Recently, social media was abuzz with the hashtag #thingsonlychristianwomenhear. If you haven’t followed the conversation, you might want to peruse some of the comments. I have heard most of the things listed, particularly since I was ordained in a Baptist church in December 2010.
Lucky for me, I was raised by parents who taught their children that persistence and conviction can overcome most obstacles. See, even though my father was a Southern Baptist preacher, I was encouraged to ask questions when I was a child — even (maybe especially) if they were about Christianity. Thus, if my siblings or I heard something at church or elsewhere that did not ring true, we felt free to ask our parents.
I should add here that there is a slight possibility that our parents over-taught this principle of independent thinking as we didn’t always exercise the self-control necessary to wait until we got home to state our opinions on things. (Mother suddenly started teaching teen girls’ Sunday school when my sister and I wound up in the same class. Coincidence? Probably not.)
Anyway, because of all those questions, all that examination, I’ve found the Bible to be a fountain of truth and the church to be a place where I can get to know God and God’s people better. To this day, I love being at church and delight in Bible study. True story.
Yet, #thingsonlychristianwomenhear included remarks that are all too familiar to me. Some of the things folks say to me about my vocation make me laugh. For example, a number of people have responded to the knowledge that I am a pastor with shock, asking, “Don’t you believe in the Bible?” I’m always tempted to respond, “Well, I won’t be turning over my handmaiden to my husband for the purpose of procreation, if that’s what you mean.” But employing a great deal of restraint, I refrain because that’d just be mean and would fix exactly nothing; so, I say something like, “I do believe in Holy Scripture; that’s one reason I questioned God for 20 years before I agreed to all this.”
I’ve also been asked lots of times, “How does your husband feel about you being a preacher?” The response ever on the tip of my tongue is, “Well, my first husband thinks it’s just great!” (I’d leave out the little detail that my first is also my only husband.) Instead I say, “Actually, my husband and I feel that God called us together: me to go into the ministry and him to support that journey.”
Still, that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the pain that comes from #thingsonlychristianwomenhear. The one that really frustrates me is: “We just aren’t ready for a woman in the pulpit.” OK, I know it seems innocuous at first, but I typically hear this one from churches who actually think they affirm women in ministry. On the one hand, I get it: churches have split over much less. Shoot, I’ve seen church conferences dissolve into fisticuffs due to a change in the family night supper menu.
Here’s my question to you, though: Do you ever plan on ever being ready? If not, then for heaven’s sake (literally), be honest. Just say, “Here at this church, we do not believe God calls women to the pastoral ministry; we believe God only calls males to this task. Therefore, we never intend to recognize your ordination as legitimate. That’s who we are.” Yes, it’s harsh; but it’s direct and truthful, unlike the previous, passive-aggressive non-response.
On the other hand, if you aren’t ready, what are you doing to get ready? Do you have women leaders making announcements, reading scripture, or passing the offering plate? Do you have women on staff? If so, do they have opportunities to participate in pastoral care or preaching? By the way, I’ve known a number of Baptist churches who, while they boldly declare that they absolutely do not believe in women preaching, will have a woman in the pulpit to “share a testimony,” or “bring the message.” Somehow by changing the verb, they’ve sanctified the behavior; and listen: I give them credit for trying. At least they are allowing God to speak through feminine voices.
Me, I don’t consider myself a real flag bearer for women in ministry. I just know without a doubt that God — demonstrating supernatural perseverance through two decades of denial — called me into this vocation. And, as it happens, I’m not a male. Go figure. Plus, I was not at all “ready” for this journey. But, by grace, God didn’t call me to be ready; God called me to be willing. Once I surrendered to God’s direction, the path to readiness miraculously presented itself.
Church, you don’t have to be ready. Just be willing. Then, together, we can change the tone of #thingsonlychristianwomenhear from one of judgment and ridicule to one of mercy and grace.