Category Archives: Women in Ministry

The Women in Ministry Series: 2012 Highlights

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I started the Women in Ministry Series in January 2012 as an alternative to the endless debates about women being called to full time pastoral ministry and as church leaders. Rather than debate texts that have been explored ad nauseam in theological books, I wanted to share the stories of women in ministry so that both sides of the debate can put a face to the people living these stories.

If I can make one thing clear, I’m not giving women a voice. They already have their voices and are using them well. I’m just trying to gather them together in one place in order to make them a little easier to find.

Here are some of my personal favorites mixed in with some of the most popular posts in the series. If you want to browse all of the posts, click browse by topic in the navigation bar. Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the blog of each contributor!

 

Meg Jenista, Sometimes I Think God Made Me Wrong

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.

 

Jamie Wright, From Woman in Ministry to Woman Who Ministers

The truth is, the women who ministered to my own wanting soul weren’t “women in ministry” at all. They were good neighbors and generous friends. They were soccer-Moms who took my babies off my hands for a few hours at a time, when I most needed help. They were steaming coffee dates where no subject was off limits, where laughter flowed freely and tears of anguish were met with tears of empathy.

 

Carol Howard Merritt, Navigating the Fullness of God’s Calling

She exhaled, shook her head diagonally, and continued, her words dripping with sympathy, “Believe me. The Board had a difficult time with your application. It felt like those men argued for hours. But the donors spend more money on flight school students than any other student. They just couldn’t take the risk.”

“What risk?” I asked.

“Think about it. What happens when you get pregnant?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you willing to promise that you’ll never get married?”

 

Kathy Escobar, Well-Behaved Women Won’t Change the Church

I started to worry more about pleasing God than pleasing man.

And guess what happened? Leaders didn’t like it. They liked me a lot better when I was following the rules, playing the good-girl game. A weird and subversive shift occurred when I started showing up more honestly, more passionately as a leader. The best words I can use to describe it are: "painful silence."

 

Addie Zierman, Faith is a Line, Faith is a Circle

She had a way of recognizing the brokenness in her students before we saw it in ourselves, and she collected us like the empty, shored shells that we didn’t know we were. She took us out to coffee. She gave us space to complete the sentence that begins with “I feel…”

In the Bible Department the voices were masculine, bearded, middle-aged. They spoke in great, weighted words and organized their thoughts into outlines, charts. From the men, I learned that faith is linear; from Judy, I learned that it is circular, a labyrinth, ever circling the great mystery of God.

 

Amy Young, In Which We Have a Frank Chat About My Marital Status

So, returning to the question as to why I am single, there is no simple, easy answer; but I do believe that, in part, it is because I am a woman and a leader and didn’t marry before it became apparent that I was not a behind-the-scenes leader but an up-front, out-loud, follow-me one.

 

Katherine Willis Pershey, Standing Up for God’s Calling

I understand that this might be hard to believe, but I am not exaggerating. I have encountered so few instances of sexism within the mainline church that I could probably count them on one hand. I have been affirmed, supported, and respected every step of the way.

 

Thanks for reading! We’ll see you in 2013.

 

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.

NOTE TO READERS

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

The Women in Ministry Series: A Calling of My Own

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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 www.whitbyforum.com.

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.

NOTE TO READERS

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

The Women in Ministry Series: Eat, Drink, and Be Mary

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Kimberly Majeski wears many ministry hats (or head coverings if your prefer) as a radio personality, conference speaker, women’s retreat leader, Bible teacher, and pastor. You can now add to that list: guest blogger.

Maybe it is because I’ve been off carbs for six weeks or maybe it’s because I need to purge my sin sick soul, but the bread and wine of Holy Communion are especially sweet today. I take in the broken loaf and my starch starved self is satiated and the wine washes down the heavenly morsels smoothly.

The truth is, I am empty.

The weather has turned cold and the trees now stand bare, undressed by the early winter winds. Today there are student papers to grade, research projects to complete, presentations to polish, deadlines to meet, and dishes in the sink.

For some of us in ministry, somewhere between holy calling and taking out the trash, in between the thin places and the board meetings, we realize the work is hard, the hours are long and the thanks can be, well, sparse at best; it can be arduous work for our tender hearts and frail egos. It can be a trap for those of us given to the chains of achieving, producing, accomplishing, attempting to earn favor. Before the madness creeps in, today I stop to remember an image burned into my heart from a trip to Jerusalem earlier this year.

