Women in Ministry Series: Sometimes I Think God Made Me Wrong

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When I first imagined what this series could be, I hoped that I would be able to share stories like the one we have today from Rev. Meg Jenista. This is the kind of story that every Christian needs to read.

In 1963, Betty Friedan wrote, “There was a strange discrepancy between the reality of our lives as women and the image to which we were trying to conform, the image that I came to call the feminine mystique.” Friedan’s revolutionary research was the underpinning of the 1960s and 70s feminist movement, the aims of which have, in many ways, supplanted the so-called feminine mystique as the operational norm of gender stereotypes and feminine self-understanding in broader culture.

Reading Friedan’s work 40 years later within the context of church culture, I heard my own life experience explained to me. There is still an operational feminine mystique guiding our churches today, a one-size-fits-all mentality of Christian womanhood. I submit into evidence the "Women’s Interest" section of your local Family Christian bookstore. . .and the defense rests.

There is a dominant story in our Christian churches about what it means to be a woman. In reality, there are a lucky few women who naturally fit into this story. Other women subconsciously adopt this narrative, pretending it is their own, amputating the parts of themselves that don’t quite fit between the covers of the storybook.

Most women I know are partial-resisters of the story, timidly struggling against but ultimately bowing to the societal hand-slap that comes along with trying to tell the pieces of your truth that don’t comfortably fit the plotline of the dominant narrative. There are some women out there who just flat out resist the story. I would like to meet these women.

As an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church, you might suppose I am one of those no-holds-barred resisters. I remember a more conservative time in my life when I assumed that women preachers were all New-Age goddess-worshippers who cut up Scripture to their own liking. But that caricature of women ministers assumes we are “in your face” simply because we exist. Instead I offer the story of my timid struggle to own my identity, as a child of God first and a Minister of Word and Sacrament second.

In my first preaching class at seminary, I prayed that I would suck. I did. I prayed that God would relent, that it would be manifestly obvious that this was NOT God’s gifting. Then I would be free to return to my regularly scheduled life – a life that did not include rocking the boat. I didn’t have a radical agenda. I wasn’t looking to prove anything. That’s not quite true. I was looking to prove that I didn’t have a radical agenda.

Even as I prayed, though, I kind of knew that this was going to be one of those unsatisfactorily answered prayers. And, frankly, I was mad at God. Again. I was mad because God made me in such a way that God’s people didn’t know what to do with me. 
So I preached. I preached well, as it turns out, and I loved it.

Even after resigning myself to this difficult gifting, I was also deeply ashamed of it. Once, preaching in front of my mentor, she stopped me and asked, “Why are you standing there with one leg wrapped around the other? You look like you’re nervous or that you’re trying not to take up too much room. What’s that about?” Without pre-meditation, I blurted out: “It’s okay if I preach but if I’m too good or confident, it’ll make the boys feel bad.” Tears in my eyes, hand over my mouth, we both stood there. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

Since then, seminary education, various internships and four years of ordained ministry have confirmed that I was made for this, that God is calling me to this. But I still find it difficult to feel the entirety of God’s delight because I know that this calling comes with the mixed reviews of God’s church. When the assumptions about my character come at me, as they do yet on occasion, I remember my own shame-filled truth: “Don’t be too good. Don’t be too confident. Don’t make the boys feel bad.” I remember that resisting the church’s dominant narrative is still a hand-slappable offense. I remember how it felt to secretly suspect God made me wrong.

Being the person God has called me to be is so much more complicated than the tidy little story God’s people have offered me. Some days I would give anything to be one of those lucky few women who naturally fit into the story of the Christian feminine mystique.

Then I remember that complicated is real. And real is better easy. Thanks be to God.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

bio picThe Reverend Meg Jenista is a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  She was ordained at Third Christian Reformed Church in 2008, where she continues to serve as the Minister of Community Life and Witness.  She eagerly awaits the day when Tina Fey decides to write a sit-com based on the lives of young clergywomen. You can listen to her sermons here. She tweets as @RevGirlKazoo.

