When these women finally enrolled in seminary, their supporters’ voices cheered them on in their heads. A supportive community—even a distant one back home—was enough to sustain women through the lonely experience of seminary. It was the affirmation they turned to when asked by yet another classmate, “Why are you here?” The support of their community was, in some sense, their Ebenezer.
The last factor that encouraged women toward seminary was ministry experience. All of the women I interviewed had experience working as a church intern, leading in a parachurch ministry, serving on the mission field, or volunteering with a Christian non-profit. Each experience was formative in developing their sense of calling because it helped identify their passions and gifts. They also learned what they liked and didn’t like. Ministry experience was also the environment in which they received feedback about their strengths.
What is significant about ministry experience is that, like calling, its power comes from its context. Meaningful ministry experience doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and neither does calling. Calling gets its power, and ministry experience its meaning, from the people of God.
To put it another way, the most important factor behind women going to seminary is churches. The women who pursue ministry typically come out of Christian communities that identify their gifts. In short, the story of these women is the story of the church being the church.
The evangelical women who are in seminary today are the church’s success stories. They are the fruit of stewardship in action. Pastors, leaders, parents, and friends all rallied around these women and gave them strength. Many times, they were quite literally the voice of God, calling women into their created purpose.
However, the experience of these women is also a chastening reminder. The small number of women currently pursuing a MDiv suggests that these success stories are few and far between. Women with ministry gifts will not decide, out of the clear blue, to go get training. They need a supportive church community with a culture of social stewardship. They need leaders who can help identify their gifts and cultivate them.