We were tired. It was the last day of our journey, and we decided to visit Dormition Abbey, the Church of the Assumption of Mary. Though it was cold outside, the church was grand and warm. The domed ceilings covered with golden tiles and her image there smiling with her baby son. The amber light of candles flooded the room and bounced from the gold dome to the limestone floor in a rhythmic dance; the twinkling lights on the tree invited us, “Come in.”

Beyond the sanctuary there was a café, of course there was, this was Our Lady’s place—not a cold stone cathedral but a friendly, cozy space for sharing coffee and croissants and the beauty of the day. We unloaded our weary selves for a moment and enjoyed the sunshine goodness of the winter punch and it struck me, the wonder, the power of the welcoming place.

For all the centuries of debate over Jesus and Women, the rightful place of the—what some dare to call—weaker sex, for all the proof texting and poor Greek of sermons built on feminine submission, in the end…He chose to be made known through her and she welcomed Him well.

I am a daughter of His church and the feminist revolution; raised by a single mother and saint who worked three jobs and made sure we had Jesus and Jordache. She taught my sister and me the stories of the Bible that made known this One who loves and welcomes all, but, sometimes I forget, He welcomes even me. How easily I forget the ways I have known Him.

I have known Him in the arms of women wrapped ‘round one another after the husband and provider of the home is long gone. I have known Him in the prayers of the healers bent over the sick and broken in the late hours of the midnight long after the men have departed under pain too great to bear.

I have known Him in the grocery store as we shop for the ingredients to make a casserole of butter and chicken and love. I have known Him in the gracious hospitality of women just as He first chose to make Himself known to us.

I am a woman fully captivated by the revelation of Jesus in the Word and in the world, mesmerized and happily confounded by the way He chose to come to us. I have spent my life studying the Scriptures and I have a lifetime more to learn but I am caught by the truth that the first to receive and share the Savior was a woman, young and tender who by human logic should have chosen otherwise.

Before the whirlwind of the season takes hold, before I am laid low by all of my own striving to be more, I pause to recognize the miracle of Mary’s discipleship; the simple, profound wonder of her “Yes.” I consider the power of her surrender, and the hope of Christ, the One who saw fit to come to us—to women– broken and imperfect as we are and allow Himself to be made known through us, I eat, I drink and I am filled.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

Kimberly-Majeski-5x7 (2)Kimberly Majeski is a scholar, preacher and author who challenges her audiences to find the life-transforming connection between their personal story and the inspiring, ancient story of the Scriptures. As a radio personality, conference speaker, women’s retreat leader, Bible teacher, and pastor, Kimberly captivates audiences with her ability to exposit Biblical truths through storytelling that is engaging, transparent and uplifting. Kimberly and her husband Kevin reside in Anderson, Indiana where she serves as professor of Biblical Studies at Anderson University.

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: Carolyn Custis James

Women in Ministry Series: Why Ministry Should Have a Feminine Feel

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If I had to choose one word to describe Jenny Rae Armstrong, it would be: passionate. She is passionate about ministry and passionate about empowering women to find their God-given callings.

"Yes, but what have you done?"

I blinked at the young man interviewing me, schooling my expression as I gathered my thoughts. I had just finished describing the youth ministry my husband Aaron and I had run at the church he used to work at, the Campus Life clubs we had built when he was on staff with Youth for Christ.

Yes, it was Aaron’s name on the paycheck. But we had attended all the training events, seminars, and youth activities together. And I thought I had made it clear that I ran the junior high ministries, while Aaron was responsible for the high schoolers.

Apparently, my ministry experience was only valid if someone had kicked me some coin for my efforts, or I had at least done the job alone. Me, myself, and I. Facing down hordes of squirrely tweens on the rock-solid foundation of my personal awesomeness. None of those weak "working as a team" or "ministering together" platitudes, even if I had been putting in close to twenty hours a week. The moment my husband entered the conversation, I was demoted from "minister" to "helpmeet."

There was nothing to do but go home and whine at Aaron.

"I don’t understand men!" I wailed, sitting at the kitchen table while he chopped onions. "It’s like it’s all about status and being the one in charge."

