Tag Archives: pastor

Women in Ministry Series: Our Own Worst Enemies

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Today’s guest post is by Jaimie Bowman:

This Mother’s Day I was asked to preach at my church, and the night before I realized that I was quite nervous. My mind rushed back to the first time I ever preached on a Sunday morning, which was when I was 22 years old.

The service was set to begin but we could not find the pastor anywhere.  The worship team was missing two members, a husband and wife, and it was glaringly obvious that they were somewhere with the pastor and that something was wrong.

After about 15 minutes, they rushed to the stage, faces beet red.  Something in my gut told me that it was about me, but I pushed those insecurities aside and preached for my life.  The fire that had been shut up in my bones for the past few years came out, and I felt empowered like never before.  I found out later there had been a heated confrontation about me preaching that morning.  Immediately after worship was finished, the husband and wife left the service and soon after decided to leave the church.

That wasn’t the first time my "womanhood" caused an issue.  When I was 15 years old, I announced to my parents that I felt called to the ministry. My dad, being a pastor of a conservative church that did not support women in ministry, did not feel the need to change his position on account of his daughter.  When I was 21, I was almost afraid to tell them I was becoming a Licensed Minister, but I did and we have never really spoken about it since.

Over the years, these kinds of obstacles did not seem to fade.  It seemed like wherever I went, minding my own business, other people felt like it was their business too.  People tried to "set me straight," discipline me, and put me back into the cocoon that I had just emerged from. I didn’t understand why they were so mad, taking up so much of their time trying to fix me.

The hardest part of the situations that I faced was that I was just trying to obey God.   Whenever I preached, I sensed the anointing of God like never before. The words came easy, like honey from my mouth, and my own gender just….never occurred to me.  I was too busy preparing for messages to notice what everyone else saw as the elephant in the room.  I wasn’t trying to usurp anyone’s authority, or demand my rights, or kick down any doors – I was just trying to be obedient.

Thankfully I had many wonderful people pour life into me during my early ministry years since I went to a Christian university that fully supported women in ministry.  Yet, outside of that safety net, I found the church to be a dangerous place.  I became one of those women who asked God, “Why did you make me a woman?” and pleaded with Him to take this calling away from me if it wasn’t from Him. 

Yet the burden only became stronger.

What surprised me the most was that the majority of the objections came from the women, not the men. It was the men who had spoken life into me, who had urged me to use my gifts, who had prayed for God to open the doors for me. The women often were the ones who seemed most upset and more intent on setting me straight.

I have learned that women can either be each other’s biggest supporters or biggest enemies.  Today it is my aim to help other women feel supported and encouraged in their calling.  I recently started the South Bay Network for Women in Ministry, inviting women from our area to come together for a time of fellowship and prayer.  Nine women joined together at my church, and there was such an excitement in the air.  Most of us had never met before, but we became fast friends. 

I heard story after story of women passionate about serving their God, yet their greatest obstacle seemed to be the church itself – the church they so desperately wanted to serve.  Some of these women were broken, feeling discouraged, overlooked, and underpaid. However, there was a silent hope in the room – a hope that, as we all come together, we can be the support one another’s needs, even when we cannot find it in our own churches.  

As women in ministry find one another, there is renewed hope.  We have a hope that as we are faithful to use our gifts and not give up, that God will be pleased.  We are not here to fight. We are not here to take over anyone’s positions. We are simply here to serve God with our gifts. 

Instead of pouring my energy into proving people wrong, I just want to pour my energy into encouraging other women in ministry, to let them know that they are not alone.

And that Mother’s Day sermon that I was so worried about?  One older gentleman came up to me and said, "Well, I have to tell you, I didn’t think it would be that good coming from a woman, but I was wrong."  I smiled.

