Just last weekend my ten-year old daughter, Reagan, arrived home from an overnight church retreat for girls. She was so thrilled to tell us all about her experience.
The first words out of her mouth were “I’m going to be a minister when I grow up.”
My wife brilliantly replied, “That’s awesome! But you’re going to be a room-cleaner this afternoon.”
Earlier this week our children’s pastor, Heather Bergeron, filled us in on how Reagan was worshipping with tears in her eyes during the retreat.
There is something holy and precious about children encountering God. I was only a bit older (13) when I first sensed and responded to what I felt was a call to give my life to vocational ministry. I didn’t know what kind of ministry. I didn’t know much about how to go about pursuing ministry. I just knew that I had experienced God in an authentic way and I wanted to spend my life leading others to encounter him as well.
So hearing my daughter talk about her special weekend with God made my heart smile.
During that same weekend, I learned about some comments made by Dr. John MacArthur at a conference hosted by his church in Sun Valley, California. During a panel discussion, Dr. MacArthur made some highly critical remarks concerning Beth Moore, a popular Bible teacher. He also went on to express his opinion that women should not be allowed to preach or teach in a church context, assuming what he claims to be the biblical view.
The audio of this exchange can be listened to here.
I won’t spend any time responding to his comments, since there have been plenty of great responses. Here‘s a helpful one by Destiny Deas.
I also won’t take time to give a scriptural defense of women in ministry leadership since plenty has been written on that subject as well. If you’re interested, here is a simple, well-written piece by Greg Boyd.
But I do want to reflect on how this looks in practice.
All my life I have been a part of a denominational movement that has historically held a position that affirms women in ministry leadership and pulpit ministry.
But the truth is while this has always been the official position, it hasn’t always been an emphasis in local practice. I don’t have exact statistics, but my experience has been that in the case of most women in ministry, the scope of their ministry tends to find itself narrowed to a handful of roles (ex. overseas missionary, children’s pastor, worship pastor, or women’s conference speaker). This is certainly not peculiar to my own movement but seems to be somewhat pervasive across the board.
But rather than point fingers at a nebulous “other,” let me be transparent about my own attitude and practices as it relates to women in pulpit ministry. While I have tried to be intentional about making room for women in leadership roles (including preaching & teaching in every available context), a couple days ago I was made aware of something about myself.
On Tuesday I had to check my daughter out of school to bring her to a dentist appointment. It’s about a half-hour drive to his office in nearby Lafayette.
As we got in the car to leave, I went through my normal routine. This includes setting up a podcast to listen to while I’m driving. Typically I either listen to “football talk” podcasts or sermon podcasts. So as we pulled out of the parking spot at school, I chose a sermon podcast and pressed the “play” button.
The events of this past weekend were fresh on my mind. I looked at my daughter in the rear-view mirror and smiled as I thought about her comment about wanting to give her life to ministry.
I also began to reflect on the MacArthur controversy and wondered what it must be like to be a young woman aspiring to be a preacher. If indeed my daughter is called to some form of vocational ministry (I suppose time will tell), I thought about the obstacles that might stand in her way that I have never had to deal with.
Then it hit me.
The preacher I was currently listening to in my car was a white male.
Come to think of it, nearly every preacher I’ve ever regularly listened to has been a white male.
Not that there’s anything wrong with listening to white male preachers. I am one. I would hope people wouldn’t write me off simply because of my race or gender.
But that’s just it. I never intentionally set out to be so exclusive in my sermon-listening practices. But human nature dictates that we tend to gravitate to people who are like us. We tend to hang out with people who are like us. We tend to listen to people who are like us. Therefore, we tend to make room for people who are like us.
And if we only seek to gain from people who already share our exact perspective, our potential to grow is stunted.
In the church world, many of us claim to want diversity. But it takes true intentionality to cultivate it. And I know I certainly have a ton of room to grow in this area.
In my daughter’s case, I don’t ever want her to feel like she can’t be exactly who God wants her to be. If vocational ministry is her calling, she may have a more difficult road to travel in some ways. But I want her to know that if God wants her to be his mouthpiece, he can and will use her in powerful ways, no matter what roadblocks others may throw in her way.
And as a father, part of that realization begins with me. I need to create an environment in which my daughter sees her daddy being willing to listen and learn from people who don’t look like him. If she only ever sees me listening to white male preachers, what message am I unintentionally sending?
So I turned the podcast episode off, and found this fantastic message by Tara Beth Leach (Reagan said her voice sounded like Miriam from the movie “The Prince of Egypt”).
My goal moving forward is to be more intentional about listening, learning, and reading from fellow believers who don’t look exactly like me. The more we are willing to broaden our horizons a bit, the more we can grow together in Christ.