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One-on-One with Kristen Padilla on Women in Vocational Ministry

Author of ‘Now That I’m Called’ on how churches can better engage and deploy women in vocational ministry.
One-on-One with Kristen Padilla on Women in Vocational Ministry
Image: Zondervan/Canva

Ed: Tell me about your book Now That I’m Called: A Guide for Women Discerning a Call to Vocational Ministry.

Kristen: Now That I’m Called is a book written out of two beliefs. First, God calls women to gospel ministry. Second, the church of Jesus Christ needs God-called, theologically-trained women engaged in gospel ministry. Thus, the book is primarily written as a resource to aid and encourage women who are discerning a call to vocational ministry. Second, the book is for pastors and church leaders who want to know how to help women called to ministry in their churches and who want to begin to formulate a theology for women in ministry.

Ed: Why did you write your book?

Kristen: I felt God calling me to ministry at a young age. I grew up as the daughter of a Southern Baptist pastor, who, for most of my life, ministered in small churches and in rural areas. As a female in the SBC, I was faced with a dilemma: How could God be calling me to ministry when I saw no women in full-time vocational ministry within my context? Long before I could articulate a call to ministry, when I was 7 or 8, I cried real tears to my parents, “Why didn’t God make me a boy so I can be a preacher?”

Even at that age I was experiencing the angst between a God-given desire to preach the gospel and my gender.

During my teenage and college years, my parents and church were supportive and affirming of God’s call on my life to gospel ministry, but there were simply no resources and no one to guide me through that discernment process. Also, I was often faced with the questions, What will you do? and Where will you serve?

As I describe in my book, it felt like I was in a dark room with my arms outstretched trying to find the light so that I could see the door to walk through. Tish Harrison Warren describes it similarly in her feature in my book as being in a bush with a machete trying to find a path.

As I went on to seminary and spoke to other women called to ministry, I realized my story wasn’t unique. All the women called to ministry I met during seminary and afterwards have felt alone, without much guidance, and under-resourced.

Through prayer, I believe the Holy Spirit birthed this idea for a guide book as a way to help resource women who are discerning a call to vocational ministry. It’s not a playbook or a how-to book; it’s simply a guide through Scripture accompanied with stories from real women called to and engaged in ministry. It is the first book of its kind written to women discerning a call.

Ed: What is your vision for women in ministry?

Kristen: If I were to sum up the vision I believe Scripture gives for the church and her ministers it would be this: God calls men and women to serve side-by-side for the people of God delivering the Word of God.

When my husband and I stood in a chapel to marry, we stood side-by-side. We performed our vows side-by-side; we took communion side-by-side; and we prayed side-by-side. Our roles and function in our marriage, family, and home are different and take various shapes and sizes, but we see each other as partners. We serve our son as his parents side-by-side as much as possible.

Likewise, the shape and function of a local church’s ministers will vary, but I believe that the best-case scenario for a church is to have spiritual fathers and mothers caring for the family. If the church is to function as a family, then to most churches I ask, Where are your spiritual mothers who are providing soul care and spiritual formation to the children of God?

If we say that it is God’s design and the best-case scenario for family units and children to have a father and mother, then why not the family of God? If we really believe in the complementarity of the sexes and that both sexes are made equally in God’s image and both have something the other doesn’t have, then as a worshipping community we need to have God’s complementarity on full display on Sundays within the worship service, in church leadership, and in weekly church ministry. Jesus had female disciples (not part of the Twelve but of the larger group of disciples) and Paul employed women in ministry as his co-laborers.

Therefore, my vision for women in ministry (and thus for the church) is that churches and Christian parachurch organizations will employ God-called, theologically-trained women in full-time vocational ministry as co-laborers who are making disciples and proclaiming the gospel.

Ed: How do you write a book on a topic that has been fraught with debate?

Kristen: Unfortunately, this topic has been made into a divisive issue that has created deep divisions in the church. More often than not, the wounded and those who are left to clean up the pieces from the ongoing war have been women called to ministry caught in the crossfire...

The sad reality is that in many denominational and ecclesial spaces there is not a lot of room for ambiguity or variations. If you are not staunchly egalitarian or staunchly complementarian, then you are not welcomed.

In 2005, the year I began my Master of Divinity degree at Beeson Divinity School, Beeson’s Founding Dean Timothy George wrote an article for Christianity Today entitled, “A Peace Plan for the Gender War,” in which he proposed a new “ECT”–Egalitarians and Complementarians Together (a play off the name of Evangelicals and Catholics Together).

