teaching and the lack of training of the teacher diminished. This observation led to a lie, that until a few years ago, I had believed. Simply put the lie is this—that women (or female sheep) do not matter as much as men (male sheep) when it comes to biblical and theological teaching. (This is not true at my current church. In fact, my church is a wonderful example of what to do when it comes to hiring, using, and teaching women in the church.)

As I look back, I see this more clearly. What I was being taught by example was that in settings of mixed gender audiences, whether it be in a Sunday morning or evening service, the teacher had a seminary degree; but when men (male sheep) left so did the male teacher or shepherd with the theological training.

Recently I stumbled across a church website that announced two new ministerial staff members of the youth ministry. One was male and the other was female. They were hired to do the exact same job as the other with the only difference being that the male staff member would minister to the males in the youth group and the female staff member would minister to the females in the youth group. The male staff member has an M.Div. from a seminary; the female staff member has no seminary degree (and perhaps no college degree as nothing was said about that either).

I also stumbled across a children’s ministry position at a church. Theological education was not a qualification required for this position.

What I commonly notice is that the male ministers on staff have theological education and the women do not. These women most often are hired as directors or ministers to children or women. When this happens, what does that communicate about what the ministerial staff believes about women or children? I think it concretely communicates that women’s (and children’s) study of Scripture matters less than men’s. It creates a hierarchy among the sheep.

However, I don’t think male pastors and elders actually believe this. As I said at the beginning, I believe most male pastors and elders believe that women are equally capable and able to study Scripture and should have the same opportunities of learning as men. I also believe that most pastors believe women should receive the same quality of teaching as men. (If not, then they should ask the women to leave when they preach and teach!) What I believe has happened, though, is that what we practice is not in line with our belief so that what is being communicated is something entirely different from what we actually believe.

Let me pause and say that I’m not arguing that people without theological training should not be lay teachers of Scripture. Let that never be the case! Many lay leaders are very capable and excellent gospel-centered teachers without the seminary education. What I am referencing here are those who are called to be Shepherds to the sheep or Ministers to the ministers. My question is this: If we require our male ministers on staff to have theological education but do not require our female ministers, what is that communicating about what we believe about female sheep?

Communicating what we believe

The implications of what I saw worked out in the church for me, someone called to ministry, was that if I wanted to be taken seriously as a Bible teacher and if I was to have any merit in my vocation or my seminary degree, men must be in the audience. As a result, I had a personal crisis: was I wrong in discerning my calling or was the church wrong in its view of women? Simply put, there was little to no vocational ministerial space for me in which to serve as a complementarian with theological training. And as a result, I began to perpetuate the lie that teaching women the Bible was not enough, not worthy enough, because women themselves were not as important as men. I was in effect allowing an incorrect view of my audience to determine the worth or value of my calling.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for women called to ministry within complementarianism is this very issue. Most ministry-minded women in evangelical circles I’ve met do not want to be senior pastors. But while complementarians have been really good at telling women what they cannot do, they have failed to put resources into what they can do (although this is changing in some places). The stumbling block for these women is that there are no (or few) offices open to them. Simply put, there are few jobs for them. Not only are there few ministry jobs, but when the church hires women who have no theological training, it can make seminary not even worth the cost for young women.

Let me pause here and say this is a crisis for women who are seminary-trained. If churches are willing to hire women with no theological training, perhaps because they can pay them less, then what incentive is there for women to go learn the Bible for three years?

If complementarians want to keep theologically trained women in their churches and want to strengthen the teaching in their churches to their female parishioners, then this issue must be addressed.

What should we do?

First, pastors, elders, deacons and other church leaders, please rethink how you are communicating non-verbally as well as verbally about the worth of women. You can say as much as you want that women matter but if you communicate non-verbally the opposite, people will believe your non-verbal communication over your verbal communication. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Ask yourself, If I truly believe that women matter and that God’s Word is equally for women, then why do I not require our female staff members to have theological training? Why do our women speakers and authors who are teaching our women the Bible have no theological training? Why do I hire women part-time or at a lower salary rate than my other ministers? Am I interested in who is teaching our women and who they are reading? If not, why? Am I adequately engaged with the teaching of our women? How can I encourage young women who feel called to traditional vocational ministry?

I like what New Testament scholar and complementarian Thomas Schreiner writes:

Sometimes complementarians have given the impression that women are unintelligent and that they lack any ability to teach. Such a view is clearly mistaken, for some women unquestionably have the spiritual gift of teaching.

