Who are you and what have you done with my dad?

Last night my dad and I went to hear Jeff Walling speak at the Pepperdine Lectures. On the way over he asked me if I would share with him what I had shared earlier in the week with the ladies at the conference. He didn’t know it, but he was asking me to share with him my calling to ministry, which might include preaching some day. What ensued was a three hour conversation full of emoting (ok, certainly mostly or only on my part) and childhood events remembered and forgotten. I shared my sentiments about growing up in the Churches of Christ, how I felt like a second-class citizen and did not receive the instruction or encouragement that I wish I would have received. I invited him to imagine what it must have been like (and still is, in many places) for a young girl growing up in our tradition—not being taught how to pray or speak (ok, we probably did this in cradle roll, but we were never really ‘taught’ as adolescents or young adults), generally not having your value or worth in the Kingdom expressed or reinforced, not having female role models in the church to learn from about ministry (this is an overstatement, I did see women baking casseroles, taking care of children, delivering food—but these were not the types of ministry I felt drawn or called to—I didn’t see women doing what I subconsciously felt like God wanted me to do).

I talked about my relationship with him—his emotional distance and general unavailability and how that impacted me and continues to eat away at me. Only in the last few years have I begun to uncover and address the scars left by our heritage, feeling rejected and neglected by my dad, and how those have hugely influenced my relationship with God. I realize it may not seem altogether appropriate to lump issues with my dad and churches of Christ together, but they have both been with me all my life and are inseparable in my mind. Anyway, that’s all another talk for another day. The thing I wanted to share today was the outcome of our conversation last night. I’m sure I was not talking to the same dad from my youth, and even now I didn’t really recognize him. When I told him in a terribly round-about way that I think I might have been blessed the gift of preaching, he didn’t freak out. He wasn’t angry, he didn’t condemn, and I don’t think he judged. We talked a lot about women’s roles in the church, what scripture says and doesn’t say, what are the ramifications of chalking certain things up to ‘culture,’ the validity of scripture as a whole, what changes when we interpret single bits of scripture in light of the overall message of Christ… etc.

We certainly didn’t agree on everything, but he surprised me with his overall response. He said that I have to do what is right for me, I have to go where I feel like God is leading me…there are things that he may not feel are right for him, but he’s not going to say they’re not right for someone else. He said that he is still very unsure about gender issues in the church, but regardless of whether he approves, he will always support me.

“If one day you are preaching at a church, I will definitely come and listen,”

he said. That totally blew me away. Here I was attempting to prepare myself for the condemnation and sermons about the lakes of sulfur, and he tells me that he’ll willingly go hear me preach!—and this, without my asking! I totally couldn’t believe it. Now I’m sure this isn’t the response I’ll get from much of my extended family, but it was unbelievably comforting and encouraging. I still have very mixed feelings, but our conversation last night was a huge step towards healing.

Resistance and Acceptance

I’m not sure whether or not I’ll actually publish this post…I guess if you’re reading it, you know what I decided. All my life really, but definitely in the last few years and most markedly in the last few months, I’ve been fighting to suppress the words and the passion within me that are dying to break forth. With great fear and trepidation, for the first time today I voiced in a very real and raw way, my passion and excitement for preaching.

Some of you are aware that I took a preaching class this semester and it was like something inside me was tapped into that had been dormant all my life. I was shaking with nerves when I stood up to preach, but after a prayer from the podium, something (looking back, most certainly it was the Holy Spirit) absolutely overtook me and the words of God just poured out of me with excitement and deep emotion.

I was absolutely on a spiritual high that day and for several days afterward–not knowing how to feel about this experience or what to do with this passion. I’ve told several people the story recently about when I was a small child in church and was horribly troubled at the thought of preaching–I remember listening, in awe, to the man on stage–I didn’t know how he could possibly remember all those words and sentences, and I was panicked and anxious about how in the world I would be able to do that one day. At some point shortly after that however, I realized–wait a second, I’m a girl–only boys get to do anything at church, I don’t ever have to worry about that. I’m not sure what brought me to that realization, but it certainly soothed my fears about the daunting task of preaching…little did I know I would in fact, preach one day.

