Following the tremendous response to the first “Reimagining Biblical Womanhood” webinar in March, and the audience’s request for more, CT recently reconvened the panelists for a continuation of their conversation about women’s journeys in the church. In this follow-up webinar, Kat Armas, Beth Allison Barr, Amanda Benckhuysen, Nicole Martin, and Joyce Koo Dalrymple are back to answer questions from the audience and share more wisdom from their personal and professional experience as women leaders.
Kat is a Cuban American writer and podcaster from Miami, Florida, who holds a dual MDiv and MAT from Fuller Theological Seminary where she was awarded the Frederick Buechner Award for Excellence in Writing. Her first book, Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us About Wisdom, Persistence and Strength, sits at the intersection of women, Scripture, and Cuban identity. She also explores these topics on her podcast, The Protagonistas, which centers the voices of Black, Indigenous, and other women of color in church leadership and theology. She has written for Christianity Today, Sojourners, Relevant, Fuller Youth Institute, and Missio Alliance. You can check out more of her work at katarmas.com.
Beth Allison Barr
Beth is the author of the bestselling The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth. She received her BA in history (with a minor in classics) from Baylor University and her MA and PhD in medieval history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also the author of The Pastoral Care of Women in Late Medieval England, and writes regularly on The Anxious Bench, a religious history blog on Patheos, and has contributed to Religion News Service, The Washington Post, and Christianity Today. Her work has been featured by NPRand The New Yorker, and she is actively sought as an academic speaker. She recently was named the James Vardaman Professor of History, an endowed chair at Baylor. She is also a Baptist pastor’s wife and mom of two great kids.
Amanda W. Benckhuysen
Amanda is a pastor, speaker, and biblical scholar. She currently serves as the director of Safe Church Ministry for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. In this role, she helps equip churches in abuse prevention, awareness, and response. Previously she was professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary. She is the author of two books, The Gospel According to Eve: A History of Women’s Interpretation and Immigrants, The Bible, and You. She earned a BA from Queen’s University, MDiv from Calvin Theological Seminary, and her PhD from the Toronto School of Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College.
Nicole is senior vice president for ministry impact with American Bible Society. She also serves as an adjunct professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is active in ministry at Kingdom Fellowship AME Church in Maryland, and formerly served as the executive minister at The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. She’s the author of two books, Made to Lead: Empowering Women for Ministry and Leaning In, Letting Go: A Lenten Devotional. A nationally recognized speaker, Nicole has been inducted into the prestigious Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers at Morehouse College. She earned a BA from Vanderbilt University, a MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a DMin from Gordon-Conwell. she resides in Baltimore with her husband, Mark, and their two daughters.
Joyce Koo Dalrymple (moderator)
Joyce is a pastor, speaker, and podcast host. She most recently served as the pastor of discipleship and connections at Wellspring Alliance Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and minister of women and discipleship at Reconcile Church in Duluth, Georgia. A former television journalist and attorney, she frequently guest preaches at local churches and speaks at women’s events and retreats. She co-hosts Adopting Hope, a podcast from Christianity Today about foster, adoptive, and spiritual parenting. Joyce received a BA from Stanford University, a JD from Boston College, and an MDiv from Metro Atlanta Seminary. She and her husband, Tim, live in Wheaton with their three daughters, including one they adopted from China.
Kelli Trujillo: Good morning. Thank you so much for joining us for this special Christianity Today event, part two of our Reimagining Biblical Womanhood webinar. We are so glad to have you here. My name is Kelli Trujillo and I’m an editor for Christianity Today, and it’s a joy to welcome all of you. Most of you are here because you were part of our part 1 webinar two months ago, and during that lively discussion we didn’t have adequate time to engage with your questions, so that will be a main focus of our time today. And if you haven’t been able to watch part one yet, you will find a link to it in a follow-up email that we will send in the next few days, and in the chat.
This webinar is part of CT’s Big Tent Initiative, which is headed up by my colleague and friend Ed Gilbreath. Our Big Tent Initiative is driven by CT’s desire to better represent the growing racial, ethnic and generational diversity of the North American church, and to foster unity among Christ’s followers.
Our moderator today will be Joyce Koo Dalrymple, who is a pastor, speaker, and the host of CT’s podcast Adopting Hope. And like last time, our panelists will be Kat Armas, who is the author of Abuelita Faith; Reverend Dr. Nicole Massie Martin, who serves as Senior Vice President at the American Bible Society; Dr. Beth Allison Barr, who is the author of The Making of Biblical Womanhood; and Dr. Amanda Benckhuysen, who is the author of The Gospel According to Eve.
Our webinar today will continue our discussion about the unique challenges Christian women face, and the unique opportunities that Christian women have in the world and in the church.
Now, as we get into discussion regarding some of these challenges, it’s important to say up front that we recognize how divisive this subject can be, and we know that Christ followers from various Christian traditions have different perspectives on some of these issues. And you, our viewers, likely represent denominations and churches that have different views on these matters. We value each of you and are glad you all are here. It’s our hope that our webinar will be charitable, gracious and empowering, and honoring of those different perspectives, and that our discussion will foster unity as we seek to follow Jesus in the various places to which He has called us. We at CT are passionate about advancing women’s stories and ideas for the kingdom of God, and elevating women storytellers and sages of the global church, so I am really looking forward to our discussion today.
Without further ado, it’s my privilege to turn it over to our moderator, Joyce Koo Dalrymple.
