I’ve spent most of my adult life going back and forth between wanting to do ministry and running from it like the plague. I know the gifts that God has given me, teaching and loving and helping people in need, are designed for ministry. I know that because I inherited them from my mother, who is one of the most gifted ministers I have ever known.
The reason I’ve run from them is because I’ve seen firsthand what it can be like for a woman in ministry.
Over the many, many years my mother has been teaching, in Sunday church, ladies’ class, and now at a Christian university as a theology professor, she has been patient, kind, and loving. Mostly, people have listened well to her. Sometimes she has been boxed into stereotypes—a woman who speaks must be “pushy” or have an agenda.
My mother does not. She is gentle and strong, thoughtful and discerning. She is not afraid of saying what is truth, but she is not out to shove an idea on a church that is not ready for it. I’ve heard her counsel churches that were tackling the role of women in their congregations to take their time, to pray, to listen to each other, to base their changes on strong theology and not on feelings or emotions or the economic power of a rich influential few.
My mother is not afraid to challenge freshman boys who enter her class ready to spew their opinions on anyone. But she spends most of her time working with young women who plan on using their gifts and young men who listen to her as a teacher, regardless of her gender.
She has earned her place among her mostly male colleagues through her teaching, her scholarship, and her desire to partner with them. She literally wrote the book on how to handle balanced and loving partnership between men and women in the church. Her book, Bound and Determined, argues that “we are bound together as Christian women and men by God’s design and that we must live with a determination to be God’s holy people in all of our partnerships.” It takes both women and men to have this conversation.
I watched as she lived out the stories that became her book. I watched as she navigated over the years the deeply-held convictions of people who thought that her gender kept her from using the gifts that God gave her. I watched her pain from, and forgiveness for, people who said hurtful or untrue things over the years.
She handled these situations with maturity. In my immaturity, I couldn’t always understand why she bothered.
The role of women in the church was the last thing I wanted to talk about.
And then I had two daughters. And the thought that they might ever feel like I felt at the age of seven, when I wanted to be a boy so I could preach, keeps me up at night. And I finally understand why both my mother and my father talked and prayed and moved to make a space for women in the church where I grew up, where women now teach.
It was for me. And my sister. And my brother. Because our legacy of faith is the most important thing for both of them. Because they value our voices, male and female. Because they want us to grow up to be the people God has called us to be, nothing more and nothing less.
Since becoming a mother, I have found myself moving back into ministry, just like my mother. When I was little, they used to strap my pack ‘n’ play in the back of our big van (it was the ‘70s) and haul me to college ministry devos. Now we bring our daughters along (in car seats, of course) to poor neighborhoods all over Austin while visiting Burmese refugees who work with our non-profit, Hill Country Hill Tribers. In the last few years I’ve spent most of my time with mothers who weave and create traditional handicrafts in their home. I was drawn toward ministry even when I wasn’t looking for it. Looking back on the last five years in which I’ve been a mother, I realize I’ve created the same balance of academia, ministry, and motherhood my own mother cultivated in my growing-up years.
I couldn’t be prouder to take after her. And I can never thank her enough for the path she forged, for me and for women like me. I’ll spend my life trying.
My oldest daughter has already begun rolling her eyes at the things I say. I hear her tone, the distinct “MOOOOOM” only a daughter can roll out, and I know the road ahead of us could be long. I’ll probably embarrass her over the years. But I can only hope she has a fraction of the respect and love for me someday that I feel for my own mother.
I’ve entered ministry, full-on with my sleeves rolled up. I’m ready to talk and teach. Because I want my daughters to be the women that God created them to be. I’m ready to carve out a space for their precious, intelligent, beautiful voices. Just like my mother did for me.