In which I need your help with “Jesus Feminist”

I finished my first draft of “Jesus Feminist” this weekend!!!!!

Yes, on Sunday afternoon, I sent approximately imperfect 55,000 words to the print shop and had it printed (our old printer can’t hold up to that sort of output). I brought my little manuscript home in a cardboard box, nearly 200 pages of neatly typed sentences, and it suddenly looked very, very real to me, like this might actually be a book.

I showed my mum and she immediately noticed that all of the pages were missing numbers, and I shrugged it off, too late, I said, it doesn’t matter.

The next day, I dropped the box and, of course, all of the pages went scattering, willy-nilly, pell-mell, across the floor.

You either laugh or you cry.

That morning was spent on my knees in the kitchen, laughing hysterically, in the painful reorganization and neat hand-numbering of each page. I think that’s the kind of mistake you only make once.

I have some Big Feelings and Big Thoughts about this process, and about the book itself right now. It’s developed in such a different direction. But I’ll hang onto those for a bit longer. I hope you understand. Some of it is to guard content, absolutely, but it’s also because I’m still in the thick of it and it feels too precious right now.

So I’m now spending the Christmas season in editing and rewrites! I’m filling in the gaping holes, organizing, reworking, expanding some sections. I feel like I could use a bit of help, or a few more “on the ground” anecdotes and stories.

That’s where you come in. You’ve been a big part of this project getting to this point, and I’d love to include your wisdom inside the pages.

So, I have two questions for you.

First, I want to know your hard stories of being a woman. How have you experienced sexism or marginalization or grief because of your womanhood in the church? It can be in systemic and clear, or the opaque and implied. It can be in regards to your sexuality, your marriage, your vocation. It can originate from the pulpit or a podcast, or in your own home or a classroom.

Second, I’d like to hear some concrete examples of how we really go about modelling or pursuing mutuality in our churches. So tell me about a church or a community that is purposefully welcoming and affirming the voices and experiences of women. Tell me about what they are doing and why they’re doing it. If you have a link or a contact for research purposes, all the better.

You can email me privately if you prefer at Don’t over-think it, just share from your heart. I may use it in the book, but not necessarily directly.

Thanks for your help. I appreciate it more than you could know.



  • Rubi Ruiz

    When you get published, I will pre-order your book. This is so exciting! I will think on those questions more. Blessings, Sarah!

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thanks, Rubi! :-)

  • Katherine Willis Pershey

    I have a lot of stories! My post for Ed’s series is the tip of the iceberg. Also my contribution to Rachel’s synchroblog ( ). This is one of the significant themes in my book – if you’re interested I can send you a comp copy.

    • Sarah Bessey

      You know, I think I still have the electronic copy from when you released it (but I wont’ say to a comp – it was such a beautiful book).

  • HopefulLeigh

    So, so, so, so proud of you for finishing the first draft! It’s a unique experience and worth reveling in for a few moments. I’ve got some hard stories and I’ll try to email you them soon.

    The church I started attending in January is wonderfully affirming of women. They’re involved in all facets, from leading the call to worship to presiding over small groups. While our pastor is a man, his wife is in seminary and even preached one Sunday. One of the best sermons I’ve ever experienced. It has been so healing to be a part of this church. At least the weeks I make it there.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thanks, Leigh – that’s so encouraging!

  • Kelly J Youngblood

    I have some things I’ll write later, but I just HAD to post this conversation I just had with my 5 year old son right after I read this. Z: when will you and daddy be a pastor? Me: well, Daddy probably never will be, but Mommy might. 😀

    • Sarah Bessey

      Ha! Love it.

  • Jessica

    I’ll just share a link to a post I’ve done. :)

    And, yes, I probably would’ve cried when the manuscript hit the floor.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thanks, Jessica!

  • ks

    I grew up in the Salvation Army, and left for many reasons related to ‘traditionalism’, a lack of teaching on grace….and things that seemed important when I was 20; however, they are one of the few denominations that have always (like…100 years always) had women pastors (officers). Worth checking into.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Yes, I’ve been looking into them – great example.

  • Kelly J Youngblood

    Ok. Question #1: My one experience with sexism in the church is related here: Some struggles I’ve had with combining motherhood & ministry are here: Question #2: The church I am currently attending is supportive of women in leadership (read more here: ) as a denomination and the three pastors (though all male) are supportive. It has, however, been a very slow process in this community though, and this church has not yet had any female elders. Apparently, there have been women nominated for elder, but nobody has wanted to be the first one! We also just started a new “subset” (not sure what to call it) of elders called “pastoral care elders” and half of them are women. Also, in the spring I’ll be doing a Sunday school class on “Women Leaders in the Bible” and I am currently writing the curriculum for it [your name is on my list to give a copy to when I am done, by the way :)].

    • Caris Adel

      yes!!!!!!!!! to the curriculum!!!

      • Kelly J Youngblood

        Yeah, I’m excited about it for multiple reasons. 1) that my church is so open to it and 2) that they are letting me write it and 3) the pastor I am working with on it loved the very rough draft I showed him. I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do with it for the general public who may want it…but that’s a bit further down the road. First, I need to finish it!

    • Sarah Bessey

      Curriculum! Woo hoo!!!!

