It’s time to talk about Women
I’ve decided that I’d like to begin a series of posts about the topic of ‘Women in Ministry’. I’ve held off in the past from speaking about these things and from the outset I want to say these posts reflect my own opinions and not the church/church network I serve and I am part of. Yet, equally, anything I say here will aim to highly honour the places I have been called by Jesus to serve and love. So everyone can just relax… ok?!
Other reasons I’ve held off speaking about ‘Women in Ministry’ – women who serve and lead in a church context – is that firstly, I’ve needed a LONG time working out what I think about such issues, they are complex and nuanced and one woman’s experience of reading the bible and living it out in the place she’s been called by God, is very different to another woman’s experience. I’ve spent the best part of 20 years reading theology, weeping, praying, reading more, weeping some more and then praying some more. I haven’t only done this individually but alongside others in formal learning settings, as well as countless discussions with friends and colleagues. The issues surrounding gender roles in the family and church is like wading through a quagmire; littered with landmines. I’ve been hurt a number of times by what I’ve read and heard around these topics. It has taken me MANY years to get to a place of peace and cohesion in my own thinking, let alone have anything useful to say to others.
Secondly, I’ve not always been sure what God has been up to in my own life around calling and many times I’ve been unsure where he has been leading me or what His intentions have been. As I approach 40 (in the next few years) I think I can see a bit clearer than I used to. I have a more helpful and ‘lived in’ perspective that has been formed, along with my character, over time. Whilst I’m still excited to see what Jesus will do with my future, I have learned much along the way and see how God has been so kind and faithful. I can say with confidence that He does not put gifts in us without the intention of using them, or without bringing us into a place (eventually) where we can use them. Nothing is wasted in the kingdom, not a single experience, bruise, tear or breakthrough. He has a plan and He WILL fulfill it for your life.
Lastly, my other reasons for not speaking about ‘Women in Ministry before now have to do with LOVE and WISDOM. I love the wider family Jesus has called me to serve. I deeply care for my brothers and sisters here. Until recently, I have not known how to comment contructively without causing undue disruption to relationships. Now, however, I have learned how to love and embrace imperfection and be content and secure in the midst of situations I’m wrestling with that remain difficult to resolve. I also find myself working with the most wonderful teams of people who I trust will engage (and are already engaging) with these issues well. I can truely say that whatever comes, I have learned and continue to learn to be at peace with where Jesus has called me to be. This is because I have learned to trust HIM and really believe that my life finds its ultimate fulfiment through Jesus and because of Him. I no longer find myself side-glancing at the lives of others men and women, wondering if the grass is greener and thereby rendering the testimony of my own life, doubtful*. It’s from this place I feel able now to share some of my own journey in the hope that it will help other women who are struggling along on their own quest.
The main battle in my own life, has not been with others (although at times it has felt like that too), but rather within my own heart, mind and soul. I have found the path to peace as a woman in ministry was not discovered by climbing into ivory towers of theological thought, throwing down granades of decisive arguments. No, rather it was found by traversing the inner chambers of the soul, allowing God to lead me on a journey of self discovery.
By following the Spirit’s lead, I found in scripture that there can be some special moments in our lives when one can receive a download of revelation. A biblical story appears to come alive to you and speak to the very heart of a situation you are facing. Not only that, somehow you find yourself drawn to particular characters whose story lines give you hope for your own personal odyssey. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that we all…
‘find ourselves in the biblical record of Gods saving work’ and that through scripture ‘we are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth.’Dietrich Bonhoeffer- Life Together
I, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was ‘ripped out of my own existence’ and placed down in the middle of scriptural realities when I read the story of the Two Women who come before King Solomon on 1 Kings 3. Each are locked in a war over maternal rights to a child they both long to bring up.
Reading this story, in the midst of grieving deeply after being shut out of a male-only Eldership team for a church I had helped to birth, was a kind of cathartic awakening. Despite being a woman with leadership gifting and a genuine God-given call to plant and nurture churches, my motives and character had been questioned**. My heart stung at being left unable to bring up, what felt like, a beloved child. Through this story God seemed to be showing me He knew how I was feeling and also showed me some of the choices and tests I was facing.
Through the following series of posts I will use the story of the ‘Two Women’ in 1 Kings 3: 16-28 to open up , what I hope will be some helpful and healing thoughts about the predicament many women find themselves as women divinely commissioned to nurture and bring up churches like children they’ve birthed, bare responsibilty for and dearly love.
I hope you can join me on the journey, may it be as healing for you as it has been for me.
* I borrowed some of the language and thinking from a woman who was an Abbess – wrestling with the call to celibacy. Whilst my situation and calling is different, the sentiments are shared. I will refer to the prayer that these ideas comes from in future posts. But for now the book reference is ‘Give up your small ambitions’ by Michael Griffiths
**I’d like to say this happened a long time ago and does not involve the teams of people I currently serve alongside.