The best thing pastors and churches—most especially complementarian pastors and churches—can do to combat this lie is to start hiring female staff members who have theological education. If we won’t hire a male staff member unless he has theological training but we will hire a woman whether or not she does, then we are communicating that it’s more important for men to be trained in Scripture than women. This is communicating that it matters what kind of biblical teaching men receive but not necessarily what our women receive or it communicates that theological training is only for one gender. If we truly believe that men and women are equally made in the image of God and that the Word of God and the knowledge of God is for both genders, then we need to back that up by who we hire and then expect the same qualifications of both our men and women applicants.

A shepherd has 200 sheep. But given the amount of time he is off finding the best grass and fighting off those who would destroy the sheep, he needs help. So he divides his sheep into two groups: males and females. He hires a male shepherd with training, knowledge, experience, and care to watch over the male sheep. Who does he hire to watch over his female sheep? An untrained shepherd who is not as able to accurately differentiate between sheep and wolves in sheep clothing? An untrained shepherd who is not able to accurately differentiate between grass and turf? An untrained shepherd who might be tricked by a false shepherd? Or a shepherd with the same qualifications as the other shepherd just hired? This main shepherd wants the absolute best help to care for his sheep because he does not want to lose any, not even one. What kind of shepherd are you?

Second, women called to ministry, please stop believing the lie, especially if you are a young women called to gospel ministry. To whom you teach Scripture does not determine the worth of your calling! Men, women, youth and children are all made in God’s image, and God desires all to know him. Therefore, if you truly believe women are made in God’s image and that God’s Word is equally for them as it is for men, then teach women with gladness and readiness. Study Scripture, go to seminary, become a good exegete, and teach women God’s Word. You do not need men in your audience to rationalize or qualify your calling or seminary training. The God who called you determines the value of your calling because it is his calling.

To whom you teach Scripture does not determine the worth of your calling.

My vision is this: That when men and women stop believing the lie and work to stop perpetuating the lie concerning women, then our churches become stronger. When what we say we believe matches what we show we believe, women become more doctrinally and theologically sound and less young women will be leaving, in some cases going to theological extremes, trying to find a place where they can serve. I believe that a church, with the means to do so, that either employs a theologically-trained woman to teach Scripture to the female parishioners or brings in authors and speakers with theological depth will find that the church will become theologically stronger and will grow and will thrive.

Note: I have had this blog post (in some form) in the queue for at least a year. I’ve revised it many times and have waited. Why? Because I want to be sure I’m articulating clearly and correctly what I want to say and because I like to pray and think about my posts for awhile before posting. (This is not a good way to build a blog following!) Still I may have failed, but I publish it now because there is a lot of discussion right now on the web regarding platform, women’s discipleship, and theological training of women. Read this, this, and this. I hope I can contribute to the conversation. Also realize I am speaking from my context: white, evangelical, Southern, female. What I say may not be true for other races, other places of the U.S., etc. I grew up in the SBC but am now in TEC. What I say is more applicable to the SBC and like-minded denominations than it is with my new denomination and church. I hope others from different contexts will share their perspective. Now that I’m almost done with my book (yay!), I may come back with some more posts. But for now, I’ll let this one sit with you and pray it starts some good conversations.

Yours in Christ,

Kristen

 

 

 

Where are the mothers in the family of God?

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Last week I had lunch with my friend and minister, Deborah.

Deborah is on the ministerial staff at The Cathedral Church of the Advent in downtown Birmingham, where my husband and I are members. Deborah has the gift of teaching and preaching. She is not only one of my favorite women Bible teachers but on of my top 10 favorite Bible teachers. She has a heart for the Lord and the gospel, is smart, and learned in the study of theology and exegesis. I’m so grateful to have her on staff at my church.

Deborah said something during our lunch that I’ve heard her say before, but today it struck me a little differently.

Following my most recent post last week about “Lost Women” she said something to the effect of “I want to move past these debates and get to the work of the Church, serving as a co-laborer next to my brothers and sisters.” Then she said, “I believe we need in the Church, just like in our families, fathers and mothers.”

Last year this summer we waited and watched as the Supreme Court made its ruling on marriage. Marriage–and all the benefits of marriage including having a family–was equally granted to homosexual couples as it has been for heterosexual couples. Christians mourned the loss of children not having both a father and mother in the home. Even though there are situations where children might be raised in a single family home, the ideal, nonetheless, is for every child to have a father and mother.