"I keep telling you that," he shrugged, still chopping. "You don’t believe me, but I keep telling you."

"But it’s so stupid," I protested, swatting away a tear. "It’s arrogant!"

"Yep," he agreed.

I stewed as Aaron scraped the onions into the chili pot, gritting my teeth. I could play the achievement game if I needed to. I was smart, passionate, and well-connected. But the fact remained: I thought the game was misguided, and didn’t want to play.

Still, I tried for a while, throwing myself into ministry activities that would look good on my resume. I was careful to do them alone, or clearly establish my leadership, so my successes would be attributed to me.

I felt like a jerk, diluting my loving intentions with personal ambition, but I reminded myself that these were the hoops I needed to jump through to make headway in the male-dominated world of vocational ministry. Guys did this all the time, and didn’t seem to feel guilty about it.

While I did some good things and felt pride in my accomplishments, underneath, I was unhappy and frazzled. My true state of mind seeped through in my sleep. Over and over, I dreamt I was crossing a bridge in my community that had somehow become impossibly steep, climbing the slippery surface on my hands and knees, fingertips scrambling for purchase on the asphalt.

Years later, when my dream self finally made it to the other side, the familiar terrain was dark and threatening. The safe landmarks had vanished, and my friends, family and mentors were not where I expected to find them. I was alone, vulnerable, and under attack.

I woke up, literally and figuratively, and re-embraced what I had always known. Going it alone is stupid, and "performing" ministry is arrogant and sinful. But how could I move forward in ministry if I was laying down my bid for approval, accolades, and (most importantly) acceptance–acceptance as an equal who deserves to have her efforts taken seriously, not as a pretty prop to be patted on the head and sent off to play with the women and children?

Women called to vocational ministry walk a precarious line. I am not the first woman who has felt she had to stifle her feminine soul to make headway in a climate that values achievement and autonomy over relationships and collaboration, and I won’t be the last.

But what has really struck me is just how much the 21st century church, despite our insistence to the contrary, undervalues the volunteers, the lay leaders, the people who "help." Those roles that have, traditionally, been filled by women.

Now, I’m a staunch egalitarian. I don’t swallow the idea that men are called to lead, and women to function as their "support staff." But I was also raised as a missionary kid, and had a front-row seat to the full-throttle partnership missionary couples brought to their ministry.

Yes, it was usually the man’s name on the paycheck. But the women worked too, often at great cost. Until recently, it was not uncommon for mission agencies to require children to be sent to boarding school, freeing the women up for full-time service. It was/is a crappy policy. But those women? They got the job done, paycheck, title, status, or not.

So I get a little prickly when people criticize, belittle, or get affectionately patronizing about the contributions of the "helpers": the hyper-involved homeschooling moms, the "controlling" church matrons, the ministry wives who seem to live at the church. I mean, I’d like to see a church try to run without those powerhouse women, women who have dedicated their whole lives to the service of God and others.

I’ll see your hot-shot pastor and raise you my grandma. Roll your eyes at the decorating committee one more time, and I won’t be held responsible if you find darling elitist appliqués hot glued to your iPad.

Maybe, after the "women in ministry" controversy has blown over, we’ll discover what is truly subversive about female leadership, about the collaborative, relational systems women build and thrive in. Something about laying down your life to find it, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, considering others better than yourself, and the meek inheriting the earth.

Now that would be an achievement.

About Today’s Blogger

jenny-rae-thompsonJenny Rae Armstrong is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes about women’s issues for Christian publications. She and her husband are currently working together to create a youth curriculum for Christians for Biblical Equality. She loves making new friends, so drop by her blog (http://www.jennyraearmstrong.com) and say hi, and add her on Facebook (jennyraearmstrong) and Twitter (@jennyrarmstrong).

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.

Next Week’s Blogger: Kimberly Majeski

Women in Ministry Series: The Unseen Servants Among Us

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Today Erin Raffety brings an international perspective to the Women in Ministry Series along with insight into those we overlook every day all around us:

Sometimes when I read the Bible I’m astounded by how little Jesus’ disciples seemed to understand—they bristled at the outcasts who came to Jesus, they quibbled over who was the greatest, and in the end, some deserted and betrayed him. Sometimes when we read closely, these twelve followers end up looking more like a motley crew of misfits rather than winning evangelists.

