The Joys and Sorrows of Female Leadership in the Church: Collection of Stories
This blog hosts a collection of stories and encounters about being a woman in ministry and leadership. It includes both the joys and sorrows of this journey…
One time a man came up to me and said he never believed in women preachers, but my sermon had given him a lot to think about and ponder upon. I guess he enjoyed my message and decided maybe women could be preachers. When a male minister gives a sermon and he doesn’t preach “well,” I’ve never heard of anyone coming up to him and saying “You know, most men are good preachers, but because you didn’t preach well I am not sure you are called to preach.” Usually, we give some grace to preachers who are just starting out. Yet, maybe not for women. It seems like if you are a woman, there is an expectation that if you are called to preach you will be “preacher woman of the year!” People often chuck up a failure in the pulpit to a failure in one’s calling. It is sad and it hurts, especially if you are a female in leadership. I guess some people measure whether or not you are called by how well you can “perform.” In reality a calling does not come from performance. A calling comes from a life of dedication and service to God. A calling comes from God. Skill can be developed if someone is given the chance to practice.
It was not easy sharing aloud my calling. There have been many times I have had to muster up the courage and not let my anxiety take over. I remember being asked once to speak in front of about three thousand people. I remember preparing my words and really thinking through what I would say. I walked into the auditorium, and three thousand felt like ten thousand. I walked up to the podium. The lights were shining in my face. I could feel my anxiety rising. I am glad I had the words written down, for they might have escaped me. I grew up shy, so I have no idea how I became a preacher. I am a naturally introverted person who likes the company of books and seclusion over the crowds. I lifted up my voice, spoke the words, and then sat back down at my seat. Several people came up to me afterwards and thanked me and said how inspired they felt. It was a really amazing feeling to have spoken to a huge crowd and survived to tell the story. I wish I could have taken a selfie with the thousands…
I was in a service once and we had a beautiful music portion of the service. People were really feeling the Holy Spirit and being touched by God. Someone got up to give the announcements and take up the offering. I could feel a little nervousness inside me, but it was also filled with excitement to preach the Word of God. I had prepared my sermon and spent time in prayer. I knew I had a word from God for these people. I walked up in front of the small crowd of people. There were about twenty or thirty people in the room. I carried my Bible and my preaching journal. I opened the journal and began my sermon. I started with a scripture. I looked down and read the words. I was so excited and nervous. Suddenly out of the corner of my eyes I saw a man arise from his seat. He motioned to his family to get up and walk out. I tried to keep my composure. There were not many people in the service, so it was very noticeable. A few people looked at him, as if to say “What are you doing? It is sermon time.” It took a lot for me to keep myself focused and move forward with the sermon. In the moment it hurt and felt horrible, because I assumed he was walking out because a woman was giving the sermon. I do not know why he got up and took a whole row out, but it really disturbed me. I bet my face was really red. Sometimes people will walk out on your sermons. It was certainly his right to walk out if he wanted, it just was very disturbing and felt like a low blow to a young female in ministry. Luckily I know I am called, but what if I had more doubt than trust? What if I was unsure in my calling? What if I was insecure in being a female leader? I imagine my life could have taken a different course because of the actions and sometimes even betrayal of others. There is a lot of pain and hurt involved in ministry sometimes, and I am not afraid to share with you about my hurts and sorrows. I believe in some way sharing with you helps me process and normalize this calling into ministry.
I have a friend who pastors a very diverse congregation, and one time he invited me to come and preach at his church. It was a wonderful experience. The last time he asked me to preach I really felt connected with the people. Even though there were some language barriers, I remember feeling the connection. I told stories, shared scripture, and shared some of my life experiences. It was really nice to be invited to preach. It was really nice to have a friend create space for me to minister and practice preaching. Preaching is an art. It takes time, practice, and dedication.
One time I preached a sermon with my husband. He started the message and then I ended the message. There was a beautiful presence of God and a word of prophecy given. It was so incredible to feel the mighty presence of God. Afterward a person threatened to leave the church and said it was because they did not believe in women preachers. I know they left for other reasons, and they used a woman preaching as an excuse. It really hurt to hear this, as God has called me to preach and lead. I know people have left churches because they do not like the decisions the pastor and the team makes, but maybe people need to also consider the pastor/preacher as a person. The actions of parishioners can really hurt the “people leaders” in the church. Before you say or do something, think about it and think about what it would feel like if you received that information or action. Before you threaten to leave a church, think about how hurtful that can be to the people around you and or the pastor/team who is leading the church. Especially if it is a smaller church, think about how your leaving will impact the whole community. Some people have been so hurt by leaders and church people who wanted to “control” instead of serve, and wanted to have everything “their way” rather than being willing to give grace and allow people to grow into leadership. Church is not a “perfect” place, and leaders are not “perfect.” Pastors and preachers, and their families are people too and they have feelings.
One time I sat at a table surrounded with men, and we had a discussion about women preachers and pastors. I was drilled and asked to defend my calling. One man kept saying you are not called, because God does not call women. I felt so hurt afterwards. I have never met a young man who had to defend his calling. Most of the time a person will take the young man under their wing and help them develop their calling. What happens with young women who have a calling? How do we encourage and help them develop into ministry? I have been fortunate, because my home church pastor prepared me as a leader. He invested time into me and let me “practice” ministry for several years. He always believed in me, and other leaders in the church believed in me and helped me learn and grow. I also have been blessed by going to Urshan Graduate School of Theology where several professors and pastors have invested into my life. They believed in me and encouraged me to dream. They taught me the scriptures, and taught me about women in ministry and leadership. During seminary is when I felt called to pastoral care. I felt the freedom to explore this calling. I also have the support of my bishop and local pastor. Before you drill someone about their calling, be patient, be willing to listen, and be sensitive to where they are on their journey into ministry. Do not threaten to leave a church and throw a temper tantrum because you are not getting your way. If you really want to know what the scripture says about women in ministry and leadership, search it out. I’ve studied for nearly six years now and am still learning more about what scripture says. Stop hiding behind tradition and preconceived ideas, open your heart to the Spirit of God, and study it out for yourself.
I was speaking with someone close to me once, and I was sharing about what God was revealing in my life. I was so excited, because I was feeling a call to pastoral ministry. Almost without notice the person said “well…if you do ever pastor a church I will never come.” Immediately I felt a cut in my spirit and heart. It was like someone taking a blade and running it along my arm to draw blood. I still feel this wound today, because it was a person who I had hoped would believe in me. Maybe you have never seen a female preacher or pastor, but that does not mean it is wrong and does not exist.
I was interviewing some women ministers once. I remember a story from a woman who pastored with her husband. They would switch services and preach. One of the lay ministers in their church called one Sunday morning and asked “Who is preaching this morning?” In excitement she answered, “I am.” Then he said, “I’ll see you tonight then,” and hung up the phone. It hurt this woman so much she decided she could no longer preach. She had a serious conversation with God about her call to preach.
I have many stories of men and women who have helped me in ministry. Several friends have reached out and invited me to preach at their church and have helped create space for me to grow into ministry. It is wonderful to have these experiences to stand upon, and mentors in my life who care about me. Ministry is not always an easy path, but I am glad God is on my side and I have a community of friends and mentors who are helping me to develop into the leader God is calling me to be. It is a journey filled with happiness and sorrow at times. I am grateful for this path, and grateful for the grace to keep walking forward.
Copyright 2016 Crystal Schmalz and Women of Vision Leadership Blog