Joyce Koo Dalrymple: Thank you, Kelli. During the first webinar, many of you asked for me, so we are delighted to be able to offer this bonus webinar where the same lineup of amazing panelists are back with us today, and this time they’re going to answer your questions directly. And if you were with us last time, you know that these panelists speak with such wisdom, not only from their scholarship but also from their life experience and from their walk with the Lord as women leaders in the church and in their professions. So thanks for being such an active and engaged audience. We received so many great questions that you submitted ahead of time. Our format today will be to address some of those questions first, and then take live questions from the chat. We won’t have time to address all of your questions, but we will do our best to get through as many as we can.
So let’s do it. This opening question, I’m going to pose to all of the panelists. And hello, panelists, as you get on the screen. It’s great to see you all. What is something God is teaching you right now in regards to your calling as Christian female leaders? And maybe I’ll start with you, Amanda, if you don’t mind. What is God teaching you right now in your calling?
Amanda Benckhuysen: Yeah, when I first went into ministry, I felt a strong call to preach and teach the gospel, and along the way I felt like I was encountering all these road blocks. So I got diverted from that original call to sort of attend to issues around gender, and trying to address why women can be in ministry, and address issues of sexism that I was encountering. And I think one of the things I’ve been learning is to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is God called me to teach and preach the gospel, and if I find myself so diverted from that original call, then I need to sort of assess, Am I in the right space, and am I finding myself focusing on the right things. Because I never felt a call to sort of advance women’s issues, it was more I felt a call to serve the church. So just to keep that in mind, and when I do encounter those discouraging moments where you encounter sexism or road blocks, to either let them sort of just not get you down, or to realize, I am encountering too many of those in my current situation, maybe I need to find a new place to express my call.
Joyce: I love that reminder to go back to what the main thing is that God has called you to do. And sometimes when you’re advancing women’s… Addressing the obstacles that women are facing, you’re actually advancing also the gospel in how you’re doing that. So I’m sure you’re doing that in all these different ways.
Nicole, would you mind going next?
Nicole Massie Martin: Sure. It’s so great to be back with you all today, and I’m super excited about the conversation. So the hard part is I don’t think God is ever teaching me one thing at one time; there’s always, like, a hundred things. So there’s always in the background something about patience, the spiritual discipline that is the hardest for me, dare I say for all of us. I think God is consistently teaching me to be patient, to stop expecting instant results and instant gratification from the work that we do, especially in ministry, but to really be patient for the process of sowing seeds and seeing harvest and knowing that I may not see the harvest immediately. I think that’s just a discipline for ministry in general. What does it look like to serve in ministry in a way that means you may never see the fruit of your labor, and you may never be able to see the impact that you’ve made. I think that was strongest for me in the pandemic, having to be on Zoom even like this. You can’t see head nods, you can’t see whether or not something is landing. So I’m learning this discipline of being faithful to show up however I need to show up, to say what needs to be said, or teach what needs to be taught, or preach in a way that says, I have done my work in showing up and being faithful, and I must trust God to the rest. That’s really hard. That’s really hard because I always want to see it but I have to trust.
And I think the other thing that God is teaching me is how to be confident in the way that I show up. I think all people in ministry have pressure to show up in a certain way. There is a lot of pressure - I’ve been watching a lot of commentary on the pressure on athletes and sports figures where they have to perform and they’ve got to perform for the fans, and they’ve got the pressure of the endorsements and the sponsors, and all of these things. Sadly, if we’re not careful we can make those same kind of connections in ministry and feel like, I’ve got to show up happy all the time, or I’ve got to show up – every sermon’s got to be my best sermon that I’ve ever preached, and every lecture has to be the one that a student emails me about and says, You changed my life. But that’s unrealistic, and I have to trust that God allows me to show up in that moment in the way that I need to show up. And again, back to that first lesson, really leaving the results up to God.
Joyce: Amen. That’s such a great reminder, being faithful and leaving the rest to God, yes. Kat, would you mind going next?
Kat Armas: Sure. I’m so happy to be here, and just forgive me – I’m getting over a sinus infection and a cold, so if I sound like I’m under water, that’s why. So I – same as you, Nicole – I feel like God is always teaching me so many things at the same, exact time. But one of the things that’s at the forefront of my mind right now… So I just finished the manuscript to my second book and in this book I’m looking at…Thank you, yeah. So in the second book I’m looking at different scripture and different Bible verses, and seeking wisdom in places that maybe these verses haven’t been really excavated much. Or I want to look at wisdom in our dreams, or wisdom in the stars. As we read the story of Jesus, the star was a huge part of His birth story. So I’m looking at these verses and these places in the Bible where traditionally haven’t been studied. And one of the things, it brings me back to when I first began sort of my journey into this women in the Bible and all of that. I was in a setting where it wasn’t very affirming for women in scripture, and I remember sitting down and thinking, You know what, I’m just going to… I was in seminary at the time and I said, I’m just going to do my own research paper. And I literally started, and like I did it in research paper form, because that’s all I knew how to think at that time. My brain was just in that. And I said, I’m just going to write a research paper for myself. I was like, I’m just going to start digging into scripture, I’m going to start digging into resources that I have never read before and things I have never found before. It felt very similar to me writing this new book, and it was this sort of treasure hunt. It felt like I was just pulling out these gems. It was just a reminder that the wisdom of God is abundant. A lot of times we live under this scarcity mindset just because of our culture and the world that we live in, but there is an abundance of wisdom to be found in the Bible and across time and history.
