A piece from about a year ago, The Apology I Didn’t Know That I Needed, has come to mind today. It began when I read Beth Moore’s open letter. It brought back a lot of thoughts and emotions I’ve had in recent years. Moore’s letter has been a reverberating conversation among women on and offline. Some are still afraid to speak up because they fear the repercussions. The fact that women are even hesitant to speak openly about their feelings should be an indicator of how much work we have to do in this area.
Then, when I read a response from Thabiti Anyabwile that took me right back to that moment last year when two men who had never personally slighted me apologized…
… and how that apology did and still brings me to sobbing tears.
I’m going to step out in a level of open transparency here, that I’ve never done. Let the consequences be what they may. If my “official days” in ministry end here, so be it. The Lord has not fired me yet, and I cling to His promises that whatever may come my way is just another storm that I will have to lean into Him.
Before I entered into ministry, I had a secular job. In my company, some of my greatest assets and supporters were men. They recognized my natural gifting for leadership, my gifts of administration, and they appreciated how my mind worked. They took me through the ranks, taught me what they had learned over years of experience, and set me loose in our corporate world. To this day, I still think back fondly of these men who fashioned me into a better leader than I could have ever imagined.
These guys, they didn’t need me to get a certain number of years of experience under my belt. They recognized my potential and developed it, intentionally. To this day, I remain the youngest person to ever be promoted to level in which I achieved (before leaving work to raise my daughters) and the fastest to promote through these levels. My last promotion came when one of our Vice Presidents came into our location and decided to hold his conference call in my managers office. He called in everyone of us who had promoted into middle management to sit in on the call. When it was over, he asked for feedback on what we heard in the call. He welcomed our ideas and criticisms. I was one two women in the office among about 10 men.
When I spoke, he listened. Not that he agreed with everything I had to say, but I could tell that this was more than just obligatory hearing of words. He truly listened to what I had to say. The meeting was concluded and we all went back to our departments. Thirty minutes later, I was called into the office. I was offered an immediate promotion, significant salary increase, benefits, annual bonus, and so on. I was only twenty years old.
In two weeks time, I moved to a new location for training. By the end of my training, they asked me to stay on at that location and be responsible for training new managers coming into the position. I was responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory, daily sales, and a team of over 150 people under my management. I’ve hired people, fired people, and developed future leaders in the company. I’ve written training manuals for positions I have held with them. In a field dominated by men, I could have never reached the level I did without their support, encouragement, and their investment in me. I learned and gained more from my time there than I probably ever could repay.
The Lord took me on a new journey. After having our children, I began to invest my time and gifts into ministry. Over the years my involvement with ministry grew deeper and resulted in my returning to school for a Divinity degree. I’m thankful that the Lord has always pressed me forward in ministry, made a path for me to take, and walked alongside me when the road was rough.
And ministry has been rough.
In twenty years of ministry service, I have never been paid a dime. I’ve never been “on staff”, nor even invited to a ministry staff meeting despite leading a ministry in the church. I’ve never led in a ministry that has significant financial support, and quite often had zero financial support. If you have attended an event that I have planned, more than likely the money came out of my own pocket to cover the costs. I counted it as an offering to the church, and gave gladly. I’m not complaining, I’m just stating the facts.
What ministries have I led in, you might wonder?
The majority of the last twenty years has been serving in Women’s Ministry. A ministry that aims to serve at least half (if not more) of the church. If you know me, you’ll know that despite being a “volunteer” leader… I’m giving full time hours to the cause. I’m reading articles, researching trends. I attend conferences, buy books, invest in resources… all of which is at my own expense.
And despite my devotion and dedication to serving women, it has been nothing but a struggle. A struggle for funding. A struggle for using space. A struggle to have the Women’s Ministry seen as equally valuable as Youth Ministry, College Ministry, Children’s Ministry, etc. A struggle to lead without being micromanaged and mistrusted. A struggle against worries of being accused of usurping or being a Jezebel.
I came from a place in the secular world, where as a leader I was trusted with so much… to a world of ministry where I felt like I would never be trusted with anything. A secular world, where I could find a new job or move into new positions with ease… to a world of ministry where finding a job that would hire me as a woman was like finding a unicorn. A secular world where those who were higher up were interested in my education, background, and experience… to a world of ministry where no one even cared to ask.
It is hard to move from a place where you are implicitly trusted to one where you feel for every one step forward you make you get pulled two steps behind.
The truth is, I’ve been hurt in ministry. I just hadn’t realized how much so until that day last year when Hunter from Serge apologized to me, when Pastor Sandy Willson apologized to us as a group. It is incredibly hard to be an educated, equipped, woman gifted for leadership in the world of ministry. When you are constantly told from the pulpit how much value you have to the Lord and His kingdom work… so long as your calling is Children’s Ministry, Coffee/Bagel Ministry, VBS, and working in the nursery.