 

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.

Contributions Welcome: Contact Ed to pitch your post idea in 2-4 sentences.

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: Kathy Escobar

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38 thoughts on “Women in Ministry Series: Sometimes I Think God Made Me Wrong

  1. PLTK

    Thanks for our story. I emphasize so much with the struggle to try to fit in and “trying not to make the boys look bad.” My calling isn’t to preach, but that kind of pressure pervades too much of our church life in so many ways. I also struggle with seeing my oldest daughter — just 8!– already keying into these issues in the church.

  2. Joy @ Joy In This Journey

    Meg! I’m so excited to see your post here. You’re somewhere I’m trying to get, but shedding the layers that have been put on me is SO @$%&! hard — it’s like ripping layers of skin off and just when I think I got the last one, I discover another that is so a part of me I didn’t know it was there until I put my foot in my mouth. Anyway, thanks for writing it.

  3. Kelly

    Great story! I have struggled with feeling like I don’t quite fit with “Christian Women” either, but it’s been more so in recent years for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, because I’ve experienced multiple denominations in my life I know there is a wide variety out there and there is support for women in ministry, even if it isn’t everywhere (yet!). I was pursuing ordination at one time, but along the journey realized that is not the direction I am supposed to head–not because I am a woman, though! Also glad to see you are in the CRC. This is a brand new denomination for me and I have a lot to learn about it since it is the one I’ll be going to now.

  4. Tara Rodden Robinson

    Dearest Meg,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I loved hearing about your “difficult gifting” and applaud your courage in pursuing it! I am so grateful that you didn’t talk yourself out of your calling or let someone else do so. As I still attempt to summon courage for my own difficult gifting, I take great encouragement from you.

    With love,
    Tara

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  6. HopefulLeigh

    Thank you for sharing part of your story, Meg. I’ll take complicated and real each and every time. I wish I had known women like you when I was growing up so that I wouldn’t still be untangling what I believe about women in ministry compared to the way I was raised. It seems so obvious now that God doesn’t limit gifting according to gender but it must be so frustrating to see this play out against the tiny narrative certain church folk would like to keep you in.

  7. Dawne Piotrowski

    Meg:

    Thank you for sharing your story; you are an inspiration! I have always felt awkward trying to find my place in the church. I have different interests and passions than a lot of women but it hasn’t been “appropriate” for me to hang out with the guys, where I really want to be. I struggle with feeling shame about the way God made me.

    By His grace, I am beginning to move forward in following his call to pastoral ministry, and am so grateful for your transparency. Thank you!

  8. Stephanie S. Smith

    Love this. Reminds me of when I talked to our female pastor at my home church and she said she was a new mom in a new state and kept it a complete secret from the church members that she was ordained, because she didn’t want to be asked to serve. She didn’t want to rock the boat either. But then someone found out. And there was a need for another ordained person to serve communion. And they asked her, and she couldn’t say no. I would call that God’s doing, not a woman with an agenda.

  9. Philippa

    This sounds like my story… So reluctant to step into a role that means excersising power and authority, which according to the dominant narrative are male attributes. How to be powerful and authoritative whilst remaining gentle and feminine. How beautiful that some of us are called and *allowed* to be just that.
    Strength and love to you sister!

  10. Aubry Smith

    Oh, I resonate with this so much. I actually had a moment the other day when I thanked God for not calling me to this (yet!?) because I hate rocking the boat. I’d rather someone else did it, thanks. Sometimes I think it would be nice to be a man, just so that my calling or giftings, whatever they may be, might not be immediately questioned. Thanks for sharing your story.

  11. Lisa notes

    I’m not sure what to say except, Wow God! I continue to be amazed at these stories I read each week about women like you, Meg, who are simply following God’s leading, even WITH timid feelings about it.