  • Allison C. Lee

    My daughter was 8 years old and and asked her father and I if she could be baptized. We set up a meeting with our childrens “director”. Because she was a she it was director and not Pastor. When my daughter was asked a simple question by the director…”Who would you like to baptize you?” My daughter replied “I want you Miss Sherry. You teach me every week in Sunday School. Will you baptize me?” After a long pause the director asked to speak to me in private. She explained that because she was a female, the church would not allow her to baptize. She also said she had never been asked that question by a child in 20 plus years of service to the church body.
    I was shocked. I can’t find any Scripture to support the church on this policy. As I dig deeper, I am overwhelmed with the lack of female presence. Why? What is this? How do I explain this to my 4 daughters?
    I am egeraly awaiting the release of your book Sarah. I’m not even sure you will provide the answers I am looking for but I am always better off after having read your heart spills online…
    God Bless,
    aka @the4leegirls
    P.S. We are no longer members of that church. We moved to a different state. Just making sure I don’t missrepensent our current church.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thanks, Allison – that is sad. Glad that your girls will grow up knowing a better way.

  • Jenny Call

    I am serving as chaplain at a university and have been in ministry for 14 years. I grew up in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church and my home church does not “approve” of women in ministry and made that clear when I shared my calling. After four years in seminary and an M.Div., I sought ordination. While my seminary and the church I was attending was supportive, the Baptist association in my area was not. Many members of the council did not show up in protest. I was ordained anyway.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Right on – eshet chayil!

  • Michele Minehart

    I thought I’d avoided all such craziness by being a women simply by virtue of age – it wasn’t until I was a grown adult, well into ministry, that I felt authentically belittled. It was less than a year ago:

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thanks, Michele – appreciate it.

  • Kirsten LaBlanc

    I have just emailed you my heart written story. Much love to you. I can’t wait to read your book!

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thanks, Kirsten – got it!

  • Jenny E

    A year or so after my husband, Aaron, and I were married, we joined a church where several of our other newly-married friends went. Early on, I was impressed with the level of conversation about theology and evangelism, topics that my husband and I had a nerdy interest in, though neither one of us has any kind of official training. But I noticed that when our little group broke up into “the guys” and “the girls”, Aaron and the other men continued to discuss philosophy and theology, while the other wives chatted about clothes, 80’s music, home decor, etc. Even when I would bring up a thorny issue from an earlier discussion, I was usually met with “Well, (husband’s name) says that…” and a quick change of subject. Now, I enjoy a spirited debate about the sudden rise in popularity of the bird motif, or whether or not skinny jeans are flattering, but it was kind of boring after a while.

    After attending for a few months, my husband was asked to teach the adult Sunday School class. Most of the class were very recent converts, so when Aaron would ask a question, it was often met with the eerie chirp of crickets. I often ended up being the “other half” of the discussion (I swear, I would sit and count the seconds ticking by, trying to find someone else willing to speak up). One day, several of Aaron’s friends sat him down and gently suggested that he tell me to be quieter in mixed groups (Sunday school and informal gatherings) because I was intimidating the men in the class. In addition, they told him, the fact that I essentially co-taught the class with Aaron made it look like I was not very submissive and might lead others to think that he was not the head of our household. My heroic husband fired back, “My wife is very smart and knows a lot. If that makes you feel insecure, maybe you should get smarter and learn more so you can keep up.”

    A few weeks later, the pastor announced that the Sunday School program would be discontinued and be replaced with a “cell group ministry”. All of the guys who confronted Aaron about me were chosen to lead groups. Aaron was not. We left a few months later…

    • Sarah Bessey

      Wow, Jenny, that’s so sad. Well done, Aaron. You give him high five from us. :-) Thanks for sharing it with me – appreciate it!

    • Jillie

      Wow Jenny, sounds very similar to the church I attended and was involved in for 17 years! I applaud your husband’s response to these men! Bravo! Sad though. I know exactly what you mean about the “Chirping of crickets” in the classroom. I can’t stand it when everyone is so quiet, and knowing full-well other people know the answers or have something to contribute and yet they refuse to speak up. I used to worry that I was contributing ‘too much’ and maybe I should just sit quietly like all the other women. I experimented a couple of times with this, and sure enough, no one said anything, and then the male teacher would nervously carry on ‘suggesting’ possible responses. Drove me nuts. Your decision to leave that church…was the right one.

  • Alana G

    if you comment bk on people’s blogs I’d love to hear from you. i am having a hard time in life and its like my faith in God and even in myself is slowly fading and i feel as if i have no one.

  • Deetz

    When I first graduated from college I worked as a youth intern/youth secretary for a youth pastor at a Southern Baptist Church. I would be at work and his wife (who was at her own job somewhere else) would call and tell me things I needed to do, instead of him talking to me/asking me directly, even though he was in the same building. He would be complimented on work I had done and the one time I said something like “oh, I did that” his wife reprimanded me. Needless to say my husband and I are no longer a part of that church, or that denomination. I cannot wait to read your book!

    • Sarah Bessey

      Wow, that’s so strange! Thanks, Deetz – I appreciate it!

  • Christie Esau

    Details = emailed.

    So proud of you for your progress on Jesus Feminist!

    • Sarah Bessey

      Perfect – thank you!

  • from two to one

    So proud and excited for this!! Sent you my story in response to your first question.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thanks again, D!

