Pioneers get a lot of glory in the history books. We applaud their vision. We celebrate their bravery. We congratulate their strength. The covered wagons that made their way across the American West are the stuff of legends. Manifest destiny!
But in reality, pioneering is grueling work. Trudging across uncharted territory in order to create a new way is gritty, raw, and exhausting work. Romanticized visions of covered wagons gloss over disease, pain, and self-doubt.
Our church of Christ tradition is experiencing a change in landscape. We are witnessing pioneers. Courageous women, sensing the call of God on their lives, have bravely stepped into ministerial positions. The following series is not a place to debate the appropriateness of these women in ministry. Instead, these posts are an attempt to see beneath the canvas wagon cover, so to speak, on the challenges that these pioneers face in navigating new territory.
I am privileged to serve some extraordinarily talented ministers. For the last five years, these women have invited me on their journey and asked me to listen to their stories, where sweat and tears pave new paths. The things I will share with you are straight from their experiences in our churches. These are not theories or case studies. These are the real experiences of real women serving in real churches. While I protect their names and the names of their congregations, I am sharing, with their permission, deeply personal hurts and fears.
Why would I do such a thing? Good question. I share these as an invitation, a call to applaud their vision of a church Body that equally values all of its members. I share these so that we can celebrate their bravery in redeeming our understandings of gender boundaries. I share these so that we can congratulate their strength and learn from their resiliency. And perhaps most importantly, I also share these so that we can partner with them in reshaping the landscape of professional ministry.
These wonderful women represent a broad scope of life experiences and current circumstances. Some are married, some single. Some have children, some don’t. They are generationally diverse, ranging in age from 23 to 65 years old. Some have been in ministry for less than 2 years; others for 15 years or more. Some have theological education while others came to ministry from other educational backgrounds and professions.
The majority of the women I walk alongside don’t see themselves as brave pioneers. They see themselves simply as people called to be ministers of the Gospel. Their work is not primarily to break down gender barriers but to bring the Kingdom of God closer to reality. They, however, acknowledge that when gender stops the expression of one’s calling, it hampers Kingdom of God. These talented, called, and gifted ministers ask that we listen to what it is truly like to be a woman in ministry within the churches of Christ. They don’t want to be remembered as trailblazers. They simply want to be faithful.