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Writing off the Woman Pastor

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

-John 20: 17-18

I absolutely love this account of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus, rather than immediately going to the men, counter-culturally had a woman carry the good news to his friends. I can just imagine Mary’s thoughts as she raced to the 11 disciples to tell them. There is not a doubt in my mind that she was seriously thinking “They will never believe me!” After all, a woman’s testimony during this time was not acceptable—But she did as Jesus had told her because it was JESUS WHO TOLD HER. It did not matter if the others believed her or not. Jesus had told her to share the good news with them, and by golly, she was going to follow Jesus.

So many women, including myself, relate to Mary here. We have been told by God to share the good news with others, but as we race to do so, we know that many will not listen—just because we are women.

Just as Origen of Alexandria once said:

“It is not proper for a woman to speak in church, however admirable and holy what she says may be, merely because it comes from female lips.”

What we say is often discounted or ignored merely because we are women—It doesn’t matter if we speak the truth, we are written off as liars. It doesn’t matter if we are preaching directly from scripture, it is considered ‘anti-biblical’. We are called Jezebels. We are labeled heretics. We have people walking out of services merely because we are female—despite the fact that we have been called by God to preach. It is seriously disheartening.

But we preach anyways.

We hope that what God says though us will take root in the hearts and lives of those who hear us.
We continue to follow God instead of people.

But it still hurts. It hurts because many of us have fought the call. Upon receiving the call, many of us have struggled. Either because we knew few would listen—or because we also were under this mistaken idea that God does not call women and the women must be silent.

Like me for example.

I received the call when I was eight-years-old.

I was excited about it—at first—because at eight-years-old, I did not have the bias that my parents or church had. I ran to tell my mom that I believed God was calling me to be a pastor. Her response threw me into an eighteen-year fight with God about his call on my life.

She told me that God didn’t call women to be pastors. But that I would make an excellent pastor’s wife—if I learned the right things of course. So, instead of an in-depth study of scripture, I was given piano lessons. I was taught to cook, clean, sew, garden—etc. I was taught to be the perfect hostess and only given a rudimentary understanding of the Bible. But every once in a while, the call of God would feel so strong on me that I would bring it before another leader—a youth leader, a pastor, a Sunday school teacher—but they all told me the same thing. God did not call women.

They would quote 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 at me and tell me that I could not be a pastor and follow God. For 15 years, I fought and fought my call because of what other people told me. I knew I loved to share Christ with people—but it couldn’t go beyond casual evangelism among my unbelieving friends. To be in spiritual authority among my peers was unacceptable. However, I was told I would make a good children’s ministry leader. So, I poured myself into that. I had to satisfy this call to preach in some way.

Then I married Jason.

About three or four months after we got married, Jason’s friend was preaching at their home church. He shared his struggle with his call (his struggle was very different from mine—obviously) but the sermon still spoke to me. After the service as Jason and I were getting to the car to go home, I finally told Jason what I had told my mother and so many of my spiritual influencers over the years. I felt called to be a pastor. His response shocked me. “I know” was all he said. I tried to fight him on it. I shared what all those other people had told me, I quoted the passages and even professed to believe and agree with the fact that God does not call women… but maybe I could be a Children’s pastor. Jason told me that he would support whatever ministry God called me to, but I was set on it being either to children’s ministry or women’s ministry… and honestly, I was too young to have an effective women’s ministry at 22 years old.

And for a few years, I did do children’s ministry. I developed curriculum, I organized volunteers, I struggled with finding reliable people, I arranged crafts---I poured my life into it. But I still felt like something was missing. I didn’t feel like I was in the ministry God was calling me to. And I struggled with that knowledge. It actually threw me into a bit of a crisis. I KNEW God was calling me to minister—but HOW?

Then I decided to just embrace my role as a pastor’s wife. I’d support my husband’s ministry. We moved from one youth pastor position in Colorado to another one in Pennsylvania—and I poured myself into supporting his ministry. I bonded with the students (to the point that a couple of them called me mom), I loved it! But there was still that nagging inside of me that told me I wasn’t doing what God wanted me to do. As time went by, the nagging grew stronger—and about that time, Jason and I had to undergo his Pastoral Assessment.

