Women in Ministry Series: All Are Invited to Talk

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When I first contacted Lisa Burgess about sharing her ministry story, I knew she had a tough situation. Since then, her ministry situation has only become more complicated. I’ve always been blessed by reading Lisa’s blog, but reading her post today reminds me of the power of God’s grace while under pressure.

The countdown had begun. In twenty minutes the doorbell would ring. Then it would be too late. I grabbed my husband and asked if we could pray together. Now.

In a moment of holy irony, I prayed with a man—right before my visitor would ask me not to.

I struggle as a woman in a conservative church. Do I stay and work for change? Or do I escape to enjoy freedom elsewhere?

Weeks earlier I had determined to stay. My friend Kay and I started a new Sunday class for teen girls. We’d study how Jesus touched the lives of women in the Bible. And see how he touches ours.

The day before our first class, Kay and I were pulled aside by a godly woman a few years our senior. She asked to see our classroom. Then holding us both by the hand, she bowed her head and prayed for us there.

The following day, early Sunday morning, a peer entered our room, again to pray, asking Jesus to transform us, including the teen girls, into his image.

We’ve had the class for six weeks now. One of our goals? Raise up a new generation of women who will pray, who will not stay silent. Talking things over with each other and with God helps us mature.

So what about with men?

Community calls for a blending of all who are made in God’s image. At our family gatherings, can’t both sons and daughters talk to the Father?

In my Sunday night small group, we’ve prayed in mixed company for years. It’s grown us closer to God. Closer to each other.

But no longer?

The visitor at my door was confirming it: Not for now.

Until the leaders completed their biblical studies on women’s roles, they were asking all women—both young and old, in large or small church gatherings—to refrain from verbalizing our prayers in front of a man.

A brother’s conscience had earlier been offended by hearing women talk to God in his presence. He believed—sincerely—that women should not “lead,” even in prayer. I hadn’t known.

So now what? What happens if it’s a sin to him if we do, but a sin to us if we don’t?

How do we create spiritual breathing room for us both to follow our consciences? To find grace in the tension? To maintain unity in honoring God?

I have yet to find the perfect answer. I repent daily of my resentment for even having to seek one.

But this I have found: Jesus seats all his followers—both male and female—at the grown-up table. I need not question my value before God just because I’m a woman. Nor be ashamed of my voice as I speak to him. Nor question the ministry he’s given me. If I let my opportunities dry up, my gifts may rot with them. I need to intentionally seek ways to use them.

So I pray.

I pray alone. And with the teen girls’ class. And with female friends who graciously enter my home specifically to pray.

And I’ll continue to pray with my husband.

I’m convinced God won’t be critical of who we’re praying with. He’s just pleased that we’re praying.

To him. The Father of all the boys. And of all the girls.

Access to him isn’t based on gender. He invites us all to talk.

* * *

About This Week’s Blogger

Lisa-BurgessLisa Burgess writes as an ordinary southern woman seeing an extraordinarily holy God. (And she’d write more often if she didn’t feel guilty about the time.) She blogs at Lisa notes, where she seeks truth, admits failure, and enjoys company. She’s three months away from retiring as a homeschool mom and wonders what’s up next (suggestions, anyone?). You can read more about Lisa here.

About the Women in Ministry Series

The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to:

  • Provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry.
  • Encourage women to explore their God-given callings.

You can stay updated on the latest post each week by signing up for the weekly e-mail list. (You also get a free E-book!)

Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome to leave a comment. However, this series takes for granted that women are called by God into every facet of ministry. This is not the place to debate that point and such comments will be removed.Women have been told “no” in far too many places. This is one place that is committed to saying “yes.” For more about the comment policy or submitting your own story, read here.

Next Week’s Blogger: Pastor Elizabeth Hagan

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50 thoughts on “Women in Ministry Series: All Are Invited to Talk

  1. God Loves Women

    I feel so shocked, saddened and angry when I read your post! How dare anyone say you cannot pray! How dare they refuse you that God given gift. I don’t think you are wrong to have feelings of resentment, perhaps they are more a conviction from God that this “ruling” from your church is wrong. My question to you is though, how are the teenage girls you are working with going to grow and fulfill their potential in this church? Are you going to tell them what is going on is wrong? How do you ensure they do not think they are beneath men, inferior to them, when this is the teaching being given? Is it even possible for women to feel fully equal when such teaching is being given?

    1. Lisa notes

      These are some of the questions I continue to work through with my own teenage daughter (and myself).

      I’ve encouraged the other teen girls to read the scriptures for themselves, to talk to their parents about them, to talk to other adults they respect, and of course to pray.