Whether it is the deep voice of my husband in times of discipline, his strength when I want to be too easy or tender, or the way he relates to our son differently than me, our son needs both his father and mother. We each have something that the other doesn’t have, and together he sees the full image of God.

As I drove back to work from lunch, I thought about what Deborah said and I thought about most churches I know. In the family of God, we have lots of fathers. But where are the mothers? In egalitarian churches, this of course won’t be the case (at least probably not). In fact the opposite might be true: Where are the fathers?

When we lived in England two years ago, we attended a church where the vicar was a male but the other two staff members were female. When lay leaders/deacons were involved with communion, prayer, etc, the majority of these were women. On some Sundays the absence of fathers was strong.

But in the States, and especially in complementarian churches, the absence of women in leadership is abysmal. Where are the mothers in the family of God?

Who are the fathers or mothers in a church? They are those called by God, set apart by him, for vocational gospel ministry to administer the Word of God for the people of God. These are the people called to shepherd and care for the souls. These are the ones who are called to feed the flock, take care of their physical and spiritual needs, and remind them of the Good News of Jesus. These in leadership–at least with men–are expected to have some kind of training because of the type of call that involves an authoritative teaching of the Word of God.

But even in complementarian churches where it is believed women can only have authority in preaching and teaching to other women there is room and ever need for mothers. We need men and women called by God and trained for this work helping with Sunday services. We need these called men and women available for prayer during an invitation. We need both fathers and mothers as co-laborers working together to raise up the children of God for the work of God. We need fathers and mothers co-laboring side by side to teach and preach the Word to the flock. If our families need both a father and a mother then why doesn’t God’s family need both too?

At the Advent the preaching is shared by all ministerial staff members even though our lead pastor–called “dean” because our church is a cathedral–carries most of the preaching responsibility. My husband has remarked on several occasions after Deborah has preached that she was able to speak to him in a way that Andrew or Matt cannot. He says, “In the same way a mother can provide for a son in a way that a father cannot, there are some things that a female preacher can provide that a male preacher cannot.” He is not saying that her exegesis does not matter; rather, God uses the whole package–including gender–to minister.

God uses the complementarity of the sexes to minister to each of us–male and female. If God saw fit to give both a father and mother to children, then why should the family of God be void of mothers?

Is There Enough Room For Women In Vocational Ministry?

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When I graduated from divinity school in 2008, I was filled with the excitement that consumes many graduates, namely of finding a job in the field for which I had spent so much time preparing. I began looking for a ministerial vocational place where I could exercise my gifts and learning. However, after several months of not finding a job in ministry, I settled for an internship position at a Baptist newspaper doing work that typically a 20- or 21-year-old college student would be doing.

It was humbling. And a little embarrassing.

I thought my degree – a M.Div. – from a reputable divinity school would place me on a fast track into ministry. I was wrong. Although I am extremely thankful to the managing editor of the newspaper for giving me work when no one else would, not to mention the internship eventually turned into valuable full-time work, this experience laid the foundation for questioning my call to ministry that I was so certain of at age 15.

Did I really hear the voice of the Lord call me into ministry? Or, was this a call born out of a desire to give my whole self to the Lord no matter what vocational form it took? Had I just wasted time and money training for something where there is no work for someone like me?

And I am not alone. I have listened to many women describe similar experiences. In fact, one example of this can be found over at The Gospel Coalition, where several months back Liz Lockwood gave her story in an article titled, “My Wonderfully Confusing Call to Ministry.”

Liz, like myself, felt called as a teenager and went on to seminary to train for this calling. During her years at seminary, though, she encountered some obstacles that put into question her calling.

She writes: “While making lattes or selling running shoes may be great for building relationships or earning money while in seminary, those jobs didn’t seem to fit the criteria for full-time Christian service that I had seemingly been drafted into. Right?”

Liz reconciled the tension between her original call and reality saying, “I began to recognize that, while there are certainly specific callings within the realm of Christian life and polity, all Christians are called to live an intentionally gospel-saturated life. … Rather than keeping ‘ministry’ in a specific silo or quadrant within the walls of my life, the Lord was giving me wisdom to understand that living, moving, breathing, eating, and all other activities find their end in him. These truths freed me, as I began to grasp that my surrender to the Lord in high school was less of a vocational declaration and more of a defining mark of spiritual growth.”

To be sure all Christians are “called to live an intentionally gospel-saturated life” and I have often wondered if what I interpreted as a vocational ministry call was actually just this – the call of every believer. And for Liz this is her conclusion, a reinterpretation of her calling, and this is a conclusion that many women are arriving at.