I talk about in Abuelita Faith our ancestors, the people who came before us, the cloud of witnesses. That’s something I was reminded. Specifically just if you seek you will find. I believe that God is a God of liberation, God is a God of healing. And if we are seeking that out as women, as allies, if we are looking for that wisdom, that liberation, that healing, we will find it. I believe that. So yeah, it’s just one of those at the forefront of my mind, let’s keep digging and searching, and let’s keep being expectant and remaining expectant to find that.
Joyce: Amen, amen. I love that we’re kind of a treasure hunt, and that imagery of God does reveal things to us, and what we need in the moment too, as we are seeking Him. So thank you, Kat. And last, Beth, would you like to go?
Beth Allison Barr: I’m really glad you had me go last because one of the things that God has really been teaching me is what my role is in all of this with women, and my role really is to help empower other women to be in ministry. That has become really clear to me, and the message that I’ve been getting from God is to stay the course. One of the things I teach, Sunday School - which I love teaching Sunday School – and I’ve been teaching through the book of Acts. The last couple of weeks we have been talking about sort of the hard part, the beginning part of Paul’s missionary journeys. One of them, of course, is when he gets beaten so badly that they leave him for dead. The next sentence after that is Paul got up and went back to the city. That has just been sticking with me because I think the Christian journey is not easy, what God calls us to do is not easy, but we are called to be faithful and to persevere. And sometimes that being faithful and persevering is really in helping other people to do their jobs.
So I love that I’m standing here with all women who are called to be preachers and pastors, and I am staying the course to help you fulfill your calling.
Joyce: Thank you, Beth. Just speaking for myself, but I know for others too, what you are writing about, what you’re speaking about, it is empowering, it is encouraging us to persevere, and we know that we are not alone because of all of the panelists and what you are doing in faithfully following your call. So for the sake of time, for the following questions I’m just going to have a couple panelists answer and just jump in as you feel led.
First, no matter what church tradition or background we’ve come from, as women we face similar struggles and joys, but sometimes we can experience a sense of competition or division on certain issues. Patricia asked, How can we promote unity in supporting and encouraging each other? Great question, Patricia.
Nicole: Yeah, I would love to answer Patricia’s question, or at least take a stab at it. I’ve experienced that on a number of levels, and one of the things I was really wrestling with, even as I wrote my first book, was how do you manage the dynamics of women in complementarian environments and women in egalitarian environments. Because to assume that women in egalitarian environments where everyone understands that a woman should be and could be ordained, and that she should move forward, to assume that she doesn’t have barriers is to miss the whole calling that women have. And at the same time to assume that a complementarian woman, or woman in a complementarian environment, doesn’t have opportunities is also to miss the context that she is in. So I think one of the things that we can do is to really dig deep and own and be supportive of our collective barriers. So whether you are a mom who is working or a mom that’s decided to work from home, if you are a woman who is teaching a women’s Bible study versus a woman who is teaching a class, there are still real barriers, internal barriers, external barriers. So how do we support one another without judging that person’s contexts.
That’s especially important for me because I have often felt called to be in contexts that didn’t really resonate with who I was. As a person of color, I’ve felt called to be in a predominantly white context, and I found that to be really difficult. The last thing I needed was another person of color saying to me, What are you doing, what a dumb idea, why are you a part of that group. What I need in that moment is to say, You know what, you stand firm, you be who God has called you to be, you perform your task. So maybe one of the things we can do is to really be supportive of each other in spite of the barriers, to kind of resist judgment when we are looking at another person’s context, and maybe ask questions as opposed to making statements. So what do you need in a complementarian environment, what would be helpful for you right now? Maybe even what don’t you need right now. Because if me telling you to leave your church is not what you need or not what you called to, then how can I help you in what you have right now. So it’s probably just a layered response to say, Let’s withhold judgment, let’s be supportive, but also let’s lean in and really listen to what the Holy Spirit is calling us individually to do. Because if some of us aren’t in these hard places, then who will bear witness, and maybe that is a calling, that you’re called to be in a hard place and not everybody is going to get it, but we can still support each other.
Joyce: Yes, well said. Any other panelists want to add?
Beth: I’ll just amen Nicole. I think that’s wonderful. That how to answer this question, for women, is one that I get all the time now, and it’s challenging because on the one hand I do believe we are called to speak truth, but on the other hand we are also called to help each other, and to support one another. As a historian, there are all sorts of situations that women are in, and women always have agency in those. They’re always able to make their own decisions, they’re always able at least to some degree fulfill their calling. So I think we need to figure out how to help women in those spaces move forward. So I would also encourage grace on this, that just because we disagree doesn’t mean that we can’t support each other. And that’s really a message that I’ve been trying to get across, that I may disagree with you, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to support you in what you feel God calling you to do. So I love that, Nicole. Thank you.
Amanda: I want to add to that too. I really appreciated your even noting, our experiences as women are going to be different, and yet we can still support each other, but it takes a bit of curiosity and wonder about each other to be willing to recognize that maybe somebody else’s experience is different, maybe their barriers are different, and how can we kind of come along aside each other in the difference.
