A sense of calling permeates many of my earliest childhood memories. From wondering if God might want me to serve as a missionary while listening to stories of people who served without fear, to quiet moments sitting in our row at church and listening to God in prayer, I have long sensed that God would call me out of my comfort zone.
I went to church every Sunday with my parents and my younger brother, and our church ordained women to all offices of leadership, though I had never heard a woman preach. I was young enough that I accepted it as something normal, something that people did in churches everywhere. My mom taught Sunday School, and my dad served in leadership (as a deacon, and then as an elder). I was encouraged to participate in church musicals, choir, scripture reading, and anything else that was of interest to me.
My sophomore year of high school, we moved to a new state. We found a new church, and became very involved. I never noticed women in leadership, but I never heard it spoken against either. I didn’t know if women could preach or be pastors only because I had never seen it done and never really heard it talked about. At that time, I began to focus on music. I played clarinet and guitar, and I began to experiment with writing my own music.
I struggled greatly during my time in high school, and I threw myself into music and language studies to cope. On a whim, I applied to an evangelical Christian college to study music, never thinking that I would get in. I was accepted as a “largely self-trained musician with lots of potential.” Self-trained also meant too many years of bad habits to break. And after many hours in a practice room trying to correct my poorly-formed clarinet embouchure, I started to feel an intense pain in my jaw.
At the clinic on campus, my doctor told me that she advised I seriously consider dropping out of the music program before I did irreparable damage to my jaw. I was devastated. And confused.
Shortly before being told my career in music was over before it started, I had met a wonderful guy named Jeff. We connected nearly instantly, and I was thankful to have him by my side as I navigated the uncertainty and sadness. After a lot of prayer and discernment, I changed my major to communications and fell in love with learning about interpersonal relationships, abuse and power dynamics, and teaching.
The vast majority of students in my classes came from a complementarian perspective, but on one particular day in my speech course, someone gave a persuasive speech on why women should never be allowed into ordained positions of church leadership. Repeatedly he used the phrase “the Bible clearly teaches” to describe the importance of women filling background roles in the church and home. Following his speech, there was a time for questions and rebuttals.
A young woman sitting behind me in class raised her hand and spoke with authority. “I heard you say that the Bible clearly teaches that women may not be ordained. My mother and father both have doctorates in biblical studies, and they would both disagree with you on that.” For the first time in my life, someone said that it was possible to take the Bible seriously and believe that women could serve in ordained positions of church leadership.
Jeff and I were married just over a year later, and as I helped him look at and apply to seminaries as he pursued his calling into ministry, I wondered what his calling might mean for my own life. I had always felt called into some kind of ministry, but I was still on the fence about whether that could include ordained positions of leadership. I applied for a few jobs near where my husband hoped to go to seminary, but I also inquired about the seminary’s Master of Religious Education (M.R.E.) program.
The program was no longer accepting applicants, but the director of admissions encouraged me to take a semester of classes in the MDiv. program. There was no pressure to be ordained, and many of the first semester courses were the same as what had been offered in the M.R.E. track. I was scared. It was financially risky. It wasn’t what I had planned. But, I had loved the class I had sat in on at the seminary. I knew God was calling me to something. My husband told me to go for it and the finances would work themselves out.
“Fine. I’ll take a semester, but I won’t preach,” I said.
I decided to take another semester, and that one involved preaching class. “Fine. I’ll take the class, but my only sermons will ever be the two required sermons for class.”
I prayed fervently, “Please, Lord, let me hate preaching.” I spent an hour in prayer before I gave my very first sermon pleading with God to let me hate it, tears in my eyes because I was so afraid. I was afraid to preach, and I was afraid I’d feel called to preaching because if I felt called to preaching there would be a lot of people “out there” who opposed what I was doing.
I never wanted to be divisive. I never wanted to be a stumbling block to someone else’s faith. I wanted everyone to like me.
To make a long story short: after preaching that first sermon, I knew God wasn’t done with me. There would be more sermons to come, more ministry in store for me, and it wasn’t going to be easy. My husband and I grappled with what that might look like, and together we came to the realization that God was calling us to co-ministry.
My husband Jeff and I have served as co-pastors in a rural church for the past 7 1/2 years. We have two wonderful kids together, and I am passionate about seeing women’s gifts called out and encouraged. I am also passionate about re-framing the dialogue about gender roles, leadership, and the church. For too long, conversations have been divisive, ugly, and unproductive. As the Church, we can do so much better.
The Passing the Salt Shaker community gives me so much hope, and I am eager to pull up a chair at the table. I believe that we all have a great deal to learn from each other, from our stories, and from the Bible as we seek to faithfully affirm the gifts God has given to women, and as we wrestle with what that looks like in practice. Even though we may not always agree in our conclusions, I have confidence that the conversations we have can bring glory to God, and that together we may work for the upbuilding of God’s reign as it breaks into this world.