  • Matt @ The Church of No People

    Sarah, I obviously can’t help with your questions, but I’m super happy for you. :) Way to go.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Matt, thank you so much! :-) (Your profile picture these days is making me so happy. Love it.)

  • Heides

    I’ve spent many summers working at childrens camps. The camp I grew up attending as a camper, and later as staff, would have advocated for equality, and all jobs being open to both genders. And yet, there was an undercurrent of differentiation between genders. Guys could play beach volleyball with their shirts off (while junior high girls gawk at them), but everyone was concerned about whether the female camper’s bathing suits were “camp appropriate”. Certain permanent staff members made assumptions about my abilities to work with power tools, assuming that the guys has such skills, and as a woman, I didn’t. I felt that I was treated differently by a number of people simply because of my gender.

    However, one summer I travelled overseas and volunteered at a school, helping to run their summer programming for guests. While not an official policy, many of the staff members there held a complimentarian view, and promoted/demanded that the guys treat the girls in a respectful way (chivalry). However, I always felt respected for ME (not simply because of my gender). I was given jobs to do that were not conventional “girl” jobs, I had the same expectations placed on me as the guys. I found it ironic that I felt more equality between genders in a place where a patriarchal view was valued.
    I acknowledge that this impression was the result of some people (not everyone) at each place. However, this also shows that the actions of a few, especially a few in leadership positions, can have a profound impact on how equality between genders is percieved.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Yes, indeed! Is that every true! Thank you so much, Heides.

  • Katherine Willis Pershey

    I am still thinking about this, especially after reading Allison’s comment. Last Christmas I baptized both of my daughters. I wrote them letters to mark the occasion. In Genevieve’s, I wrote, “During your Christmas Eve bath, as I squeezed the warm water over your belly, I thought about how I was going to baptize you the next morning. I thought about how natural it seems for the same one who birthed you and nurses you and listens for your breath and immerses you in soapy water would be the same one to touch your forehead and speak words of blessing.” The letters are here:

    I am so excited about your book, Sarah.

    • Sarah Bessey

      That is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read, Katherine. Chills. Thank you.

  • Jen

    One hard and one affirming anecdote:

    I am a female pastor in the Lutheran church (ELCA). Although our denomination has been ordaining women for over 40 years, I have still encountered those who don’t think women should be leaders and who communicate that either explicitly or implicitly. One male “friend” (who belongs to a different denomination) flat-out told me that I should not pursue my calling to become a pastor because of 1 Timothy, which says “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man.” But, he went on, he supposed it was okay that I become a pastor since my husband had allowed it (!!!).

    It was all worth it, a few years later, when I was serving an internship in a congregation with a male pastor as my supervisor. One of the women, a mother, came up to me and said she was so grateful that I was there, preaching and leading, so that her daughter could see that women can be leaders and equals in the church. I hope to send that message wherever I go.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Eshet chayil! Amen!

  • lindsholifield

    More recent — In college, at a major Christian ministry, the lead pastor said, “Women… they are like fine china. Men men are like dog bowls.” Fine china? Delicate, fragile, breakable? What’s funny is that no one in the room of over 6,000 college students questioned it.

    I grew up attending a megachurch so our youth ministry was constantly holding conferences and events. The ones specifically for girls were about two topics: modesty and purity. Always. They were girly-girl events, so if you didn’t fit into that stereotype you were left on the margins. I had friends with purity rings and True Love Waits bumper stickers. I remember the youth ministers (we had a huge church. there were multiple ones. There was a woman but she was the “girls’ discipleship” person, not a minister or pastor) judging girls who wore more revealing outfits.

    The question of women in leadership didn’t even come up because it wasn’t even on our radar. The same with submission – it was just the way it was. I didn’t know life any other way.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Sad and interesting. Thanks, Lindsey. (Have you read Emily Maynard’s posts about modesty lately? She’s nailing it.)

      • lindsholifield

        I have! I love her! I got to meet her this summer when I was in Portland & she gave me a place to stay :)

  • Mme Zalopha

    The pastors at my church are: a partnered gay man, a lesbian widow, and a single mom. As you can imagine, we don’t hear anything from the pulpit and precious little from the pews about what women (or anyone else) cannot do. But..

    …as a woman, especially one with life-long memories of having people point out how un-womanly I am (OMG! You can do math, won’t your uterus fall out?!?! What do you mean you don’t like to shop ?!?) I find what really makes me feel welcome, affirmed, and valuable is the one pastor who has a gift for knitting together opposites and holding paradox in his heart, words, and gesture when he preaches. That is what I seem to need — acknowledgement that we are all bundles of contradiction, but that this has no bearing on how greatly and thoroughly we are loved. I cannot remember him ever addressing sex and gender roles, but I can do that extrapolation myself. What slays me, sustains me, and keeps me coming back is the intent to make space where there is room for more than one way, so long as we are together.

    • Sarah Bessey


  • Anita Mathias

    Here’s story, God in the Bottom of the Laundry Basket : Or the Consequences of Bad Sexist Theology

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thanks, Anita.

  • Stephanie Spencer

    Can I share a bit of both questions in the same story?

