Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Confessions of a Female Pastor

At NCC, we are currently running a sermon series entitled The Elephant in the Church. It's based on an old idiom, the elephant in the room, which refers to things that everyone is thinking about but no one is talking about. The series is awesome because it's forcing us as a church to talk about things that aren't comfortable; but we need to talk about them because the Bible talks about them.

One issue that has not been a part of the series but keeps surfacing in conversation is the idea of women in ministry. I spent several hours last night writing out my own journey and theological conclusions, and I'm going to post those tomorrow. For today, I'll leave you with these Confessions of a Female Pastor:
  1. When people walk out of my sermon, I say that it doesn’t bother me, and I really think that’s true. But sometimes I wonder if that’s just a defense mechanism
  2. I am theologically conservative. But since I'm a woman pastor, I worry that people will assume I am theologically liberal and/or a feminist.
  3. When I have a leader who isn’t playing by the rules, I am tempted to wonder if it is their way of not following my lead.
  4. When I talk to some people back home, I don’t tell them I’m a “pastor” because I’m afraid of what they’ll think. I use more vague words like “Small Group Coordinator” or “Director of Christian Education.”
  5. I often feel out of place at pastors’ meetings and conferences.
  6. I’m neither complementarian nor egalitarian. I’m both.
  7. I go to sleep many nights and wake up many mornings re-considering my interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12.
  8. I once wanted to use 1 Corinthians 14:26-31 in a sermon, but I didn’t because the next verse is “women should remain silent in the churches.” While that verse had nothing to do with the topic, I felt I would need to address it since people might “keep reading.” And it was just easier to avoid it altogether.
  9. I feel bad for my parents when people ask them what I do. It was more fun, more prestigious, and a lot easier to say “environmental engineer” and “legislative assistant for a U. S. Senator.”
  10. I hypocritically assume that most other female pastors have an agenda, a liberal theology, or a chip on their shoulder. That also makes me pharisaical.

  11. and one more just for kicks...

  12. I love to preach. There, I admitted it. While I cannot recall ever asking anyone to give me the opportunity to preach, it’s one of the things I love doing the most. And it's been a tough road to reconcile my desire to preach and my desire for Biblical honesty.


At 4:48 PM, Blogger Teena Stewart said...

Hi Heather,

While researching blogs and potential sites on which to promote my new small groups book Successful Small Groups from Concept to Practice (Beacon Hill 2007) I ran across you posting.

As another woman in ministry I can say I appreciate your honesty and have also wrestled with these issues. I used to be one of those opposed to women in the pulpit, but as one whose gifts include equipping others and helping connect people where they are passionate I know without a doubt there are women with the gifts of speaking and pastoring. My conclusion, that God does use some women in this capacity. Unfortunately, there are some of our sex out there who are in church ministry because they are out to prove a cause. And there are some of the opposite sex who are simply operating from preconcieved ideas. Both can thwart God purpose.

It is good to hear an honest voice on the subject. Best wishes in your ministry

At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it that When people walk out of a (male) pastor sermon, is link to his speaking skills, personality,... BUT When people walk out of a (female) pastor sermon, it is assumed that is because she's a woman?! Couldn't it be possible that those who walked out when you speak actually has nothing to do with the fact that you are a woman but because of something Heather-specific?

At 5:49 PM, Blogger Heather Z said...

Teena- thanks so much for the kind words. I've got a post ready to go for tomorrow that speaks more directly to my theological journey. Looking forward to your book!

Anon- not sure where you are going with that. :) I guess you are referring to my first confession. If people walk out because it's something Heather-specific, then that's a totally different issue. And honestly, that is something I would definitely be concerned about. :) I'd love to talk to them and find out if there's something I've done or said that's offended them.

To be honest, I've only seen one person walk out, and I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Whenever other people have told me that they have seen people walk out, I've encouraged them to give those people the benefit of the doubt as well. One of my best friends had to walk out of one of my sermons one time because she got a call about a family member being rushed to the hospital. But, I do know there are people that do not come when I preach BECAUSE I'm a woman. That's okay. least I think I'm okay with that. Refer back to #1. :)

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Elaine said...

Thanks for your honesty and your confessions. I share some of your struggles. Honestly, the best thing for my own concerns has been seminary. I have not had 1 professor at Regent (a conservative seminary!) that did not vehemently and completely support female pastors, and hearing their wise exegesis and explanations has greatly bolstered my own confidence in God's calling on my life.