 

Today’s Guest Blogger

jmeheadshotJaimie Bowman is a minister to whomever needs ministering to.  Married to her husband-pastor for 13 years, together they have two cute boys, ages 5 and 7.  As a speaker and writer, Jaimie longs to connect with and encourage other leaders.  Although she lives in Southern California, she does not have a tan and does not go to the beach for fun.  You can often find her drinking coffee and writing about leadership at www.jaimiebowman.com, or about motherhood at her personal blog The Wonder Years.  Jaimie is a Licensed Minister and holds a Master’s Degree in Church Leadership.

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: Tammy Nischan

Belonging: My Prayer for a 10-Minute Sermon

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I don’t like sermons. I blame Sesame Street and video games for my short attention span. I blame hockey for teaching me to love speed and action. I blame my parents who gave me the genetic trait that resists stationary, sequential learning—like Math.

If a sermon was a practical, 10 minute exposition of scripture, I’d be happy. In fact, the homily, which is sermon-lite for Catholics and Episcopals, was the part of the liturgy that I used to enjoy the most. The reverend at this Episcopal church in Vermont that we visited a few Sundays wandered up and down the aisle like a lost puppy, sharing a few things that he must have jammed onto a sticky note the night before. If he only had better content, it would have been perfect.

The first time I attended a Baptist church where the people really belted out the hymns, I stood in wonder at the beauty of their joy and energy. When the pastor hit the 45 minute mark of his sermon, I slumped in boredom. That has not changed for me—though today I bring “toys” to church, as in, my journal.

I honestly think I went to seminary, in part, because I realized that if the sermon had to be 45 minutes, I should be the guy walking around a bit and doing something. Who wants to listen to 45 minutes of information and anecdotes? Not me. If Jesus wanted a 45 minute lecture, I wanted to be the guy sharing it.

For all of my talk about disliking sermons, I can also point to a few sermons that were particularly life-changing. I don’t doubt the power of biblical teaching among God’s people. And I don’t begrudge it to those who feel the need for it in certain contexts.

I think the problem with sermons is the way they’ve become so standardized and laden with expectations we attach to them. I suspect the nature of the sermon will also change depending on what kind of church we attend.

People expect a sermon to teach biblical truth. Many pastors preach that way. However, I think that’s too narrow a goal for a sermon. We can accomplish these ends much more efficiently and completely by picking up a commentary. Sermons that only teach, whether for 15 or 45 minutes, are missing a golden opportunity.

Sermons are a chance for pastors to bring their people on the same page, to rally them around the things God is speaking to their community through scripture. Communicating a message like that could take 10 minutes or 60 minutes.

I see pastors straining themselves, taking hours to write sermons. I’ve heard lots of sermons in many, many churches, and let’s face it: we’ve probably heard more average to below average sermons than we’ve heard good to excellent ones. We place a ton of pressure on our pastors to knock it out of the park each Sunday, and that is a burden no one woman or man should bear.

I’m not so much opposed to the sermon as I’m opposed to its narrow role in the church and the way it strains many pastors. I know some pastors who specialize in sermons, and for them, it makes sense to emphasize the role of a sermon. However, even in that case, does the pastor draw a crowd more for the sermon than for the community? Is that even healthy?

As for the pastors who don’t specialize in writing sermons, what will we do with them? Are they able to lead according to their gifts without preaching? Will we accept them in our communities?

If a congregation is relying on a pastor to draw a crowd with her sermon or to open the Bible for them with his Bible-knowledge-rich sermon, are we possibly relying too much on one person for 45 minutes each week? It’s my role as a member of the congregation to invite people to our community. It’s my role as a follower of Jesus to study the scriptures. More than anything else, I need a pastor to point me in the right direction, to help me see the big picture of the Kingdom and our church’s role.

Pastors are often placed under way too much pressure each Sunday. The sermon is treated as the climax of the entire service, and if the sermon isn’t amazing, everyone goes home wondering why the pastor can’t be more like Charles Stanley or Rob Bell or T. D. Jakes.

This is where our liturgical friends have something to teach free-wheeling evangelicals like myself who make up our worship services on Friday afternoon, rather than following a tradition passed down for nearly 2,000 years that places communion at the end of each and every worship gathering.