    I grew up in a church that was very restrictive on the role of women. No teaching boys beyond age 13. (Is that when boys become men?) No voting on church issues, lest their vote hold authority over the vote of a man. Etc. So imagine my surprise when God took me on a path towards vocational ministry. One thing I marvel at is his grace. One step at a time. First, a “temporary” internship. Then, a slow learning that ministry felt like a good fit for me. All of this within the children’s ministry context, which felt like a “safe” place for a woman to be. There was a slow growth in my responsibilities and leadership over time. A steady flow of affirmation that church work was a good fit for me.

    After a move and a year off for time with my kiddos and space for reflection, I have gone back to vocational ministry. This time, with adults. Though my position is part time (which is a good fit for this stage), I am admitting out loud to others I work with that what I really want to be is a writing and teaching pastor in the area of spiritual formation. The reaction from my boss? He wants to find ways to encourage me and help me grow. I am being affirmed. I even preached my first sermon this past Sunday. After years of working, but still having some uncertainty, I feel like I can finally say with confidence that God made me for church ministry. I have both the desire and the calling, and I am honored and humbled and thrilled about what this means for my life.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Beautiful, Stephanie. Thank you so much. Eshet Chayil!

  • Karrilee Aggett

    Regarding Ques #2… Bethel church in Redding, CA… in fact, one of the pastors on staff there has a new book out that teaches about women in ministry… Danny Silk is amazing! He writes on honor and family and most recently – the above mentioned book about women… it’s titled “Powerful and Free Confronting the glass ceiling for women in the church.” Can’t wait to read his… and yours!

    • Sarah Bessey

      Agreed! I loved his book about Loving Your Kids on Purpose.

  • Sarah Caldwell

    When I was single and living in Dallas, I had a hard time finding a church, which puzzled me because you couldn’t go more than a few footsteps, without finding yet another ‘megachurch’. (perhaps that was the problem :) Anyhoo, I finally connected into a church I thought was the PERFECT fit for me–on paper, at least. Longing for community, I joined a Bible study/community group. They were very specific on their small groups for singles being just women, or just men. I should have given pause to that fact, but I didn’t really bat an eye at the time.

    I have to say it was probably one of the WORST experiences I’ve ever had in ANY church, which made me so sad. All of the women (especially the group leaders) had a list of (legalistic – though they would never admit this) rules they followed in not only how they interacted with the world, but how WE in the group were allowed to do so. If I so much as questioned these things in the group, it blew up into a MAJOR almost ‘verbal lashing’, if you will, with plenty of Scriptures thrown out as swords, NOT as loving instruction. I know it sounds like you can just chalk it up to a bunch of young, slightly immature and arrogant city snobs, but it ran much deeper than that. I was ‘called on the carpet’ basically (and unknowingly) by invited by the leaders of the group to Starbucks, thinking we were meeting as friends, but they actually were there to ‘encourage me’ to ‘get my life straight’ and perhaps consider that I should not be a part of their group because of our ‘differences in our life’. (There honestly weren’t many differences, other than I wanted to have honest and genuine dialogue, which they felt was too ‘open-minded’.) I was also dealing with huge health concerns and financial hardships, and when I missed a group meeting because I was sick, they sent me an email saying I ‘did not follow the proper protocol for the group’ and ‘perhaps you would be a better fit with another group or church’. I STILL would have just chalked it up to a bunch of snooty folks, but it got worse. I was repeatedly contacted by a woman on staff at the church (their Community Assistant – I might have said Policewoman of Women’s Groups), who while I’m sure was doing her best to be an intermediary communicator, felt that perhaps I just wasn’t living my life as ‘enough of a committed Christian’, and rationalized every bit of judgmental behavior, claiming that women just “need to take their ‘rightful’ place” as followers in the church.
    I don’t mean to be vague in my story details, and it’s NOT to make me look better, I was floored and shocked that such confident, forward thinking women could have such judgmental, legalistic positions on women in the church and community. I thankfully left the church and found a loving and welcoming church home in the area, but circumstance scarred me in regards to women and the church for quite some time. Can’t wait to read your book!

  • Erin Meier

    When I was in high school, I was a member of the youth leadership team. It included running the children’s church program, a more in depth Bible study than typical Wednesday night youth group, fundraising for missions projects, etc.The group was 50-50 guys and girls. We went to a leadership retreat one weekend, and in addition to the main speaker there were different options for breakout sessions. The youth pastor’s wife from my church told me I should go to the session on becoming a pastor because I would make an excellent pastor’s wife.

  • Elizabeth

    Sarah – first of all, I love your writing. Thank you for blogging! Looking forward to the book.

    I want to tell you briefly about my sister’s church. They have an egalitarian position on women in leadership but what I think makes them somewhat different is how they reached that position. Over a long process of study, they collectively concluded that it is a grey issue and that there is decent biblical and theological support for both sides of this issue and that there are passionate Jesus-lovers on both sides. However, they decided Jesus wouldn’t mind if they erred on the side of inclusivity even if in the long run it turns out they were wrong. I find this surprising and refreshing. Most people are so dogmatic and sure and proud of their position (whatever it is). This was startlingly humble. This is the church:
    I like the approach of erring on the side of inclusivity.
    (disclaimer: I don’t know much about this church firsthand but the pastor Jason Poling is apparently a great guy and could tell you the details of how they arrived at this position).

