A large church on the north side of Indianapolis, Indiana came out recently with a statement about why, in this season, they have changed their stance on women in ministry. I saw that story in my Twitter log - retweeted/shared by a minister far on the other side of the country. This is an issue that, for obvious reasons, is close to my heart, and it's one I have been discussing fairly frequently recently with other women aspiring to ministry.
My issue has never really been women in ministry or not in ministry, the authority given or not given to women by the church. I guess not growing up in church, I never bought into most of that doctrinal/cultural mess anyway. Paul says, "In Christ, there is no male nor female..." and I know the words God whispers to my heart.
Rather, my issue has always been the kinds of women I meet in ministry. That's been the rub. Because as much as I want to pursue what God has put in my heart, I do not want to be most of these women. That's changing a little bit as time continues to pass, but the overwhelming reality remains. There are two types of women we see in ministry roles, at least, two types of women I keep running into.
The first is the masculinized woman. The women I have met in ministry have sacrificed their feminine nature for the chance to serve. They even look butch. The women I have met who have pastored or co-pastored churches have had buzzed haircuts and cargo pants. They walk with almost a stomp and really work to declare their strength and authority on the outside. Oh, they are friendly enough. They smile. They laugh. Some even wear wedding rings. But a conversation with them feels more "woman trying to make it in a man's world" than "woman after God's own heart." That saddens me, even as a woman who once had her hair buzzed. For far too long.
The second is the women's minister in the expanded role. This doesn't work either. When I got to college, my campus pastor was such a woman. Because I was highly esteemed within the Bible department, she and I had several occasions to meet. After our very first meeting, over lunch, she sent me an email explaining that I did not eat "enough" during our lunch meeting and therefore, she had strong concerns over my "obvious eating disorder" and that any woman struggling against her own demons in such a way was not fit to be a voice on campus when other women might be listening. Girl...never mind. This was only one of many complaints she had with me, but it became the only way she knew to relate to me. And it wasn't just me. Many of her interactions centered around women's issues - eating disorders, sexual health, beauty, etc. - even when she was dealing with male students or a co-ed crowd! This is not good. No woman with a heart for God wants to get into the ministry to talk about anorexia and curlers and tampons to a larger audience, not to mention it shuts the men out entirely and no wonder men aren't too keen on women in ministry!
We are starting to get good examples, starting to see women in ministry who don't fall into either of these two categories. But they are still few and far between. Joyce Meyers, for instance, is right on the border. She fits a little into the first stereotype, of the masculinized female preacher. She adorns herself with the jewels of a woman, but her overall look still says "male authority," as does her manner of speaking. (I love her, though. Right? Sometimes? She's hilarious.) I'm looking right now more to women like Shauna Niequist, who is a growing name. She loves what she loves, does what she does, speaks God, and is universal in her message. She loves cooking and presents messages a great deal in that context, but never about a "woman's work in cooking"; it's about her personal love for cooking and what food does to the human spirit. Men hear her and relate, but not in that uncomfortable awkward way they try to pretend to understand a woman. She's still a little on the women's minister side, but hides it well. I think such may always be a problem for most of us trying to bridge that gap.
Because we are women. God kind of made us that way. And if you look at the way a woman functions in the regular world, it's hard to believe we can't be better women in ministry than most of us are. Just look at any mother. She knows how to press her husband's dress shirt just right, and that if she lays his keys next to his coffee cup, he'll probably still ask where they are. She knows how to put her daughter's hair in a ponytail and dot the "i love you" note in her lunchbox with a heart. She knows how to take her son's little car and transform it into a monster and back again, and how to clean inside the play fort without invading his privacy. A woman knows how to care for everybody in her family - male, female, young, old, peer, parent, progeny. And she does it beautifully as a woman, neither masculinized nor issues-oriented. A man...well, yesterday I saw a video of a dad using a vacuum cleaner to put his daughter's hair in a ponytail. They have great leadership abilities, but in terms of tender care with a personalized touch...there's something just wired in a woman.
A couple of Sundays ago, I stepped up to the pulpit to preach my second service at a community here in town. It was less than an hour after my first service, during which I was too focused on the newness to notice much of anything. I'd been wondering for days how I would feel when I said my first words, and when I said my last ones. There is a certain special way I feel when I am speaking in public in general; there always has been. Something in me comes alive in this very unique way. As I think back on that afternoon, on that second service, in the very formal set up of the memorial chapel with its matching pulpits -for the preacher and the liturgist- and candles behind and baby grand piano (drool....), I am overwhelmed with how much in that moment, I felt like a beautiful woman after God's own heart in the very place God had chosen for her in that afternoon.
I didn't feel like I had to be one of those women I'd met before, one who masculinized herself. My hair is finally super-cute; I got it cut a couple of months ago, and this stylist NAILED it. My new glasses complete the look; I look in the mirror and see the contemporary, strong, but beautiful young woman I'd always hoped would be looking back at me. I was wearing these slightly flared slick brown dress pants (and snow boots because, have you seen this winter in Indiana?), a soft long-sleeved pink shirt, with a silky pink and brown dress shirt over the top. I had on just enough jewels to be adorned but not distracting. I looked beautiful. I felt beautiful. I set my feet in the place God had marked for them, and I stood there feeling like a woman.
And no pressure at all to talk about eating disorders, make-up, or tampons.
I firmly believe there is a place for women in ministry. Every day, I come closer to knowing exactly what my place is. But as we work our way into this position, we have to stand up and turn away from the stereotypes we've too long been pushed into. I want to see the feminization of women in ministry, and I've been saying this for a long time. I want to see us do what we love to do - bake cookies, go biking, play with our kids, play with our pets, work on our cars, work on our hair, whatever it is that we love to do. I want to see us paint our nails with silly little patterns, compare our latest jewelry, play the pelican-leg game with our shoes to see which one matches our outfit. And then I want to see us step into our ministries and refuse to give any of that away and refuse to dwell on it, but rather to stand there and be ministers after God's own heart. Women...after God Himself. The way He's wired us to be.
I guess my interest is, with all this talk of women in ministry these days, I'm longing to see women in ministry. I'm hoping...to be one.