I want my pastors to know they can preach for 10 or 60 minutes. I want my pastors to know they don’t have to attract a crowd or take on the burden of teaching me everything I need to know about the Bible. They just need to hear what God wants them to say, say it, and then point us to the body and blood of Jesus as we celebrate communion together.

Our pastors can’t always heal us with their words. That’s not a fault or a problem. That’s just a reality. The source of our healing talked about bread and wine, the symbols of a life broken and bled in order to conquer sin and death.

Sermons can be long or short. That doesn’t really matter. What matters is where we’re looking for our life. Sunday morning does not have to always rise and fall on the power of the sermon. No person should have that kind of burden. No Christian should rely on so flimsy a form. Nothing we can say can ever trump the power of these words, “This is my body, broken for you.” “This is my blood… poured out for you.”

That is a sermon we need to hear every Sunday.

Women in Ministry Series: The Winding Road

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When author Nicole Unice signed up for the women in ministry series, it just so happened that she could pick a date that coincided with the release of her first book: She’s Got Issues. That’s not to be confused with the sequel I hope she’ll write some day: She’s Got Tissues—hope for people with allergies. Whether or not she has tissues, Nicole has a story to tell, and I’m honored that she’s sharing it with us today:

In 2000, I was sure God called me to ministry. I was so sure about it, I traded a full scholarship at a local graduate school for a five-hour commute to seminary. With blank notebook and eager mind, I set off for what I imagined to be an amazing life in the church. I had never met a woman in ministry, but I was undeterred.

And then I took my first class. And I was a 23 year old female surrounded by men, professional forty-year old men. Pastors. I loved every word of the teaching but then a few of those men, the pastors, would speak up. They would quote bible verses to each other and talk about theology and they would sound like Pharisees. I would want to raise my hand and say, “excuse me, pastors, there is a professor here who actually has things to teach.” But instead I stayed quiet, and stared around that classroom and stretched my five-hour-commute legs and thought, God must be wondering how I heard him so wrong.

So I did what good Christian females do, and switched into the counseling program. There I was safe. I was with almost all women and a few quiet men, and the kindest and bravest professors who were both pastors and counselors, who taught me what it meant to be present in pain, to be a healing voice and touch, and to stop trying to cure when all I’m given is care.

And then I did what married women do. I got pregnant. I went underground and forgot about the call of 2000. I kept learning, but this time about childbirth and ear infections and how to parent with my husband and how to root deeply into community. And for a few hours each week, I traded my yoga pants for khaki pants and unlocked my counseling office door and received people. And it was ministry. And it was good.

I volunteered in women’s ministry and began to teach and a fire was kindled in my soul. Care was important, but counseling was never what I thought I would do in seminary. And then, nine long years after the call, I sat at a women’s leadership conference and listened to a woman preach with fire and with femininity and it was like nothing I had heard in any church and I began to cry. And I asked/shouted/cried to God:

Why didn’t you make me a man if you wanted me to pastor?

Why didn’t I stay in the pastoral program if you wanted me to teach?

Why won’t you bring me a woman mentor if you want me to make it in ministry?

And slowly, out of prayers of honesty and pain, what seemed wrong, God began to make right. I began to teach and to lead, to slowly integrate all I had learned in counseling with all I had experienced in ministry. I began to speak out with confidence, using the wisdom of years of listening to people behind my closed office door. And instead of one person listening to me “preach” with passion about how God loved her and listened to her, I taught groups.

Although I thought He had forgotten me, He never had. And although I thought my degree was wasted, it never was. And although I thought I was on the slow track, the mommy track, the wrong track, he was only shaping my path, using the twists and turns to smooth out the rough edges of my soul, to embrace myself as a leader and a follower, a challenger and a nurturer, a teacher and a listener.

The slow track pressed me to surrender, and I fought it. Surrendering meant God’s way of ministry, whether that involved a business card and an office or not. Surrendering meant it was not my job to change everyone’s mind about women in leadership. Because the way anyone in ministry changes the world is by looking like Jesus. It’s with gentleness, humility, and kindness. It’s with patience. It’s with a meekness that knows when to be strong and when to be silent.