I had thought these experiences were unique to myself. However in the last umpteen months I’ve learned that this is not the case. I’ve listened to women share how they were dismissed from their volunteer position because the church could finally afford to pay someone to do that job and hired a man. Do you have any idea how that feels to be told that you are only valued for the free work you do, but not enough to get paid to do the same job? It doesn’t feel good.
You can’t imagine how I felt when a Pastor, at my suggestion of using women in the church to share the load of responsibilities that were overwhelming him, said to me:
“The greatest gift the women in my church can give me is to serve their husbands and children.”
What about the women who don’t have children or are not married? What about the women who are capable of managing their homes and serving in ministry? How dismissive. What an assumption that women can’t lead in ministry and serve the Kingdom at the same time? This may have been the first time I was speechless in my life.
I’ve known to many women accused of having a Jezebel spirit or being divisive for standing up for themselves (their calling) and their ministry. I’ve known too many women who have had their gifts and callings dismissed. I’ve known too many women who have sat quietly despite their experience and education, simply because they knew better than to speak up. I’ve watched churches hire men from other states when there were women in the body who could not only do the work, but even needed the income the job would provide.
To come from a world where I was trusted to oversee so much and into a world where I seemingly can be trusted with anything (for no other reason than my gender), it is incredibly saddening… and frustrating. Women with strong leadership skills are seen as difficult and controlling, yet men with those same leadership qualities would be considered assertive and driven.
And, I think what hit me so hard about Beth Moore’s open letter was this…
If Beth Moore feels silenced, what hope is there for me? If Beth Moore is still fighting against all of these things, what hope is there for me? If Beth Moore has been afraid to speak up, what hope is there for me?
If the few women in the world of ministry that actually do have any real significant influence are speaking this way… what can ever change for me? For my churches? For my community? For the Women’s Ministry leaders whom I serve?
If they are not even willing to listen to Beth Moore, what hope will I ever have of getting Pastors to hear my heart for Women’s Ministry? My deep desire to disciple women, intentionally? My calling to do Women’s Ministry differently than the preconceived notions they have in the mind of days past? Can they even hear that? Do they even want to? Is it possible?
I realized the number of times over the years I have had to defend myself to people because I support Women’s Ministry. The number of times I have had to caveat a point I was making on leadership with a disclaimer that I don’t desire nor feel called to the pulpit. Why should I have to give a disclaimer about myself in order to speak about ministry leadership?
Why? For the very reasons Moore states in her open letter. For the very things that Anyabwile apologizes for in his response. Because this is the every day battle of a woman in ministry leadership. Moore’s letter reminded me that the wounds of ministry leadership for women are still pretty raw (even if there is healing happening). Anyabwile’s response was another apology from someone who never slighted me… but yet I needed to hear.
And, that is the hope for me. The hope that as more people speak up, that more change can happen. Hope that our 30% of seminary graduates that are women will have jobs in ministry. Hope that when jobs open at local churches that they would not only welcome but seek applications from women. Hope that Women’s Ministry would be seen as equally valuable as other ministries in the church. Hope that our leaders and staff would recognize the gifts of women and intentionally develop and implement those gifts into their church.
For me to have such hope, it means that I too much be willing to speak on the subject. I can’t let Beth Moore be the only chicken willing to be fried. We can’t let a few voices speak up and take all the heat, but instead be willing to speak up as well. In doing so we illustrate the real scope of the problem we need to address, the hurdles we must overcome.
The more I look into the broad picture of leadership in the Scriptures, the less exclusive it appears to be. The deeper I dig, the more I learn about the women that God trusted … that Jesus taught… the disciples co-labored with. We can’t toss aside the gifting and anointing of half the body, or try to force those gifts into a small segment of volunteer positions in the church that we have decided are “ok” for women.
There is so much work to be done, so many people to reach, so many to serve, why are we handicapping ourselves?
So, I write this fully expecting to be added to the list of heretics and false teachers by the critics. If you would have asked me twenty years ago if I expected this moment, I would tell you there was no way. Yet, here I am. Sharing the truth of my experiences (really a fraction of it), and a willingness to be part of change and growth. For years I was in the camp of stay and pray. I’ve prayed for change, I served outside of my calling in order to be supportive, and truly thought that this was the right pathway.
But today, after conversations and reflections… it’s a time to speak up.
We, the women who have been hurt, still love the church… local and global. We still love our church leaders and church family. We have been praying a long time. We are still praying. We will not stop praying. Our hearts have not been bent from our mission and calling, we await the opportunity to use it in it’s fullness.