On Women and Calling

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I didn’t grow up believing that God viewed women and men differently.  They had different characteristics, certainly. But to God they were equally loved, equally important, equally useful in the church and in the world. I grew up in churches where women were leaders.  I learned about God from female ministers. I heard women preach and teach and share their stories. I assumed that if I wanted to be a pastor, I could do it. No one every told me otherwise, and for that I am very grateful.

When I started seminary, I encountered several women whose stories were very different from my own. I had classmates and friends who were abused and dismissed by their churches, and even their families, for voicing and attempting to live out their callings.  The messages they received from the church were hurtful and intended to bring about shame: You’re wrong. You need to do your job, fulfill your role, embrace your femininity. Submit. Repent. It wasn’t God you heard calling you to ministry. You must be mistaken. God would never call you. 

I read an article the other day in which the author lamented the wave of “Christian feminism” in the church—women (and men) committed to the idea and the belief that men and women are equal in God’s eyes and deserve equal treatment and opportunities. These people are speaking up for justice. They’re asking that the church pay a little closer attention to how Jesus treated people and try to do the same. One woman commented on the article, describing her personal draw to the feminist movement and her own call to ministry. She was berated. Abused. Attacked. The same language that I heard from so many women before was used to discredit her call and her identity.  It was heartbreaking.

I experienced my call to ministry during college. I had never heard God’s voice so clearly in my life, and for the first time I felt an overwhelming sense of peace about where I was going and what I was supposed to be doing next. I believe that God called me to ministry, and I’m thankful to be part of a community that celebrates that call instead of dismissing it.

If we believe that God can part the Red Sea and heal the blind and speak the world into being, then we must believe that God can do anything. If we believe that God can use women like Esther and Deborah and Rahab and Lydia as ministers and heroines in the faith narrative, then surely we believe that God can call women to be ministers today.

I believe that God can (and does) call women to ministry because I believe that God can do anything. I believe that God has demonstrated again and again that he can and will use the marginalized and the unexpected to do his work. God has been using ordinary people—men, women, and children—throughout all of history to do extraordinary things. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen God use women to preach and share his story and lead others to Christ. I’ve seen God use women to ignite change and make a difference in the world. One of the greatest testimonies we have to the value of women in God’s kingdom is women who are bravely answering the call and stepping up to do God’s work in this badly broken world.

God’s desire is not for women to be silenced or belittled or shamed. God desire is for everyone—the broken and the lost, the misfits and the outcasts, the radicals and the rebel-rousers, men and women, young and old—to come to the table. Let’s start celebrating what God can do instead of limiting it. I love this prayer and commission for women from Sarah Bessey:

Rest in your God-breathed worth. Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head, dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice, dulling your mind, satiating your hunger with the lesser things of this world.

Stand up, shake the dust from your feet if you need to, and look outside, it’s beautiful, isn’t it? There are a lot of us here, waiting for you, in the open air. We’ve been here all along, don’t you know? We’ve been ministering, preaching, praying, teaching, loving, mothering, caring, singing, walking each other home. It’s glorious and messy, far away from the rules and the limitations, the barriers and restrictive religion. But look, here, we, the people of God, we are here with you, we are a family, we’re your family, we’ve been waiting for you. We have a big, gorgeous tent and every one is welcome.

Amen.

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