This morning Guy and I taught one of our church’s adult classes on the topic of “Jesus & Women.” We talked about 1st century Greek, Roman and Jewish culture in which women were powerless possessions of their male head-of-households. We looked at biblical examples of Jesus’ interaction with women and saw how He respectfully engaged with them and how, in more than one case, He used them to preach and teach and effectively spread the good news. And I told my story, or at least some of it in view of the topic. This is what I shared:
When Guy first mentioned that I had been asked to speak on Jesus & Women, I hesitated. I took a deep breath. I thought, “Ah, here we go again, the woman issue…” Why are we talking about Jesus & Women? I don’t see Jesus & Men on the list… But women.
We talk about Jesus & Women because women have been culturally disrespected, in and out of the Church. We talk about women because the Bible was written in a patriarchal culture. We talk about women because the Bible has been used to endorse disrespect for women and their God-given gifts. We talk about women because Paul wrote some things that the Church has long chosen to read literally, and I believe erroneously, rather than understanding that the patriarchal culture was firmly in Paul’s view. Given that Paul himself recognized and honored gifted female leaders as partners in ministry – Lydia, Priscilla, Junia – I wonder if Paul isn’t shaking his head in heaven at how his comments continue to be misunderstood… And so, if we’re talking about women because women are still a misunderstood segment of God’s beloved, then I wonder if perhaps a man could best present that argument.
We talk about Jesus & Women because, thankfully, Jesus had a radically different, inclusive approach to women, uncommon to His culture. We talk about Jesus & Women because our Creator God made all of us, male and female, in His image; our Savior Jesus died to redeem and restore all of us, male and female; and the Spirit of God indwells and gifts all of us, male and female, equipping us to do every good work He has planned for us since the beginning of time.
And we talk about Jesus & Women because, thankfully, we, at this local church, in this Presbyterian denomination, want to learn from, be shaped by, and emulate the grace and love of Jesus in our dealings with all people. I am grateful. And that gives me the courage to get personal with you. To be vulnerable. To be myself.
I am not a politician. I am a woman, and I believe God has gifted and called me into ministry. Not ministry to children, nor music ministry, nor even women’s ministries – all good, but not my immediate calling. But being a woman who believes God has called her to ministry, and professional ministry, in a non-traditional woman’s role does not make me a politician. I don’t like feeling like I have to defend myself, my gifts, my place in ministry, even my God-given desire to pursue Him and honor Him in the way He has made me to love and serve Him. I’ve never felt excited about being a “token” or a “representative,” even though I have occasionally recognized it as an honor to model for other women that they, too, can serve God in whatever ways He has called them. I have seldom felt any enthusiasm about continuing to break through the jagged edges of glass ceiling women in ministry before me have shattered. I don’t want to be defensive, and I don’t want to be angry. And yet I recognize the injustice that I and other women have endured as we seek to be true to God and His calling on our lives. Hence my hesitation.
But let me talk about Jesus and me, Jesus and this particular woman standing in front of you. I have known that Jesus loves me as long as I have had the ability to think. My mom told me that, before she knew she was pregnant with me, she felt like God asked her if she would like a baby. She said, “Whatever you want, Lord.” He replied, “You will have a daughter.” So when two doctors told her she would have a boy based on how she carried her pregnancy (pre-ultrasound, of course), she said no, she had it on Ultimate Authority that she would have a baby girl.
That’s my birth story: God chose me first. God knew me. God planned me. That absolutely shaped my self-identity. [Honestly, I wish my story for every baby, that every baby would know from their very own beginning that God loves them, chose them, knows them inside and out, planned them and has plans for them…]
As a kid, I was at church every time the doors opened. Once I even showed up at an Elders’ meeting because it was on the church calendar (they sent me home). I did stuff that boggles my brain now – door-to-door evangelism, passing out gospel tracts on San Diego beaches – all because a church leader asked me to. I was on every leadership team through high school. I went to Westmont College, a Christian liberal arts school, where I had fabulous male and female teachers and mentors and my faith continued to stretch and grow. Throughout my life, I have loved Jesus and I have loved His Church.
It’s interesting to me that so many churches allow young women to serve in youth leadership positions but once they hit adulthood that door slams. At the first church we served our female students could be greeters and ushers, but I couldn’t. I had to promise the elders, all men, that if I taught male students, Guy would be in the room. I loved and led to Christ and discipled a group of young girls; Guy had the privilege of baptizing them, whereas I couldn’t because of my gender. Later, we finally left that church because a new senior pastor wouldn’t talk to me directly – he’d call Guy in to his office to answer my questions. At youth ministry conferences, I have crossed paths with at least two of my own youth pastors – and neither would talk to me because they couldn’t respect a woman holding a ministry position. Guy and I eventually aligned ourselves with the Presbyterian Church because here more than elsewhere I am free to exercise my gifts and be who Jesus created me to be.
As a young adult I thought my professional path would be in the arts – during and after college I worked in PR and Events at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. But Guy was working with students at a church and I fell more and more in love. I wanted to do what he was doing. Our church did a series on spiritual gifts and my top gift came up “Prophecy.” I didn’t want it. I did not want to be a man with a big stick telling people what they were doing wrong, things they knew better and didn’t want to hear…
[See, even then, my own biblical view of women was misshapen – I hadn’t been taught, hadn’t noticed, that Miriam and Deborah were Old Testament prophets; that on the day of Pentecost, Peter quotes the prophet Joel:
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days… (Acts 2:17-18)]
I thought prophets were mean old crazy men. And people generally don’t like prophets. But others confirmed that gift in me – they saw my deep connection to God’s Spirit and willingness to speak His Word. And while some would say prophecy is a dead gift, others affirm that preaching and teaching was the prophets’ true role. And I do love to write about and teach God’s truth. It wasn’t long after that first spiritual gifts test that God miraculously moved people and hearts and landed me a position on a church staff.
I have never doubted that Jesus loves me. And I believe that Jesus has given me gifts that are only satisfied as I use them to tell His story, His truth, to share His Word. Like the woman at the well sharing the good news of the Messiah with her village, like Mary exclaiming the Best News Ever: “I have seen the Lord!”
The music director at the first church we served was a woman. She laid out the reality of a hard path before me as a woman in ministry. She warned that if I thought I could do anything else, I should run hard and fast in that direction. From time to time I recall her advice, but God still hasn’t given me any freedom to run anywhere but to Him.