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 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