      They definitely feel thrown into a time of confusion. But sometimes that’s what it takes to get people to question why and what they believe instead of relying what other people say is right or wrong.

      In the end I’m hoping we’ll all end up at an even healthier place than where we started, if we can just negotiate these middle, troubling waters…

  2. Debbie

    I believe the Lord wants to hear our prayers, whether we are a man, woman or child. He loves to hear our prayers. Scripture can be distorted by well meaning people. It sounds a bit like the Pharisees. Jesus sat by the woman at the well and His own disciples didn’t understand.

    1. Lisa notes

      You’re right, Debbie, that even Jesus’ closest disciples didn’t always understand what he was doing and why. I still don’t always understand them myself. {sigh}

      But we try. I continue to pray for discernment for all of us involved that we will get the wisdom we need.

      I know you are a praying woman and I appreciate your faithful prayers for me and others.

  3. Linda

    Well, this one is first for me. Not sure exactly what to pray for you but will because He knows and listens to His children’s prayers, ll of them.

    1. Lisa notes

      Thanks, Linda. I’m not sure exactly what to pray for either, to be honest. But I do want God to be honored; the details of how that’s going to happen is up to him.

    2. ed Post author

      That was my response Linda. I just had no idea how to pray… which is usually a good sign that I need to pray a bit more!

  4. Jen Luitwieler

    Ed warned me but nothing could have prepared me for a post like this. My mouth is still agape, my heart is racing, I’m two steps short of fists in the air. I am also profoundly humbled by your response to this, Lisa. It’s far more mature than I think I could manage. This is I know: our good and loving God. Related you in His gorgeous image, and his desire is to be in relationship with his people. This I also know: there are days when I think I can’t take much more of a church that professes to be about loving Jesus while marginalizing half her congregants. I am bitter. I am cynical. I am tired of taking the brunt of someone else’s ignorance. Lisa. You are strong and I am sad and emboldened by your words. My friend, I am in prayer for your church, and you.

    1. Lisa notes

      Well, don’t give me too much credit for maturity, Jen. I continue to face (and fall into) multiple temptations to respond poorly. It’s definitely been a challenge.

      But as you say, we know that God is good and loving. I’m trying to stay focused there (again, often failing because my mind wanders all over the place). He’ll be faithful.

      I appreciate your prayers for me and for my church. I know they matter.

  5. Pastor Mark Haines

    I cannot comprehend this decision. I’ve attended prayer meetings since I was an infant where young and old, male and female cried out to the Lord together. May the God who raised up women like Miriam, Deborah, Mary and Priscilla continue to give you strength and grace as he opens the eyes and hearts of your church to the truth of his word. “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18)

    1. Lisa notes

      What a blessing that you were able to grow up attending prayer meetings like that. That’s what I’d love to see happen where I am, too.

      I echo your prayer for “strength and grace”, “open eyes and hearts”, “truth of his word”. That encourages me. Thank you.

  6. Revsimmy

    Lisa, thank you for your courage in sharing this story. I am so sorry this has happened to you and the other women in your church. I am at a total loss to understand exactly how and why hearing the prayers of a woman should be so offensive to men like this.

    As I commented on Rachel Held Evans’ blog a couple of months ago, I am firmly convinced that when we church leaders are asked why we didn’t make use of the gifts God is giving his church, “But they were just women,” will NOT be an acceptable answer.

    I pray that your church and its leaders will get to a healthier place – and soon.

    1. Lisa notes

      I appreciate your comment, Simon, that leaders need to think through which gifts (and whose) they use (or not) in building the Kingdom. It is a serious responsibility.

      I also appreciate your prayers. I’m trying to maintain hope that a few months from now I will look back and see this as a turning point that God used to lead us in a more positive direction.

  7. Tamara Lunardo

    This post has tears pricking my eyes. I know a little something of the tension in which you live, but I am, at the least, invited to pray among my brothers.

    What a tragedy for this brother of yours who was so offended– what growth and encouragement he forfeits by being unable to hear his sisters raise prayer to the Father.

    1. Lisa notes

      The point you make is often overlooked, Tamara: that when women don’t use their gifts, it’s not just the women who suffer, but the men do, too. I agree that’s part of the tragedy.

      As you stated in your post a few weeks ago, I also have heard the arguments from both sides for so long. It makes me tired too.

      But not too tired to do what God put a passion in us to do. I’m glad you continue to write. Please continue. It ministers to both women and men.

  8. HopefulLeigh

    Lisa, this breaks my heart. I am saddened and angry that you find yourself in such a position. That you are able to speak graciously and open your heart to learning through this situation speaks volumes about your character. I’ll be praying for you and your church.

