[Today’s guest post is from Jeanette Hanscome, who writes of the powerful blessings God delivers when women and men engage in the pastoral work God has prepared for them.]
I sat in church getting so much out of the sermon that I couldn’t take notes fast enough, thinking of at least half a dozen friends who would tell me why this congregation was unbiblical. A knot formed in my stomach. If any of those friends visited and I invited them to church, they would feel uncomfortable. They would express their concern during our post-service lunch and point out the obvious flaw:
There were far too many women in leadership here.
This church had two female pastors on staff. One of them was preaching an incredible sermon today.
The amazing worship director was also a woman. So were some of the elders.
I’d been raised in churches where only men preached. Some of my friends were all for women becoming pastors and elders, but I knew more people with strong opinions against it. Their voices scolded me whenever I entered the sanctuary: Oh, Jeanette. I’m afraid for you. God is not pleased with your choice.
How could I feel so drawn to a church that God wouldn’t approve of? And why did what God wouldn’t approve of seem like exactly where I needed to be? Was I that easily deceived?
A Congregation to Love
I hadn’t expected to find a congregation that I loved as much as the one I left behind when divorce forced me and my younger son to move. My dad’s cousin had invited me to this church. She led a Bible study where I was making friends and learning things about Jesus that made me want to get to know him in a deeper way. That group had become a haven of healing.
The church had resources I needed to recover from my divorce and what led to it. Another female pastor oversaw those ministries. She seemed so kind. I could see myself opening up to her. My cousin had started asking me to fill in for her as Bible study leader occasionally, so I was starting to get more involved.
My parents, who’d dropped out of church attendance, had started coming with me on Sundays. So had my sisters, nephews, and niece.
But were any of these benefits legitimate reasons to stay in a church that allowed something I’d been taught was wrong? Did I not trust God to provide another haven—one with fewer females on the platform?
One day, I found myself in tears over my love for this church and my obvious need to move on. God, what am I going to do?
When God Stops You
Then I sensed God stopping me. Did I think I needed to leave because I truly believed this church was unbiblical, or did I feel pressured to because it didn’t look like what I was used to? Was I concerned about what he thought of my choice, or what my friends thought?
Did I even know what the Bible said about women? Really? I knew some women who were pastors. Had I ever thought she’s doing something wrong about those women? No. The whole issue was a confusing mystery to me.
I felt strongly that I was supposed to stay put and pay attention to what God wanted to teach me.
I asked my cousin/friend to help me understand what the Bible had to say about women in leadership, beyond the few verses that had been drilled into my conscience. When reading my Bible, I noticed how Jesus regarded women. I started observing those two female pastors, and the male pastors, and those I knew who served as elders. Each of them was clearly doing exactly what God had gifted him or her to do. And the dynamic of women and men serving together as equals—I’d never seen anything like it.
One Sunday, I arrived at church rattled from a confrontational text from my ex-husband. I saw the female pastor who oversaw Care Ministries and immediately felt drawn to ask…
“Would it be possible to pray?”
She sat with me, so we could talk for a few minutes. We prayed then talked some more. She gave me a hug. She asked me to check in with her later in the week, and I did. This pastor became a valuable part of my support system.
The Powerful Prayer of a Pastoral Woman
That’s when it clicked. I’d needed to pray with a pastor that day. I’d also needed to pray with a woman. I was struggling with some deep things at the time and needed a go-to pastor but wouldn’t have felt comfortable opening up to a man. I’d been hurt by some men in church leadership and—though I didn’t realize it at the time—had a hard time trusting pastors because of it. But I trusted her.
It occurred to me that when women have a need, we need support from another woman. Needs put us in a vulnerable place. Pastor’s wives are great, so are women’s ministry leaders and Bible study teachers. But sometimes, we need a pastor to go to, and meeting one-on-one with a guy can feel awkward. For some of us, depending on our experiences, it might even feel scary. How can we get the support and guidance we need if all the pastors and elders are men?
God used all of this to reshape what I’d always been taught. More importantly than that, I learned the importance of seeking his guidance rather than blindly basing what is biblical/unbiblical on what the most opinionated believers have to say, which, in my opinion, can be just as dangerous as attending the “wrong” church.
In the end, I learned to stop limiting God to someone else’s comfort zone, or mine.
I learned to make my faith about following Jesus, not people, and to trust him to know where each of us needs to be in order to grow.
If I had left based on what my friends would feel comfortable with if they visited, I would’ve missed out on the church home that I love and serve in. I would’ve missed out on deep healing and growth that came thanks to both men and women using their gifts.
Jeanette Hanscome is the author of five books including Suddenly Single Mom: 52 Messages of Hope, Grace, and Promise, as well as a speaker, writer’s workshop leader, freelance editor, and proud mom of two sons (one grown and one teenager). She enjoys spending some of her free time singing at her church and in the Blackhawk Chorus. You can read Jeanette’s weekly blog posts at Jeanettehanscome.com, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.