If God wanted me to be a pastor, why didn’t he make me a man?
I’ve thought that so many times. I’ve thought it as a question, as an argument. I’ve prayed it with defiant anger and I’ve prayed it with sad frustration. I’ve prayed into the mystery of it for years. It’s been easy to believe in big and seemingly impossible things for other people. It’s been harder to believe it for myself.
There’s a book by Eugene Peterson called Run with the Horses. It’s about living an obedient life. Peterson says “we grow into a life already provided for us.” Before we became, we were already planned. Especially plans we can’t imagine for ourselves.
It was a women’s retreat when I first knew. I had put the weekend together and I wanted to create some experiences that helped women enter into the fullness of God’s presence. I asked our teacher to offer prayer for women and she gestured for me to join her. We stood up in the chancel of this old, beautiful church. Women had many stations to choose from but I remember so many of them walking towards me. They stepped up into the space of the alter, some with worn lines of worry on their faces, others with tears, some with hopeful expectancy. They came toward me with humility, with a posture to receive. As each stepped forward, I felt the presence of God, whispering scripture to me, to share a word of blessing, encouragement, truth. My heart felt so big and the space felt so holy. It was mysterious and different and real. It felt like the truest part of me was coming to life, in opening my hands and blessing with words from God.
Years later, I would teach and articulate the gospel in many different settings. Sometimes I would feel God press into me, to offer the gift of life in Christ. I did this in rooms of middle schoolers and high schoolers and college students. I did this with women’s groups but not only with women. My message and opportunities didn’t feel distinctly female. I felt distinctly female, but the message certainly didn’t. Sometimes, I would open my hands and invite people to receive Jesus, to do the simple but hard work of surrendering to the work of the Spirit bringing them to life. I wanted to invite people to receive Christ immediately through the sacrament of communion, but my hands stayed empty. In my tradition, only ordained ministers offer communion.
One Sunday I held a baby in my arms at church. I had counseled the mother through the pregnancy and the miracle of the birth was particularly real. I held that baby and looked down on that face and I saw a life stretching forward, one that God had ordained before she even came to be, and I felt so compelled to bless that life and offer it to God. But in my tradition, only ordained ministers baptize.
I knew God had brought me to my church home and called me to the work there, and as I continued to do all kinds of ministry, I mustered up enough courage–got brave enough to ask my pastors what they thought about ordination–ordination for me. With a growing ministry in writing, I felt the weight of carrying spiritual authority–but without the sense of being “tapped” into that ministry in the way that our church was designed. Because when I first read the qualifications for being a teaching elder, what we call a pastor, I cried.
I cried because it was me, because I knew it was who God made me to be, and because I knew it would be hard.
God was opening the door, inch by inch, leading me forward. He was giving me spiritual influence and He was giving me these deep desires, to shepherd, to bless, to be his ambassador between His people and His heart. He hadn’t made a mistake when he made me a woman with these gifts. He just needed me to trust Him that He was the one to lead. He knew the way forward.
After almost five years of conversation, prayer, and little steps of faith, it was time. I began the process last September. The work was hard. Even the prep work of ordination required more of me than I really had. There were tears, doubt, disappointment, but stronger than those was hope. If God made me with these gifts and also made me a woman, He was the one who would work it out. And He did.
Elisabeth Elliot said, “God didn’t make me a different kind of Christian because I am a woman. God made me a different kind of woman because I am a Christian.”
There are layers to this that I haven’t unpacked here; the theology of women in leadership; the journey to find our calling; the spiritual nuances of the battle for our souls. Those will come in time. But for now, I’ll be installed as a teaching elder at Hope Church on Oct. 25th at 2pm. If you can come, please come. We’ll be wearing robes and doing all kinds of churchy things. I’m living a life I didn’t even know that I wanted–a life so much better than I could have even imagined.