The majority of my life has been lived saying no to God. Despite the subtle discouragement and overt repression I’ve experienced in Churches of Christ, I have also been strongly encouraged–my spiritual gifts have been identified by others who have tried to gently push me into ministry. In retrospect, I can acknowledge that I have always felt a deep calling to ministry, but for one reason or another, I have always managed to diminish, discard, or deny that calling. At various points throughout my life, I thought seriously about foreign missions (which is still a possibility) but I have acknowledged now what I only subconsciously knew then–I wanted to be a missionary because in our heritage, it was the only way for a woman to be involved in full-time ministry. In the last few years however, I’ve realized that missions, while obviously valuable, are not the only way in which women can be involved in the service of God’s Kingdom.

I started exploring other options–youth ministry, campus ministry…volunteer ministry on-the-side… But I kept returning to a strong resistance to the call, and deep down, I know this resistance comes from a place of internalized inferiority…from growing up in a heritage that told me I was to keep silent and be submissive. While I have come a long way from the child in the pew who said she would never have to preach, I still struggle intensely with the traditions and the indoctrination of Churches of Christ.

You might be wondering why I don’t just go to another denomination. That would certainly be the easy route in a lot of ways, but the fact is, I was born into this heritage and it is inextricably linked to the very core of my being. I love this faith tradition and I see an incredible renewal sweeping across our churches. Yes, I’ll admit it’s not going on everywhere–but in many Churches of Christ there is a sort of ‘great awakening’ from our sectarian roots…an awakening in which we’ve realized that we’re not the only ‘true’ Christians, we’re not the only ones going to heaven, and maybe the way we’ve done things in the past isn’t necessarily the only or best way to do things. This renewal is something I am so excited about being a part of, though I have no idea what my role in it will be.

Like I said before, I’ve resisted the calling for so long…I didn’t want to make waves, nor did I want to deal with the very real and ugly consequences of disturbing the waters. But to suppress this calling and deny God’s gifts any longer would be a grave display of ingratitude and cowardice. And, I know myself better than to let myself get carried away in rebelliousness–I’m too good at that. So I need a healthy dose of discernment, tact, wisdom, and the blessing of mentors and others who can confirm God’s call and help me discern the path–to know when to speak up and perhaps more importantly, know when to keep silent. I’m definitely still too scared to claim a call to preaching…I’m afraid I would be disowned by relatives, and the rejection by friends and those I don’t even know is more than I can think about bearing. And yet, I cannot deny that God has given me powerful words of exhortation that I cannot keep inside–God keeps putting strong, loud messages on my heart that scream to be given a voice.

D’Esta Love said tonight that stepping into the pulpit for the first time felt like home to her,…and this really resonated with me. There is something mysterious and beautiful in the whole process of developing a sermon that culminates in the passion-filled performance of the Word in the midst of the gathered body of believers. In my preaching class, when I actually began to speak the words given to me by God, I wasn’t scared or nervous, I was excited and filled with zeal.

I want so desperately for this to end on a happy note, but the excitement I feel about ministry is weighed down with anxieties about what others will think, and the fear of parental disapproval especially, but also the disapproval of extended family members and friends. I know it is still highly uncommon in our heritage for women to publicly claim a calling to preach, and an individual who does this would surely be ostracized and marginalized. So perhaps I’m just afraid, or this is just all too new and I need time to let it sink in and accept it, or perhaps I’m totally off-base and not really called. But I know this for certain: if God is calling me, I want to say yes; I have heard the voice of the Lord; I know God is with me to guide my future as the past; and I believe I would be an unfaithful steward if I did not use the gifts God has given me…so the task–to discern where and in what way those gifts are to be used.

I would really appreciate prayers, reflections, and any other kinds of comments you could offer. Thanks for reading.

Be Still My Soul
Be still my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.