Perhaps it is a simple case of a misunderstanding of calling. But as I have been reflecting on the issue for the last several years I am coming to a different conclusion. While to be sure there are both men and women who mishear or misunderstand a call to vocational ministry, I believe that many women are questioning and redefining their call as a result of a lack of a vocational space for women in ministry.

Historically, Christian ministry has been mostly a man’s world. This doesn’t mean that it is a man’s-only-club where women aren’t allowed. It does mean that there are fewer jobs for women and fewer women in certain spheres of ministry. Sadly, too often the conversation has been on what women cannot do. As a result, the conversation we are not having sufficiently is how can we create a larger space for women in vocational ministry.

Having a conversation

I think the first step toward creating a larger and more welcoming space for women in vocational ministry is by simply having the conversation. Pastors, denominational leaders, seminary presidents and deans, publishers, and presidents of Christian entities, my hope is that you will be leading the way in discussing what women can do and how valuable they can be to reaching the world with the gospel and strengthening and discipling God’s church. I am not talking about a revolution in the church for women to be accepted as senior pastors. Scripturally, I am not convinced that this should be done. Rather, I believe by building on the following statements, the Christian community can begin to have intentional conversations about how we can create a larger vocational space for women called to ministry.

  • The Imago Dei is complete in both men and women. This means that both men and women are needed to display the image of God. The Imago Dei isn’t confined to marriage but extends to all areas of life, most importantly the church, where men and women are complementing each other in displaying the image of God.
  • Women are important to the work of God.
  • Women, who are teaching Scripture and representing God and the gospel to his people as a vocational ministry, need to be theologically trained.
  • Even when men are taken out of the equation and who is left are women and children, they, just as much as men, need to be taught sound doctrine by sound, theologically-trained ministers.

Further, I want to see intentional, balanced, Gospel-centered conversations about women in ministry turn into intentional acts of using women in ministry.

Creating a larger vocational space

The following are some suggested conversation starters and practical ways to create a larger vocational space for women in ministry.

How can we broaden the vocational space for women in churches? Most churches have either no woman on its ministerial staff or one or two at best. Many times the churches that do employ women on staff will be at a larger church where the ratio might be 10:1, men to women. Let’s look closer. Vocational ministerial jobs (not secretarial or administrative) for women are often part-time, underpaid and do not require any theological training. In order to make vocational room for women, one suggestion is when there’s a ministerial position open for which a church has no biblical objection to hiring a woman and when it already has a male-only staff, it could choose a woman for the job instead of a man.
Other suggested changes are to hire women who have theological training, create full-time positions, pay women ministers at the same or similar salary to the men in comparable positions, and intentionally use female ministers’ gifts even if it takes her outside her job description. Perhaps place her alongside the male ministers for the response part of the Sunday service. Ask her to read Scripture or pray during the service. Ask, What are we communicating to the world and Christian community about the importance of women in ministry by whom we hire and the positions for which we hire?

How can we make vocational space for women in Christian publishing? Often time women are published based on their marketability rather than their credentials or quality of material. Also, the field for publishing Christian women seems to be much more competitive than its male counterpart thereby making it more difficult as a woman to get published than a man. One suggestion is for publishers to work with seminaries to find its best women graduates who feel called to teach and who are solid theologically to write for them. I can count at least 5 women who I know and who have graduated from Beeson who just want to write Bible studies but cannot find an open door into publishing to do so. Perhaps publishers can do a better job at engaging in intentional relationships with the female population of seminaries and divinity schools so that they are cultivating the next generation of women writers who will give them the best material possible and so that they are communicating to women who follow through with training that it is of value. Through these partnerships publishers could invite seminary female students to its conferences and events giving them opportunities to teach. Ask, What are we communicating to the world by who and what we publish? What are we communicating to young females about the importance of theological training for publishing?

How can we broaden the vocational space for women within seminaries and divinity schools? Consider evangelical Christian studies departments at colleges and universities or consider seminaries and you will find a small number of women on faculty. Perhaps you will find no women. Consider the female population at seminaries and you will find it is very small. Also, consider what degrees are being offered to women. Two spheres within Christian higher education are highlighted here: female faculty members and female students. A simple solution to both is for Christian institutions to intentionally hire more female faculty members and recruit more female students. Ask, What conclusions can be drawn by the outside world when it looks at the faculty and student population of seminaries? Would it be that it is a man’s world? Is there any value to female students taking courses like biblical theology, biblical languages and preaching courses in preparing them to teach Scripture even if only to other females, youth and children? What are seminaries and divinity schools communicating about the importance of women in vocational ministry by whom it hires, recruits and the degrees/programs offered to women? Are we only training ministers to teach sound doctrine to male Christians or are we training both male and female ministers to teach sound doctrine to both genders and to all ages?

