Women Pastors… (1)

Growing up I thought the name Randi was a totally normal, popular name for girls. I mean, my parents named me after a character on a TV show after all – wasn’t that the craze? All the girls were getting named Randi, no? Anyway, I thought it was normal because there was another girl in my grade (1st – 12th) who shared the same name as me. Since there were two of us I never questioned it. When I got to college I met two other female Randi’s and it cemented the fact that I had a very popular name.

It wasn’t until I moved to good ol’ California, took a job in retail and the rudest customer on earth asked pointedly, “Did your parents really want a boy? Is that why your name is Randi?” “Say what, sir? My name is a popular girl name…probably top 10. You weren’t aware?”

Apparently, I have a strange name. To quote “Mean Girls”, “Whatever, I’m getting cheese fries.” I like my name.

My point with all this is that I never knew that there was anything strange (or a better word – unique) about my name until somebody specifically spelled it out for me. This is really similar to my journey as a woman pastor.

Growing up, I had the benefit and example of women in leadership in the church and women pastors who were phenomenal at their jobs. I had the example of my parents who are both incredibly gifted leaders, and, not only did I have their example, I had their support of my leadership gifts and abilities.

Free Methodist women clergy
Free Methodist women clergy

When I got to college I was blessed to have the example of women professors who modeled leadership, and I even had the opportunity to take a class about women in ministry where I read books of all the fabulous women pastors who had come before me. Although, if I’m being fair, I should say that class really almost put a kibosh on my whole desire to be a woman in ministry.  The professor of that class brought in a panel of women pastors and it pretty much scared the daylights out of me. I left the class convinced that if I became a woman pastor I would have to gain weight, wear black, chop off my hair to look like a boy and probably attend a different church than my husband, if I even got one of those. Although, I guess it is also only fair to say that I could have totally missed the important stuff they said since I may or may not have spent a significant amount of time in college classes playing Snood on my computer and only catching tidbits here and there. Don’t judge me. God and I were having a moment, and I was trying really hard to tune him out. Plus I got a 3.8 SAY WHAT? Magna cum laude, baby! I digress.

Lastly, in my first job after college (as a church intern), I had three fabulous male pastors who sat me down and spelled out for me my gifting. They encouraged me in ministry and prompted me to truly consider being a pastor for the first time. Up til this point I never actually wanted to be a pastor – I wanted to be a missionary. Because girls can only teach people of other cultures, right? Little did I know how influential they would be.

So, as you can see, it never really crossed my mind as I grew up that there was anything wrong with women in ministry, women in leadership or, more specifically, women pastors. It was normal, just like my name.

I’m not really sure when I became aware that there was an issue here. Maybe it was when a good friend of mine told me in college, “You can’t marry a lay person. If you want to get married, you will have to marry another pastor.” I was so confused. Complete confession time: I didn’t even understand what lay person meant. (I was a baby. I didn’t know very much except that God had put a burning passion in my heart to share him with everybody.) When I finally understood what he was saying I whined to my friends, “But I don’t even want to be a pastor. Who cares who I marry? What’s it to him?”

Maybe it was when I applied for my first church job in California on my way to seminary… They were so thrilled by me and my résumé and excited for the future, and they told me I would be the perfect man for the job. (Darn name again!) I had to write them and inform them I was a woman. Can we take a minute and say, what a strange e-mail to write. I’m pretty sure it went something like this.

Dear ——

I just wanted to be clear before we go any further with this job prospect that I am a woman, not a man.

Thanks,

Randi

Anyway, after that e-mail, the response simply said, “We really want a man for the job, sorry.” Okay then. BY THE WAY, GIRL RANDI’S SPELL THEIR NAMES WITH I’S! BOYS SPELL THEM WITH Y! GET IT RIGHT OR PAY THE PRICE.

Maybe it was the time when a well-meaning ministry leader (who knew my heart for ministry) simply said, “You will probably grow up to be a pastor’s wife.” To be clear, this is not a dig at pastors’ wives. They are a blessing, they have a ministry, they are needed in the church and have a vital role to play. For me, it was simply a message that said, “You can’t do a certain job – try another.”

I don’t really know, but bit-by-bit I began to understand that there was a difference in how people viewed women in ministry.

Just like the reality of learning my name was unique, I was equally surprised to learn that there was a such a battle between people/denominations/churches on the issue of women in ministry. As I said, I grew up knowing who God made me to be, the gifts He had given me and a heart to use them to the best of my ability. I had seen the examples of women who had gone before, and I saw the fruit of their ministry. Who was anybody else to tell me differently?

A while back, I felt God calling me to begin (re)studying the topic of women in ministry. It’s an important issue in the church, mainly because it can be divisive and because if we are wrong on it, then we could be excluding 50% of the people God has called to do the job. That seems like a pretty big deal. We need good theological teaching/training on this issue because, while many denominations have studied and come to similar conclusions on the topic (and have put the debate to rest), it rarely has been passed on to the local church body. We never gave the church the memo.

The number one question I get asked in our church (after 1. Are you tired this morning? You look tired. 2. Did you dye your hair? 3. When is your baby due? Oh yeah, that question is not only asked when I’m pregnant. #lastweeksupermarketproblems #bellyfat) is about my understanding of women in ministry.

Let me say that in our church I have never felt like this question came from a place of malice or ill-will. I simply have fielded this question many times from people (mostly women) who really are curious why I do what I do because all their lives they have been taught differently. I love having the opportunity to dialogue about it and share what God has placed on my heart.

I’m excited to have the opportunity to share my thoughts about women in ministry here, and I hope you will continue to join me as I dive into the Scriptures over the next couple of weeks and look at this topic. Don’t worry: it won’t be boring.

Oh, and if you are wondering how I eventually became a pastor – God told me to do it. Yes, I’m blaming Him.

I was standing in a worship service, singing my heart out to God when, out of the blue, I heard Him say, “You are supposed to be a pastor.” You can bet that I dropped my hands, looked up at the ceiling and laughed and then cringed because I remembered what happened when other women laughed in the Bible. #notgoodnotgood After that, I turned my head to the ceiling again and said, “That’s not gonna work, God. Here’s why…” Yes, I’m a moron, and yes, you can see who was right.

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