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.
Greg Kendall-Ball says
Well, you are certainly long-winded enough to be a preacher.
Rock on, Sistuh, rock on.
Donald Philip Simpson says
A prayer of discernment, wisdom, patience and of truly knowing where God has gifted and is leading in your life. Thanks for sharing your struggle.
Blessings to you and your ministry.
Jared Cramer says
People often ask me why I want to be a preacher. My response is always, “God didn’t give me much of a choice, I’ve tried to get out of it a couple of times but His word always burns within me, driving me back to that pulpit.” The way you describe your feelings about preaching is the way I feel about it. No fear, no anxiety, just the pure pleasure and peace of allowing the Spirit to take hold of the sermon I prepared and breathing life into it. I’m sure you don’t really have much interest in all this stuff about me, but I say it to say that I know I have experienced a call to preaching, and what you’re describing sounds very familiar. Many preachers have told me to only go into preaching if I’m absolutley sure I cannot do anything else. Well, I cannot do anything else, and so I wind up pursuing whatever will form me into a faithful witness of God’s Story.
The verse that has always resonated with me is Jeremiah 20:9, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”
Preach the word Jen, the church needs to hear God speak through your voice.
I’m so proud of you! Preach away.
I know it will be difficult to pursue such a calling for you, but it will be well worth it. Years from now a female preacher in Churches of Christ will look up to you for helping her pave the way into the pulpit.
As to the fears of family and friends’ opinions, I understand all too well. I have been looked down upon and worried about because I think it is alright for women to even read a scripture in church, let alone preach a sermon. My parents feel I have fallen off of the slipperly slope. When I told them of my desire to get a PhD and go into education, they were disappointed. But, I’ve never felt more fulfilled. The more I be myself, inspite of the opinions of others, the happier I feel. It’s hard to deal with the diappointment of my family and friends over what I believe and do, but it is even harder to deal with the disappointment I feel towards myself over not having the courage to step out and follow my calling.
Blessings to you! I say we get you into the Grad chapel pulpit next semester!
It’s truly sad how many of our children have grown up in our churches, matured in faith at our sides, and found their calling in our fellowship, but have been forced to serve somewhere else – be it in a foreign country or the church down the road, because we haven’t recognized the amazing blessing that they are. You’ll be in my prayers, and so will all those that surround you. I’m glad that you haven’t given up us just yet – and I hope that someday soon I’ll be able to hear you proclaim the Word of the Lord without having to go get a passport first.
Hey, if I can lead singing in chapel-we are definitely on our way to you preachin’!! 😉
Hope you are enjoying Cali-I sure wish I was there!! Thanks for sharing and keep listening to God’s calling. I know it isn’t easy-but keep following it!! That is what I am trying to do!!
Be blessed today and enjoy all of this for me!! Love ya~
Very Cool Jen. It is so inspiring to see you pen your thoughts and convictions like this. I agree that there is a revival going on in the Churches of Christ, and women are going to be a big part of our future church health. I applaud you for standing up and answering Gods calling. Good luck in pursuing your ministry options! Love your Blog!
(From Brooks Ave)
I got your link from Jared Cranmer’s site. I’m in the BMM undergrad department. This is wonderful that God has placed this call to ministry in your heart! You will be in the first wave of women preachers in the churches of Christ! I look forward to how God moves through all of this. Blessings!