These are not easy to come by for natural-born leaders, both men and women. But when I look in the rearview mirror of life, I don’t see one mistake. God used every bend in the long road to prepare me to fulfill the call of 2000. It’s 12 years later, and He’s right on time.

About This Week’s Blogger

headshotNicole Unice is a ministry leader at Hope Church in Richmond, VA. She teaches in a variety of capacities within the church. Her first book, She’s Got Issues (Tyndale) released this month. You can find out more about the book at http://www.ShesGotIssuesBook.com or follow her on Twitter: @nicoleunice.

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: Harriet Congdon

Belonging: The Worst Church Job Ever

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Remember the DJ at junior high and high school dances? He was usually some middle-aged guy dressed in black who struggled to provide a musical mix that combined popular songs with classic hits with slow dances with dances that have steps with anything else that eager teenagers requested. I never envied DJ’s. I thought someone would have to be crazy to take on a job like that.

Then I took on a job like that. I became a worship leader.

OK, I know you’re thinking, “But Ed, you’re a Baptist who attended Taylor University where there’s still a no-dancing policy! Surely worship leaders of your ilk didn’t have dances.”

This is true, but the challenges facing worship leaders are far greater than those faced by DJ’s, especially DJ’s at multi-generational parties. I’ve served in many positions in the church and witnessed all of them up close—from teacher to janitor. I am firmly convinced that being a worship leader is the worst job of them all. By worst, I mean it’s the most difficult, most draining, and least understood. Before you jump to the comment form to chew me out, let me explain.

Worship leaders are paid to stand on stage in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people and lead them into the worship of God. This is a holy, awesome, wonderful calling, but it also means that worship leaders are exposed in a very, very vulnerable position. Their worship is on stage for all to see, and you better believe someone is going to judge them.

I know a lot of people love their worship leaders, and there are some people who feel extremely fulfilled in their callings. In some churches worship leaders are quite happy. Great. My hands are lifted high in thanksgiving (or in my pockets if you’re a Baptist).

However, if there’s someone who is going to get dumped on, there are plenty of times when the worship leader comes into the line of fire for choosing the wrong songs, making people stand too long, or asking people to clap, raise their hands, or do something terribly unspeakable like… closing… their… eyes.

I know there are worship leaders who sometimes cross the line. I’ve done that myself, telling people to worship God in ways that weren’t authentic. I’m not making excuses for the times worship leaders get it wrong.

I’ve stood up there in front of hundreds of people, and I know what it feels like to lose my place in a song because I got so caught up in the glory of God. I’ve committed to long rehearsals and worked hard to get my team on the same page, only to hear that people are complaining about the drummer who is a bit too loud. I’ve tried to put together a meaningful worship service that reflects both a common theme and the musical diversity of a congregation, only to get my ears pinned back by folks who don’t like my song choices.

It’s moments like those where I felt like an embattled DJ, just trying to do my level best.

The hardest thing about criticism for worship leaders is that all of the critique centers around the worship of God. What a personal, intimate topic to attack each other over. I’d much rather scrub the toilets at church and hear from someone that I missed a spot than spend two rehearsals working on a worship set and spill my heart out on stage only to learn that a bunch of people aren’t happy with me.

If worship leaders are doing it right, they are completely consumed with God, lost in the presence of God rather than the hundreds of eyes focused on them. Anything could happen, and they need to somehow keep the service on course, stay focused on God, and then absorb criticism when it’s done.

I can handle criticism of my sermon. I don’t mind if someone thinks a program needs to change. However, when we start critiquing the way someone publicly worships for the benefit of others, we’re stepping onto slippery territory here.

Words like patience, gentleness, and humility come to mind when we speak of confronting a worship leader. In the past, I’ve been none of those things to worship leaders. I’ve seen people fail to extend those qualities to me as well.

Perhaps it all goes back to considering our desired results.