    1. Lisa notes

      You are kind to pray for me and my church, Leigh. I’m so grateful that God listens and cares about every prayer that goes up about this situation. I’m looking forward to how he will answer!

  9. jeedoo

    Don’t give up, Lisa. I have been working for years to see change/progress in our ministry. It has been slow, but things have changed and continue. Women have more voice, freedom, opportunity.

    But sometimes it is harder in churches. Prayer is the means. Keep on praying.

    1. Lisa notes

      Words of hope–thank you, Judy. I like knowing that change is possible; I’m glad you’ve experienced it and can pass on that viewpoint. I will do as you say and keep praying.

  10. floyd

    Man oh man. This is the kind of thing that fires me up. For starters, when the Bible says, “Pray without ceasing,” it does’t say, “unless your women and there are men present, then you have to pray only in spirit”!

    I marvel at the people who can’t read the Bible and take into consideration the times and the circumstances of that society. I wonder if these people or their wives are covering their face, not wearing jewelry or make-up, and wearing long hair because Paul said it was their glory?

    If Christ came to set us free, how could anyone propose to enslave women or anyone seeking God? Isn’t the law written in our heart? I wonder if Debra the Judge was allowed to pray? Oh wait! She was the leader of the Israelites… I think someone needs to go back and look up the translation from Greek of the word “submissive.”

    Scary that this would come from the leaders of a church…

    I’m praying for you, your family, and your church.

    1. Lisa notes

      You and I ask the same kinds of questions, Floyd. I’m hoping those questions will receive answers very soon.

      In the meantime, I’m seeking spiritual nourishment from a variety of sources as I wait. (That’s what I get for choosing 2012 as my “year of venture”, ha). But that part has been beneficial. I’ve enjoyed visiting some new places and hearing other voices. God is faithful. I just want to be sure I remain so, too. Thanks for your prayers!

  11. Chrystal Westbrook Southwell

    Lisa,
    you and your family will be in my prayers. May God continue to grant you wisdom and grace to navigate these painful and challenging interactions with your congregational family. I truly understand being torn between going somewhere else where your gifts would be fully accepted and valued, and staying in the hard place where yours is the lone voice offering a different perspective. For the sake of the young women you’re teaching and providing a role model to, I understand and respect the desire to stay.
    Blessings and peace to you!

    1. Lisa notes

      Thanks for your prayers, Chrystal. I’m getting a lot of comfort here today from knowing so many people are praying!

      My heart does want to stay, but I know I also have to be prepared to lay it down if it conflicts too greatly with how I think God intends us to love Him and love each other.

  12. bekahcubed

    Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your story–and for continuing to let God pour out His grace through you. It’s difficult to disagree with your church–and to know what to do when that happens. Your choice to wait and pray is good. I pray God also gives grace and wisdom to the leadership of your church as they pray and search the Scriptures for direction. May God strengthen you and the entire body through this process.

    1. Lisa notes

      Yes, disagreeing so firmly with the direction our church has taken is very uncomfortable for me. I have to keep checking my own heart in so many areas surrounding it.

      For now I want to keep my commitment to the girls and other ministries I’m involved in, but not imply that I agree with the policy in general. I’ve met privately with our leaders to explain my position.

      They keep assuring me that they will soon come to a more permanent decision about which direction they’ll take. At that point I’ll have to make another decision about coming back fully or moving on elsewhere.

      Yes, please keep praying, Rebecca, that I will know and do what would be most honoring to God and least divisive to the church. Thank you.

  13. Angie

    Shocking.

    My husband asked, “Why didn’t the church sit the man down and explain a better way to him?”

    This is just hard for us to wrap our mind around as this conversation (women in leadership) is relatively knew to us.

    May God grant you wisdom as you continue to navigate through this and may the assembly of believers come to understand how God is glorified best when man and woman work (& pray) together in a Blessed Alliance.

    1. Lisa notes

      Your husband’s question is one that several of us have asked. As I understand it, the leaders wanted to wait until they’ve completed their thorough study before they begin teaching.

      I do hope all involved (me included) are learning how to handle (and not handle) situations like this in the future.

      Thank you for praying, Angie. I will keep watching for His gift of wisdom and understanding in the days and weeks to come.

      1. Ali Griffiths

        By silencing the women who usually pray it sounds as if they have already decided what the ‘norm’ should be – otherwise they would have asked the man to be patient rather than the women. I will pray that this is not the case and they are indeed open to the direction of the Holy Spirit and that you have patient to endure with grace in the meantime. Blessings.

        1. Lisa notes

          The direction of the interim decision does make me wonder, too, if this will be the direction of the permanent decision. We’ve been asked not to automatically assume that, but it’s hard to think otherwise.

