This post is linked to The Week of Mutuality that Rachel Held Evans is hosting at her blog this week.
I was 18 and it was my first time preaching. I stood in the pulpit and gave my oft-practiced, now very memorized message. It was well-received and most of the people in my congregation were affirming and positive. What I remembered was the man at the front who, as soon as I began to speak, turned and walked out of the sanctuary.
“I’m quitting my program; I want to go to a Christian university and become a youth pastor,” I told my father.
“That’s stupid,” was his response. “It will be hard for you to find work. It’s mostly men who do that.”
I went anyway. I’m stubborn.
We sat around a table in the student lounge. He was loud, abrasive and proclaiming the absurdity of a woman preaching, of a woman being a pastor, of those churches that allowed such a travesty. I sat, silently raging and saying nothing. My boyfriend later told me he was proud of me for not entering into a debate. I mostly felt like a coward who was afraid he was right.
It was the weekly service at the church plant my husband and I were attending. The pastor was a talented speaker. He opened his Bible to 1 Timothy and began to preach on the place of women in the church. Not elders. Not youth pastors. Certainly not standing behind a pulpit. But we could help in the nursery or children’s church. This was what God said.
I decided not to stay silent this time. I called him and we talked for over an hour. He said he didn’t think he remembered John Wesley having women minister with him (he did). Yes, women could be children’s pastors, but the Youth & Family Pastor (a male) was always the one to communicate with the parents, to exert any leadership over the men in our congregation. This was what the Bible taught us.
We didn’t go back.
A group of teenage girls in my basement. We laughed and ate junk food and watched romantic comedies. We talked about high school, boys and relationships, body image. I had been there. I had been a teenage girl. I got it.
He was in grade 8, a little short, a little awkward. But he was funny, and he needed someone to talk to, someone to hang out with him and remind him that he mattered. So we played basketball in the gym. He hung out with me and my husband and we played video games. He had found acceptance.
One Sunday after I preached, an older gentleman approached me.
“How old are you?” He asked.
“God has given you a gift. He is using you.”
When I was 17 and I felt like God was calling me to work with teenagers, I never once considered that being a woman would stand in my way (that will tell you a lot about the church I grew up in). It did, though. I’ve had to defend my choices far too many times. I’ve had Corinthians and Timothy and Ephesians spouted at me more times than I can count. But here’s the thing:
God made me a woman.
And God gave me the gifts of leading, teaching and preaching. He gave me a gift of being able to build relationships and care for people. He gave me a passion and a heart for teenagers.
As a young woman, I sat and read the words from Jeremiah 1 and felt the Spirit stirring inside my soul. I knew that he was calling me. And he has continued to call me over the past 13 years, over and over, despite the resistance from parts of the church community.
These are some of my stories.
They are the stories of so many other women who have had to fight to be seen as a legitimate pastor, teacher, writer, speaker. If I have anything to say about it, they will not be my daughter’s stories. They will not be the stories the young women of today will tell 10 years from now.
It is time for different stories.