  • K.Y.M

    I grew up in a Baptist church with all-male leadership, and attended a non-denominational evangelical high school. I’m just finishing at Wheaton College, a major evangelical university. I have lots of stories…

    One of the most significant for me, though, was the time my youth pastor kicked me out of my high school youth group. I was sixteen, and of course there was a boy–he was on the leadership team and the worship team and he was thinking about going into ministry etc etc, and this boy liked me, a lot. I was not interested in dating him, although we were good friends. Long story short, the pastor and his wife sat me down and told me that my relationship with this kid, which I thought was friendly and fine, was manipulative, “causing my brother to stumble”, and “negatively impacting the spiritual growth of a future leader of the church”. The pastor was concerned that, in his regular one-on-one discipleship meetings with this boy, he was talking more and more about feelings and me, and less about his walk with God. He thought it best that I leave for a while for the sake of this boy, because if I was around, he would be able to focus on what he was learning or teaching or the worship set he was leading or whatever. I was at least as active as the boy was in the church, but somehow doing all the same things that qualified him as a valuable future leader to be protected made me, well, nothing. Disposable and problematic.

    The best part was when the pastor’s wife noted it was probably for the best that I wasn’t romantically interested in the boy, because, after all, “if he’s going to be a pastor, he’ll have to be discerning about what kind of woman he marries.” The implication, of course being that I was obviously, at sixteen, already destined to be the wrong kind of woman for a true man of God.

  • fiona lynne

    When we moved a year ago, I was so nervous about finding a church that affirmed women in the role they were gifted for, that I could hardly walk in the door. We found a church that we love, with a pastor who is fully supportive. But as an international church, it’s also a place with multiple backgrounds, theologies, denominations, cultures represented. My impatient passionate approach would be to shout it to the rooftops and defiantly declare my rights. Our much-wiser pastor takes the gentler approach, allowing women space to serve where they are gifted while not trying to antagonise those who come from different traditions. I can get frustrated by the pace of change, but I’m learning, watching him, that more people are won over to the idea of mutuality through gradual experience and big love, than through arguments and position statements and debate…

  • Pete A.

    Being a male, and answering this question, I feel a bit like an antelope in a cage of tigers (hey, I know lions are more imposing, but you have to admit tigers are more beautiful – hence the analogy).

    I started by asking my wife and younger daughter about any experiences they’d had. None for the first question; and none that really fit the second, though my wife has had some remarkable experiences with women teachers and prayer-line workers (for example, the first time my wife called the prayer line in one large church we were attending, the lady who answered immediately cut her off and told HER what she was calling about – and what to do about it – and it worked!)

    But I’d like to comment, because I’m sympathetic. I’m in a somewhat similar situation – writing a book, still looking for more stories (I do have a good number, mostly about our own family). I freely admit I’m also a bit envious – you’re well ahead of me on finding an agent and publisher. But I’m trying to obey God by writing it, so will just trust him to take care of that part too.

    The best suggestions I have for stories come from books I’ve read in the past. One from David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade, where he visits a church with a lady pastor to ask advice about raising money for the down payment on the hoped-for Teen Challenge Center in New York City. It’s in chapter 14, and I’ll let you just read the story instead of trying to tell it here (too long, but moving).

    The other book was about Lillian Trasher, who earned the nickname “Mother of the Nile.” A US native, she was engaged to be married. But ten days before the wedding she felt a call to go to Egypt as a missionary. Her guy didn’t feel that. So she broke off the engagement, God provided the money to reach Egypt, and she ended up founding the Assiout Orphanage, which at one time cared for 1,200 orphans. (Egypt has more orphanages now, so the number has dropped.) It’s a moving story, and some excerpts from it might fit well. You’ll have to decide.

    We (my family and I) are praying for God’s blessings on you, your book, and your family.

  • Julie

    I’m a young female pastor. While I think I could tell you all the same stories that young women in professional ministry tell, here’s what I want to share: this Sunday, I’ll have two young girls up on the platform with me, leading worship. One is ten, and the other is twelve. For me and the rest of the leadership at the church, this is how we do it: we provide girls with examples of women in leadership, and then we ask them to give it a shot.

  • Charissa

    With some shame in sharing this story, I’m going to give you a peek at the Seventh-day Adventist church. My church is currently in the middle of a world-wide conversation on the ordination of women. Here’s just a brief look at what’s going on:

    The exciting thing is that regional conferences around the world, since this summer, has started officially ordaining women without the approval of the world-wide church organization. We’ve been waiting for decades for the official church position to change, and now we’re moving forward without permission. :)

    I feel some sense of excitement because my family has belonged to this denomination for six generations. So many other denominations have moved forward with this particular aspect of gender equality while we continued to wait for “guidance from the Lord.” I with that my grandmother and great-grandmother and all those who were before me could see that the waiting is finally over.

    Last week, the “deaconesses” in my particular congregation were ordained right along with the deacons. I smiled.