I remember when I was in grad school and I did my dissertation on the story of Hagar and Sarah in Genesis 16 and 21. Here you have in the Bible two women who are in a position where they could have supported each other, and yet they don’t. Jealousy and classism and racism and emotional pain and circumstances kind of put them at odds with each other instead of bringing them together. It’s interesting if you read through the history of interpretation on this story, interpreters want to figure out, Well, who sinned in this story, where did this go wrong. And I remember reading John Calvin on this, and he says, Well, everybody sinned, it’s just a big mess, the story. Like, everybody failed and gave way to sin. But then I read Phyllis Trible on this story, and she is a female biblical scholar, and she actually takes a step back and she says that actually it was patriarchy that put everybody in these positions where they felt they had to act in a certain way. And that was really helpful for me, because what it did is it sort of helped me recognize that as women – and as men – we are sometimes put in these positions where we feel like we have to act out a certain script, or where as women we are acting out a sense of scarcity rather than abundance. So we are put in competition with each other rather than coming alongside each other. I thought, if you can just sort of name this thing that I’m feeling inside me toward this other woman is actually a result of patriarchy or a result of sin out there, and it’s a systematic sin. And to be able to name it and then make a conscious effort to resist it, to say, I’m not going to give way to that, I am going to come alongside my sister in faith and support her. So for me, just even that framework has been really helpful in thinking about why is it that we’re acting the way that we are, why do we sometimes feel that sense of jealousy or competitiveness with each other.
Joyce: That’s so good, Amanda. Thank you.
The next question is from Dorothy, and she wrote, I’ve been leading in church settings for more than 35 years. I’d love to hear from a few of these women on how they resist cynicism and bitterness, given the ongoing misogyny that we women face. It’s really hard work, she wrote, exclamation point. What would you say to Dorothy who struggles in a church setting, as well as to others who may experience misogyny in other work places?
Kat: Sure I can jump in here for a second. So first I want to say that, yes, it is so hard. I’m so thankful that we can be really honest about how hard that is. And I can’t say that I don’t experience bitterness and cynicism from time to time. We are all human. So I try to give myself some grace when that happens. But something that I’ve been thinking, I was thinking about the story of Jonah, and this really stood out to me, and it’s something that I keep going back to. God asks Jonah two times – or maybe it’s three times - in the book of Jonah, Jonah, is your anger a good thing? And when I stumbled upon that question, I really started wrestling with it because I thought, What a good question. Is your anger a good thing? And God asks multiple times. And when we think of the story of Jonah or how it’s traditionally been told us, Jonah is like this petulant, I can’t believe that you…they repented and I cannot believe, God, that you’re generous and gracious to the Ninevites. But if you put yourself in Jonah’s shoes, the Ninevites were the colonizers, essentially. They were the empire. I mean, the Ninevites were known to really do horrific things to Jonah’s people. And if we read a lot of Old Testament scriptures – and Jonah would have known a lot of these scriptures – God promised to destroy the enemies of God’s people. That was a promise that God kept saying over and over again: I will destroy your enemies, you will be triumphant. So folks start to question this and think, Well, was Jonah really being petulant or was Jonah just holding God accountable to God’s word. Like, God, you said you were going to destroy them, why didn’t you? Instead, they repented. And then God asks, Well, Jonah, is your anger a good thing? And I ask myself that all the time.
I don’t know if anyone here is into the enneagram. I’m an enneagram 8, and that means that I’m angry a lot. I’m angry over injustice all the time. And when I read that story, and when I read it through that lens of just wondering and questioning, Is Jonah’s anger a good thing, maybe it wasn’t. But maybe a part of it was. And not for him to sit in his anger, and not for him to soak in his anger and to become bitter and cynical. And maybe he does that a little bit. But I’m just focused on God’s question, and I’m just focused on God’s invitation and God’s grace to let Jonah wonder, is his anger a good thing.
I think about Jesus, and His anger wasn’t always a bad thing. Our anger can lead us to be angry about injustice, kind of what Amanda was saying. The system, we can be angry about the system, we can be angry at the things that oppress and keep people in positions where they aren’t liberated, where they aren’t free. And I think that that is a good thing, that kind of anger is a good thing.
So all I want to say is that to kind of wrestle with, Well, where is my anger directed to? Where is my anger, why am I feeling this? And I think that that question: Is it a good thing. And I think it can be a good thing if it’s directed in the right way, it doesn’t sit in the bitterness and the cynicism, but it points to healing and it points to, as I keep saying, liberation and healing and all of these things. So I think for me, not staying in your anger but allowing your anger to be a change for good. Allowing your anger at the system, at the things that we should be angry about, to move us to action.
I remember feeling angry in a lot of ways, feeling so angry. And that is what led me to write that research paper, and to do all that stuff and to do all that reading and to do all that… It was that anger that led me to speak my truth and to stand up to situations where I needed to stand up and advocate for myself.
So I don’t know if this answers your question directly, Dorothy, but I do just want to wrestle with this, Is your answer a good thing, and it can be, and how can we ensure that that anger remains a good thing.
Joyce: Yes, and anger… Sometimes as women we are afraid to be angry because we are kind of told that is a bad thing, and sometimes it can fuel good things to come from it. So that is… I’ve never thought about that from Jonah, and I love wondering and asking that question. And how can we make anger a good thing? We feel it, how can we make it a good thing?
This next question, several women asked: What advice do you have for women called to ministry later in life?
