I spent most of my twenties in a state of mind-numbing, hair-pulling, pacing-tiger frustration. I was a smart, God-obsessed young woman who was passionate about ministry and theology, but had no idea what to do with myself. If the Christian blogosphere had existed in its current state, I probably would have taken up permanent residence behind my computer screen, soaking up knowledge from resources I didn't have access to in Central Minnesota. I'm still not sure whether my internet-less-ness was a good or bad thing.
Here were my problems:
-Despite the fact that I grew up in a ministry family, and was clearly called to ministry, I didn't see ministry as a career option, unless I wanted to move overseas and work with children. I solved this problem by marrying a man who was going into ministry and hanging onto his coattails for dear life. It kinda worked and kinda didn't. But mostly didn't.
-I was starving for theological knowledge, but had no idea how to get it. Sermons seldom taught anything I didn't already know, and the women's Bible studies I attended often had more to do with homemaking than, well, the Bible. I knew that books could help me grow, but I had no idea what books to read, or where to start.
-I struggled to find a female mentor who could challenge me not just spiritually, but intellectually and vocationally. I appreciated the mentors who spoke into different areas of my life, but I was hungry to learn more about God and the Bible, to stretch and grow with the assistance of someone who knew more and was further down the path than I was. I am sure there were women who could have helped me with this, but like good books, I had no idea who they were or where to find them.
This all sounds a bit critical, but it isn't meant to be. I was surrounded by wonderful people who knew and loved the Bible and taught it faithfully. But the point I am trying to make is that for women who are passionate about ministry and theology, that may not be enough. And while promising young men often get taken under the wing of a local pastor or ministry leader, promising young women often get left out in the cold.
I understand why this happens. People in ministry have it hammered into their head that they need to be extremely careful in their interactions with the other gender. Many won't even meet with a person of the opposite gender alone. I understand and respect these cautions, but oh, pastors, do you have any idea how much we women need you? Do you have any idea how much we need you to teach us, to challenge us, to advocate for us, to stretch us, to encourage us? To pastor us?
And do you know what else we need? We need you to stop being afraid of us. We need you to view us as human beings, not potential sources of sexual temptation, to treat us like sisters, as Paul instructed Timothy, not Jezebels, as some of your mentors may have implied. We need you to quit acting like we have cooties. I'm not saying to throw caution to the wind or be unwise in your interactions. I'm saying we need you, and if you want the women in your congregations to thrive, you're going to have to figure out some strategies to work with them or else just get over your awkwardness.
For me, the turning point came in my early thirties. (I'd say I just couldn't take it anymore, and I snapped, but that has negative implications, and this was a good snap.) I enrolled in a ministry degree at Northwestern College, which required a local mentor with a theological education. My pastor, Darrell Nelson, agreed to mentor me, and continues to do so. He has been an incredible mentor, helping me process the things I was learning, helping me find the resources I needed for the next stage of my growth, and encouraging me (and even giving the occasional gentle push) when my knees got wobbly and I wasn't sure whether I had the courage to continue down the whole “woman in ministry” path.
So now, pastors, here's my gentle push for you. The women in your congregation, especially that breed of women who are leading Bible studies, posting edgy articles on Facebook, and coming up to you after your sermon to ask a question or voice disagreement (read: she wants to engage in spiritual and theological discussion with you), need you to invest in them. Please, find a way. Meet in a group, or teach a woman much older than you who will teach the younger women, or hire a female pastor to shepherd the women in your congregation, or just get over it. Please. I think you will be glad you did.