  • Rubi Ruiz

    I hope this isn’t too late, but this incident just happened today at church. We were singing Christmas hymns as is the norm during the Advent season and the worship leader for the day, an older woman, chose to sing the Christmas carol “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.” But before proceeding to sing the hymn she mentioned how our church hymnal has changed the words of the song from “Good Christian Men” to “Good Christians” to be inclusive of both men and women. She grudgingly said, “Don’t you all remember singing this song as “Good Christian Men, Rejoice? I’m not a feminist, I don’t care if it says men there.” And proceeded to sing the original words of the song, not the words on the hymnal. It seems like a small gesture, and at the moment it was actually quite humorous coming from an elder woman whom I love despite her “anti-feminist” views. But I could not shake the disappointment at how women, sometimes even more than men, continue to fight to remain in submission when opportunities to stand up for something better exist. That would’ve been a perfect moment to commend the Church for changing its hymnal and taking an egalitarian stance for women. But…some rather continue to embrace patriarchy and that just shocks me. My prayer is that as women of faith, we begin to embrace and seize every opportunity to speak about equality. Blessings!

  • Laura

    I have a lot of stories. Here’s a few that come to mind:

    Disheartening: Story #1: Attending a women’s Christian conference (Women of Faith I believe) with my mom and 2 sisters in law about 5 or so years ago. My mother generously paid for us all to go (for context: we are all Christians but my sisters in law are a Mennonite and a Catholic and we all tend to be more socially liberal than my mom). Anyway, the event was SUPER girly and light on theology and even my mom was disappointed. I think coming with us she kind of saw the event through our eyes and was sort of like, what’s with the campy girl talk?

    Story #2:I have a degree in theology from a conservative bible college, so I have a lot of stories about that as well. Both good and bad. The worst was when I felt like a male member of my class was being extremely sexist in his comments in a literature course. I talked to the teacher about how marginalized I felt and he basically told me to stand up for myself and the women in the class more, which pissed me off at the time but which I sort of understand now. I mean I’ve been whistled at in the streets and am pretty good at ignoring most blatant sexism but this guy in class (still remember his name) just made me feel intimidated. It was awful.

    Encouraging: Story #3: We were going through the fruits of the spirit and our female pastor (we have 3 leaders/pastors in our new church, 1 woman, 2 men) preached on self-control. It was powerful. I am not used to hearing women preach (I come from a conservative church background) and was blown away by hearing a woman talk on a topic that is VERY close to the hearts of many women. And in that context I think what really wowed me was that her speaking from a woman’s P.O.V. was a prime example of why we need more female pastors.

    Lately this topic of women in the church has really been on my heart. God has been journeying with me and my husband for the past several years (we’ve been ambivalently churchless for awhile) and I work in an industry where the women are extremely smart and treated very professionally and I work for a BIG company started by 2 crazy smart ladies and we have great maternity leave and I work with a bunch of working mamas, and sometimes, in that context of work, the idea that women should be voiceless in church is just really weird.

  • Kacie

    I love that you’re doing this. You know, it’s such an odd thing, this time we’re living in. After Bible College I worked in the event planning business for several years in downtown Chicago. The company I worked for really was filled with reverse sexism. Women ran it and the head of it all spoke so derogetorily of men. Working with men resulted in lots of conversations about how men weren’t reliable, they were lazy, they just weren’t as focused and as driven as women. There was scorn for the husbands and an almost visible attempt to discourage dating women from marrying. Men were ogled but not respected, flirted with but not considered equals. They ran the warehouse and the menial labor jobs, but women (preferably beautiful women… or gay men) were promoted.

    Strange, right? I think that still almost never happens, but experiencing it made me very careful in what I do and say in my defense of women in the church.

    Despite still living in conservative evangelical circles in seminary, missions, and church, I think the primary reason I haven’t personally grieved it strongly is because I have parents who always treated me the same way they treated my brother. The expectation was always that I would work hard, get an education, and work whatever career I picked. There was no difference, my dad engaged me in intelligent discussion and loved me well, and so – I suppose it didn’t occur to me to fight this battle for years. I was blessed.

    The past six years I’ve been working in a conservative evangelical mission organization. It’s a wonderful workplace, but when I got here there were no women in leadership in the organization. There were a few women trying to patch together a women’s ministry department, and some more of us women working as administrative assistants. I was intrigued when I saw identified in organization documents the desire to have women in leadership. I’ve been watching with interest since then. We’ve now got multiple women in leadership and they seem to be completely respected and promoted. I do think that the women that are promoted are women who are bold and extraverted, and quiet women are left to languish. I think women need to be go-getters in order to grow, whereas new young men are targetted and nurtured naturally. The difficulty with that is that the evangelical subculture has taught women to be quiet and satisfied and so the majority would end up being stalled.
    Also, I have been the main breadwinner for our family and since our son was born a couple of years ago, my husband has been the stay-at-home dad (works from home). This has been rough in terms of how others perceive it. I get comments about how I must want to be home because “women naturally are the nurturers”. Well, I agree and I DO want to be home, but I don’t think that’s any different than fathers. Balancing work and home is a cross-gender dilemna. There’s an assumption that I wouldn’t respect my husband if he’s at home and I’m out in the work world. Perhaps what has grated the most is comments to my husband about him probably feeling unfulfilled because he’s at home. Well now, why is that assumption put on him but NOT on stay-at-home moms? I would think that when we swap and I am at home, I will struggle equally.
    Back to the mission organization I work for. As I’ve worked with field directors, I absolutely loved the feedback from one man who was resisting the efforts to have a women’s ministry team go over regularly. He told me, “Look, my most effective church planters are women. If we send over American-style women’s ministry, they will be pulled in to do internal church work with other women, and the growth of the church will be hampered. These women ARE in ministry, the same ministry as the men, and I don’t want our Western women’s ministry subculture to influence them.” Bravo.

