Women in Ministry: The Risk of Unused Gifts

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Stephanie Spencer wrote this guest post about her ministry calling in the midst of a move to Minnesota. I’m grateful that she took the time to share her story and, by way of rabbit trails, envy the two latest additions to the Minnesota Wild. She brings a perspective to women in ministry that is a new, challenging angle:

Words are slung carelessly about the Internet every day.

We climb over each other in effort to sound the most eloquent as we share our opinions. We long to prove why we are right, and why others are wrong. It’s as if life is an extended debate match we are somehow better people when we come out the victor.

Arguments like this rage about the question of whether women should be in ministry.

One person hurls out 1 Cor 14:34-35 as proof that women should stay silent in church, while another shoots back that Paul’s greetings to women in his letters are evidence that they were considered among the leaders. One person launches the grenade of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 instructing women to not have authority over men, while another heaves language and cultural circumstances that point to these verses as not being normative commands.

All the while, someone like me stands in the middle. Sometimes feeling hit by both sides.

I am a female pastor. This debate is not just about theology. This debate is about my life.

God made me a woman. God gave me His Spirit. And His Spirit gave me the gifts of leadership, teaching, and wisdom. In the midst of the biblical debates, I had to decide what to do about that.

Some would point to my pursuit of a seminary degree, certification within a denomination, and subsequent pastor title as evidence that I have strayed from the proper understanding of Scripture and its authority in my life. Others would point to my pastoring within a denomination that does not allow for the full ordination of women as evidence of inappropriate support for a patriarchal hierarchy.

My heart has caught quite a few stray bullets through the years. The hurt of seeing people avoid my station for communion and prayer because I was a woman. The humor of receiving an invitation for my husband and I to attend a conference for “pastors and their wives.” The uneasiness of conversation about my career with people from the church in which I grew up, whose view on women is so restrictive that it does not allow women to vote on church issues.

But every time I was wounded, God seemed to send me a double dose of encouragement. The beauty of helping others see their lives through the lens of faith. The joy of facilitating volunteers to use gifts they didn’t know they had. The privilege of talking to people of all ages about how they are valued and loved by God. The power of others speaking words of affirmation into my life.

Through all the awkward and awesome moments, I have done my best to follow God’s lead. And after a year away from work, I have only felt affirmation that I belong back in church work again.

Yes, the Bible verses about women’s roles are complicated. And yes, it is possible that I may be interpreting them wrong. But at the end of the day, my deepest desire is not to be right. My deepest desire is to love. I long to follow the instructions of Jesus: to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.

To me, it feels like a bigger risk to let my gifts go unused in the world around me than to risk using them in the wrong setting.

And so even if I get wounded again, that is okay. Because I will keep my heart in God’s hands, with the prayer that my life would be a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Him.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

IMG_3055-001Stephanie Spencer is a pastor in transition. She used to work in children’s ministry before a move to a new city brought her to fresh adventures. She is a wife and mom trying to enjoy these long and wonderful days of toddlerhood. Besides her family, her loves include coffee, travel, and good conversation. She blogs at www.everydayawe.com.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/everydayawe
Facebook: www.facebook.com/everydayawe

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: Tracy Steel

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28 thoughts on “Women in Ministry: The Risk of Unused Gifts

  1. Pingback: On Being a Woman in Ministry | Everyday Awe

  2. Carol Fricke

    I, for one, am so grateful that Stephanie faithfully uses her gifts of leadership, teaching and wisdom. I am a better person having worked with her for eight years and look forward to see what lies ahead for her in her journey to follow Christ!

    1. Stephanie Spencer

      Oh, Carol. How wonderful YOU are. Thank you for your kind comment. I talk often of how my favorite part of my job was working with you. You are a great example of a woman in ministry, too!

  3. Tracy Steel

    I love when you wrote that your deepest desire is not to be right, but to love! Yes- my desire as well. Beautiful post! God bless all your pursuits to bring Him glory! I also just moved across state lines with a 3 and 1 year old. Hang in there during this season of tantrums and transitions sister :)

    1. Stephanie Spencer

      Good luck with your move, Tracy! I have a 5 year old and 2 year old. Though it is hectic, we moved closer to family, which is fantastic.

      I wonder how the world might be different if all Christ-followers cared more about love than anything else. I’m glad to hear that is your desire!