    Too often we (okay, me) let our timidity shut us down for fear of being misunderstood as ‘one of those women’ who are labeled as divisive or troublemakers.

    But women like you should inspire us all to put our reputation aside and use our gifts for God’s glory regardless of what others may say. He’s the one that put the gifts in us to start off with–to be used, not ashamed of.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  12. Peggy

    Meg — are you a Margaret? ;^)

    Your story is so much of my story in so many ways. We truly need a place for all of us to meet! I think we should to the Epic Fail Conference, Women’s Version … where we can talk about how many times we needed to look worse than we were so the boys would let us keep playing.

    Or not …

    I am still working on my submission for this series … am anxious to see how it turns out.

    I grew up in Grand Rapids — caught the junior high bus on the corner of the old Calvin College campus on Franklin Street. You are in a tough field, sister.

    Be blessed….

  13. Marion

    Thank you for sharing. I very much relate, so much preaching but being too opinionated and questioning. And more the impact that has on women around me. I went to a young women’s homegroup for a while. After expressing my concerns about “enlarging my territory” from Jabezes prayer in the context of living in a colonised country, the looks on the faces and the comments made made me realise I did not belong. Thankfully God has blessed me with some wonderful friends and an awesome job where I can be myself, but Church remains touchy territory and I still feel that I am not known for who God made me to be. Peace be with you in your courage as you step out of the shadows.

  14. Charlotte

    I can relate to this so much! When I think about the moment God first called me to be a pastor, I’m like “Why God? Why are you choosing someone like me to rock the gender boat? Why can’t I hang out on the shore and cheer from far away? I’m not a rebel by any stretch of the imagination.” And then I have moments when I know my passion for working in the church and being a pastor runs deep and wonder if I was made wrong. I guess the fact that I can’t walk into the women’s section of a Christian bookstore without getting angry says a lot about my personality and why I’m heading down this path, lol.

  15. JeanELane

    I tried to adopt the narrative you described, but I was unable to amputate any part of who I was. I never even thought about it. So I have been on the outside, looking in – yes, but not really desiring to be there. At least not any more. I cry to the Lord that I am lonely all by myself. But his will is what matters most to me. Not my selfishness. And I am not willing to give up Jesus and my stumbling way of following for all the Women’s Ministry in the world.

    Thank you for expressing this so well, and describing your situations.

  16. Melinda Lancaster

    Hi Meg:

    Wow!

    I totally relate to your story. When I first felt the tug towards ministry, and in particular preaching/speaking, I thought I was mentally ill. Or perhaps I should say I hoped that I was.

    The wrestling match that I had with God prior to talking my first step forward sometimes makes me blush. He had to go to some real extremes to confirm my calling to me. And He did.

    Alas, 22 years later, I too am an ordained minister. There are still times when I wonder why in the world God created me for this but most of the time I am thankful for the unique opportunities that He has given me to serve.

    My ministry has been better received on most occasions then I could ever have dreamed. So grateful for His faithfulness.

    Continued blessings in your service for Him.

  17. Meg

    Thanks all for the overwhelmingly positive response. I’m grateful for similar stories of God continuing to equip His daughters. If anyone is looking for a larger conversation, especially of you are wrestling with questions of call and vocation, just hit me up with a direct tweet @RevGirlKazoo.

  18. Angie in Guernsey

    It’s sad that this is all so complicated, isn’t it? Glad to hear that you continued to pursue your calling to preach, Meg – brilliant post, thank you. It inspired a short – and very simple – reflection on this theme on my blog.

  19. Brittany

    Thank you, Meg. I have had similar thoughts over the years. I recognize my own journey in your words. It’s refreshing to “hear” your words and know that I am not alone.

  20. Abby

    I stopped breathing as I read this. It was like you were looking into a piece of my heart I did not know existed. Thank you. I will be thinking of this for quite sometime.