Are we, the evangelical community, guilty of creating and abetting a system that makes it difficult and sometimes impossible for God to use women in vocational ministry?

Are we limiting what God can and wants to do through women by simply not having a big enough space for them to serve?

What blessings as a Christian community are we missing out on simply because we are not having a conversation or taking positive steps to engage more women in gospel-ministry work?

Grant it there are Christian entities, seminaries/divinity schools, and churches that are doing a good job or at least intentionally trying to create a larger vocational space for women in ministry. Places like LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, and Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham are a few that come to mind in my area. (And to be sure there are more!)

What if?

I believe it is important that we have this conversation about how we can create a larger vocational space for women because:

I believe our churches are only as strong as our weakest members.

I believe that together as men and women we make up the Imago Dei, and therefore, we can do better.

I believe that as we watch the salvation story unfold from Genesis to Revelation and see how God intentionally uses women far and above the cultural boundaries of the day, we can do better.

I believe that it doesn’t follow that just because a woman should not teach men means women and children should be taught watered-down theology or Scripture.

I believe that because many women are being taught watered-down theology and pop-psychology tinted Scripture we have created an environment where false teaching is growing easily and quickly among women.

I believe we should expect the same training of women as of our men. However, unless we have places for our trained, called women to go and serve, receiving theological training does not make sense. Getting into debt for seminary without the possibility of paying it off while using the degree is unwise.

And like Liz, women like us who once felt a call to vocational ministry might just conclude that we misheard the calling. To be certain, I do not judge or fault Liz for reaching this conclusion. We must assume that as God has revealed more over time to her that she did not necessarily hear a call to vocational ministry.

But what if?

What if there was more room at the vocational ministry table for women to sit? What would happen if theologically-trained women had more places to go exercise their calling, gifts and training? What if? Would there be less questioning, less redefining of ministerial calls among women if the ministerial vocational space were only bigger? What is the Church and the World missing out on by the Christian community failing, to some degree, to engage, encourage and train up more women for a ministry of the gospel?

(I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please reply with any positive suggestions or thoughts that can help and encourage the larger Christian community to think through this issue.)

 

 

 

 

Advice to Prospective Seminary Students

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Dear Readers,

Happy 2015! I have lots of things to tell you and discuss with you this year. The past month I have been silent because my hard drive crashed on my computer. However, this time has allowed me to think through some topics, posts and discussions I would like to see happen this year. More on that later.

Today, I want to share with you a short video from a former professor of mine at Beeson Divinity School. If you or someone you know is interested in a theological education, Dr. Mark Gignilliat gives some excellent advice before entering seminary. Theological education is not just a discipline for the head. Rather, the best kind of theological education is one that involves both the head and the heart.

You can watch the video here.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what Mark has to say!

Survey: Women Called to Vocational Ministry

Hi readers!

I am working on a project near and dear to my heart for girls called to vocational ministry, and I need your help!

I have created a survey to help inform and shape my project, and I need women who have received a call to vocational ministry to complete the survey. Several ways you can help:

1. If you are a woman who has received a call to vocational ministry years ago or just recently, would you please take a couple of minutes to complete my survey?

2. If you are not a woman called to vocational ministry, would you still please share the following survey link on your Facebook page, on Twitter and/or via e-mail to people you know who are women and called to ministry? https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WJG9YG7

The more responses I receive, the better the project will be in accomplishing what I hope it will do! As things develop a little further, I will fill you in about the project. In the meantime, will you pray for me and for this project? As always, pray that God would be glorified and that I would walk in obedience and faith as I follow God’s calling to do this project.

Grace and peace,

Kristen

7 Ways Churches & Pastors Can Support Me As A Woman In Ministry

The following is a guest post by Brenda Odom, Worship Associate at First Baptist Church, Pleasant Grove, Alabama. After posting “3 Things Girls Called to Vocational Ministry Want to Hear From Their Churches & Pastors,” I had an outpouring of responses including one from Brenda. Brenda agreed with the post but also saw the need for a post about how pastors and churches can support their women ministers. This week I asked her to share from her perspective on this topic and the following is what she said. I am very excited to share this with you, as I think it is truly excellent and will have a great impact! Brenda notes that she is currently serving in a church with a very supportive pastor, Dr. Daven Watkins.