Beth: I can take this one, I guess. I’m not called to ministry in this type of way, however, a lot of women have reached out to me who felt like they had been called into ministry and had not followed that calling because of the churches that they were in. One of the things that I tell them often is that ministry doesn’t have an age limit. It doesn’t have an age limit. So know that there are barriers, that sometimes there are hard things that don’t allow you to go… Like, how am I going to go and get a job somewhere else if my husband is here, or what other circumstances I have, or how can I even go to seminary. But at the same time, we are living in a world that is breaking down a lot of those barriers for women so there are all sorts of seminaries that are creating online options for women. There are opportunities. So I don’t want women to be discouraged by what they perceive as barriers to keep them from doing what God calls them to do. So I just want to say pursue that calling. Whatever age you are, pursue that calling.
Nicole: Yeah, I second that a hundred percent. I’ll never forget when I first started – I think this was maybe, like, my third sermon, I was still very, very fresh - and this woman came up to me afterwards. I think she was well-intentioned – sometimes you can’t really tell. She said, You know, I really can’t listen to someone who doesn’t have blood on their sermon. I was like, Okay, what made you say that. But the point she was trying to make was, I appreciated your exegesis but I need more life experience. Now, that was not a positive experience for me, it was a negative. There are a hundred and one ways that she could have said it. But now - next year celebrating 20 years past my initial sermon, 20 years of preaching the gospel – I think I have some blood on my sermons now. I mean, there is something about life experience that accentuates the reality of the gospel, and of your own convictions. And I think – I would have to lean on Beth Allison and Amanda for this – but I would speculate that there are very few examples of young, young women in the Bible. I mean, a lot of the women selected by God - I’m thinking about Naomi was older; I’m thinking about Rahab was obviously older, she owned her own property; I mean, Mary of course, mother of Jesus, was young. But you fast forward, and you’ve got all of these women. You’ve got Hannah, who is an older woman. You’ve got obviously Sarah. So there are plenty of examples of women in scripture where God waited until there was a seasoning there to be able to really maximize their use in the gospel. And while I wouldn’t demonize or make younger women in ministry feel bad, I would absolutely affirm that there is an added conviction. Not just one that’s nice to have, but one that’s necessary for ministry. You could argue that older women accepting that calling, finally embracing it later in life might even be better off in some ways. So yes, there should be nothing to keep you from living fully.
Joyce: And just from my own personal experience, I entered seminary at 38 years old, had two biological kids already, was in the process of adopting my third while I was in seminary and working part time. But the seminary experience, I felt the call strongly at that point in my life. I loved what I was studying. I was motivated, I think, in a different way than had I gone straight through. And I think God-willing, we’re going to be doing ministry our whole life. And my mom who is in her 70s now, her best years of ministry are in the present right now. And I do think there is so much that life experience and people who are older have to give. So thank you for that question.
The next question is actually something that many viewers also asked. As single women, what ideas or encouragement would you give single women about their calling? And Hannah specifically asked, What advice would you offer in terms of how single women can be discerning in making major life decisions.
Amanda: I can make a few comments. I just want to acknowledge, I’m not single, I’m married, and my husband has been extremely important on this journey, in fact to the point where I’m not sure I would have had the strength and the capacity to enter into ministry and face all the challenges that I faced if it hadn’t been for him. But that makes me think. I think men may have this more naturally, but any woman who goes into ministry, you need to gather around you a community of support, people who are going to invest in you, build you up, carry you through the hard times, be that sounding board when you need to be discerning about things, and I think if you’re a single woman it would be really helpful if you could gather around yourselves that kind of community, whether it’s a sister or a friend or a confidant, or multiple people who you know are in your corner. You know they’re for you, you know they’re cheering you on, and you know that you can go to them and they’re trustworthy. So I just want to acknowledge and recognize how important that is, because you have an internal call but it’s really helpful to have people affirming your call externally.
Kat: I can add. I’m not single, but I haven’t been married too, too long, I’m sure, compared to many folks. One of my good friends, Taryn Gonzalez, she is also a Latina author and speaker. She talks about singleness, and she recently wrote a little Instagram post on it and some reflections on it, which were so helpful. She talks about how in our culture – and this is something that I also love to talk about. Because I got married later. I wasn’t super young when I got married. I like to say that Evangelical Christian culture really worships marriage, really holds marriage to this very unrealistic high pedestal, and I realized after I got married that I love my husband and I love being married to him, but that is not the pinnacle of my existence at all. If it wasn’t for really so much of my sisters and – we say comadre in Spanish – so many of my co-mothers who literally labor alongside me, midwife my dreams alongside me, who bring so much of what I’m doing of my calling, of my ministry. Really, like I said, the act is doula, spiritual doulas in my life. If it wasn’t for them, I also don’t know where I would be in this journey. So something that my friend Karen talks about is that she says, Don’t discount all the other loves that you have in your life, don’t discount all the other relationships that you have in your life. Just because evangelicalism wants to put marriage above all the other relationships doesn’t mean that that’s how it should be or that that’s how it is. Nicole, you mentioned so many women in the Bible who were older when they’re mentioned, but I also think of so many women who were single or recently widowed, or in positions where they did not have a man, and a lot of their story is them trying to survive. And in that it might be looking for a spouse so that they can survive, but they’re leaning on each other in many ways. Ruth and Naomi are leaning on each other. And they’re leaning on just the wisdom that they can find around them. So I just want to say that echoing my friend Karen, don’t discount all the other loves in your life and lean on that, lean on your co-mothers and your spiritual doulas and the midwives in your lives.
Joyce: So good. This next question is from Emma. She wrote, How as a woman did you discern your call to academic or thought-based ministry, like writing and speaking. I’m in an environment where desiring to pursue that kind of ministry is seen as prideful and arrogant. What would you say to Emma?