All too often, I’ve focused on the results, the shape of the church service or the songs I want the people to sing. When I griped to a worship leader about our song choices, I just wanted “better” songs. I didn’t give any thought to the challenges he faced. I soon experienced them for myself.

Perhaps we can extend more grace to one another in our Christian communities if we can picture something like this…

A young worship leader has just finished the second service on Sunday morning. He’s been through two rehearsals over the past week in addition to school, work, and a tense situation at home. He’s been up since 6 am, and all he wants now is a hoagie (think of a sub sandwich, only more Philadelphian and better).

As he lugs his guitar, amp, and song book out of the church, no one thanks him. No one tells him he did a good job.

Five feet away from the front door and the freedom of the outdoors, a couple pulls him aside. They are upset, worried that he’s not playing the right kinds of songs, and they want him to organize a special service dedicated to the songs they prefer—songs he doesn’t know, songs he’s sure he’ll mess up.

It would take him too long to explain all of this: the weariness of his week, his insecurities, or his annoyance at their pestering. He loses his temper. He won’t hear them out. He can’t do it. That’s the end of it.

He stomps off to his car, wondering what just happened, who he’d just become, and what it means to lead people in worship anyway. Deep down he knows it’s not about him, but when you’re a worship leader in front of everyone, it’s hard to know when it’s about the people in the pews, when it’s about yourself, and when you’ve finally found that magnificent sweet spot where all of the anger, bickering, and doubt fade away in the presence of a loving, majestic God.

Belonging: We Fight the System, Not Each Other

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I used to fight for contemporary worship songs at the various churches I attended.

It was a stupid fight because it was also an unnecessary fight.

Incorporating new worship songs was a no-brainer. There were plenty of people who supported a mix of old and new songs in church.

But I encountered some resistance, and therefore I resolved to fight against the traditionalists. We needed fresh expressions of God alongside the tried and true hymns of yesterday, and I carried my guitar off to war.

I believed the church should look a certain way. I had allies affirming me, patting me on the back as I retreated each Sunday after launching a rhythmic salvo. Some even told me I needed to start a new service that left the hymn crooners with their dusty, yellowing hymnals.

Others believed the service looked just fine as is. They had their supporters too.

One side wanted to preserve the church’s worship style. The other wanted to change it.

Both were fighting for a personal preference rooted in culture. The 1800’s and the late 1900’s were engaged in a church-rocking struggle.

Once, I met a young pastor in the midst of a particularly intense worship war. Suddenly, when I saw a worship war from the outside, the black and white lines of my own struggle evaporated. As he talked about the combat his worship leader waged against certain members of the congregation, the futility of it all struck me.

I’d been wrong to fight, even if the church really did need to freshen up its song selection.

At the climax of his story, the young pastor recounted a conversation with his worship leader. He told the worship leader, “You are the leader, you’re in charge, you need to make them follow you.”

I said very little in reply. My heart broke. Who are we fighting against?

The irony of worship music and worship in general is that we all bring personal preference and past experience into a mix that is tough to join together each Sunday morning so that we can all sing to God with one voice. We are members of the same body, worshipping the same Lord, and yet it’s so easy to become defensive, fighting for what we want the church to look like.

In the midst of fighting for a certain feel in the church, we lose sight of one another. I know I certainly painted some people with broad brush strokes, writing off their perspectives, and they did the same to me.

One thing a lot of people didn’t realize about me back in the days of the worship wars is that I actually really like hymns. My problem as a worship leader was my lack of musical ability. I couldn’t play them. When I did try to play them, I often messed up or lost my way around the third or fourth verse.

Why didn’t we have that conversation?

I knew I was one of the only people pushing to bring in the new worship songs at that time. If I admitted that I’m not quite cut out for leading worship, which I wasn’t, who would carry the flag for my side?

Mixed up in the worship wars, we all faced a far deadlier enemy, our selfish desires for control. As I witnessed one side holding tightly to its way of doing church, I chose to wage a frontal assault. In the end, we ended up fighting one another instead of our perceptions about what church needs to look like.

