A look at the unique calling of women to pastoral ministry.
When I was asked to write about a woman’s perspective on the call to pastoral ministry, I had a difficult time figuring out where to begin. My mind flashed back to last year when I was sitting at a conference, thinking about how there was no way I’d ever be a spokesperson for women pastors in the Church of the Nazarene. I didn’t even want to be!
That thought still resonates, yet I felt the need to accept the assignment and explain how I got to where I am today. Perhaps my unique circumstances require more history than I have time to share. Perhaps this is true of everyone. Yet, I will share a brief clip of my story.
A Call to Ministry
I grew up an only child with a devout, Baptist mom who did not work outside the home, and a non-practicing Catholic dad who worked tirelessly to provide for our family. At best, theology was confusing to me, but gender roles were not. Women tended to domestic responsibilities, and from either side there was no question that women could not be pastors. This was not up for debate in my household.
Early in adolescence, I made a decision that shook the religious foundations of my family. Dissatisfied with my youth group experience, I asked to attend the local Church of the Nazarene with a friend of mine. I had to fight for this, which might give credibility to how committed to the Church of the Nazarene I became. Although I am admittedly jealous of those whose genealogical roots distinguish them as third, fourth, or even fifth generation Nazarenes, I know that I chose this for myself.
With this choice came a whole new world of possibilities that I never knew existed.
In my middle teen years, the call to ministry on my life was still confusing, but it was no longer out of the question. I don’t feel as if I ever fought this call, but discerning what it meant was difficult. Even in such an affirming denomination, I often felt that girls called to ministry were directed toward missionary work or roles as children’s pastors. In recent years, I think we have done a better job of encouraging women in pastoral ministry; but we still have work to do.
There are unique challenges for women called to pastoral ministry, but also unique advantages. I am working hard to lean into those advantages and embrace my gifts. It is particularly important as women in ministry that we know who we are in Christ; but in order to know who we are, we must also know who we are not. We must recognize our gifts and our distinct callings without comparing ourselves to others.
Honestly Embracing Identity
Several years ago, I began to blog. I named my publication Flip Flops, Glitter, and Theology. More recently, I have ventured into the world of podcasting using this same name. Multiple friends have asked for an explanation regarding the name. They have all been men, and the concern has often been whether or not they might be out of place filling guest spots as bloggers or interviewees in a forum they assume is geared toward women only. (As a side note, I have more male readers and listeners than female, sometimes with as large a margin as two to one!)
I chose this name because I feel it is important to share who I am and what I love. I don’t think women in ministry should have to be “one of the guys,” surrendering all things perceptibly female in order to gain respect. Just as we should not expect pastors from different cultures to conform to a monolithic approach to ministry, we should not expect this of our female pastors either!
The question then becomes, “How are we different?” A satirical article came out almost a decade ago listing some reasons why men should not be pastors. It was meant to be humorous and was based on the stereotypical assumptions that push back against women in ministry. To succumb to social trends that insist either gender has a specific place in the home, in the workforce, or anywhere else, is countercultural to the inclusivity that Scripture promotes. God does not show favoritism.
The Church of the Nazarene has been ordaining women from its beginnings.
For Nazarenes, the ordination of women is not a project of modern feminist movements. Women called to pastoral ministry are people called by God and are given the opportunity to explore and pursue that calling.
Ministry is Not Easy, Regardless of Gender
Being a woman called to ministry is not easy, but none of my colleagues, male or female, cite “easy” as an expectation of their calling. Sometimes I feel as if I have to create my own path in order to responsibly minister to others in the way I feel called. I don’t know that this is what I would have dreamed about doing with my life. However, it is what I have done, and I feel good about that.
A favorite Scripture that encourages me comes from Esther 4:14 (ESV): “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” I am especially drawn to the word “you” in this passage because, as the story of Esther goes, she is the one who was essential to the task at hand. When I consider this scripture in light of my own life, I feel that “you” means “me.” I do not have to pretend to be anyone else, and neither do you. May we all serve together in unity, rejoicing in the diversity that comes from answering the call from God and be exactly who we were intended to be, for such a time as this.
Lisa Michaels is a follower of Jesus, a theology student, author, blogger, editor, educator, wife, mom, and aspiring peacemaker.
Holiness Today, Jan/Feb 2018.