Learning through Life

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Hampshire, United Kingdom
I love how our day-to-day life can teach us lessons to help us understand our past, challenge our today, and inspire our future. We can learn through experiences, situations, conversations, songs, books, nature ... the list is endless! Live with eyes ready to see, ears ready to hear and a heart ready to be touched.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The one where I 'come out' (Part Four)

*This is the fourth in a series of posts explaining how and why I decided to 'come out' as an Egalitarian.  This post will make a lot more sense in light of the first post, second post and third post*

So, it was out: God had called me into pastoral ministry.  Finally, after many years of silence, I was free to completely follow his voice.  I could put down fear, take off apprehension, and do away with guilt.  God had spoken.  I knew it and my pastor knew it.


'Men lead, women follow'
'Women are not permitted to teach'
'Women should remain silent in church'

These beliefs had become ingrained within my being.  My calling as a Christian women must fit within these scriptural constraints.  The battle for understanding, and unity of heart and mind exhausted me.  I wasn't strong enough.  Following the call would not only create an internal battle, but it would cause tension and rock the boat in the church as well.  But God had called and surely his voice would triumph?

For several years I bounced back and forth in my thoughts. Should I push it?  Should I continue to serve God and let him open the doors?  Nothing.  Should I push it?  And so it continued.

I began to search and ask God to reveal a focus to my calling.  Maybe my 'pastoring' would remain with the young people I worked with.  This would be ok.  I believed God had given me a passion to see young lives changed by the transforming work of Jesus.  An incredible ministry to be involved in.

But ... I felt there was more.

What?  How?  When?  So many questions that once again I kept to myself.  Why didn't I talk this through with my pastor or anyone else?  I feared appearing pushy or power-seeking. I didn't want to be like one of those women; those spoken negatively of in leadership circles resulting in skepticism and fear of women in leadership.  I wasn't like them; I was different.  I had a 'male' style of leadership that set me apart.  Back then I simply accepted this ridiculous and offensive label. I actually think I was quite proud of it.  I didn't question why my style was 'male', or why a man presenting himself with a passion to serve God in ministry received encouragement and support, whilst a woman with such passion experienced criticism and even oppression.  I am sorry I ignored this for so long.  I should have spoken up and challenged the idea, although I suspect this may well have provided more fuel for their fire.  It's a difficult pattern to change.  But it must.

It wasn't all kept locked away though, as I enrolled at a distance learning course at Mattersey Bible College.  This required me to approach the church leadership and seek their approval.  They gave it, and I felt as though things were moving in the right direction at last.  I knew I needed to develop academically.  I had such a thirst for the Truth.  I studied hard and learnt a lot.  But the most significant learning experience during this time was the realisation that the interpretation and application of scripture is not always that simple.

And with this realisation I was released to see a different biblical view of women in leadership without feeling heretical.  The black and white slowly began to merge to form a grey area that needed to be studied, discussed, and prayed through.  I read books on the subject and tentatively opened the discussion with select friends.  A peace began to settle.  The voice I had heard on numerous occasions might not be in direct conflict with the Bible after all.  It made sense.  I understood more about the context in which the books were written and learnt of various academic debates regarding words in difficult passages.  I saw how it was possible to obey God without going against Scripture.

I was introduced to Complementarianism and Egalitarianism.  Although my intellectual understanding steered towards egalitarianism,  I still stood within the Complementarian Camp if challenged.  Who was I to go against the traditional teaching of my church? 

Before I had finished my course at Mattersey, God stepped in and altered the course of my life in an amazing way.  One of the older youth asked me to attend an open day at Moorlands College with him as he was considering studying there.  As I sat with potential students and their parents I experienced a strange mix of emotion.  Excitement led the way as I experienced the joy of sitting in a lecture room at Bible College participating in a sample lecture.  I LOVED IT.  But joy receded as envy took over.  These people had an opportunity to study here and I was insanely jealous. Why them?  And then a blanket of sadness descended as I realised this was where I should be.  But I had ignored God and it was now too late.  I had missed my chance to be in the will of God and I was truly crushed. 

But, God had a different plan!  Amazingly, I ended up in discussion with one of the lecturers (these should have been booked in advance by potential students only) and she introduced me to the idea of studying for a degree placement based.  Within three weeks I had filled out an application form, attended an interview, and received a letter of acceptance.  I was going to Bible College to study for a degree in Applied Theology (and youth and community work).  Bible College.  My feet didn't touch the ground for weeks!! 

I cannot begin to describe how much my time at Moorlands changed my life.   I knew God had called me to study there and I allowed him to develop and shape me.  And he did, way more than I could ever have imagined.  Foundational beliefs about myself, my calling, and even my faith were stripped right down, and had to be slowly and prayerfully built back up again.  When all my other 'rocks' were shattered, I began to understand what it really meant to trust in God and lean not on my own understanding.  I was broken and lost - and yet I found freedom and acceptance to be who God created me to be.  (You can hear a short testimony I gave at my Graduation ceremony about my experience at Moorlands here)

Towards the end of my second year I knew I needed to let go of past fears and discuss my future ministry development with my Sr. Pastor.  This marked the beginning of my application process to apply to train as a minister with the Assemblies of God.  Alongside my studies at Moorlands, I filled in application forms, wrote essays on the AoG foundational beliefs, requested references, attended interviews, and finally heard the words I had longed to hear for so long - 'We (Assemblies of God Ministers Training Panel) have no doubt that God has called you to pastoral ministry'.  Amazing.  I had heard God's voice nearly twenty years ago and he hadn't given up on me.  I continued my probationary ministers training with such excitement and thankfulness that God is bigger than our fears and insecurities. 

Totally posing at Graduation!! 
I completed my degree at Moorlands and graduated with First Class Honours in 2010.  As had been the plan for a while, I was offered a paid role at church upon completion of my degree.  God was faithful.  I had a degree in Theology, was training to be a Pastor, and now had a paid role at church which included Youth Pastoring, Ladies Ministry, Mentoring, Leading, and lots more.  It had been a long and difficult journey - but it was worth it.  I had arrived at where I believed God wanted me: In Pastoral Ministry within the local church.

And then I discovered that my role, although taking on the form of pastoral ministry and leadership, would be titled 'PA'.  I would become the Sr. Pastor's Personal Assistant?!  Whilst I have nothing against the work of a PA - it wasn't what I had been called to do, and it wasn't what I was training to do, and it wasn't what I was being asked to do.   Where had 'PA' come from?  Would a male in the same position be called a PA?  I felt physically sick.

(I must add here that I honestly believe no offense was intended with the suggestion of 'PA'.  A title was needed, and it probably seemed acceptable at the time)

I was gutted. 

As I tried to tell myself that the title didn't matter - I realised that it was no longer about me.  It was about the experience of all women.  If I continued to keep quiet, could I expect anything to ever change?  How many other women would walk a similar path and end up unable to fulfill God's calling on their lives?

I knew I had to say something, and this time it was obvious a little whisper would not be enough.

Part One in this series
Part Two in this series
Part Three in this series
Part Five in this series

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