So far as I can tell, there is a truce in many of the worship wars. A treaty has been brokered. However, there were casualties. I know I caused a few of them.

Whenever I feel tempted to exert an opinion about the way a church handles worship music these days, I stop myself. Such things are not worthy of my breath or brain waves. My guitar has long since been disarmed, hidden in the peace and quiet of my bedroom.

Whatever we end up singing, I’m done fighting worship wars. I’m a worship pacifist. I can just say thank you for the people around me. I need the people around me far more than I need my favorite songs, and that has been one of the greatest lessons I could have ever learned about belonging to a community.

Women in Ministry Series: Confessions of a Reluctant Minister

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Today’s guest post is by J. R. Goudeau, whose mother literally wrote the book on women in ministry:

I’ve spent most of my adult life going back and forth between wanting to do ministry and running from it like the plague. I know the gifts that God has given me, teaching and loving and helping people in need, are designed for ministry. I know that because I inherited them from my mother, who is one of the most gifted ministers I have ever known.

The reason I’ve run from them is because I’ve seen firsthand what it can be like for a woman in ministry.

Over the many, many years my mother has been teaching, in Sunday church, ladies’ class, and now at a Christian university as a theology professor, she has been patient, kind, and loving. Mostly, people have listened well to her. Sometimes she has been boxed into stereotypes—a woman who speaks must be “pushy” or have an agenda.

My mother does not. She is gentle and strong, thoughtful and discerning. She is not afraid of saying what is truth, but she is not out to shove an idea on a church that is not ready for it. I’ve heard her counsel churches that were tackling the role of women in their congregations to take their time, to pray, to listen to each other, to base their changes on strong theology and not on feelings or emotions or the economic power of a rich influential few.

My mother is not afraid to challenge freshman boys who enter her class ready to spew their opinions on anyone. But she spends most of her time working with young women who plan on using their gifts and young men who listen to her as a teacher, regardless of her gender.

She has earned her place among her mostly male colleagues through her teaching, her scholarship, and her desire to partner with them. She literally wrote the book on how to handle balanced and loving partnership between men and women in the church. Her book, Bound and Determined, argues that “we are bound together as Christian women and men by God’s design and that we must live with a determination to be God’s holy people in all of our partnerships.” It takes both women and men to have this conversation.

I watched as she lived out the stories that became her book. I watched as she navigated over the years the deeply-held convictions of people who thought that her gender kept her from using the gifts that God gave her. I watched her pain from, and forgiveness for, people who said hurtful or untrue things over the years.

She handled these situations with maturity. In my immaturity, I couldn’t always understand why she bothered.

The role of women in the church was the last thing I wanted to talk about.

And then I had two daughters. And the thought that they might ever feel like I felt at the age of seven, when I wanted to be a boy so I could preach, keeps me up at night. And I finally understand why both my mother and my father talked and prayed and moved to make a space for women in the church where I grew up, where women now teach.

It was for me. And my sister. And my brother. Because our legacy of faith is the most important thing for both of them. Because they value our voices, male and female. Because they want us to grow up to be the people God has called us to be, nothing more and nothing less.

Since becoming a mother, I have found myself moving back into ministry, just like my mother. When I was little, they used to strap my pack ‘n’ play in the back of our big van (it was the ‘70s) and haul me to college ministry devos. Now we bring our daughters along (in car seats, of course) to poor neighborhoods all over Austin while visiting Burmese refugees. In the last few years I’ve spent most of my time with mothers who weave and create traditional handicrafts in their home. I was drawn toward ministry even when I wasn’t looking for it. Looking back on the last five years in which I’ve been a mother, I realize I’ve created the same balance of academia, ministry, and motherhood my own mother cultivated in my growing-up years.

I couldn’t be prouder to take after her. And I can never thank her enough for the path she forged, for me and for women like me. I’ll spend my life trying.

My oldest daughter has already begun rolling her eyes at the things I say. I hear her tone, the distinct “MOOOOOM” only a daughter can roll out, and I know the road ahead of us could be long. I’ll probably embarrass her over the years. But I can only hope she has a fraction of the respect and love for me someday that I feel for my own mother.