SIDE NOTE: Pastoral Assessment is when a minister in the Church of the Nazarene (on some districts) will be evaluated by Ordained ministers in various areas of ministry. Jason was being evaluated on his theology, our marriage, his methodology in handling stressful situations, our financial stability, things of that sort. During that assessment, we were given all sorts of tests, and we would work with the other pastoral candidates being assessed to complete the tasks. Pastors and spouses were both required to participate—both testing how well they worked together in stressful situations as well as how well they, as a unit, would work as a team with others.

Anyway, during his assessment, I really felt God pressing for me to become a pastor. And the second day we were there, I had an interview with our District Superintendent’s wife. One question, in particular, stood out to me because she asked me if I felt that my call was tied to my husband’s call. I told her that I didn’t think it was. She looked a little surprised, but then I explained that whether Jason decided to pursue ministry or not, I would always be involved. 

I couldn’t not be involved in church ministry. It was a part of me. 

It suddenly hit me, though, that if I was called to be a pastor’s wife, that call would be tied to my husband—but my call wasn’t. I was called to a different vocation than “pastor’s wife”—I was called to pastor. That night I told Jason point blank that God was calling me to be a pastor—but not a children’s pastor or a woman’s pastor—but a “Pastor Pastor”. Once again, his response was “I know.”

But I was still struggling. I still had those verses pinging around in my head, and I was struggling because I did not want to go against God’s word. But I also knew that I, at least, had to give God a chance to prove that it was Him calling me. The next day, after a particularly rough meeting with the ordained pastors and the candidates, one of the pastors (a woman) approached me and asked me if I was called to be a pastor. I was shocked because that was the first time anyone had ever asked me. I told her that I was—and that I had just answered the call the night before. But I also told her that I was struggling because I didn’t believe God called women. She scoffed at that a little because, after all, she was a woman who was called…and IS A PASTOR. I chuckled and told her that I could not deny God’s call on their lives, it was mainly mine that I was struggling with. She nodded as if she completely understood and then prayed with me—that God’s call would be clear and that my reservations would be put to rest as I pursued His will for my life.

Not even an hour later, one of the male pastors asked me the same question. And then another and another. I was suddenly being affirmed in my call—Pastors were telling me that they could sense the call of God on my life and they were asking if I was feeling God’s call. It was strange—I felt silly saying that I felt like God was calling me to be a pastor, but I was no longer denying it. It was incredibly freeing.

But I still struggled. After leaving Assessment, it took me two months to tell our senior pastor that I was wanting to pursue a call in ministry, and it took me a year after that Assessment to actually begin my education to become a pastor. I had been waiting for God to ease my reservations before I committed to going to school, but he didn’t. So, I took a “cautious leap of faith” (what an oxymoron). Instead of majoring in Pastoral Ministries, I would major in Christian Education. The requirements were all the same except for five classes, and Christian Education would allow me to take those five classes as electives… So, I was good to go. I still struggled with my call and I didn’t want to dive head-first into it without scriptural support. Merely “I fell called” did not hold enough water for me.
It wasn’t until the following Fall that I received my answer. In one huge bunch, everything fell into place. I was taking History and Polity of the Church of the Nazarene and it had been combined with Foundations of Women’s Ordination. For the class, we had to watch a video called “Ablaze with Love”—it was about the history of ordaining women in the Church… and suddenly those passages that had been holding me back were seen in a whole new light.

Did you know that both passages begin with “Let a woman learn”?

Did you know that in both churches being addressed, there was a very strong pagan/gnostic movement within the church?

Did you know that in both towns being addressed, in the pagan cultures surrounding them, women in religious authority were used for “sexual purification”—they served as temple prostitutes.

Those commands for women to be silent and to not hold authority over a man were commands designed to protect the women and the church.

For example, men coming out of the pagan culture into a church with a woman in authority would assume that woman is meant to have sexual intercourse with them to purify them. – Definitely not the case, but it protected women from that assumption and from being used as sexual objects.

