I just got back from a church planting conference, and it was great. I learned good things, heard some inspiring speakers, and was reminded that I am an anomaly. I am a female pastor, or as they say in the south a ‘lady pastor.’ You know you’re a rare species when they put your gender in front of your title because last I knew they don’t say “My son has a female coach or they sent me to a female nurse.” (And we know ‘lady doctor’ has its own connotation.) I rarely forget that being a woman pastor is rare since I’ve had someone ask if I could be called ‘pastor’ or if it was ‘pastoress’ and have been told on occasion “I didn’t know they let girls do that” but in my United Methodist tribe I generally feel encouraged and supported and have wonderful role models and mentors who are also women in ministry.
Then I venture outside of my tribe and am surprised. I probably shouldn’t be, but I am. Surprised by how few women were at this conference, surprised that only three ordained women where in the women’s leadership session (not including the speakers) and surprised by the way the women in the group did not want to claim their gifts.
We were asked to go around the circle and say our role in the church and the greatest strength and challenge associated with ministry. Most of the women claimed that their role was pastor/church planter’s wife and ended it there. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a pastor’s wife and proud of it. I was just surprised that the thought ended there — because I just about guarantee that those women are probably also filling all sorts of other roles in the church — teaching, leading Bible Studies, wrangling children, reorganizing the universe, leading or participating in music and worship, visioning, leading mission, and I’m sure the list goes on. A few women mentioned these other things, but most didn’t. Some even shared solely about their husband’s joys and challenges instead of their own. I experienced many of them throughout our conversation time as minimizing their role and leadership in the church and in their homes.
To me, this connects with what I have noticed from my ministry and what others have told me in that it is most often women in the church who express concern over receiving a female pastor. And in some ways it makes sense — if women in the church do not claim or acknowledge the power and opportunities they have to serve the church and the Kingdom, then having a female pastor would only further illustrate the potential women have for leadership in the church that they may not be comfortable with or may have been taught that it was inappropriate for women to have.
And while this is not a blog post about denominations where women can’t be in leadership (y’all can guess my thoughts on that purely by being a woman and a pastor). This is to suggest that women hiding their light is not serving the Kingdom. As Marianne Williamson said so well, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Sisters in Christ, we make up half of creation (and more than half of the church right now) and there is much work to be done, and through the Holy Spirit we have the power to serve God, love neighbors, uproot injustice, teach others, lead in prayer and worship. Our playing small does not serve the Kingdom. Each and every one of us have been given gifts that we can use to love God and neighbor, don’t hide them.
You see, even when I felt out of place at the conference I was glad I was there, and I was glad that there were United Methodist women there shining their lights so as to manifest the glory of God and show that God calls men and women to all areas of ministry. As I explained to folks when I first became a pastor that I could not be called Ms. Katie because nobody calls male pastors Mr. Somebody, my being Pastor Katie means that the little girls and boys in my church know that any of them can be called by God to serve. I pray that my ministry unconsciously gives others permission to not limit their understanding of where God can call them.
Sisters, do not hide your light, do not hide how the Spirit is working in and through you, do not give credit for your light to others. You are a child of God. When men and women realize the power we have through the Holy Spirit to build the Kingdom in this world, we may be frightened by that power, we may be frightened by the light, but just imagine what we can do together!
What is my role in the church you ask? I am a precious child of God. I am a solo pastor in The United Methodist Church. I am a teacher, preacher, administrator, leader, and organizer. I am a pastor’s kid. Yes, I am a pastor’s wife. I am a Kingdom builder. Sometimes they call me a lady pastor, and I am here to manifest the love and light of God.