1. Know that I am called, too.

Traditionally in our Southern Baptist denomination only the men have been considered as “vocational ministry staff.” In fact, even now it is not uncommon for some churches to use the term “staff” to refer only to the ordained men who serve there. Some church members may also stereotype the women on staff by believing they all choose to work there only because it is convenient to their home or because it allows them to be near their children. While it’s true that these factors may be important to some, women like me who are called to vocational ministry have to say over and over again – to pastors, committees, and members – “I am called, too,” not to preach or pastor, but to minister in other ways. In my case, I have the privilege of serving through the multi-faceted ministry of music. I have educated and prepared myself to do this, and I have pursued this vocation my entire adult life. It is not by accident, convenience, or coincidence that I serve this church. God led me here to serve, too, just like the rest of the vocational ministry staff.

 

2. Help me educate our church.

You can affirm me by helping enlighten our church about women called to ministry. It may be unsettling for some to hear a woman describe herself as “called,” but help me show them I am not trying to usurp anyone’s authority. I am just trying to live in obedience to God’s call to me, which is to use my gifts in the music ministry in this church.

 

3. Help see that I am treated as fairly as any other vocational staff member.

This includes matters of compensation, benefits, and opportunities for continuing education and professional growth.

 

4. Realize the unique challenges I face, some of which are these:

Chances are good that any woman in vocational ministry in the average sized church will be the only one of “her kind,” and that can be a lonely place in a “professional” sense.

Usually staff divisions occur between “the men” and “the women,” without regard for calling or function, and that can be very frustrating. When that happens, I feel I am being put in the stereotypical box I have already described. Please see me as more than my gender. I am a called professional, too.

Communication with my pastor is normally not a problem. E-mails are usually adequate and efficient for routine ministry issues. But there are times when a face-to-face meeting is required because of the nature of the concern. Obviously, I am not able to take the pastor to lunch and discuss the issue as the men can do. That means I have to wait to be worked into the appointment schedule and that can take some time. Please allow me to discuss my area of ministry with you in person in a timely manner when the need arises.

 

5. Be mindful of the fact that I am able to minister in some ways and situations a man cannot. Allow me to help in those places.

 

6. Give me the opportunity to do something new.

When there is an assignment to be made for a task or new area of ministry, consider me, too. I would welcome the challenge and would be refreshed by doing something new. Let me stretch my creativity by using my education and experience in different ways.

 

7. Know that in spite of all the challenges, I find great joy and fulfillment in doing what God called me to do.

An answer to a restless spirit

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It seems as if there is a common theme these days among Christian women: the desire for something more. There is a restlessness, a longing for something more than being defined by being a mom, a homemaker or a single female. In response to this, there have been many blog posts in recent days about finding fulfillment by using your spiritual gifts and talents as an outlet or an answer to this restless desire. I’m hearing the phrase frequently, “finding your voice.”

There is truth to this. It is encouraging to hear other women encourage others to use their gifts, and sometimes some of us need a good kick-you-in-the-pants speech to get us moving. However, I want to submit to you that this is not the final solution. The answer I think Scripture gives is this: you and I will not find rest, contentment and fulfillment in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ.

Let me give you my story.

I am prone to restlessness. I am the lyrics of the great hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” that sings, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” I am prone to look for fulfillment in the next best thing. In the next phase of life. I sought this as a young, single woman who longed to find companionship and love. I wanted a husband and thought how much better my life would be once that part was settled. I married, and I love my husband with my whole heart. He has been one of the greatest blessings to me. However, he did not answer my heart’s needs for rest and contentment.

During our marriage when I was on staff at The Alabama Baptist writing news and feature stories, laying out pages, meeting with important Baptist people for interviews, I was physically tired because the job required a lot and didn’t allow for pursuing personal ministry goals. I always dreamed of being able to stay at home one day and to not have to depend on me having a salary. I wanted the freedom to wake up late and be home (I love being home!) when I wanted. This is what I dreamed life would be as a stay-at-home mom. I was looking for contentment in the next phase of life.