Beth: I can jump in here because I hear this a lot. So two things. First of all, I actually did an interview with the Baylor provost not too long ago for our graduate students, and she was asked by one of the students, How do you know if you want to go up into higher administration, how do you know if that’s a calling of yours. And I loved her answer, because she just looked at the student and said, Does it bring you joy, is this something that you love doing, is this something that you feel that when you do this it brings together all the gifts that God has given you. And I can say that about what I do as a teacher and as a writer and a researcher, that it brings me joy. This is something that long to do. I know it sounds crazy, but I can’t wait until I can get in the archives and be reading through these manuscripts. I find joy in this. So I think that’s definitely… Does it give you joy, is this something that… Are you exhausted when you go to classes, or is it something that’s life-giving to you? So I think that is not a biblical answer, but it is because I think God has made us to do…He has gifted us to do the callings that we have. So I think that is a way that you can kind of see that.
The second part of your question, Emma, about if it’s prideful or not. I don’t really understand why this question is given to women but it’s not given to men, because isn’t it the same thing for them? Isn’t it the same thing that if they are interested in being leaders or being teachers or getting higher degrees, why is it not prideful for them to do that when it is prideful for women to do. So that just doesn’t make sense to me, that sort of response doesn’t make sense. And then of course the flip side of that is that women have been called, have always been called to do all of these things. So I think you can be encouraged by the biblical exemplars. I was hesitating jumping in on the last question, but one of the things that I find so striking about biblical women is that they are more often than not listed by the men. We’re not told who the men are in their lives. We have no idea about so many of these women. And this is very counter-cultural to most of history. Women are mostly identified by men. They are not that way in the Bible. That’s not their key characteristic. So I just want to encourage you to maybe flip your thinking on that, that God calls us all to do, and all of the things that we have are important. I think part of that thinking also comes from a hierarchy, thinking that some things are more important than others, and this is totally what Paul was pushing against. I don’t know how you can walk away from Paul without getting the image of the body, that we are all important, that God calls us all to do these different things. So even suggesting this idea of pridefulness seems to also suggest that there are some positions that are more important than others, and that women shouldn’t aspire to the more important ones. So if you think about it that way, then maybe that will help you go back to what is God calling me to do, and how can I do that.
Joyce: Thank you, Beth. This next question is one that many people asked, and I think are in situations that are similar. But if you attend a church that holds different views on issues such as women’s role in ministry, what do you do. Jamie says, In an ideal world, I’d love to stay and effect change but the leadership at my church seems to be so adamant on this issue. I want my daughter to grow up with a different idea of what is possible for herself in ministry. I feel a bit hopeless and stuck, as I don’t see an alternative. But I also don’t want to leave this church altogether.
Nicole: I’ll jump in on that one. I want to first say this is not an easy question. We happen to be in a time when people are making a lot of decisions about their churches. They have been a little prior to the pandemic, but the pandemic changed everything and people are trying to decide where to be. And I think there are a couple of really important questions you have to ask yourself when you are trying to decide if you should stay or go for a church. The first is, Am I being fed here. And fed can be interpreted in a number of ways, but ultimately we are called to be parts of communities where we can become more like Christ, where we can hear and understand scripture, where we can really be discipled in an age where discipleship is dying. So I would say that’s got to be a core question.
And then as a woman called to minister, I would still ask the question, Can I use my gifts here. Now, that’s again very, very nuanced. For some women in complementarian churches, they can still use their gifts because they can teach and they can serve in certain contexts. I was in a complementarian environment for a long time, probably longer than I needed to be, but in that space I got to do a women’s Bible study, and man, that was the highlight of my life. Just being with those women who loved God, loved God’s word. It gave me a chance to really grow into my calling. I didn’t stay there forever because I needed to go beyond that, but it worked in that time and I could be there because I was able to use my gifts. I think at the point at which you feel you have gifts that are in you, like Jeremiah says, like fire, and you can’t operate on those gifts, then you do have to leave. You don’t have to leave because the community is bad, you have to leave because there’s a calling on your life, and you have a calling to be obedient to God, and you want the Lord to see you as one who uses your talents and not hides them.
So first, can you grow in this community; secondly, can you use your gifts. But I do think the third question, about your kids, is important also. Can my kids grow here in the image of God. And if you feel that you’re sitting there listening to sermons where someone is saying - I’m extroverting right now, I’m just going to say it – be barefoot and pregnant, that’s a pejorative thing to say, but if you’re hearing that and your kids are hearing that and you’ve got to talk to them about that, that might be a sign. That might be a sign that for the sake of my children, we need to go to a place where they can grow and understand the image of God for their lives.
I’m a pastor’s kid, so I know changing churches is not easy, it is very, very difficult. There are always 18 reasons why you want to stay or why you want to leave. Ultimately, God’s going to show you what to do. But whatever you do, do not allow your church membership to stop you from being obedient to the call of God on your life, or to keep your children from exercising the full call of God on their lives as well.
Joyce: Thank you, Nicole. Oh, Amanda, did you also want to address that question?
Amanda: I just wanted to amen everything Nicole just said. And just maybe add, because I do get this question a lot. Just add that I think there are some ways, if you feel like you can’t leave your church – and there are all kinds of reasons why women choose to stay in a church that doesn’t necessarily allow them to use all their gifts – but if you’re in that situation and you have children, particularly daughters, who you want to expand their imagination about what they could do and be in the church, to just visit other churches where there are women preachers and women in leadership on occasion, just to give them that taste, that flavor, so that they can see that that’s a possibility for them even if it’s not a possibility in their own current church. So it’s just a way to sort of slowly expand their imaginations and even familiarize yourself with what does it feel like to have a woman on the pulpit. Because actually it does feel a little bit different.
