This is a photo of the women who were present at the Women in Ministry Conference at Pepperdine in May, 2009. I am certain of the timing, because that’s me on the far left, holding my almost two-year old daughter awkwardly over my 7-months-pregnant-belly.
These women and this network are a big part of why I stay. This is a group of women from all over the country who are serving in a wide variety of ministry roles–some in churches, some in parachurch organizations, some preparing for ministry and some waiting for a door to open. We are professors, pastors, chaplains, counselors, children’s ministers, theology students, campus ministers, missionaries, and youth ministers. Women called and gifted by God to serve. Women who step forward in courage, embracing the call and trusting God.
There are others who are not in this photo. Katie Hays is someone I’ve heard about for over a decade. She was a role model to me long before I met her. She is a pioneer–she served as a youth minister and then a co-preacher in Churches of Christ when there were almost no women doing this. After years of ministry in Churches of Christ, she moved on to Disciples of Christ. I don’t judge her for it. I respect that this is the decision some of us will make, and I know that there are a lot of factors that go into it. I want it to be crystal-clear that I don’t begrudge the decision and I don’t want anyone to feel guilty over leaving. I don’t judge her (or others). But I am sad. Sad that one of our most gifted female preachers moved on from our tribe. She’s not the first or the last, just an example.
Some of us will leave. But if all of us leave, who will be left? How will our daughters hear prayers offered in the gathering of God’s people in a voice that sounds like their own? How will our sons witness the beautiful perspective offered by a mother publicly reflecting on Mary’s experience of carrying, birthing, and raising Jesus? If all of the women who have been gifted and called to lead and serve in Churches of Christ leave, what will happen to our tribe?
I’ve been inspired by Mark Love’s recent post “Why I don’t leave, even though…” So I’m writing my own version of why I stay in Churches of Christ.
I am asked this question all the time. All the time. When friends from within my tribe or broader Christendom learn about my passion for and calling to preaching, they ask why I don’t leave. Because you see, in my tribe, women have not historically been given a voice in public worship or leadership. But the tide is turning…
[tangent} And frequently, when friends from within my tribe learn about my passion for preaching, it’s a matter of 5 minutes or less before they ask if I’ve ever considered church planting. Yes, I’ve considered it. I still consider it. But it’s difficult to not hear that suggestion as carrying the implication “because you’re not welcome in established churches.” I don’t think anyone means it that way–it’s just the message that comes across. But I digress..
So why don’t I leave? For years, I said it was because when I was growing up, I didn’t have female role models in formal ministry. I wanted to be a pioneer and example for young women. I wanted to help move churches farther along this spectrum. Not in a demanding, smash down the walls sort of way. But by encouraging study, conversation, prayer, discernment. I still want this.
But that reasoning hasn’t been able to sustain me through the storms. Something deeper is at work. This is my family. Literally, figuratively, spiritually, you name it. My family goes back a few generations on both sides. My dad’s dad is in the process of retiring from preaching at the same Church of Christ for over 60 years! And for all our flaws, we are a well-connected bunch. I can walk into any number of Churches of Christ across the country and get within two or three degrees of separation from the folks there. We know each other. We love each other. We are family. It’s in my blood.
Again, for all our flaws, there is beauty. We have a high regard for Scripture as God’s word. We believe that God is still active in our world. We believe in coming together as a community of faith and celebrating the Eucharist on a weekly basis. We believe that God’s kingdom is breaking in, and we are called to be part of it. And there is a groundswell of support for women in ministry in our tribe. The tide is turning towards the full inclusion of women in the life and leadership of the church. It’s an exciting time to be part of this tradition. This is my family, and I’m not interested in entertaining the idea of a divorce.