      1. jean.e.lane

        I’d like to believe that Christ-followers are starting to care more about love than anything else. It sure is being talked up. Now if it can just be ‘stepped up’ or ‘worked up’ or ‘done up’ or something :) I know we can’t move ahead of the Spirit, but we, too often, put him in a box, kind of like Grandma’s silver. Just brought out for special occasions. May he more and more fill my life so that his love can be shown through me. Fighting against my selfish inclination, that is the everlasting struggle.

  4. Adrian W.

    Stephanie,

    I’m at a place in my life where I believe that God gives us each a talent or two. You mention this in your post.

    I’m also at a place where I believe that God gives us these talents to use, so we’re not just twiddling our thumbs and hoping the Kingdom builds itself.

    I’m at a place where I’m learning to use my talents that, so far, have no use to anyone but me.

    And I’m at a place where I admire someone like you for ignoring the naysayers and using your talents anyway. Thanks so much for your bravery in ministry and your bravery in sharing this post with us. I shared it on Facebook for my friends to read, and that’s not something I do every day (or even every week).

    1. Stephanie Spencer

      Adrian, that sounds like a great place to be. I pray that God keeps building your confidence in the gifts He has given you. I believe it is one of the ways we show Him love. After all, how would we feel if we gave someone a gift, and they just put it on a shelf to collect dust? I believe God can use you in ways you can hardly imagine right now. It is a journey of trust, but one worth taking.

  5. Tammy Perlmutter

    Stephanie, Thanks so much for sharing this. This has been a constant struggle for us as well, to navigate the dangerous waters of ministry as a woman. For the first 18 years of my Christian experience I had female pastors, youth pastors, Christian college president. Then we moved and discovered the other side of the debate and it was like moving to another country. A country that severely diminished the roles and opportunities of a woman gifted in leadership.

    How do you explain to someone that even though I am a woman and a mom, I’m not gifted with children? That the nursery is the last place I want to be? That a room full of 6 year olds gives me an anxiety attack, yet teaching a Sunday school class of adults gives me a rush?

    One elder of a Presbyterian church told me that if I was a man and a Presbyterian he would ordain me on the spot. And he meant it. He saw the limitations imposed upon women and the effect that it has on the women in the congregation. We were one of the few East Coast Presbyterian churches that allowed women the “position” of deacon without actually allowing them to be “ordained” as deacons. The battle still rages.

    Thankfully we’ve ended up back in a church with female pastors and leaders and I no longer have to fear being dismissed or diminished. But the damage has been done and the pieces are still being picked up.

    1. Stephanie Spencer

      I’m sorry you have encountered difficulties like that along the way, Tammy. I think many moms are not a good fit for volunteering in the children’s ministry. 1. Because they have enough of screaming children the rest of the week and 2. Because a room full of other people’s kids is much different than a room with just our kids.

      Keep persevering and using those gifts. I hope the encouragement begins to outweigh the discouragement sooner than later.

  6. Jen Luitwieler

    Stephanie, I have been thinking about the power of words, lately, too. About how we throw them around as if we are not, in fact, decrying other people’s lives and choices AND the power of the Spirit to do amazing things through each of us. What gives anyone else the right to decide how God should and will use me? Seems to me this battle is being waged by fallen children who want to be right more than they want to see God at work.

    I hate that you are caught in the middle,, catching the bullets from both sides, because you are doing the work to which you were called. Keep going, sister. Keep going.

    Best: this isn’t theology. This is my life. Amen.

    1. Stephanie Spencer

      I love the picture of “fallen children” you painted, Jen. I picture my own kids arguing over who should do what, instead of just doing what I asked them to do. We so often miss the point. God can use whomever He chooses. We just have to decide if we will listen when he calls us.

  7. Mark Allman

    Stephanie,
    I would not confess to understand totally the verses you listed. It concerns me that we make an issue out of this at all. To me there are a lot of much more important questions we should be asking of our church. Our focus should be out and not in. I know what Philippians 1:18 says about people who preach the gospel from impure motives and that is basically to rejoice that it is getting done. As a church if we are focusing on this and not reaching out to a world in pain and despair then shame on us. I am sure women in the ministry are not in it from impure motives. We should rejoice that anyone is passionate about God and doing something about it. Regardless if they are man or woman or child. Let us rejoice that Christ is being promoted. Let us focus on spreading the gospel not spreading discord over an issue that does not deserve to raise so much concern. We need to be mature enough to move on to more important things.
    I admire that you live out the things you are passionate about. I ll let God worry about whose doing what.

