Many Negative Experiences as a Woman in Ministry

I recently attended a pastor appreciation dinner given by a nationwide Christian organization.  When I arrived I approached the registration table with my two sons.  The woman at the table asked, “Are you a pastor’s wife?”  I’ve heard this question numerous times while serving in ministry.  I said, “No, I’m a full-time pastor.”  The lady squirmed and flustered around trying to find my nametag and packet of info.

I sat down at the table with my boys (ages 15 and 11).  I placed myself next to my boss, our senior executive pastor, who leads a team of five pastors.   I’m one of them.  Soon after, another pastor from the same city I serve in joined us with his wife.   There was another couple at our table as well and I quickly learned that they were with the organization that was putting on the event.

The pastor from our area I have known about for about 10 years.   I remember him well because he ignores me at events I’ve attended within our denomination.   He tries hard not to acknowledge my presence.  I assumed he wouldn’t treat me like he has in the past in front of my boss because I assume he has a decent level of respect for my pastor.  I was personally mourning the leaving of this man’s associate who I have grown to respect and appreciate in the past several years.

I mentioned I was so sad to hear about the leaving of his associate to another church and went on to share what an asset his associate has been to our community.   I had met his associate at many community events and am aware of his leadership and service to others in our area.  I always thought he was such a kindred spirit and partner for good in our community.

The pastor responded something like, “Yeah, well, it’s time to move on sometimes,” and he changed the subject.  I believe I hit an uncomfortable spot for him and so he leaned over and asked my 15 year old if he plays any sports.  He took quite an interest in my kids.

A good leader, male or female, can praise the other pastors that serve with them.   I can point out many strengths of each pastor I serve with enthusiasm.  If one of them were leaving us I’d be grieving and would certainly share points of the legacy they leave us and what I have learned from them as I worked alongside them in ministry.  An insecure pastor always needs to be out front, taking credit for everything and feels threatened by the accomplishments of their staff.  I’m wondering if that is the case in this situation.

Maybe he feels threatened by my presence because I’m a well-respected person in our community and I’m a woman in ministry?  That’s what I’m going to tell myself because this man doesn’t know me at all personally.  He just knows “of” me.

Next came a special prayer for pastors.   We were asked to all raise our hands and those around us were to come lay hands on us for prayer.  Nobody came to me.  The prayer began.  I felt a hand on my shoulder.   It was one of my church members who was volunteering at the event.   Thank goodness he noticed.   I was already feeling like the black sheep in the room because of the registration table conversation.

I’ve had many experiences like these throughout the years.  This is just one small example.   I resolved long ago to not allow someone else’s ignorance thwart my calling to ministry.   I’m accountable to God first.

Let’s face it, we ladies have to know that we know that we know that we are CALLED to ministry.   There are so many barriers set in place for us that we have to be better than the men to make it in ministry.  If you’re not called, you won’t make it.

I had a moving experience in seminary while studying one day.   I felt the Holy Spirit say to me something like, “Jeni, are you ready for this?  You know there will be a lot of suffering right?   I will take good care of you and I have called you out.”   I broke down and wept and told God I’m willing to follow even if it means a road of suffering.

And suffering came soon enough.  My first experience with this was at SWBTS in a mission’s classroom.  As students we were handed a large chunk of a history book to present to the class.   My day came and I started passing out my outline to the class.   The professor said, “Jeni, you’re a good student, but I cannot allow you to present in this class because I’d be allowing you to have authority over men.  Your grade will not suffer for this.  “Next will be …”  I sat there in shock at what he said to me.   If you had told me that was going to happen to me I would have certainly come back with a strong rebuttal, but I was at a loss for words.  As we left the class that day student after student apologized to me for what the professor did.   I never reported this as I didn’t want to make a big mess.  I shook the dust off my feet and transferred to Gardner-Webb University’s Divinity School.   GWU is my alma mater and they welcomed me with open arms.

Soon after coming on staff at my first full-time ministry position there was an older lady church member that called asking if she could take me to lunch.   She told me of her excitement that they had hired a woman and how proud she is I’m working at her church.   She then expressed a concern that I was wearing pants on Sunday mornings!  She said, “It’s like a sweet little girl in a new crisp white dress carrying around an old dilapidated purse.”   “Your calling and pants don’t go together,”she said.   I explained to her that she and I would just have to agree to disagree on that one.  Thankfully this lady didn’t make a stink and we just disagreed and moved on.

