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Women in Ministry

A dear friend recently asked me to talk to her about women in ministry. She'd attended a church that firmly stated women could not work in ministry (with adults, anyway). The church she's now attending is led by a married couple who serve as co-pastors. She's been struggling to understand how different churches view this issue so differently. Her tenderness and genuine curiosity made me realize this is an issue I've not spent a lot of time on publicly.


She didn't know how shocked I was when God called me to go to seminary. I'd spent years seeking God for my future. I fasted, dug into Scripture, and prayed earnestly for God to show me what to do. He was, for the most part, as quiet as He typically is when what I'm doing is perfectly fine with Him and nothing needs to change. The pastor I dreamed of marrying had not materialized. I worked in a parachurch ministry. I wondered if I should pursue other opportunities there or seek to work for my church in some support capacity. Maybe I could go to graduate school for... something. But what? God was silent.


I grew up with male-only pastors and church leaders, but not much had ever been said about it. I understood that pastors were men and their wives often ran the church behind the scenes. The women took no credit and most received no compensation. I longed to be the wife who stood beside her husband, assisting him in everything he did. There was a big problem though: I wasn't married.


But one day, in the middle of a long drive, my prayers were answered with clarity and authority. The radio was off, I wasn't talking on the phone. I'd said everything to God I had to say, so I was quietly listening when a clear and firm voice said, "I want you to go to seminary."


I was stunned. My heart raced as I tried to make sense of these incredible words, so far out of the realm of anything I'd ever think of on my own. What I really wanted to do was get married, but God said to further my education.


Women don't go to seminary.


Of course, I knew women actually do go to seminary, become Bible teachers and leaders, and even pastors. But it felt wrong to me. I asked God a whole bunch of questions on that drive and what stands out in my memory is this:


God called ME to ministry, and He wanted me to get an education. He told me specifically which school I was to go to - and it was one I knew emphasized the practical nature of ministry over simply gaining knowledge. I didn't even know if they accepted women, or how I would pay for it, or how any of it would work. But I did have to acknowledge that, as shocked as I was, I was also thrilled. Excitement bubbled up in me that I couldn't deny.


My parents weren't thrilled because my finances were messy, and this would mean debt. They tried to get me to move home and work for my dad for two years, paying off debt and saving money so it would make more sense. Wisdom, yes. I just couldn't bring myself to do it, so fiercely independent that the thought was inconceivable. Instead, I cleaned up my finances on my own by making drastic changes. It took three years, but I eventually made it to seminary. It was an amazing experience. The professors and staff wrapped me in a cocoon of warmth and encouragement, and I did well there. My parents were actually very supportive too, helping me get a reliable car and blessing my efforts any chance they could find.


I didn't spend a lot of time digging into Scripture to discover a way to defend my call to ministry, I just dug into Scripture because I was so hungry. God called. I answered. It's been a challenging road to walk, and I've often felt discouraged and frustrated. God always finds ways to encourage me to keep going though.


When my friend asked me to help her understand, I put into words the message gathering in my heart over many years of knowing and serving the Lord. So, I offer it to you today from my heart.


I'm doing my best to submit myself to Christ. There was a three year period between when God called me and when I actually answered. I tried to find a way to go to seminary that made sense to me - with a husband, online, locally, and so forth, but none of my efforts worked. I was blocked at every turn.


When I kept silent, by bones dried up and my body ached (Psalm 32:3-5). I literally became physically sick and couldn't go on. Before I finally took the leap of faith, God allowed my life to become so miserable that there's no doubt in my mind - this is what I was called to do. The only other thing I was called to do was write. Write and go to seminary. (It sure would've been nice if God had ever called me to do something with a clear career path and an assured salary...)


In seminary, I learned that the best way to study Scripture is to look at the whole message of the Bible and allow it to speak to every area of life. If we try to build a case for our particular view point based on one verse, it can be very confusing.


The books of I and II Timothy alone are full of contradictions: in one place it says the law is not for the righteous, but he repeatedly commands Timothy to follow the spirit of the law. In another place, he instructs women not to speak in church, not to have braided hair, to wear gold, pearls, or costly clothing - and in another place he acknowledges that Timothy is a faithful and qualified leader because of the faith passed on to him by his mother and grandmother. There are instructions for slave owners with no chastisement about owning slaves, which we now attribute to their culture at the time. We assume slave owners to be wealthier people, but he later goes on to say that everyone should be content with food and clothes only, not trying to be rich or valuing wealth.