  • Jen Prickett

    In response to your second question, I grew up in an evangelical Quaker (friends) church and always felt strongly affirmed as a woman. I had a great chorus of men and women recognize gifts of ministry, teaching and preaching in me from a young age, before I even saw them in myself. As I’ve gotten older I’ve seen the subtle sexism, the hidden glass ceiling in leadership and senior pastor roles, yet even as I say that I’m aware of how many opportunities have been made available for me that others never experience. I serve on a weekly preaching team of men and women of a variety of ages, I’ve had turns actually preaching, I teach adult Sunday school, and I’m a profefssor of theology at a local christian university. Though plenty of people empowered me, I still primarily read male theologians in theology courses filled with men taught by men, my egalitarian denomination is still primarily led by men with male preachers, and I struggle to find female authors to read and even female friends to talk theology with! I think the people who supported me recognize this void exists and want to see it change, and that is enormously reassuring, but my experiences have generally been very lonely ones as a woman in church leadership and christian higher education.

  • Jim Fisher

    My church alternates Council leadership (Moderator) male-female each year. Our church council is half female, half male. Our Deacons are half male/female also; And even though our senior minister has always been male, it is not from lack of trying. We interviewed many women for the job, and the head of the search committee was a woman. All of those are important for generating and maintaining a culture which welcomes and ASSUMES the voices and experience of women.

  • Stacey Sparshu Miller

    Sarah, I fully admit that even the idea of writing down these words, these wounds, scares the pants off me. See, my life, my calling, my ministry and my heart have been marked by them in ways that I still don’t fully understand or know what to do with.

    I grew up thinking that I could do anything. I’m smart, quick to learn, loved to lead and full of energy. The farm girl in me doesn’t have room for being told I couldn’t do something…who has time for that when there’s chores to do? Most of all, I love Jesus. And so at 18, I went to the “big city” for what was supposed to be a year of Bible school training before I went on to my “real” job. It was there that I found – or thought I had – my calling. All the leadership qualities, writing abilities and natural affinities for teaching became skills that made sense. Youth ministry, adult ministry, music ministry, vision casting…I was at home. And then it came time for my internship. I was told that the only place for me was in children’s ministry. That was the only place anyone would take me…as a woman. So, while my peers – the boys – were planting churches, preaching, teaching and running programs, I was sent to blow noses and construct the ark from cardboard and gluesticks. Now, don’t get me wrong, Jesus was there and those little kids (and their families) stole my heart. I served there with all that I could and shaped things in ways that I knew Jesus was working through but somehow it still felt like the children’s ministry box was a little bit small. Perhaps it was that it wasn’t what I chose but simply my only option…because I’m a girl. Perhaps I let that knowledge cloud my own experience and my own heart. Perhaps.

    And so I graduated. I had a shiny degree that said I was fit for ministry and a heart that was ready to just do something. Within months, I applied at a church that I knew well. I was excited for the possibilities. I (felt like I) interviewed well. Questions in the interview seemed odd. Are you dating anyone? What are your intentions about that? While odd, I was too naive, still, to know what was going on. Oh, but in the end it was clear. I didn’t get the job. The guy that applied for it did. You know what I was told? “You’re a woman and you can’t be counted on. You’ll just get married, have kids and then we’ll be looking for someone else.” Besides being an HR nightmare, it was another wound. I’m a woman and I can’t be counted on. At 21, they were choosing my course of life for me. In the end, the joke was on them. The guy they hired left their employ 6 months later and I didn’t get married until I was 32.

    And so it’s continued. Working at a Christian college, I was given the title of assistant marketing coordinator. There was no marketing coordinator for me to assist. I was the enrollment department. Heaven forbid we acknowledge people for the job they’re doing. It was more than the title. It was that they saw me as a woman with specific roles appropriate to my ‘womanhood’. My ideas were less. I grew to learn that they wanted nothing more than a glorified administrator. Again, don’t get me wrong, if you are called to be an administrator, administer well, male or female. But to be pushed to the outside, to have my ideas marginalized within the organization (when I was being recognized across the country as an expert in my field) left me wishing that God had done something with my gender so I could just be given the freedom to do the job he had given me and to use the skills he bestowed on me.

    I worked up the courage to leave, wondering if I would ever enter any sort of ministry again. Wondering if God had made a mistake in giving me the gifts and abilities he had. Wondering if I’d heard wrong about my calling.

    Through all this, I struggled in the church too. Single and struggling to make a career in my late 20’s just didn’t sit well in churches full of 20 somethings married with kids. In every way, I felt less. Woman’s ministry gatherings that were centered around parenting, housekeeping and being a good wife – all valuable information for “one day” but what if that one day didn’t come? Who was willing to minister to my heart in my single, childless “state?” What tools could the church have for me in this place of life? Was there a place for me to give back to the church and use who I am for the building up of community there? My favorite were all the well meaning bits of advice. “When you’re content with God alone, then he will provide you with a husband,” as if my singleness were some sort of punishment for my lack of relationship, said the woman married at 19. “A woman’s highest calling is to be a mother and wife” says a pastor on mother’s day. Oh, and for fun, only men could vote regarding church issues so, as a woman with no man’s ear to bend, my voice was excluded.