    1. Stephanie Spencer

      Mark, even though you claim to not understand the arguments, Phil 1:18 is a great verse to point to. It demonstrates the bigger picture. We are all called to preach the Gospel, with our words and actions. When that is done, no matter who does it, and no matter their motivation, God is glorified.

  8. Peggy

    Awesome post, Srephanie … you are definitely living what I call the Purple Martyrdom, sister.

    As with all the other posts in this series, reading your experiences is a kind of deja vu … reliving my own highs and lows as I strive to follow Jesus in doing what I see Father doing and say what Father is saying.

    I stand with you as our trust Father during this period of transition … my dearest friend and sister lives and serves in “the land of the frozen chosen” — may the fire of the Spirit burn bright and warm in your heart, family and ministry.

    Be blessed,

    Peggy

  9. Charlotte

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Stephanie. A thought I often having about the discussion about women in ministry is “the theological is personal”. These discussions and debates don’t just happen in a vacuum. For you, me, and other women in ministry, it’s our lives.

  10. Jennifer Upton

    No wonder you have loved me so well during the time I laid down my pen feeling not good enough to contribute. I have learned something new about you today and feel quite honored to see more deeply into the heart that saw me when no one else did. I love you dearly without having ever met you in person. I hope to one day. I believe God will make a way somewhere along our paths, but for now I am thankful he has allowed us to connect this way.

    1. Stephanie Spencer

      Jennifer, please know that I am thankful and honored that God used me in your life in that kind of way. Somehow it is surprising to me that He can work so powerfully through the Internet. God is truly bound by no limits in how He choses to spread His love.

  11. patty

    Regarding the Phil trail-while focusing “out” may be good, how Christians live and treat each other speaks louder than any “outward” focus message. So the cause of Christ is severely diminished when the church oppresses its own. You talk all you want about reaching out but when non-Christians see woman abused and mistreated, then the message is for not ( except of course for people who believe it is okay to oppress others)

  12. Herm Halbach

    Stephanie, I don’t know how to say this and this comes only from my heart and mind. You have been convicted, baptized and ordained by the Holy Spirit I know. The image we are all in is our Creator’s image, female and male. We all are responsible to choice we know of no other specie of God’s creation has or consternates so much over.

    I don’t want to compete to get anyone on my side as though that would prove me right. There is only one complete right and Jesus made an eternity available for each of us to learn it. My 68 years doesn’t even compute relative to eternity nor can my my even get itself around the concept

  13. Herm Halbach

    Stephanie, I don’t know how to say this and this comes only from my heart and mind. You have been convicted, baptized and ordained by the Holy Spirit I know. The image we are all in is our Creator’s image, female and male. We all are responsible to choice we know of no other specie of God’s creation has or consternates so much over.

    I don’t want to compete to get anyone on my side as though that would prove me right. There is only one complete right and Jesus made an eternity available for each of us to learn it. My 68 years doesn’t even compute relative to eternity nor can my mind even get itself around the concept. I know eternity exists because God graced us all with senses to truth we are yet too immature to comprehend. I have been introduced to Truth and Love well beyond my ability to derive on my own. I have a fervor to share because from dialog I learn and the truths I do manage to introduce support the survivability of the body of Man long after I am gone.

    No church of Man, no book written by the hand of Man, and no doctrine derived from the studies of Man taught by Man are necessary at all when any of us frail and hitherto imperfect children of God with the Father in Heaven abide only in the law as set down in its entirety within Luke 10:25-37. You, by your fruits, are bound by that law and have accepted the Discipleship under the tutelage of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    That said, I know you must follow the call found in your heart and mind to minister (and be ministered to) within Man’s church known in Christ’s name. Please, know that you are a member of His church, also.

    I don’t know yet how we can understandably meet and fellowship in His name without a structure built by Man. I have answered many calls to minister reciprocally within many different denominations and structures with nourishment for all. Of late it has been the desert with an unabstructed relationship one on One … and the sharing through this miracle of the Internet.

    Bless you and I welcome any divine ministry you might grace me with.

  14. Aurelia

    Stephanie, thank you so much for sharing a bit of your story. It was encouraging for me, and it comforts me to know women like you are embracing your calling, wherever that may be. May God continue to bless you and your family!

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