Every Sunday morning we were feeding about 150 at-risk children and youth that came into the church through our bus ministry.  I was running around like crazy!   I’d at times struggle to get the kids into the sanctuary on time so I could sit on the large throne-like chair so everyone could look at us pastors up there.  I always hated that chair.   I’m just a person saved by grace like all the other people in the congregation are.   I’m not better than they are.  So, pants and flats were a Sunday morning staple for me!    Heels would have left me injured with all the running around I did on Sunday mornings.

While in this same position I soon finished my degree, graduated and began to really pour myself into ministry.   The pastor who worked with a committee to hire me was delightful and we shared many passions like at-risk kids.  A few years passed and he announced he was leaving to be closer to his wife’s family as her dad had fallen ill and they wanted to be closer to him.  The church hired a wonderful interim and the search was on.

“We don’t think he is a good fit for us,” we told the chairman of the search committee.   Their top candidate had an associate’s degree and had served 2 different churches for 2 years each.  The rest of us on staff had our Master’s degree and we saw a few concerns from the candidate’s resume.    “You’re meeting him Friday.”

We met him and decided the committee was star struck because a prominent pastor we knew had recommended him.  Staff and their families all agreed we’d vote no and we did.

In the interviewing process he stated he supported women in ministry.   He even told a story about how he’d ordained a woman once.   About 8 months passed and he gave an evaluation full of lies and accusations.  He rated me a 4 on a scale of 1-10.  That night lightning struck his house!   My co-workers (other pastors on staff at the church) and I were appalled at the evaluation he gave me.  We laughed at the lightening incident.

Soon after we were sitting in deacon’s meeting and the deacons were telling him he better not even treat our janitor the way he has treated me.

I got a Tony Campolo quote he placed in my box, something I actually agreed with!   It said something like, “anyone who limits the calling of a woman in ministry is doing the work of the devil.”  I agree with this wholeheartedly!   Anyone who hinders the work of God in anyone else’s life IS doing the work of the enemy.   I guess he thought he was giving me a quote about something I’d disagree with, I have no idea.

It soon became very clear to our pastoral team that for our new boss the end justified the means.   We’d heard about conservatives trying to come in and take over moderate churches.  This is exactly what was happening here.  He soon spread lies about me and and, thank God, my co-worker pastor friends knew these were lies.  We called him on the carpet about some of the lies he was telling and he then told another lie.  When we confronted him about lying to cover his lie his excuse was that we had “backed him into a corner.”  Major character flaw!  There’s nothing conservative about being an intentional liar.

Thankfully, I was the one who ended up with the greatest blessing throughout all of this.  God is so GOOD and He honors His promises to us!  I took a position with a kind interim pastor who saw my wounds and quickly worked to ordain me.  We’d eat lunch together almost daily to talk about ministry and life.  He saw in me what God had planted there and worked to help me heal.  Eight months later I left there to take a position that was for sure my dream job!   God knew I needed that eight months of healing.

I’ve been a mission pastor for almost 11 years now and God is so good!  I’m one of those dream stories that we maybe shouldn’t be telling our children about because not everyone is able to land a job that envelops their personal passions.  I tell my kids, “They call it work for a reason!  They don’t call it FUN!”    However, on a regular basis my job is fun!

To the young woman feeling called into the ministry I’d say:

  • Do not fear because God has a place for you if He has called you!
  • Listen to God’s voice and follow His commands and He will take care of you and even bless you.
  • Never listen to those trying to limit what God has for you in ministry. This is the work of the devil.
  • Put your feet in the doors God has opened for you.
  • Be careful and do not listen to the praise of men. Serve and please God.
  • There will be barriers, but God will always see you through!
  • Persecution only makes us stronger and solidifies our calling!

Ladies, run the race God has set before you with passion!   Let no human being thwart the plan God has for you!  Barriers can be the very thing that solidifies your calling.

One thought on “Many Negative Experiences as a Woman in Ministry

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  1. I also can send out a jestfully serious warning to single ladies headed to seminary: I was told once at the lunch table that it’s a sin for me to share the Gospel with a man because I would be taking “authority” over him. I was also asked repeatedly if I can play the piano… When I responded that I do not play the piano, the guys would quickly move on! LOL Wasn’t a good fit for me anyhow!

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