          I appreciate your prayers, Ali, for me to “endure with grace.” I know I can’t do that in my own spirit (I’ve already proven that); it will have to be through His.

  14. lisa delay

    It really is hard to be where you aren’t wanted. It wears on you because you continue to assume that the brothers will be gracious, and the let down is a big one. (I’m using “you” in general of course)

    You may find that you’ll need to relocate to something somewhere where God is in control, not easily offended men. Many of us in conservative churches are starting to think the same things, especially as we feel God’s undeniable call, and know we must obey it. It would not be giving up to go, but I pray and do believe God will tell you when the time is right. You are blooming where you are planted. (It’s just sad that you’re planted in such a desert.) God will use you no matter what men do to you.

    The blessing these men miss out on cannot be comprehended. In choosing to silence, they choose death over life, lie over truth, themselves over God’s plan and God’s justice.

    Grace, peace, and God’s outpouring of goodness on you, sister.

  15. Lisa notes

    “especially as we feel God’s undeniable call, and know we must obey it”

    Honestly, there are times I wish I could just let this go; it would make life much easier. But I can’t. That “undeniable call” is too loud. Your words captured it well.

    There are also times when I question whether God can even use me, so I appreciate your affirmation that God can use me (and any of us!) where we are.

    Thank you for prayers for guidance on what to do next. I really do want clarity for my next steps.

  16. Angie in Guernsey

    Ouch! “Until the leaders completed their biblical studies on women’s roles, they were asking all women—both young and old, in large or small church gatherings—to refrain from verbalizing our prayers in front of a man.”
    This is unbelievable – and your next post, Lisa, about the resignation of Eve adds to my sense of outrage.
    I’m not militant about women speaking/leading in the church, but this is outrageous. Really. I admire the sense of godly restraint and respect that comes through your writing.

    1. Lisa notes

      I hear you, Angie. I think there’s a misconception if anyone assumes the average female churchgoer wants to take over and run the place–I certainly don’t. (I don’t think the average male wants to do that either.)

      But many of us do want to see women (and men) have the freedom to use our gifts in a way that can build up the body and glorify the Lord. It would be a win/win for everybody.

      And about my “restraint”, it comes and goes, believe me (or ask my family and they’ll tell you. ha). I aspire to it but I’m not there.

  17. Tim

    A bit late here and I share the similar shock of those who have posted.
    Which brings encouragement for a few reasons, one, I’m thankful for this type of reaction – it’s good for the church. Two, I am moved by your humility – truly. As one who has spent time in conservative settings, my hope is not just that your leadership seeks the Word in prayer, but have the courage to discover and carry it out what the Word is actually saying.
    Hope one day you get to post a follow up to this – in the meantime, grace and peace.

  18. Lisa notes

    I like your take, Tim. I find encouragement in these reactions too.

    And I echo your hope that the Word will truly be followed when all is said and done. I’m still anxiously waiting to hear what our leaders’ final decision will be because my final decision about staying or leaving is contingent upon theirs.

    Grace and peace–I’ll take it, brother. Thanks.

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  20. Deb.

    Lisa,
    Thank you for the transparency and humble spirit that is sensed through your writing. I know if I were in your shoes, my words would be dripping with fire rather than grace. Thank you for being a Spirit-filled example of a right-response.

    I am currently living in a culture where the oppression of women, specifically in the religious contexts, is common place. It is frustrating and tiresome . . . but, as you know, our greatest weapon is prayer.

    So I will be praying with you, my sister, that the Holy Spirit will move and truth and unity will stand in the end.

  21. Lisa notes

    It sounds like you are in a much more difficult place than I am, Deb. No wonder you understand the importance of prayer.

    Thanks for praying for me, and I will pray for you too to continue strong where you are! May the Lord bless your ministry as you serve as his hands and feet.

  22. ed Post author

    I have removed a comment from this post since it violated the comment policy of this series. I understand that the person who left this comment took issue with this post, but it also challenged the role of women in the church, which is one thing that is not up for debate here. There are plenty of other places for that debate. This is not one of them.

    I encourage that commenter to keep two things in mind:
    1) The church in question is in the clear minority on this issue.
    2) If Lisa’s perspective is such a shock to you, then you may need to spend a bit more time listening rather than defending your own view.

  23. anonymous

    I think the point of the comment was not to debate, but rather the issue of “airing dirty laundry” when that is not the spirit of Christ. What is the price you are willing to pay for “change”? A split? Families leaving the church? Someones faith damaged?