Joyce: That’s a great piece of advice because the kingdom of God is so big, and we see a slice of it in our own experience. And to expose ourselves and our children to what God is doing, and through men and women in the kingdom.
I love this next question. I don’t know who submitted it, but thank you to the man who did. Because he asked, What suggestions do you have for the men in the room who want to be allies and partners, and an encouragement to our sisters in ministry or in leadership.
Beth: I can give a two-word response: Elevate women, put women forward for positions, put women forward for leadership teams, for any sort of committees on your church. Put women’s names forward. And encourage women to also step into those positions. And if women say, Well… I had this one pastor tell me that whenever we ask women, they always say no. And it’s like, Well, did you ask them why they said no? Are maybe you holding the meetings at a time that don’t work with women’s schedules? Are you treating it a male space and not making room for women within that space? So I would just say, just ask questions and put women’s names forward as much as you can.
Kat: Yeah, and I’ll add not much more other than… I think I shared this in the last webinar but be a good guest, be like Jesus and sit at an unfamiliar table. Sit under the ministry leadership and teaching of a woman without offering anything but a listening, humble ear. You don’t have to offer anything, you can just listen and just learn.
Joyce: That’s good, Kat. This question is from Rosie, and it’s particularly to Nicole and Kat. Are there particular things that have helped you to flourish as a woman of color in difficult contexts?
Nicole: Yeah, I’m still learning. For me personally, I have found that because I’m often bridging in a variety of contexts, I have to find lots of way to just feel like me. So for me that means because I may work in a predominantly white context, I have chosen to be a part of a predominantly black church, just to have an additional part of grounding. If I’m in places where I’m the only woman, which often happens a lot as well, I do plan intentional girlfriend time. I mean, I have to find it. It’s like, I think I have found that what helps me to flourish is often knowing what I need, which is easier said than done sometimes. Sometimes I don’t know what I need until it’s missing, but I have found that I do need certain things and I’ve got to find that for myself. Finding small pockets of community where I can is so helpful. And also, I’m learning what helps me to flourish is to have allies that can kind of share and respond to things so that I don’t always have that pressure. I’ve been in situations and I’m in one now where I’m helping to guide individuals in communities through diversity experiences and how do you become more diverse and how do you become more sensitive, and there have been pointed times where I just can’t anymore, I cannot tell you anymore what my hair feels like. Please don’t ask me what it feels like, please don’t ask to touch my hair, I just can’t do it. So I have found that it’s always good to have allies who can speak up when I’m tired, who can say, That was a dumb question, without me having to say that. So as much as I need the homogenous communities, I also really, really lean on my wide diversity friends. I need my Latina friends to help me see their experience and to see through their eyes. I need my Korean-American close friend. I need her experience. So that has helped me to thrive as well.
Kat: I’ll just echo that. Very similar to me, I just make sure that I have folks within my own community. I’m Latina but I’m also Cuban, which is different than a lot of other Latinx communities, so I just make sure that I have my spaces, like I said earlier, my comadres, my co-mothers, that I can be myself around and just like you, Nicole, that I can just be me. And also, spaces, I’m a new mom so make sure I have spaces where I can just be a new mom and have new mom questions. So I’m just very intentional about having different communities within my day to day life that I don’t have to do much code-switching, or I can just say whatever I want to say, however I want to say it, in the way that just feels natural to me, speaking Spanglish. In Abuelita Faith - in my book – I make sure to write words in Spanish and not italicize them, and be very intentional about that. So I do try and carve out ways to do that as well, just in my daily life. When I’m interacting with folks I will just speak in Spanish sometimes, and if you don’t understand, I’m sorry, that’s the only word I know how to use. So just being really intentional about that kind of stuff in my day-to-day life. So just making sure I’m intentional.
Joyce: That’s great. We are running out of time but there is one question that came up a lot in the first webinar that we didn’t get to and came in submitted before this seminar. What Bible translation do you recommend. I think it’s interesting to know that many of these translations come with particular theological bent. So I’m going to ask Beth if you wouldn’t mind addressing that question.
Beth: Yes. So I’ve answered this question a lot, so I won’t say anything different. But I think you need to use more than one Bible translation. I think a lot of our problem… This is similar to the question too about churches. I think people sometimes…I have students at Baylor who have only ever gone to one type of church their entire life, and there is more to the Christian world. And Bible translations, every translator is a traitor. There are choices that have to be made, English is not a great accommodating language for biblical languages. It’s actually a really bad one. So that means a lot of choices have to be made by whoever is translating the Bible into English. So why don’t you look at a lot of different choices that made, and people from different perspectives. So that’s my advice, is don’t just use one. And use them from a range of perspectives. I’ll stop there.
Joyce: That’s really good, yes. And this is going to be our final question, and it’s for all the panelists. This is a question Brenda asked: Despite all the challenges and hurts you’ve experienced, what has been the most satisfying part of serving as a woman leader in ministry or in your work?