With Gnosticism (merging of both pagan and Christian beliefs) as rampant as it was, the women who would come to the church educated were women who were educated would have been the temple workers and their education was in pagan customs and beliefs—not in Scripture. Therefore, to protect the church, they were told to be silent—and learn in silence. But by all means, find out the answer, just do so at home when you won’t disrupt others.

And the command for women to not hold authority over men was for both of those reasons. First, she was likely not educated in scripture and if you don’t know about a subject, you definitely shouldn’t try to teach it. And second, in that culture, women in spiritual authority were used for sexual purification, not for guidance in holiness.  

In order to prevent confusion for new believers and to protect women, Paul’s command was for them to not be in authority and to be silent so they could learn—but it was not a blanket command for the church as a whole for all time. It was for the church at that time.

And this is reflected by the fact that Paul regularly acknowledges and affirms other women in leadership roles—Phoebe, Pricilla, Mary, Julia, Chloe, Eudora, Syntyche, and Junia.

But it isn’t just Paul acknowledging the leadership of these women—but the fact that God raised up women throughout scripture.

We love to say that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever—but then we separate the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. Well, God is the same God in both Old and New Testaments—

In the Old Testament, God raised up Deborah as a prophet—she shared God’s word with the people of Israel—she has spiritual authority over everyone in Israel, including the men.

God raised up Abigail, she had such wisdom that even king David took her advice and submitted to her knowledge and wisdom.

We all know the prophet Isaiah—but did you know that she was a prophet as well? She heard from God and shared his words.

Huldah was a woman—and she was one of the most trusted prophets for King Josiah.

If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then the God who called women before Christ and in the early church continues to call women today.

After discovering all of this, I was able to fully embrace my call—but it was definitely a long journey to get here. Eighteen years just to answer my call, and another year to fully embrace it. I fought God for a long time on this. But I finally yielded.

But what I find sad and discouraging now is the fact that when I say I am going to be a pastor, the assumption is that I am prideful or that I am going against God. Some people automatically write me off simply because I am a woman. They haven’t written me off because of a lack of education. They haven’t written me off because I have preached heresy. They haven’t written me off due to poor conduct. No, they have written me off because I do not have a Y chromosome.

And the discouraging thing is not that I have been written off, but because of the severe limitation, the person who has written me off has placed on God. I believe that God is able to do above and beyond all we can ask or imagine, and as such I believe that God cannot be limited by his creation. If he can find a way for a tragedy to bring about something good, then he is not limited by estrogen. 

If God is not bound by time, weather, nation, economics, or language, then he is definitely not bound by biology.

My decision to become a pastor was not taken lightly—it was a struggle. It was an all-out brawl with God. I wrestled with God for eighteen years before I answered my call—this wasn’t me wanting to be a pastor. This was about me needing to follow God and become a pastor.

The fact is that many women have struggled with their call. They have wrestled with God like Jacob did. But little by little he has worn down their defenses and biases and they have finally said yes. No, it does not matter if you approve of their call or not, but who are you really hurting by refusing to listen to the one God has called? It isn’t them—you’re the one missing out on hearing God speak through them. And what if God has a message for you to be given through them? You’re missing out on his words for you.

I have to laugh at the account of Mary Magdalene because instead of trusting her words (given directly to her from Christ himself), the men doubted. Peter ran to the tomb instead of taking her word for it and even after seeing the empty tomb, he “wondered at what had happened” (Lk 24:12). Because he doubted—and even after seeing the tomb, he didn’t believe. It was only after seeing Jesus for himself that he believed. Later, Jesus addresses this doubt when he reveals himself to Thomas. 

“You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” 
(Jn. 20:29).

To me this is akin to the story of Deborah. She told Barak that God will deliver the enemy army into his hands, but he doubted and insisted that she put her money where her mouth was and go with him into battle. 

Because he didn’t trust her, a woman, he lost the glory of killing the general and instead that glory fell to Jael, a woman.

God does not care what gender the person he calls is, he just expects his people to listen to the people he has sent. And to write someone off just because they were wrapped in pink when they were born instead of blue shows a severe lack of faith in the God who is the one doing the calling. God is not bound by pink or blue any more than water is confined to a net. All that “net” does is prevent you from allowing God to be heard in your own heart.


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