The Women in Ministry Series: A Calling of My Own

Carolyn Custis James was recently listed as one of 50 evangelical women to watch and recently published the award-winning book Half the Church. She wraps up the 2012 leg of the Women in Ministry Series with this story about her calling into ministry:


"You need to find out what God wants you to do with your life, and I’m not the answer."

When my brand new husband of one month uttered those paradigm-busting words, I’m sure my face distorted like the face in Edvard Munch’s The Scream. I was flummoxed that the Texan sitting across the table was telling me I had a calling of my own. What a revolutionary idea!

Growing up in a devoutly Christian family in Oregon, I absorbed the belief that besides being a mother, the calling of every Christian wife was to support her husband’s calling. Quite simply I took that to mean I did not have a distinct calling from God. My calling was subsumed in my husband’s calling. So it took a while for this new revelation to sink in, but it did—with a vengeance.

That doesn’t mean it was easy to get from where I was then to where I am now. Anyone tracing the early trajectory of my life would be hard pressed to explain how I ended up doing the kinds of things I’m doing now. The roadmap I started out with didn’t lead in this direction. I never dreamed of writing books or speaking at conferences or becoming a spokesperson for the ezer-warrior and the Blessed Alliance between God’s sons and daughters.

I enjoyed an idyllic upbringing. My father was a wonderful pastor for 65 years (he preached until he was 91). I inherited from both my mother and father a passion for God’s Word and a burning desire to serve God’s people. Ministry is in my DNA. Had I been a fourth son, instead of the only daughter in my family, I would have gone straight to seminary after college and prepared to be a pastor like my dad. But because I was a girl that option was off the table.

Like other women, I embraced simpler aspirations inspired by what I learned in church and observed in the lives of women in my circle of family and friends. I hoped for marriage and motherhood, expecting to minister as a volunteer in the church—teaching a women’s Bible study and putting those years of studying classical pipe organ to good use. My central calling, I believed, would be to support God’s calling on my husband.

But as we all discover sooner or later, God has a way of shaking things up. Right out of the starting blocks, I faced the reality that my path didn’t match the roadmap I meant to follow.

Instead of marriage, I landed in a long stretch of singleness. Instead of motherhood, I fought and lost my battle with infertility. When God unexpectedly blessed us with a daughter, instead of being a stay-at-home mother, I combined motherhood with breadwinning as a software developer while my husband earned two doctorates. Instead of finding my calling in Frank’s, I needed to find my own calling. While Frank was convinced marriage was weaving our two callings together—in deeper ways it turns out than either of us ever imagined—he valued my gifts and challenged me to follow God in developing and using them.

Those purposeful bends in the road that seemed like detours raised questions for me about God’s calling on his daughters lives that ultimately shaped my ministry. They drove me back to Scripture in search of answers for all his daughters no matter how our particular stories play out.

Early in my single years, I realized women were often subsisting on an anorexic spiritual diet. Never will I forget my embarrassment at the spiritual fluff dished up at my first women’s brunch. I shuddered to think some man might poke his head in and discover the pabulum we were ingesting.

The discomfort I felt went well beyond personal preference or the ridiculous ‘Mary versus Martha’ caricatures. The stakes are exceedingly high when women fail to dig deeper into God’s Word and think theologically. I learned that the hard way whenever circumstances forced me off the approved path for women forcing me to think for myself. God lit a fiery determination in me to raise the bar for women. I drove a stake into the ground for women to take themselves seriously with When Life and Beliefs Collide—How Knowing God Makes a Difference.

Literally over night (3:00 am to be exact), the realization that every woman is an ezer-warrior (translated “helper” in Genesis 2:18 at the creation of woman) expanded my ministry with a call to action on behalf of God’s kingdom. That call took on a disturbing urgency when I read Kristof and WuDunn’s Half the Sky and wrote Half the Church—Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women.

From the opening words of the Bible, God’s calling for me—for every female who has graced this planet—remains unaltered no matter how many unexpected bends we encounter on the road of life. We are God’s image bearers and ezer-warriors in a Blessed Alliance with our brothers to advance God’s kingdom wherever he stations us.

Our calling is grounded in God himself—unchanging and indestructible—and, as I am learning, doesn’t always follow the roadmap we choose for ourselves.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

CarolynCustisJames_273x470Carolyn Custis James speaks internationally and writes deeper books for women that men read too. She earned her B.A. at Westmont College and her M.A. in Biblical Studies in the first class of women at Dallas Theological Seminary. She is passionate about unearthing the Bible’s message for 21st Century women and recovering the foundation that supports the deep conviction women have that God calls us to full engagement for his kingdom. You can read her blog and find out more about her ministry at

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 bysigning 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.


We’re taking the rest of 2012 off and will resume again in 2013.

12 thoughts on “The Women in Ministry Series: A Calling of My Own

  1. lisa delay

    Thank you Carolyn for this encouraging post.

    ED! Your series has been wonderful and I thank you for taking the time and seeing the need.

    Every Friday, early, I poke around, no matter how busy I am to see what new lady will grace this spot. It’s been wonderful. (I’m excited for more)


  2. Kelly

    I haven’t been to many women’s events, but in general, I do find them lacking in substance. It drove me crazy attending a moms group at a local church until I joined the leadership team of it and was able to add some depth through writing the newsletter.

    I wonder though, if it is because we are so “application-focused” and we do not seem to put any importance on actual learning about the Bible or church history unless we can directly apply it to our own lives. I think this goes for the church in general, because I have not actually seen much depth in Bible studies or classes for both genders, and have known people who get very bored when they have to actually learn things. I’ve even been told that “not everyone likes to read and study like you do” which I think is true, but at the same time, it also seems that we think letting adults stay at an elementary level of knowledge is perfectly ok.