  24. Chrystal Westbrook Southwell

    Ed, thank you for moderating the comments graciously. I appreciate your desire to provide a place for women to tell our stories and encourage one another as we follow Christ. I know that when those stories are told before the end is known, while the process is still happening, it can be uncomfortable and at times a bit messy. However, those are some of the most valuable stories to me….where I get the opportunity to participate with others as we work out how best to follow God.

    For what it’s worth in reply to the question about what price am I willing to pay for “change,” I would ask what price are we willing to pay to resist change. In my experience there has not been a simple answer to the question of how and when to implement change within a congregation or denomination. I have seen families and individuals leave church or have their faith damaged as often by a church’s unwillingness to change as I have by a church embracing change. Learning how to hear God in those moments is not easy and generally seems to happen best when we spend a lot of time listening to each other, as well as wise counsel from a broad variety of sources. At least that’s one woman’s perspective….

  25. Suzanne

    “I encourage that commenter to keep two things in mind:
    1) The church in question is in the clear minority on this issue.
    2) If Lisa’s perspective is such a shock to you, then you may need to spend a bit more time listening rather than defending your own view.”

    I don’t have a dog in this race, so to speak, but I wonder how we would know, for certain, that this church is in the minority when you state in your comment policy that any comments that disagree with your point of view will be removed. I read the comment in question, before you deleted it, and I did not find it offensive, nor condescending. Nor did the comment debate anything — it said that this was an unresolved issue and should not be discussed publicly because of that.
    I also wonder how we can be certain that the church in question is, in fact, in the minority when, as the deleted comment suggested, the author here has misrepresented the facts. I believe that it was an honest, respectful reaction from someone who has more information about this situation than we were given in this post.

    I would ask you to keep 2 things in mind:
    1) How can you have a spirit of learning if you are opposed to people voicing opinions that differ from those that are expressed here?
    2) If you trully believe that everyone should speak, then why are you so quick to silence those who wish to discuss all sides of an issue?

  26. ed Post author

    It seems my threaded comments plugin is not working, so this is going to be hard to reply directly to everyone.

    Anonymous, the comment I removed clearly challenged the place of women in the church. I have an MDiv, so I’m pretty sure I can figure out what that person was saying. If that person wants to contact me directly, my info (and real name) are all over this website. I’d be happy to discuss it.

    As to working out conflict, I asked Lisa to tell her story. She didn’t mention the church because she wasn’t looking to do anything with her church through this post. She was just telling her story. I’m familiar with what this church has been up to, and it strikes me as strange when a church bullies and oppresses women and then women are called out for speaking out against it. Churches like this create a toxic environment where women may not feel all that comfortable “dialoging” with the people who are trying to silence them. It’s called blaming the victim. May God raise up thousands more like Lisa who are willing to shine the light of truth.

  27. ed Post author

    Suzanne, I already sent you an e-mail, but just to offer up a public reply, the comment policy explicitly states that the full equality of women in the church is not up for debate here. That comment explicitly challenged the role of women in the church. We did read the same thing, right? This is not a place for debate. It’s a place for women in ministry to tell their stories without someone undermining them.

    After women have been silenced for years by men, I find it ironic that someone thinks I’m somehow “silencing” the opposition here. There are TONS of websites that want nothing more than to keep women silent and submissive, where women are not allowed to speak their minds. This website is committed to letting women speak and in order for us to make that happen, we have to remove those who disagree since their entire position hinges on women NOT speaking. Seems like a fair point to me. What choice do I have? Let the comments turn into a back and forth rehashing of the same old debate that even academics can’t solve in lengthy theology books? No thanks!

  28. Lisa notes

    I’d love to listen more, face-to-face, to the one familiar with my situation who feels I’ve misrepresented the facts. Would you please call me? Everything I’ve written is truth as I’ve experienced it first-hand, so let’s sit down together and resolve this in a way that honors the Father and promotes unity. I’m certain we agree on that goal and can move forward in a positive direction. I’m glad we’re both praying for that.

  29. ed Post author

    Thanks Lisa for dropping in. I think I may have fixed the threaded comment feature as well, so hopefully that will help with the conversation.

  30. Tim

    To those that are still deliberating about the role of women in the church, I’d like to recommend the following 2 books:

    How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals – Alan Johnson ($6.99 paperback)
    http://www.amazon.com/Changed-Mind-about-Women-Leadership/dp/B005HKMH2C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330824420&sr=8-1
    and
    Junia is not Alone – Scot McKnight ($2.99 kindle edition)
    http://www.amazon.com/Junia-Is-Not-Alone-ebook/dp/B006H4PFZ8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330824544&sr=1-1

    With a couple resources, an open Bible, a heart rooted in prayer and $10, you can change your entire paradigm.

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