A Woman In A Man’s World

The Southern Baptist Convention in the deep South is the culture where my relationship with God was formed. If there are any SBC “rights of passage” I did them. GA’s, Acteens, VBS, youth group, youth choir, youth rallies, Bible Drill, youth camps galore, “See you at the pole” prayer meetings, Disciple Nows, Youth Evangelism Conferences, True Love Waits….and on and on. 

In University I was heavily involved in the Baptist Student Union (now the Baptist Collegiate Ministries). Through that involvement, I did Summer missions as a student. After marrying, my husband and I served as US/C(Canada)-2 missionaries with North American Mission Board, the Southern Baptist domestic missions agency. 

We then went on to an SBC seminary—The Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary in Cochrane, Alberta. The Texas Baptist Men literally built the seminary we attended and all of our professors were paid through the International Mission Board of the SBC. 

I don’t know that I could have been MORE Southern Baptist.  From childhood to adulthood I was as involved as humanly possible. 

But I also grew up confused. I was drawn to Bible study and ministry work. I could tell that I was more interested in these things than my peers were and I knew there was something different about the way I had been spiritually wired. 

But, I was a female. And as a female Southern Baptist, I knew that ministry options were limited, at least officially limited. 

I watched men “surrender to ministry” and wondered if I would ever feel the freedom to do that or what a “call to ministry” would even look like for me. I watched the church celebrate men who surrendered to ministry through an official license and then ordination and knew that nothing like that was available to me. A man’s call to ministry was celebrated but a woman’s call to ministry was seen as inferior, as less than, as something that should happen privately and quietly. 

I wanted to serve God with my life. I wanted to minister in any way He led, but the options I saw before me did not resonate with me. I didn’t particularly like working with children, I didn’t want to play the piano and I really really didn’t want to go live in a hut in Africa. 

So, I knew what that meant for me. If God wanted me to serve Him, that must mean I was to...marry a minister. 

I would say I’m an okay minister’s wife. But by many Southern Baptist standards I would be an epic failure. I don’t play the piano, work with children, like to host wedding showers in my home, or even own skirts. Well, I think I own one skirt.

That is not the way God wired me. I enjoy writing about God. I enjoy teaching the Bible. I enjoy the techy side of ministry. In short, I enjoy being a minister

My first peek into a world where I could be a minister, as well as a wife, was when our mission field pastor asked me what Sunday I would like to preach. I remember staring back at him blankly and saying “Oh, I don’t preach. I’m a woman”. His reply was “So?”

While our mission field pastor considered me equal, our mission agency did not. Several times during our two and a half year assignment my husband was called home for different agency gatherings that I was not invited to. And our pay all went to him, with me designated as the “spouse.” 

I remember the first time I led a Bible study with a mixed group of adults. The church we were leading had no discipleship program for adults and needed a teacher, so I volunteered. I didn’t think about who would be in the class until the first Sunday when I sat across the room from a group of women….and men. It was daunting, and liberating.

Being a woman in seminary along with my husband made me an outsider. I didn’t fit with the students, because very few of us were women, but I also didn’t fit with the spouses. And as amazing as our seminary was, I knew that most of the professors did not know my name. I was “John’s wife”. 

I don’t share this in bitterness or from anger. I have had an amazing ministry journey that I am very thankful for. I share this to help people understand how women who feel led to ministry can be treated in a denomination that does not encourage it.

I believe in complementarianism. I believe that God made men and women equal in our value but different in our roles. What I don’t believe in is the patriarchal system denominations like the one I grew up in actually practice—a culture that sees women as second-class citizens, or even worse, as inherently inferior. 

Churches everywhere are staffed by women who teach Sunday School, lead the singing, play the instruments, and lead the youth groups. We can call them “leaders” or “directors” but don’t call them “pastor”. It’s so confusing.

Gifted women are seen as a threat rather than an asset.

Pastors today are so afraid of being labeled “woke” or “progressive” that they won’t step out and defend their sister’s leadership abilities and in doing so they can perpetuate a system that undervalues the role of women in the Church. 

I am not “woke” or “progressive”, I’m just a woman who wants to minister with the gifts God gave me. I am also a mom of a daughter and I want her to feel empowered by the Church rather than suppressed. 

There is a version of complementarianism that creates a culture where women are empowered and celebrated. A version that sees women as spiritual equals. Unfortunately, it is much more common to see the version that highlights the insecurities of male leadership by diminishing the role of women.

I no longer consider myself Southern Baptist, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be applying for a pastor position any time soon. I have no desire to lead a church, I just know that we need to do better. We need to foster a culture that creates male AND female heroes of faith for future generations; a culture where women can feel the freedom to minister in the way God is calling them.

The Church desperately needs women in order to fulfill its mission. Women are essential. Women are irreplaceable. I long for a culture where our daughters feel free to use the gifts that God has blessed them with to further the Kingdom and glorify God.

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