We can trace the path of some of our most beloved biblical characters through their call to ministry: Moses, Gideon, even Jeremiah were called by God, pushed towards that call despite their own fears, and were reassured that God would be with them as they went forth in obedience. It’s not nearly as common to hear of a “call narrative” for women in the bible, however. The biblical stories of women entering ministry are present but often overlooked.
Today, we still find that many women who are called into ministry are met with a silencing of their stories, untold moments of how they moved from obscurity to the pulpit. Being a woman in ministry comes with a unique set of challenges that plague the longevity and acceptance of a woman into a male-dominated vocation. Women who enter ministry often juggle motherhood, marriage, other careers and hobbies, and face the ever-growing demand to be all things to all people.
Women who find their way into ministry, whether that’s Sunday-to-Sunday pulpit preaching or singing on the praise team, in religious education, church administration, or the like, find it hard to stay in ministry because of a lack of communal support. As a result, many women find themselves burned out because the world around us failed to affirm and support God’s call on our life.
Much of the discussion regarding women in ministry is surrounded by the theological belief that women do not have a place in pulpit ministry. Often times, conversation that opposes women in ministry is shaped around Paul’s commentary about women in the church; from women keeping their head covered to women remaining silent, much of our understanding (or the lack thereof) is rooted in a misunderstanding of Paul’s partnership with women in ministry.
There are counter positions to this, however. Take Phoebe for instance: she was a leading woman in the early Church that was responsible for delivering Paul’s letters to the church in Rome. In fact, Phoebe was referred to as a “deacon,” (versus deaconess) that worked in, championed, and traveled for the sole purpose of sharing the Gospel. In Romans 16, Paul names Phoebe first in a long list of servants in the Church, naming nine women he labeled as one who “works hard in the Lord.” A brief mention of Junias in Romans 16:7, a woman who worked in the ministry with Jesus, was also deemed “outstanding” by Paul.
What is interesting about the biblical examples of women who were called into ministry is that though there is no defined call narrative, the women simply took the charge from God and did what God called them to do. They rose to the occasion, many times with impending social criticism, to be the clarion call to share the good news of the Gospel.
How, then, do women continue to carve out a much-needed space in ministry that is not filled with the concern for justification or acceptance? Who can tell the struggles of feeling inadequate as a mother, wife, and caretaker? Who can speak to the distinct ways in which the woman’s story reverberates from the fabric of society – the hidden cases of sexual abuse and gender inequality on the job? Who can declare the hope for a generation of women who are awaiting the opportunity to chase after their dreams? It is the woman’s voice that narrates the unique stories of women.
Considerations for the ways in which we embrace and accept women in ministry is deeply rooted in our own awareness of the long-standing role women have in the expansion of the Kingdom of God. The Call to ministry is enough; it may not look like what we see the next woman doing and it may not come with public praise and large platforms. But there is important work for women to do – and it begins with us. Our call to ministry is more than enough. It is the only qualifier we need!