I’ve entered ministry, full-on with my sleeves rolled up. I’m ready to talk and teach. Because I want my daughters to be the women that God created them to be. I’m ready to carve out a space for their precious, intelligent, beautiful voices. Just like my mother did for me.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

JessicaWeb_3000J. R. Goudeau is the Executive Director and co-founder of Hill Country Hill Tribers, as well as a grad student in English literature. When she’s supposed to be working on her dissertation, she can usually be found blogging about books, babies and Burmese refugees at loveiswhatyoudo.wordpress.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.

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: Nicole Unice

Belonging: My First Clues about Belonging in Church

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I should have known right away why the church we visited in Connecticut felt like a place I could belong. I just needed to compare it to every other church that felt like a round hole for me, the obviously square peg. However, the thought eluded me.

Rather than wondering why I felt like I belonged, I began to wonder why it didn’t repulse me.

For years I’d sat in services micro-analyzing everything. I’d grown so attached to my opinions on what the church should be and look like, that I found it hard to accept anything. I used to obsess over the ways everyone wanted me to meet with God, rather than just letting go.

Something had changed in me. God taught me to go to church and listen for him with his people. Sometimes he took me in a very different direction than the actual service. Sometimes I didn’t sing along to the songs that made no sense—like that one really popular song that mashes together a bunch of biblical ideas from the second coming to a revival in a way that I could never sort out.

I just closed my eyes and meditated on God as my savior rather than fighting the song. This was a small step for me.

I stopped trying to shape the church into my own image. I don’t know how I arrived at that point. Honestly, I think seven years outside of the church was the only cure for me. God had to strip all of my desires to control away from me.

While outside of the church I knew two things for sure:

1. I wanted to be in Christian community more than anything else.

2. I was a toxic threat to Christian community as I tried to let go of my preconceived notions for the church.

While God certainly changed me, there was something else that happened when I started going to that church in Connecticut: I found people who were asking the same questions and worshipping in ways that made more sense to me.

Just thinking superficially, our sanctuary felt more like a “cozy” café than the “bright, generic conference center feel” of the churches built by my parents’ generation. I put my cultural opinions in quotes there. It’s not like one is right or wrong. They both reflect the styles, habits, and values of cultures.

These values permeated everything from the questions people asked to the season of life for our friends. We were a church that consisted primarily of generations X and Y, and I had no idea how dramatically this impacted me until a friend pointed it out.

We certainly had some diversity of generations, but our church clearly reflected the values of my own generation. There was something so familiar and life-giving in discovering people who had the same struggles, questions, and ways of meeting God. They created the kind of sacred space that I longed for in my spirit.

I still don’t know what to think about all of this.

I don’t like the idea of letting one culture’s values shape our church culture so radically for each generation. What will my own kids think of a church shaped by Generation Y? It will no doubt appear to be extremely dull to them.

As I returned each Sunday and began to attend small group, I gave in to the allure of joining with my own tribe. I’d been in the wilderness for seven years. I couldn’t afford to hold myself to some kind of high standard where I waited for the perfect church that somehow transcended generational boundaries and provided the perfect mix of race, gender, and affluence.

Does such a church even exist?

Sometimes you need to just work within the limitations of our world, and even within limitations and flaws you can create something beautiful.

And besides, whether you attend a Roman Catholic Church or a staunchly fundamentalist Bible church, you’re experiencing a version of church from a particular time and place. It’s not like I’m doing anything different by attending my Generation X-Y church.

Our problems start when one church starts to declare it has tapped into the only biblical way to worship God. After my friend pointed this out to me, I realized that sitting in the round in a sanctuary graced by earth tones and a rocking worship band was tapping into the familiar.

For that season, I needed something familiar.

I needed to belong. I needed to know I wasn’t the only person like me trying to find God. It was the beginning of a long journey out of the wilderness. Sometimes you need to find your own people in order to figure out the path home.