I don’t say these things just to be provocative (okay, maybe I do), but also to draw attention to the way in which power and position often mystify humanity. Perhaps we like the idea of the disciples better than who they really were, and we can be blinded by their official roles, their seats at the table beside Jesus, and their exaltation.

I was blinded by the men who inhabited the official roles in ministry around me, so much so that I often failed to see the women in the background. But while the men were the ministers, women were ministering. My mom, for one, took my sisters and me down to the homeless shelter where we played cards with the men who came in off the streets, and we learned not to be afraid of people who looked different from us. While a man stood in the pulpit on Sundays, it was the women, the mothers of my friends, who taught us about Jesus in the church’s basement classrooms.

It was my college roommate who encouraged me to go to seminary, a gutsy Catholic woman who taught me the discipline of centering prayer, and my sisters and my friends who have taught me what it means to be a woman of God. When I met men in college who didn’t believe women should be pastors, I dug into the Bible to see what Jesus had to say about it, and felt not only a conviction toward women in ministry, but also a personal call in the process. Was it possible that God didn’t just want women to be pastors, but God even wanted me?

I don’t mean to downplay the men who also taught me along the way (of which there were many), but precisely because of their non-ordained, unofficial status, and their place in the background, these women taught me something valuable and different—namely, what it means to be a servant. This is why I left college in the summer for the slums of Washington D.C., the borderlands of Mexico, or the barrios of Puerto Rico, because I’d seen women quietly and effectively giving their lives in service to Christ and others.

This lesson in servanthood begins with my mother, who selflessly gave up her career for her children. It extends to women on the border who bravely led families while the men migrated for work, and the women I recently lived alongside in China, who foster orphaned and disabled children despite the great costs. Before coming to China, I’d worked in a multicultural congregation of immigrants in the U.S., and I’d struggled with how I might serve God in a nation where official ministry would be tricky.

Despite the lessons of my own journey, I’d become distracted with what it means to possess a platform, power, and a title, and I’d questioned what God could do with me without one. But I felt God’s presence perhaps more palpably than I’d ever felt it in China, and God brought budding women leaders and pastors in China’s growing churches to my doorstep. I had the incredible opportunity of encouraging them to follow their calls, affirming their gifts and talents, and exploring their questions and concerns. Their witness, together with the foster mothers I studied not only made me feel like a flailing, misfit disciple with all my doubts, but also reminded me of all the other humble women who had directed my path along the way.

I don’t mean to romanticize or idealize the sacrifices that women make, or the real barriers to ministry and the injustices that still exist. In fact, I hope because of women such as these, subsequent generations will go on to practice servanthood in preaching and teaching and leadership.

But I call attention to these servants because they did great things from humble places. I call attention to them, as Jesus did, because “they are the greatest among us,” without whom I would have an impoverished understanding of leadership, and with whom, my own call is forever intertwined, whatever titles and official roles may become me. And I tell their story, because Jesus says, after the disciples have come and gone, the Pharisees and the leaders and the powerful, “all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12).

About Today’s Guest Blogger

erin RaffertyErin Raffety holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Davidson College, an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, and is certified to receive a call with the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is a Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology at Princeton University, where her interests include kinship, foster care, and domestic adoption in China, and theology and anthropology. She has worked in Asia, along the US-Mexico border and Puerto Rico, and in Washington, DC on international poverty and hunger with Bread for the World and The ONE Campaign. Erin recently returned from conducting her dissertation fieldwork in Southwest China, and lives in Princeton, New Jersey with her husband, Evan. You can reach her via her blog, Little Sacred Space.

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: Jenny Rae Armstrong

Women in Ministry Series: Is There Room for Pregnancy and Pregnancy Loss in the Pulpit?

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned about folks from Texas, it’s that they tend to have A LOT of enthusiasm. When I met today’s guest blogger, Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta, at a writers conference, I was struck by both her enthusiasm and her genuinely humble and kind spirit. She exudes energy and grace. She’s also working on a memoir that should be killer awesome. I’m grateful to share one of her stories today.

I was a pastoral intern when God graced my husband and I with our first pregnancy. The congregation I was blessed to serve celebrated with us.

