It’s been several months now since Beth Moore wrote an open letter to her brothers about being a woman in ministry. While few women have Beth’s platform to speak truth to the masses, I have no doubt many resonated with her experience. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of women have continued to stand their post and do faithful ministry in our churches day in and day out. This begs the question: what should our response be to these disparaging ministry experiences?
I grew up as a Southern Baptist preacher’s daughter and believed in Jesus at a young age. I never had dreams of doing women’s ministry, but after graduating from a private Baptist college and working a fulltime job, I found myself at a Southern Baptist seminary. This wasn’t a ploy to find a preacher husband. This was about learning to study the Bible.
What I know now is that I was standing in the shadow of Beth Moore.
With just over a decade worth of full-time ministry experience, the contours of her letter rang true with even my younger experiences. I’ve experienced foolish things from men not wanting to sit next to me in class to men who balked at a woman being their professor’s grader. Even now I experience serious things like whether or not the “Billy Graham rule” (whether or not a man should meet alone with a woman for work purposes) is going to be used, not to protect my ministry, but to protect my male counterpart’s ministry. There are plenty of moments to take offense.
Chauvinistic evangelicalism is a demented, sinful expression of complementarianism; a misogynistic strain of a disease that sickens the church.
I hate the pain and suffering caused by sin, even worse, the sin of men calling themselves shepherds of God’s flock. However, sin isn’t shocking because it’s our nature; God’s good grace always is (Eph 2:3-4). That’s the same grace that keeps me persevering despite disheartening experiences in ministry. There’s a lot to be thankful for in Beth’s desire to stand up and speak out. One reason I am thankful is because it highlights a particular opportunity for women in ministry like me.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The greatest ministry lesson I’ve learned to date is to truly be thankful for these things Paul is speaking of. While the Bible says women are the weaker vessel as a description of the physical body (1 Pet 3:7), it also says those who are weak are strong (2 Cor 12:10). It says the first shall be last and the last shall be first (Luke 13:30). It says we can endure trials with joy because they give us something we desperately need (Jas 1:2-4).
When I’m disregarded as a female in our evangelical bubble, the Lord is faithful to let it change me. Marginalization, then, becomes my friend; it becomes my personal agent of heart-change. Marginalization changes me because Jesus was marginalized too, yet he didn’t sin. This means I can relish in insults. I can rejoice in hardship. I can be thankful amidst persecution. I can have hope in the difficulties. Jesus takes what Beth rightly calls “misogyny, objectification and astonishing disesteem for women” in ministry and uses it for our good. Even when Christian men and women are not faithful, our God still is. Here’s a couple of ways how:
God helps me be aware of utter depravity.
No one does good, not even one (Rom 3:10). This includes chauvinistic evangelicals, but it also includes me. If there’s ever been a time to admit unseen prejudices in our culture, it’s now. We should just assume they’re there. My sin isn’t better than the man who jokes that he’d rather me teach because I’m “better to look at” than a pastor. My sin isn’t better than those who question my female defense of a male pastor because it could come across as inappropriate. My sin may manifest differently, but make no mistake, it’s there too. Being more and more aware of my own depravity simply leads me more and more to the cross.
God helps me put on humility.
Precisely because my depravity is there too, I can have compassion on those who misperceive me or mistreat me because I am a woman. This isn’t a problem simply male towards females; I’ve experienced this from Christian women. But these are among the women Jesus put me here to love. I must remember that my depravity may smell differently, but all sin necessitates the same Savior. These experiences grow humility as I remember that I am just like them, only dust (Gen 2:7; Ps 103:14).
God helps me grow in loving-kindness.
These hardships aren’t just about men holding women back because God, in his perfect kindness, leverages them on my behalf. This means painful challenges become opportunities to display a sober-mindedness. I want to teach women the Bible because it offers the emotional stability of Jesus. I can be overlooked, I can be disrespected, I can be misunderstood—from even a pastor—and these particular moments are holy opportunities to reflect God’s image to those who don’t deserve it, just like Jesus. So, I love fools in their foolishness and offer grace when it doesn’t make sense because that’s how Jesus gives himself to me.
God helps me depend on Jesus.
Of course, I can’t understand depravity, humility or loving-kindness without Jesus. Jesus was perfect in nature. He put on flesh and experienced life on earth so that he could look at me, a woman, and say, “I lived as a human and yet I didn’t sin. So now you can rely on my perfection” (Heb 4:14-16). This is the very essence of privilege. We get credit for Someone Else’s perfection and he gives us the power to depend on that perfection (Rom 8:9-11). When men and women judge me or compare me or use me or hurt me, I look to the person Jesus Christ who suffered unjustly. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:23). Jesus entrusted himself to his perfect Father; it is therefore our Christian privilege to do the same.
God helps me do better ministry.
My job is to teach women the Bible, to help them grow in their knowledge of Jesus and to encourage the entire body of Christ to love him more. I won’t do these things well if I’m not first doing it for myself. This means that any opportunity, any hardship, any persecution, any trial that is set before me, even if it’s born from someone else’s sin, even if it’s because I’m a woman in ministry, is an opportunity to walk in the way of Jesus. The more I walk like Jesus, the better I will be at my job.
The disparaging experiences laced with abusive words, the demeaning moments that belittle God’s creative glory as revealed in gender, they are no doubt painful. But when I walk in God’s reflection through these trials I am transformed into the image of my Savior.
This doesn’t mean I stay silent when sinful injustice happens; it means I rightly speak up to stop it. It doesn’t mean I stop teaching the Bible; it means I teach the Bible without fear of man. It doesn’t mean I stop interacting with men; it means I’m confident in Christ alone. It doesn’t mean I take whatever is thrown at me in deference; it means I fear only God and move forward with boldness. It doesn’t mean I allow exploitations to thrive; it means, like Jesus, I protect others from all harm.
It means I seek to “live a life worthy of the calling” I have received. This calling is to be transformed into the image of Jesus from one degree of glory to another, no matter what (2 Cor 3:18). This calling is manifested as all women and men seek to be “humble and gentle;” “patient, bearing with one another in love,” making “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). Maybe this looks like saving a person from their abuser. Maybe this looks like praying with a friend. Maybe this looks like speaking out against hypocrisy. Maybe this looks like being faithful to exegete the Scriptures. Maybe it looks like listening. But make no mistake about it, God loves me enough to use anything to make my transformative calling happen, even the foolish sin of other brothers and sisters.