Sadly, that vision has not yet come to fruition. However, there are signs that there is a possible winter thaw in Narnia on the horizon with the #MeToo moment and new initiatives like The Pelican Project. From where I am sitting, I am seeing more Christians acknowledge that there are greater things at stake–orthodoxy, the gospel witness, and people’s souls–than arguing over whether a woman can preach (but perhaps I’m wrong).

All this background information is important to answer this question. I knew going into this book I wanted to write to women across denominations who would be both complementarians and egalitarians. But would it be possible given the deep divides and years of war?

I had many doubters. But perhaps I was and am still optimistic because I was trained for ministry at a place like Beeson, which is interdenominational. This means I have firsthand experience of Christian unity (or what Kevin Vanhoozer calls “reformational catholicity”) between Calvinists and Arminians, paedobaptism and believer’s baptism, and yes, even complementarians and egalitarians centered around the Apostles’ Creed and the historic Christian faith.

I believe that the women in ministry discussion as it pertains to roles is not a primary gospel issue, but rather a second or tertiary issue of which we can agree to disagree. I believe there are sound Christians on both sides. Therefore, instead of choosing a side and addressing one camp, I wanted to attempt to write a book that would bring women from both sides, who are centered and unified around the true gospel of Jesus Christ, together.

I attempted to do this by deliberately not discussing roles, function, or ordination in the church. I advise my female readers to work these important questions out with their pastors and elders in their local church and within their denomination.

For my part, my goal was to show from Scripture that God does call women to ministry and that women in ministry is part of his plan. Did I achieve this? Well, I guess those reading this article will have to read the book and let me know!

Ed: Where has the church gotten it wrong with women called to ministry?

Kristen: I grew up in a complementarian denomination and complementarian churches, and the problem I encountered was that the church leadership did not have a theology or vision for women in ministry. This, I believe, has resulted in a lack of vocational space for women.

Practically speaking, the majority of ministerial church staffs are male. Of those churches that have women on staff, more often than not those women are not theologically trained, serve as directors, and/or are not on staff full time. I have found it ironic that some church leadership will complain about the status of women’s discipleship but will not hire a theologically-trained woman on staff.

So I believe the biggest area where churches have “gotten it wrong” with women in vocational ministry is: too often seeing them as a threat instead of co-workers, not requiring theological training of them, and not creating vocational space for women to serve in ministry. There are, of course, many other issues–even in egalitarian churches that say women can serve in all areas of ministry–but that’s for another day.

Ed: How can the church do better at encouraging and aiding women called to ministry?

Kristen: First, I believe every church leadership should formulate a theology and vision for calling, ministry, and women in ministry that fits within their definition and theology of the church. How can you help women called to ministry if you do not know what you believe according to Scripture?

Second, formulate a plan as to what the church can do to help men and women discern a call to ministry. Perhaps the church can put together discernment committees, mentors, a list of intentional ways to involve them in leadership, teaching and preaching, a book list, etc.

Third, encourage women in your church who have discerned a call to vocational ministry to go to seminary. Assist them in finding the best fit for theological education and find ways to help support them financially.

Fourth, hire God-called, theologically-trained women on staff and/or create positions for women. If your church’s ministerial staff team is only male, then your church family has spiritual fathers but no spiritual mothers. If your church’s ministerial staff team is only male, then it doesn’t reflect God’s intent and vision in the Garden or Jesus’ and Paul’s ministry.

Fifth, once you have women serving in ministry on staff, treat them as co-workers. Pay them fairly as you would a male minister. Involve them in leadership meetings. Share the pastoral work with them such as visiting the sick, comforting the mourning, mentoring, counseling, etc. Encourage them and create a safe space for them to challenge, correct, offer a different perspective, and hold male co-workers accountable as male ministers would them.

One of the lessons we should learn from this #MeToo moment is that we need to have a leadership structure in place, no matter what institution (church, seminary, publishing house, parachurches), that allows for greater accountability and transparency, and women need to be part of that accountability structure at the top.

At the end of the day, my prayer and desire is that the gospel of Jesus Christ would go forth and disciples would be made. Hopefully by now, Christians in the United States are awake to the reality that this country is a mission field. There is so much gospel work to be done. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. May we join with God in the work he is doing to raise up female gospel workers for this harvest!

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One-on-One with Kristen Padilla on Women in Vocational Ministry