By Rev. Dr. Lawrence B. Powers
“Could you even imagine working for a woman pastor?”
This question was once directed at me by a male Senior Pastor as he relayed his stance on women serving in ministry positions. I don’t remember my exact answer, but I will never forget the look of pure amazement that must have been on my face as I stood there, mouth agape.
As the debate over whether women should serve in ministry has, once again, hit my news feeds, it has caused me pause to reflect and think on exactly why that question stopped me in my tracks (outside of its chauvinistic and patriarchal meanings).
As I’ve reflected I’ve been reminded of those women who have impacted my life because they answered the call of God to share the gospel, even amid push-back and questioning from others:
The Women Who Ministered to Me
I reflect on those who first carried the message of Christ to me: women in my family who made sure that I knew about Jesus and his teachings. These were not women who would claim the mantel of ‘minister,’ but they were women who took seriously their call to carry that good news into my life every time I sat with them. When I think back to my earliest spiritual formation, it is they of whom I think, not a male pastor preaching from a pulpit.
I reflect on my first Sunday School teacher after entering church life as an eighth-grader. Every Sunday, without fail, she would open the Bible in that small Sunday School room off of the youth space and teach a class of growing teenagers about our call to share the message of Jesus with the larger world. She would become one of the first to encourage me to look into ministry as a vocation.
I reflect on my first congregational experience with a female associate pastor a few years later. She was the music minister at my church in high school and encouraged me to explore worship of God through my own musical talents. Through singing in her youth choirs, traveling to conferences, and through encouragement about life in general, she became a needed presence of Christ in my life that motivated me to see deeper the ways I could worship God through my life.
I reflect on my campus minister in college who, after taking on the mantle as the first woman to fill that role, encouraged those of us in campus ministry to see the importance of living into community, in all aspects of our lives. She was one who gave me my first campus ministry job (as an undergraduate assistant in her office) and one who offered much needed advice, encouragement, and wisdom as I worked to discern where I would continue my educational endevours post-college graduation. Even today, she still provides that wisdom and encouragement any time we’re together.
I reflect on my professors who answered the call to share the gospel through the teaching of theological education. A different path of ministry than most, but one just as important, all the same. These women took seriously their job in imparting the various subjects they taught to students, and there is very little I do in preparation for ministry endevours that does not somehow carry their fingerprints.
I reflect on my female colleagues with whom I have served with in a variety of ministry settings. I have learned much from them as they have followed the call of God into classrooms, in campus ministry settings, beside hospital beds, on mission sites, and into pulpits. I have ‘sat at their feet’ as they have imparted knowledge that I carry with me every day in my own ministry. Their impact is both wide and deep––in ways they’ll never fully be able to see.
I reflect on peers who strive to live into their own call from God to serve even when they face backlash for it at every level–– from congregations, to their own ordination council meetings. I think back to those who stood their ground even when it was not easy, and who walked across their seminary graduation and congregational setting stages, with the pride of knowing they’d completed a journey that many had told them was not for them.
Yes, I Can Imagine It
When I look back on my life to date, I simply cannot answer that pastor’s question any other way than with an enthusiastic “yes!” I would not be the person of faith, minister, father, or student that I am today if not for those women who have journeyed with me over the years. I would not be who I am if they, even in the face of adversity, had not said ‘yes’ to the call of God on their lives to share the gospel– no matter where that took them.
I am who I am because they have dared to follow God’s call to be who they are. I could not imagine my life without their influence. I could not imagine my work without their own.
So, as my news feeds fill once again with a debate over who God calls and who God does not, I can only reflect on those who have journeyed with me.
In the end, I can do no more than say ‘yes’ to women in ministry, if for nothing more than I want my sons, and daughter, to be afforded the same encouragement, guidance, love, and fuller meaning of the gospel of Christ that I have been fortunate to receive.
If you are reading this, and are a woman serving in ministry––or at least working on what that looks like––know that there is at least one person who will always be cheering you on in this journey. Don’t give up. Don’t listen to those who would stand against you.
Know that you are a minister called by God and know that you are changing lives each and every day.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.