Bishops, elders, and deacons were to be sober and not given to wine, but Timothy was to stop drinking only water and drink a little wine. These church leaders were to be blameless, married, to only have one wife with well-behaved children, and with a good reputation outside of the church. However, Paul was unmarried and repeatedly driven from the cities where he went to minister (or jailed). Leaders are not to be novices, but then Paul tells Timothy not to let anyone despise his leadership for his youth. Lastly, there are 13 verses on cultural guidelines regarding the treatment of widows within the church.


The church of today has to decide which rules we'll follow and which rules we'll recognize as culturally relevant to that time and place. Perhaps we should all become Amish, wearing head coverings (that's commanded somewhere else by Paul), no makeup, no jewelry, and kicking out any leaders whose children don't behave perfectly. But wait, if you know the Amish at all, you know most of them are actually quite wealthy, and while they may not spend their money on jewelry, they have their own ways of showing their wealth. They also don't believe in assurance of salvation, which is why they work so hard to be acceptable to God.


If we look at the whole of Scripture, we see Christ elevating the status of women. Women were once treated as property, not much better than slaves. They had no education, no ability to own property or make decisions for themselves. Why would women in those situations teach men? It wouldn't make sense culturally. But Jesus rescued the woman caught in adultery and told her He didn't condemn her. Jesus told Martha to sit and rest, to listen to what He was saying, to become educated - rather than always serving.


Jesus could have appeared to Peter and John at the tomb. He had already been resurrected. The tomb was empty. But He waited until they left and appeared to Mary Magdalene. He told HER to go and tell His male disciples that He had risen. He told HER to go and give them instructions for Him.


There was a day when I was working as a staff pastor when things had been really hard. People I led were hurting, I'd driven all over the area that day trying to help several of them, and I was exhausted. I was single and at the end of the day, alone. I fell into a restless sleep on the couch. While I slept, I had the most vivid dream.


In the dream, the doorbell rang. I got up from the couch and opened the door. Standing there was a man who felt familiar. He tenderly asked, "Kimberly, what do you need?"


Eyes brimming with tears, I answered with a little hesitation, "A hug."


He quietly nodded, stepped inside the door, and hugged me. As a single woman in a ministry position, I was always on guard against inappropriate men, so it was initially hard to receive the hug. Even though I'd told him that's what I needed, my body was tense with suspicion. But his manner was brotherly and he just kept hugging me. As he did, my entire body filled with warmth, love, and relief. I relaxed, realizing I was safe, and my stress and sadness melted away. After a bit, he released me and said goodbye. I shut the door, returned to the couch, and fell back to sleep.


When I awoke, I was dumbfounded by the dream. Who was that? Did it really happen? No. It was definitely a dream. As I searched my mind to place the familiar man, no one matched. Then, I realized it was Jesus. My brother and friend, Jesus, had come to my door and given me the comfort and blessing I needed to keep going. I went back to work with renewed strength and energy.


Would He do that for someone who was offending Him by her ministry? Would He fill women like Priscilla Shirer, Beth Moore, Lysa Terkherst, Joyce Meyer, and Jess Connolly with incredible anointing to understand His word and teach it if it was sin? There's a host of godly women who love Jesus with all their hearts, have educated themselves, teach the Word with gracious anointing, and bring Him glory through their sacrifice.


To say women cannot speak or lead in church when the whole of Scripture gives a different message is difficult for me to accept. I am God's obedient servant. I'll go where He sends me and do what He tells me. Today, I'm thankful to have a godly husband who encourages me to pursue the calling to minister through writing (and in whatever other way God may call me). Under his covering, I have provision and comfort and authority. I'm under the covering of the church in Nashville that ordained me many years ago, and I'm under the covering of my local church. I'm joyfully volunteering in several areas of ministry in my church these days, with my husband lovingly reminding me from time to time that I'm needed at home too. I love the church so much, it's life-giving to have the freedom to help in many ways.


I encourage you to judge the fruit of the ministry leaders around you. Are they full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control? Is the love of Christ evident in their attitude, actions, and words? Pray for your leaders. Don't allow others to gossip about them in front of you. Support and encourage them. And if you see something that worries you, go to them directly and ask them to pray with you about it. Remember, God sent Jesus to earth through a young virgin girl, allowed His son to be laid in a manger, and turned the world upside down through His radical teachings.


If God doesn't mind speaking through a donkey or allowing rocks to cry out in praise to Him, why would He mind speaking through a woman who is submitted to His authority and serving Him with her whole heart?


Housekeeping note: I'm working on the second part of my blog on marriage and parenting children with special needs. I'd hoped to have it ready to publish this week, but it's harder to write than I expected. I hope to have it ready soon.


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