When we found out we were pregnant with our son, I was relieved to know that my American dream of having a family would come to fruition. Plus I would really now be content because then I could focus on writing what I wanted to write, blogging, and perhaps even writing for Christian publishers! I wouldn’t have the stress of a job; I could roam around my town instead of sitting behind a desk while looking outside the window as other people enjoyed the day. But once my son came and I became a stay-at-home mom, I continued to be restless.

Now, I resented not having a place to go because it meant I never dressed up anymore and I didn’t necessarily have to shower (other than for the sake of my husband!). I was covered in spit-up, poop, pee in the beginning. The next year I couldn’t leave my son alone for one second because he was into everything and was a danger to himself if left alone! The next year as he learned to talk, I lived day to day hearing “Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy.” This past year I have spent my days disciplining, correcting and enduring all those temper tantrums.

I was restless. I thought I would find contentment in the next stage of life. The next person. The next job. But I didn’t. I still haven’t found contentment in those things. Nowadays, if you were to ask me what I am restless for or am hoping to quench my restless thirst with, it would be having a full-time writing and speaking career using my gifts, passions and seminary training for the Lord. Surely that’s what is needed because, of course, unlike those other things mentioned this is for the Lord! It is what I believe He has called me to do!

But lately I have begun asking myself the question, “Will I find contentment and rest even in using these gifts and passions how I want to use them?” Am I waiting to find contentment until the day I have a teaching ministry? Will I feel at peace and fulfillment when I publish my first book?

The answer I have come to is “No.” No I won’t. If I can’t find rest, contentment, joy, peace and fulfillment in the Lord now, then I will never find it in these other things or people. Even if they are good things. Even if they are rendered to the Lord. So often we try to find fulfillment and joy in our service to the Lord apart from the Lord. We are too busy doing things for God that we don’t have time to spend with God. We want to serve the Master without knowing the Master. Then before long we believe we are carrying out the will of God when really we no longer know what His will is — it’s been compromised with our own will.

So this is what God has been teaching me lately and which I am still trying to learn and put into practice: I will find true contentment, joy, peace and rest in whatever stage I am in my life if I find it first and foremost in Christ. I must learn to base my own identity and to measure my worth by who I am in Christ rather than what I am doing or by how much I am doing.

Lately I have been asking myself, “Kristen, are you too busy working and looking toward the future that you are missing out on being faithful with the few tasks God has given you now?” How am I using my spiritual gifts at home with my son? Am I missing out on opportunities to teach him God’s Word and the gospel because I’m too concerned with teaching adults? Is my calling as a mom not as important as my calling as a writer? (If my answer is yes it is not as important, then shame on me!) Am I not paying attention to the needs of my husband and failing to serve him and his needs because I want to take care of others’ needs first? We — I — forget that our neighbor (in reference to the second greatest commandment) includes my husband and son! It includes those closest to me.

I must be found faithful doing the things that God has called me to now, today, or else I won’t know how to be faithful with those things in the future. Yes, by all means I am to use my gifts for God’s glory in the church and in the community now (who says you can’t do both?) but not at the cost of not using them at home or at the cost of not spending time with God. My gifts will only be as effective as my walk with the Lord. If I am not spending time in Scripture, prayer, gratitude, reflection and mediation on His Word, then my gifts will no longer be reflecting the glory of God but of me.

If you think about it, we in the United States are very narcissistic. We are obsessed with self, and because of that we get really depressed when we aren’t accomplishing something or getting recognized for our achievements. Two years ago The Huffington Post published some research about the nations with the highest clinical depression. United States came in second at a rate of 19.2%. That is really astonishing given the fact that we are one of the wealthiest nations. We don’t have to worry about being invaded or wars (too much, as they are often thousands of miles away). We don’t have to worry about major disease epidemics, religious persecution, drug lords coming into our homes and decapitating us, famine, or drought. Yet we are depressed.

Why? I really think it comes down to our obsession with self. We think by making self the most important thing we will satisfy these needs of contentment, fulfillment and joy, but the irony is that by elevating self we are destroying ourselves. We can’t give ourselves what only Christ can give us. We can’t find what we’re searching for in sinful human beings. It’s like eating chocolate to satisfy a hunger. Sure it tastes awfully good and feels good at first, but too much of it can make you downright sick and yet if you just eat one piece it makes you lust for more.