Amanda: I can go first. It’s this rare privilege to be able to come alongside people in their most vulnerable moments, and to minister to them and to be the presence of Christ to them. And it’s a rare privilege to help shape pastors for ministry. Those sort of sum up both of my callings in the way that I’ve lived those out in my life. I can’t imagine doing anything else, so that’s a great joy. Every time I get to do that, it’s a good day. So you hope there is more of the goodness than the hard stuff, right? And when you encounter too much of the hard stuff maybe it’s time to reevaluate the place in which you’re living out your call. But the call itself is amazing, it’s just a delight, it’s a privilege, it’s life-giving.
Joyce: I see all of us nodding in agreement. We experience that too, yes. Nicole?
Nicole: I totally agree, Amanda. I had the privilege of being invited to speak this past Sunday, which was Mother’s Day. At first I was like, Do I want to preach on Mother’s Day? But who doesn’t want to preach on Mother’s Day? So I had all of the things. Who am I, that God would speak to me? Lord, what am I supposed to share? Is it going to be good enough? I’m tired, will you fill me? All of these things. But just the joy and the honor of being used by God for who I am, not despite the fact that I am a mother but because I am a mother. Not despite the fact that I’m a woman but because I’m a woman. Just that pure joy was enough, and I think the biggest part for me was the car ride home when my 7- and 9-year-old say, Good job, Mommy. That gets me every time. Now, I know they’re 7 and 9, and give it a few years and they’ll be like, So Mom, that third point…I’m sure at some point they’ll be like, You didn’t quite strike it that time. I’m sure that’s coming. But for now, knowing that God can use me and knowing that by His grace we can be used to impact the next generation, what greater calling is there?
Beth: I could just say really fast that I think the greatest encouragement to me is when I point people back to Jesus because of my book, and that’s what I hear from people all the time. Because people are leaving the church over this issue of women in ministry because so many of them just hit so many hard walls and it’s so discouraging. So when I get somebody who tells me that they picked up my book and it pointed them back to Jesus, I’m like, This is all worth it. I wrote in my postscript, there was one woman from China - and I asked permission to use it - but the words in her letter, she said, I found my Jesus again. That just stays with me everywhere. I’m like, This is why I’m doing this.
Joyce: That’s awesome. Kat?
Kat: Beth, that just reminded me of a lot of the feedback that I get from Abuelita Faith is that folks want to read their Bible again, and that to me is like, awesome. Because many interpretations of the Bible have done a lot of harm to a lot of women, and a lot of people in general, so that always makes me so glad when folks tell me that. Because there is so much liberation and so much freedom and so much beauty, so much wisdom to find within the pages of scripture, particularly in the stories of women. Which are often short, right, and they’re so easily read over, and they’re a couple sentences. Like the story of Rizpah, it’s kind of like a sentence here and there, but then when you look into her story, she changed the course of history. So we see this so much that it’s just a quick… We see Tabitha: Oh, she made tunics. But also she’s called to disciple, and also her life was worthy of resurrection. I mean, all of ours are, but she’s one of the, what, three people to be resurrected in the New Testament, the only woman in the New Testament to be called disciple. So it’s these quick, little stories, but they carry so much weight. And I think that that’s where I find… This is what’s satisfying to me. As I mentioned earlier, if you seek you will find and I feel that way. If you seek for these strains of whatever you want to call it in scripture, you will find them, particularly when it comes to the women in the Bible.
That also just leads to my last thing that I was thinking of. We come from, like I said, a cloud of witnesses. We stand on the shoulders of hundreds of thousands, millions of women who have been doing the thing, who have been preaching, and who have been serving, and who have been… Yeah, I share so many of those stories in my book of just women who have been resisting and just sharing the love of Jesus. So I think that that is something…When I look back, I realize this is not new. I am just carrying the baton.
Joyce: Yes. And we do, we stand on the shoulders of all those that came before us, in scripture and in history, and we’re following their footsteps as we continue this work. I have been studying Mary Magdalene, and I didn’t know this, but she was called the Apostle to the Apostles, because she was the first and Jesus told her, Go tell your brothers. Jesus showed up to her first as the risen King. So she was really the first evangelist after the resurrection. She was an apostle to the apostles. And we are continuing in her footsteps and in the footsteps of so many others. So thank you so much. Time has flown by and I know we haven’t been able to address all of your questions. But if you enjoyed this webinar, check out the panelists’ books and blogs, follow them on social media. At CT we do value and elevate the voices of women and we want to continue to do things like this webinar in the future, or other events where we can continue this conversation. It’s been so fruitful today. Thanks so much for joining us, and I am going to turn it back over to Kelli for a few closing remarks.
Kelli: Thank you, Joyce. And thank you so much, panelists. I especially want to say thank you to all the viewers who submitted the really engaging and thoughtful questions that we used today. We weren’t able to get to them all, of course, but I think that the comments just really spoke deeply to questions that many of us are asking.
Please visit us at Christianitytoday.com for more insightful content, and if you appreciate these kinds of conversations please consider supporting our work by becoming a subscriber to CT. We actually have a special subscription offer just for those of you who are viewing this webinar. You’ll see a slide at the end with information about that, and we’ll also send that in the follow-up email along with other resources.
Let me wrap us up with prayer. Father, I pray for each of these panelists, and I especially pray for all of the viewers. I ask, Lord, that you strengthen them to live out your calling in their lives, that you empower them to build up their church communities, that you draw them close as they abide in you, and that you fill them with your rich and deep love. I pray this in Jesus’ love, Amen.
Thanks again for joining us today. May God bless and strengthen each of you as you embody Jesus’ love in your church and community. Until next time, bye.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more