My Journey Into Ministry as a Woman
I grew up in a family with strong, Alaskan women—who later became tough, Texan women. On multiple occasions, I saw my grandma pull out a shotgun to shoot a sick possum, water moccasin, or wild animal. My mom worked full-time while finishing college as a single parent raising my sister and me. I never doubted that women were strong and capable, or that they could lead.
"They never made me feel like my gender was a barrier."
I also grew up attending Southern Baptist churches with my dad and older sister. I became a Christian when I was sixteen years old, and soon after, found myself in many leadership and teaching positions in my youth group. I remember hearing my youth pastor say once that they wouldn’t allow the female mission’s director to make an announcement in front of the church because she was a woman. I could tell by his tone that he didn’t approve. This is the only memory I have, while at that church, of a woman being explicitly restricted in leadership based off gender.
My experience in the youth was not synonymous with the overall church’s view of women. I planned ministry events, led small groups, taught lessons, and spoke in front of the youth. My youth minister and the adults who volunteered in the youth believed in me—believed that I would do big things for the kingdom and the world, and they never made me feel like my gender was a barrier to that.
In college I continued to serve, teach, and lead in church and parachurch organizations. I was especially involved in a Christian sorority where I served as the chaplain and taught about 70 women each week. I also met up with women one-on-one, led a small group, and planned retreats. Through my experience as chaplain, I grew deeper in my love to teach God’s word and serve women.
"It was only during my time at seminary and thinking about my future as a minister that I began to wrestle with and ask these questions."
I never got the sense in any the churches I attended or college ministries I participated in that it would be wrong for me to teach a man. In my college Christian community, however, we implemented potentially legalistic boundaries on male-female relationships. And many Christians, including me, talked about dating a man who could be a "spiritual leader.” The Bible church I attended in college had women on staff and serving as deacons, but not as elders or preachers. I also worked at a Presbyterian church where women were elders, but I never saw a woman preach.
Even though I had all these different experiences in my home, youth group, college ministries, and churches, I thought very little about the role of women in ministry because I didn’t plan on entering into vocational ministry. That is, until, the Lord called me to study at Dallas Theological Seminary. It was only during my time at seminary and thinking about my future as a minister that I began to wrestle with and ask these questions. It was also during my time at the seminary where I began to realize the resistance against female leadership in the church.
I had a pastor tell me that feminism has caused weak male leadership in the church, so their desire was to build up only male leaders, and they didn’t believe women could teach men in any capacity. I met male seminary students from another seminary who, when I told them I was studying at seminary, asked me if I planned to enter into children’s ministry and made sure I knew their seminary didn’t allow women in their Master of Divinity program. I sat in a meeting where the minister speaking to us rarely looked in my direction, only asked me one question at the beginning of the meeting, and handed resources to the two men in the room but not to me.
"I want to see churches thrive and flourish with men and women partnering in ministry as God’s word calls us to."
Thankfully, I’ve also had many great experiences with pastors, professors, and peers who support and believe in me as a woman entering into ministry. I don’t think all my professors and colleagues would necessarily agree with my doctrinal positions, but they encourage my spiritual gifts and advocate for women to be valued in the church. I’ve had many female friends who received snide comments from male seminary students, especially in preaching classes. But I think those men are in the minority, and I definitely haven’t experienced that same attitude with any professors I’ve taken.
The resistance against female leadership and sexism in the church is alive and real, but so are the many biblically-faithful pastors and ministers who—regardless of their specific stance on the roles open to women—believe in male and female partnership in the church. I am confident and hopeful that the church will continue to progress in opening more opportunities for women to serve while remaining biblically grounded. I hope that, in a small way, my writings on the role of women can help church leaders and members navigate through the biblical texts we encounter when discussing this topic.
"Our foundation needs to rest on the Scriptures."
The role of women matters to me not only as a female minister, but also as someone who has a heart to serve women in the church. I want to strengthen churches with biblically literate, theologically deep, and relationally authentic women. I want to see churches thrive and flourish with men and women partnering in ministry as God’s word calls us to. I want to continue to partner with my own husband in ministry, not only as his support but also as his co-laborer in God’s service.
My challenge and encouragement for myself and the church is to stay grounded in the word of God on this topic. Church history, tradition, culture, logic, and experience play a part in understanding the role of women (and should be considered), but our foundation needs to rest on the Scriptures. We should never shy away from a thorough observation, interpretation, and application of the text. It starts with his word and ends with the glory of our God.