We also are depressed because we find fulfillment and identity in what we do. This is probably why Purpose Driven Life sold so well! We want to make sure we are living with purpose. But God has been bringing to my mind repeatedly that Jesus spent 30 years growing, praying, spending time in the synagogues, and preparing before having a public ministry that only lasted 3 years! “All those years wasted!” a good American might say. We cannot fathom doing “nothing” for that long. We don’t value waiting, listening, learning, preparing, and praying; in fact we consider those things as “nothing” or as accomplishing nothing. In a give-me-now culture where we basically can have everything we want with the swipe of a credit card, the opening of an app, or the tapping of a tweet, it is against our very nature to sit still and wait. To exercise patience.

But this narcissism, obsession with self, has crept into the churches and Christian communities. As E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien wrote in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, “When the ‘me generation’ became Christians, we baptized this egocentrism” (p. 194). Just pay careful attention to sermons and blog posts. Ask yourself, “Who is the subject of this sermon or post or article?” You can find this out easily by counting the number of pronouns/names used. How often is Jesus or God mentioned in comparison to “you”? You can also figure this out by looking at the goal — is the goal to become a better more impassioned you or for God to be glorified.

So often what I am being fed is a form of existentialism. A short definition of existentialism is “a philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.” As Christians we have baptized our obsession with self and this existential philosophy and have put a Christian spin on it. Here’s the Christian spin. You are still the subject and your happiness is the goal, but God is introduced as a supporting actor to help you accomplish your life’s goal and purpose. Whereas when you read the Bible, God is the main subject and we are recipients of his saving work. Here’s another great quote from Misreading Scripture:

“The idea that we are only a part of God’s redemptive plan is hard to swallow for Christians raised to believe that if I had been the only sinner ever born, Jesus would still have gone to the cross for me. When we realize that each passage of Scripture is not about me, we begin gradually to see that the true subject matter of the Bible, what the book is really about, is God’s redeeming work in Christ. God is restoring all of creation (including me), but I am not the center of God’s kingdom work. This is a much greater thing to be absorbed with than ourselves.”

It seems so counterintuitive doesn’t it? If we want to find true self-fulfillment and joy in this world then we must “deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him?” (cf. Luke 9:23) Isn’t it against everything my culture is telling me and pulling on me to say that Jesus is the main actor in my story, not me? I am the supporting actor in my life. Let me tell you, I didn’t come to Jesus so that he could help me find my voice or make me a happier person. I came to him so that he would save me from my rottenness, my sin, and transform this dirty vessel into something more like him.

Yes, I still believe God is calling me to a speaking and writing ministry. I look forward to doing what I love the most full-time — one day. In fact I am doing some of it even now, even though it is in small doses. But I must not let my hope for the future blind me from the present. Although it’s difficult to see, what I am doing now does count. It is part of God’s greater calling for my life. I will have to answer to Him about how I treated my roles as wife and mother. Did I honor God and love God in those roles and love my husband and son like myself? Using my gifts in the church without getting paid for them does count. It does matter.

I will find contentment and joy in these things despite them because I am doing it for the Lord. My rest and joy come only from the Lord and He gives me joy for all things, mundane, dirty and not-so-fun things. My prayer is that when God is ready to use me in other ways and for other things and to move me into a new stage that I won’t regret mishandling the past and that I will do these things out of an already fulfilled, content place where God is receiving all the glory.

And if I can’t learn the lesson of contentment now, then how will I ever learn it? It’s funny that we quote “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” (Phil. 4:13) to refer to anything and everything we want to do. I think we like this verse because it seems that the emphasis is on me and doing all things. It appeals to our American senses. Yet, read in its context we read that just a few verses prior Paul says, “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” We must learn like Paul not to find contentment in circumstances because they so easily change; sometimes they are good and sometimes bad. But Paul is content through good and bad because God strengthens him! It is God who enabled Paul to find contentment, for Paul’s source for contentment came from the Lord.

As we learn contentment and how to find that in Christ alone, let us adopt the words of the psalmist who praises God at all times for who He is. Circumstances might not be great, life ebbs and flows, but still he praises God. “Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts!” (Psalm 33:1-3)

I find that a heart filled with gratitude and praise helps me on those days when I am feeling restless, when I am forgetting that it is Christ who gives me contentment, when I want to rush through these days that one day I will look back on wanting to return. So in these days I am finding my voice in my praises to God.

So this is my story. What is yours? What are you feeling restless about? Yes, by all means, find those things you love and do them. Use your spiritual gifts, talents and passions to glorify God. Just know that even those things won’t bring you complete contentment and joy, for that only comes from the Lord Jesus.

And how does the hymnist of Come Thou Fount answer this proclivity to wander and to be restless? He writes, “Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.”

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.