    I’m not really sure what the solution is, though.

    1. ed Post author

      Kelly, check out Sandra Glahn’s Bible study series. I think she addressed exactly what you’re wrestling with. She commented below.

      1. Kelly

        I will do that. I follow her on Twitter, and like most things, there are SO many books I want to look into but just can’t quite get to yet!

  3. Tanya Marlow

    Raising the bar for women – yes, this is my passion too! Particularly when looking at the lack of teaching (not only the quality of teaching) that women receive if they are looking after children (either their own, or others) in Sunday school each week instead of getting a sermon.

    I also cringe at many women’s events, and find myself longing to be at the men’s equivalent for that reason – but really good, meaty Bible teaching is a real gift. Thanking God for your calling.

  4. Carolyn Custis James


    Obviously, I share your frustration.

    At least part of the problem is what my husband didn’t want to happen to me–that women are followers and dependent on men to define our callings and identity and to think and decide for us. To maintain this dynamic, we have to turn off a lot of who we are and the gifts/abilities God has entrusted to us. One part of us that gets turned off is our minds. But, if this is what God had in mind when he created the woman/ezer, then he was making ~more~ work for the man and not providing true help.

    Another piece is the failure to grasp the high demands of the gospel on our lives or the ferocity of the battle we’re in. No one holds back when there’s a powerful Enemy on the loose or when a rescue effort is underway.

    1. Kelly

      One thing I am thankful for is that my husband and I were married for 7 years before we had kids. This enabled me to do a LOT of learning and use my brain. I’m thankful for it b/c with 2 little kids, my daily conversations often deal with the topics of poop or toys. I am glad that I had all that time to be able to soak up information and knowledge because it’s still there somewhere. I don’t have near the time or energy now to do the reading/studying I did back then.

  5. Peggy

    Hmmm…I may have to start calling myself Abi-ezer. :-)

    Awesome post — thanks Carolyn-ezer … and, once again, Ed!!!

    I join you in the epic battle for maturity in Christ and cHesed-based interdependence rather than role-driven dependence that stunts growth.

    Be blessed. Ed, looking forward to the recap….

  6. Herm

    Dear Carolyn, thanks to you and your husband for choosing responsibility over the “follow whoever wants to be leader” mentality.

    You have focused on the Bible’s 21st century message for women and clearly viable messages are pouring out. After what I read from this your tithe to us my mind has exploded in so many new and exciting possibilities. Thank you.

    My mind did reflect back to a not too distant time I only know from my research, the 18th century. This was a time where if our populations were going to grow at all fathers had to find employment wherever they could find it and mothers had to raise the family. This sometimes meant a father being on board a ship for up to two years straight before getting back home with his family. Families still grew and children matured because each parent made sacrifices they knew in their hearts had to be made and only God could have coordinated. Often, much more often than we see today in adversity, mother and father remained solidly committed to one another and their family flourished even through long period of forced separation. Mother had midwives, preachers and community to support them when available. Father had a sense of duty and responsibility to get him through his job of daily accomplishments. Each parent had a 24/7 job to grow the body of man from their family. Both parents were equally important to that task of love and each did what they were best suited for and both were helper warriors to their family. That’s a background picture that is based on truth and fact that has allowed so many of us to be today, and there is more.

    Moms, dads and children died at so much higher rates in the 18th century relative to our 21st century. Sometimes for the two years dad might have to be away, mom had to accomplish, as though dad were not alive, the “upper body strength” tasks at home that otherwise would have been dad’s. Mom had to nurture as best as possible in the role of masculine and feminine provider for their children. She had to be smart and capable or their children would not survive. If dad did not return, always a possibility especially if a soldier, mom became the sole best chance provider for their family.

    Sometimes mom died while dad was away and the children were raised until dad returned by their community or family at large. When dad returned it remained his responsibility first to be both mother and father as best he could in order to raise their children to be strong and self sufficient. Biblical roles, as in the Bible, seem so clear until we realize these parental exceptions happened even then.

    The three bedroom, one bath, two car garage, white picket fence, one daughter, one son, one cat, one dog, washer, clothe line, church on Sunday, eight to five Monday through Friday job for dad, and mom stays home to do the real work ideal I grew up with was always an unattainable myth … never happened. There are over seven billion people in this world and God is capable of knowing, conversing with, supporting, providing for, walking with, comforting and loving each and every one and that, I sincerely testify to and challenge any who doubt to test in their lives, is not a myth. The entire population of the world we live in is in the one body of man which is in the image of the one body of God, female and male. Not one of man is the same as compared to another now, in the past or in the future. Not one of man is loved any less than another of man including the Son of God. Every one of man has something unique and equally important to contribute to our creator God’s family. The only way any of us, from the limited perspective we share each from different directions, can know what is and how to effectively share our unique gifts is through directions from an omnipresent insight.

    That is the reality of God we individually, male and female equally alike, can accept a contributing responsibility to while still honoring our mothers and fathers that we may live long in the land. There is no formula to determine what we should do and what role we each should accept beyond love and mercy. That is the message in the Bible for all the 21st century children of God, but most importantly it is even more eternally sure when felt and understood from the Word in our hearts and minds.

    I love how you have presented a challenge rather than a dictate. Thank you so much for your and your husband’s concerted study and merciful ministering to our needs, male and female.

  7. Jenny Svetec

    I love this opening scene of the newly married couple, with the blunt Texan challenging his new wife to own her calling! My husband just recently faced off and dropped this question “When am I going to take God seriously and start writing?” Thank you for a tailor-made post, handmade to stretch me past my self-imposed limitations and seize the opportunity to become the woman scribe warrior child whom God created me to be.

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