    And then I found a new home. A Church plant asking, what to me felt like, all the right questions. Through a series of events through which I think God laughed, I was hired as the Children’s pastor. Funny, right? But it felt different. The staff structure was set up as a team. We all had invested interest in the other departments. There was no segregation. Even our board had women members. The senior pastor asked questions, shared his opinions and asked for ours. It was such a different experience of church leadership and I thanked God for restoring my hope in church leadership and providing me a place to be me, the me he had made me to be.

    But that was to be short lived. Crisis hit. Tragedy, really. Our senior pastor, the one with this vision for team, betrayed us all and was asked to leave, leaving us, a broken mess, to pick up the pieces. We did the best we could and we stumbled along but through it all, the hurts would come again. With no one to lead from the mindset of equality, the view of church leadership that says that, well, women shouldn’t, reared it’s ugly head. In a situation where there were only two staff left and a small board to move through these troubled waters, you’d think that it would be a matter of all hands on deck and yet, again, this was not the case. To say that I felt marginalized would be an understatement. And then, to all our relief, we were able to hire a new senior pastor. Thank you, Jesus, there is someone to provide some direction. But it came out that he thought women should be seen but not heard (even if he didn’t say it outright). Children too. So children’s ministry was moved to a different floor in the building, without even so much as asking if that would be a beneficial way to run the ministry. When once the kids were a regular part of the larger church body, that too changed and they no longer had service time. My volunteers were recruited for other areas until I was teaching every week. I went 14 months without going to a church service or seeing any adults other than the few that would step into the kids’ area to pick up their kids. When I asked questions about the decisions being made, regarding both children’s ministry and the larger congregation, I was told not to worry about it, that it was my job to carry out what he decided. I was no longer part of a team but a woman left to do a man’s bidding (because that truly is our place, right?!), keeping my opinions and ideas to myself unless they included whether to use pencil or wax crayons. Don’t get me wrong, I can work for someone. I can be taught and i can be led but when it came down to a question of whether I was capable and every bit of me felt questioned, it became too much. I was belittled and marginalized. Not just from the ministry my heart had grown to love, but from the larger church community.

    I am no longer there. I am no longer anywhere, really. I have not been able to set foot in a church building without having an anxiety attack in I don’t know how long. I still love Jesus and somewhere deep inside I think I still love the church. I have to believe that there’s a group of believers out there who doesn’t think that woman are less simply because we’re different.

    I heard a church leader once say that in the spiritual battle we’re waging, this battle for mutuality in the church is Satan’s greatest weapon and we’ve handed it to him. If statistics prove to be true, our churches are made up, still, of more than 50% women and yet we are marginalizing them. No military strategy would include taking out half your soldiers. No other organization would take people who are CEO’s, administrators, teachers and highly organized influencers in their “real” lives and tell them those skills can’t be used because of their gender.

    I still believe that God did not make a mistake in giving me…and you…and the other fantastic, brilliant, gifted women I know the gifts he has given. The mistake comes when we believe Satan’s lie…that we shouldn’t use those gifts.

    • Stacey Sparshu Miller

      And yet, sometimes I believe those lies. I don’t know what to do with myself right now. For 15 years, my life has been about ministry and serving God through the church. My degree is in ministry. What do I do now when my heart is so broken? Where do I go? What skills do I have of value that I can turn into some sort of vocation? What, as a woman, am I good for?

  • Handsfull

    The cult I was brought up in had women completely silent during church. The only part they were allowed to have in services was to choose the hymns – there was one at the beginning and one at the end of each service. I can remember ‘petticoat government’ being scornfully mentioned by the-powers-that-be when leadership had made a decision on something and then come back a couple of days later and changed their minds – the inference being that the men had made the decision, gone home, the wives had their say and the men had then changed their minds. That particular lot of leadership were very careful from then on that such a demeaning insult couldn’t be applied to them again!
    I can also remember a conversation I had with my dad when I was about 9 or 10. I was complaining about having to do something I didn’t want to and dad pulled the ‘children should honour their parents’ card. I was furious, and said ‘but I always have to do what I’m told, I will never get to be the one in charge’. Dad tried to be sympathetic and told me that he knew what that was like, he had to be obedient to his parents when he lived at home too. That was just fuel to my fire! I can still remember the weighty feeling of hopelessness that settled on me when I said ‘But you knew that when you got married, you would be the one in charge. I will NEVER be the one in charge! You are in charge of me when I live with you, then my husband will be in charge of me when I get married, and when he dies, my sons will be in charge of me. I never ever get to be in charge of me!’ There wasn’t really much he could say to that, because he knew I was right.

  • Handsfull

    The next church I was in was the complete other end of the pendulum – wild (to me!), free, lots of prophesy, people dancing during worship, etc. AND the first month I was there, 3 of the 4 sermons were by women! The sermons were by the pastor’s wife, then one of the worship leaders and next a woman who has since become one of the church elders. They were all good, sound teachers, and I couldn’t believe my eyes or ears – it was fantastic! This church works on the basis that if you have a gift, you should use it for the edification of the rest of the church body, regardless of your gender. While I was there, the pastor gradually became involved more and more in teaching and preaching overseas, so when he was away lots of people (men and women) were given chances to preach. Women are involved in all levels of leadership. It’s not the perfect church, but on that side of things, it’s pretty impressive.