  21. Jessica

    Meg, thank you and bless you. I remember thinking when I was a little girl I wish I had been born a little girl so I could preach like my dad. I’m so glad that, when I told my parents, they spent the next several years affirming me as the smart, funny, beautiful girl God made me to be. My biggest fear is that my two little girls will wish they were boys–it’s what motivates me to speak and teach and lead as much as I think God has called me to, whether it’s uncomfortable for me or not. And as someone who was worried about whether or not I’d make the boys uncomfortable as a girl Bible major at a Christian college, I felt like you nailed it. GOOD FOR YOU for sticking with it. You are where God called you. I’m so blessed by your story.

  22. Alaina Mabaso

    It’s not just your ideas and experience that are important – this is a very well-written piece that shows your gift for communicating. Thanks for sharing!

    I was raised in a very religious Christian home but have no desire to preach. However, my church’s ongoing to refusal to ordain women is one of the biggest reasons I’ve distanced myself from worshiping there. I’m a writer by trade, though, and in my spare time have done a lot of writing on these topics in my community, including advocacy for female priests. It’s so true that women have been told “no” in too many times and places. I’ve gotten that hand-slap for my own work a few times. I’m glad there’s at least one place where we’re not having that debate, and simply knowing that women can do this work.

    Last weekend I attended the first wedding I’ve ever been to with a female officiant. It was beautiful!

    Keep up the good work!

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  24. Frank Guter

    My advice to every woman out there who feels called to preach, do it with passion, freedom and grace, committed to the communication of the revealed Word of God to the people of God, they deserve the best you have to give of this art, and do not mind the boys. We shall acknowledge your art and thank God for it. And if we don’t, then we had better grow up.

  25. Victoria

    Wow. That was amazing. You’ve just put my life (in ministry) into words for the first time for me. Thank you.

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  27. Victoria S

    Wow. I wish I had met you 7 years ago. I came from outside of church to faith inside a CRC. I felt called to ministry a few years later and left a good career to start my undergrad then onto seminary. I took every internship opportunity and have stretched myself to learn all that I could but still ad to leave the CRC due to limited support.

    I still struggle with who I am. I’ve been called a “strong woman”. I ask questions, challenge the status quo and prefer conflict with the aim of reconciliation then pretending everything is fine when it isn’t. I’ve learned to temper all of this with patience and grace, tons of grace. Within the denomination my gender never came into issue directly but I wonder if I was a man if I would be perceived with the same faults.

    I am about to graduate but only God knows about ordination and where my gifts will be used. Though I love the church, she doesn’t really know what to do with me.

    Thanks for being so open in your sharing.

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  30. Jean LeMahieu

    It’s very sad that shame is so often part of a woman’s story as she pursue’s God’s calling on her life. We can be thankful, however, that Jesus died for the shame, and leaving it at his feet, walk away free to be who He has made us to be -His Messengers of Good News

    It is very sad that shame is so often a part of a woman’s story as she follows the call of God on her life. However, we can be thankful that Jesus died to free us from shame, and having left it at His feet, we are free to be who He has called us to be – Messengers of His Good News. Keep preaching and be blessed!

  31. Jen

    Son! How did I miss this one? I prayed that prayer, that question: “why did you make me this way?” I have two things to say. You go on with your bad self, and why wait for Tina Fey? Get after it. Thankful for you.

  32. Shawn Smucker

    “It’s okay if I preach but if I’m too good or confident, it’ll make the boys feel bad.”

    The image of you standing there, saying that, nearly brought tears to my eyes, because I pictured my daughter Lucy (7 years old) standing like that, saying something like that. Thank you for leading the way.

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  34. Janis McArthur

    Thank you Meg for sharing. God made us all with unique gifts and talents whether we are male or female. Though the church and even the world look and see we don’t always fit into the right mold, God knows better. So thank you for following your gifting and allowing Him to use you right where you are at. I too have had my journey and am now serving overseas and ministering to University students teaching English but also pouring into their lives. I love what I do as I’m sure you do as well.

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