“Study Scripture. Paul did not allow women to teach or preach in the churches. Keep studying, God is not liberal.”
It’s unsettling to get this Facebook message from a total stranger. It’s even more unsettling to receive it six times in one day. The unfortunate truth is that most women in ministry receive some version of this in their inboxes on a regular basis. In the face of such criticism and hate, how can we choose to embrace our calling with confidence?
When I first became a lead pastor, these kinds of comments made me retreat to my education, willpower, and gifts to justify my position. But none of these things gave sustainable peace in the face of opposition. As I’ve learned, this lasting peace only comes from embracing the true source of my authority.
The Anchor for Authority
Talk of leadership, even servant leadership, focuses on the relationship between the leader and the led—which is very important. But Scripture also talks about authority: Esther defending her people, prophets standing before rulers, Moses leading the Israelites. Even Jesus, the epitome of selfless, sacrificial leadership, amazed people with his authority. Leadership may be about the relationship between the leader and the led, but authority grows from the relationship between the leader and the One she follows.
While good leaders embody both leadership and authority, parenthood taught me how to distinguish between the two. When I had my first child, I often questioned my role: What gives me the authority to shape this person’s life? But now, as the mother of two teenagers, I confidently speak with authority in their lives not only because I have the title “Mother,” but also because I’ve poured out my life for them. My voice carries weight because I’m older and wiser and because I’ve given so much for the sake of my kids.
A mother knows exactly what her child needs because she’s given her life to the study of that child. She has lost sleep, wrestled in prayer, and sought wisdom on behalf of that child’s health and wholeness. She may not be always right, but, by God, she has a right to speak because she has given so much.
Through the years, my authority as a parent has informed my authority as a pastor; in both roles, authority doesn’t come from my job title but from my ability to watch and follow. When I speak with confidence in decision making, it’s because I have read Scripture and watched the Spirit at work in the congregation. I have poured out my heart, laid aside my rights, and invited others to pray and seek with me.