Weeks later joy morphed into pain when I miscarried. The pastor graciously gave me several weeks off.

When I returned to church I was greeted with hugs, love, and strong support. And yet, people didn’t know what to say. The congregation seemed not to know what to do with me or the situation. How often are churches faced with a pastor who is grieving pregnancy loss? I recall feeling as if I was given only a few short weeks to grieve, and then I was expected to return to my congregational duties.

Time to move on, Pastor. The Word of God needs to be preached, and people need visiting. And besides, the joy of the Lord is our strength.

But it wasn’t that simple. My husband and I lost our baby. I needed time to sit in that cloudy emotional place but was denied that.

Skip ahead two years.

I was the mother of a beautiful infant daughter. Sophia was born during the spring semester of my senior year in seminary. During my interview with the church that eventually called me, I brought up the topic of maternity leave.

Crickets.

The committee blinked and looked around at one another for an answer. Red faces, embarrassed smiles, and uncomfortable chuckles filled the small room. The chairperson cleared his throat.

“We’ve never had to think about that before,” he says. “I suppose we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it if you’re the one that we call.”

Two-and-a-half years into my tenure, the time to cross that bridge came. When I announced that my husband and I were expecting our second child to the church’s leadership, they were sincerely joyful. They were also anxious, but that wasn’t expressed as directly.

There were, of course, not only pastoral implications Who would preach? Who would visit? What happens if there is an emergency? There were financial concerns, as well. How much do we pay her? How much will pulpit supply cost?

I sensed that some saw my pregnancy as an inconvenience to the church. Most, though, were jubilant. This pastor, someone joked, is really serious about church growth!

For a church that didn’t know nothin’ about their pastor birthin’ no babies, they rose well to the occasion. The denomination recommended six weeks of paid maternity leave. I was given eight.

After I returned to work, the ladies of the church generously gave me a baby shower, even though showers for a family’s second born weren’t usually done. And, most importantly, the whole congregation “adopted” both of my children.

There were, however, some strange and painful moments that ranged from subtle to outright sexist. One woman worried that I would leave the church after my baby was born. “Sometimes working mothers decide to do that, you know.” True. I wonder if she said the same thing when my predecessor’s wife gave birth to their children. He may have chosen to leave ministry to stay at home with his children.

As the signs of my pregnancy became more and more evident, comments about my body and how I dressed grew more frequent. My breasts were too big, and my blouses were too low cut. My clothes too tightly silhouetted my body. Few of my brothers of the cloth receive comments about their bodies and how they dress; and some of their bodies have changed dramatically due to weight loss and gain.

What stung the most, though, was the small number of visitors at the hospital after my daughter was born. When this topic was discussed at a church leadership retreat about a year later, I was still emotional. If this is how we visit our pastor when she is in the hospital for a good reason, I shudder to think how we visit the person in the pew who is sick or dying, I say.

“You asked for your privacy,” responded one of the leaders. Okay, I conceded a misunderstanding. I just didn’t expect my request to be taken so literally as to keep people away from visiting me and my newborn daughter at the hospital.

“It was just kinda…weird,” says another. “We’ve never had a female pastor before, and there’s lots of different dynamics.”

My guess is that these two congregations are a microcosm for the greater Church. Some things were done well, other things not so much. Sadly, in both cases I experienced my pregnancy and pregnancy loss as events for the church and its pastor to “get through” together. Life and the loss of it are so much bigger.

The Church, I regret to opine, is overall unsure what to do with pregnancy and pregnancy loss in the pulpit. I believe this stems from the fact that (on the whole) the Church still does not know what to do with women in the pulpit. Yes, there have been great advances. But, we still have a long way to go, baby.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

Angie and Jeremiah's baptismRev. Angie Mabry-Nauta is a writer and an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). She served in congregational ministry for six years. A member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, Angie blogs at “Woman, in Progress…” and on the Church Herald Blog of the RCA. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Godstuffwriter.

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: Erin Raffety

Women in Ministry Series: On Failing at Ministry

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I met Micha Boyett at a writing conference this past Spring after recently learning about her blog called Mama Monk that had been really taking off. In Micha I found someone who is deeply thoughtful, gentle, and aware of the challenges parents face with spirituality. If you’ve ever read Mama Monk, you already know that Micha has a powerful writing ministry that is touching so many. Today she writes about her ministry days before she took her “vows” as a blogger…

I stood on Mt. Princeton in 2005, overlooking the valley and the aspens that stretched out miles before me, and I sighed my surrender to God. I had just finished grad school, was newly married and moving soon to Philadelphia, my husband’s hometown. And I’d just traveled with 150 high school students on buses for two days, all the way from New York State to Colorado for camp.

I whispered, “God, I think I’m created for this work. Right here.” Nothing brought me more joy than ministry to middle and high school students. I gave myself to it.

I cried a lot my first year “in ministry.” It turned out that working for a parachurch mission meant devoting one-third of my time to fundraising. In my town, where most men were working in suits and most women were home with their kids, that meant helping to run a golf tournament for men twenty years my senior and asking for a big financial donation from an intimidating male executive over lunch. It meant constant discomfort in my skin.

I wasn’t good at developing volunteer leaders and having hard conversations with them about their choices and gifts. I wanted to avoid conflict at all costs and in doing so, I struggled to be more than a surface-level cheerleader for them. I was not good at managing my area’s finances. I was not good at not crying when faced with all the things I wasn’t good at.

But I was great at relationships. I was fairly good at speaking. And I was awesome at dressing up in spandex and dorky 80’s shorts and leading girls in the Best. Dance. Party. Of. All. Time.

Here’s the thing: I needed to be good at all of it, not simply the relational aspects of the job. But as a woman in a largely male-dominated mission, I struggled with separating my personal weaknesses from the anxiety I felt over my female brain.

I feared that I was bad at left-brained aspects of ministry because I was a woman. In truth, I was bad at it because I was Right-Brained-Micha. Relational connections and silliness and teaching came naturally to me. Administration didn’t.

What I needed was a woman in ministry, twenty years further down the road. I needed a woman to sit down with me and say: This is how to handle yourself in a fundraising setting when there are twenty fifty-year-old men and you. This is how to embrace conflict when you’re a good Southern girl who’s been raised to avoid it. This is how to encounter a room of male staff and release yourself from striving for their approval.

When I think of myself behind the desk staring at numbers or dealing with the male, ragamuffin leader, I think, Oh, I was so miserable in that job. But that’s not true. Half the time in ministry I was actually with people. And I was in love with my work.

I was at the high school volleyball game and driving kids home from the spring play. I was eating at Chili’s again with a table of freshmen girls who were trying to understand how to be Christ followers while living in families that did not support their newly found faith. I was singing to Taylor Swift on the radio with a suburban full of kids ten minutes after sharing with them the story of the cross, the story I believed could alter, was already altering, their lives forever.

Did I fail at ministry?

I find myself asking that question a lot. And then I think about the Bible study I helped lead at 6 am on Friday mornings while my baby ate breakfast at a friend’s house. How with paperback Bibles in our hands, I spoke to that room of sleepy freshmen and sophomores who opened the scripture while simultaneously trying not to fall asleep. And, rarely, I saw in their eyes a love for that passage. I saw in their faces a moment of recognition. They got it. They understood the power of a life marked by Christ.

I didn’t fail.

But I did quit.

Sometimes I think of the older woman who didn’t lead me, who didn’t exist for me, and I ache in fear that she’s just like me. I’m afraid she quit too.

Was I supposed to be That Woman for another girl who is just now hearing God’s deep call to the life of ministry? She is standing on the edge of the mountain and looking over the valley and saying: “Yes, God, I will give my life to this. Whatever the cost.”

I am praying for that girl. I’m praying that when the cost is administrative anxiety; when the cost is time away from her spouse or uncertainty about her kids; when the cost is fear of conflict: I’m praying she will be brave enough to find a woman to whisper that flourishing in ministry is possible. I’m praying she will persevere and be the woman who speaks hope to all the women who come after her.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

dsc_6468Micha Boyett (pronounced "MY-cah") is a youth minister turned stay at home mom trying to make sense of vocation and season and place in the midst of her third cross-country move in three years. A native Texan, she is mama to two blonde boys and wife to a very tall Philadelphian. She blogs at Patheos about motherhood, monasticism, and the sacred in the everyday. Follow her on Twitter at @michaboyett or find her on Facebook 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: Angie Mabry-Nauta