Thank you for your honesty - I hope that God will continue to affirm your calling to you. The fruit I have seen in your life truly confirms that you are following God's path, and that is the most important thing any of us can do.

At 8:57 PM, Blogger regena sawyer said...

Two comments: (1) Please do not feel bad about our telling people what you do for a living. We have been proud of every decision you have made. You have consistently made wise choices from an early age. We never had to worry about your choice of friends (remember those times when there were so many at the house that they were literally wall to wall on the floor. Dad would have to detour from the kitchen through the living room to get to the back of the house. LOL. Those were fun days of pizza, brownies, games, and good movies. You never had to be prodded to study and make good grades. You have always been self-motivated and, to my knowledge, have never backed down from a challenge that would be pleasing to God. We were proud of you during those times you traipsed through the sugar cane fields of Baton Rouge to fulfill course requirements. We are proud of your work to help organize Destiny, a Christian organization at LSU. We are proud of your work as an environmental engineer in Nashville. We are proud of all of your achievements as a legislative assistant in the office of a U.S. senator. Most people outside of the senator's office have no idea of your impact on environmental issues in the state of Alabama. Now that you have moved into the ministry, we are again extremely proud of you. I know that you will face challenges, but as long as you KNOW that you are doing God's will, you should not have to worry about your critics. (2) It bothers me that "anonymous" does not reveal himself/herself and reveal to you what his/her issues are regarding you. The Bible teaches us to approach our fellow Christian brothers and sisters and air out our differences.
Please do not read this as an epistle of praise to Heather. Parents obviously want to protect their children. Quite frankly, I think Heather is smart enough and sure enough about herself to not need our input. We are proud of both of our daughters and our sons-in-law as well.

At 12:56 AM, Blogger mrclm said...

I spent the afternoon today having lunch with Dr. John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church and listening to him speak on related issues with some other pastors. I posted a sketchy outline of his thoughts on my blog today.

I grew up in a church where the Sr. Pastor was a woman. As I have studied for myself, I have more and more become convinced of the complimentarian position as the solid exegetical one. I actually slowly came to this conclusion a year or two before I even knew who John Piper or Wayne Grudem were. I would say I fall into a spot near Mark Driscoll, where I see nothing wrong with women deacons (deaconess). Women are undoubtedly gifted. I went to seminary (Bethel) with some incredibly gifted women. But I have a hard time turning my back on texts like Genesis 1-2, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2:12 and Luke 6:13 to name just a few.

It is a journey for sure, and I can't tell you where to land on this one. It took me years to get to where I am now, and honestly I still don't have it all worked out. Theology is challenging in that way.

Without a doubt though, God has gifted you, so use those gifts to His glory whatever you do, and whatever you decide.

Big Chris
Because I said so blog

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Chris Jarrell said...


For me, you are one of the best communicators of God's Word that I know. I enjoy hearing you share the Truth of God's Word and how we can apply it to our lives. I believe and know that God is using you to impact lives and to be able to see lives transformed through His Word.

You have been a blessing to Lora and me and I want to tell you how much I appreciate you allowing God to use you for His Kingdom.

It is God who calls you and not man or men for that matter.

Thanks for all you do.

At 8:58 AM, Anonymous Christopher Douglas said...

I remember a critical time in my development spiritually and as a man. It was when I started college and was being pulled in so many different directions, away from everything I knew. I could have just as easily pursued selfish, sinful desires as I could have pursued God. I remember a young woman on Free Speech Alley on campus that was handing out Blow Pop suckers, showing kindness to complete strangers.

God did not use a man to most influence me spiritually in this chapter of my life. He used a woman. A willing, passionate and obedient vessel. Honestly, I am not sure that I would be the man I am today or as firmly entrenched in God's love today if it had not been for her.

Heather, I am thankful for your friendship over the past 10 years. And it is without reservation that I can say that one of the most influential people I have encountered in my life and one of the people I go to when I need sound perspective from a friend is you. If anyone writes you off or has a problem listening to you because you're a woman, I believe they are missing out on some incredible things that God has placed in your heart.

Keep doing what you're doing. For every person that has an issue with a woman being a pastor, I am sure that there are hundreds like myself who support you and are thankful for you.

At 9:49 AM, Anonymous *Hasler said...

hey- just remember, God loves women preachers ;)

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Pat said...

Hey, Heather!

I really do like the way that you preach! It's clear and very understandable. I never leave without knowing some ways that I can apply the words that God has put in your mouth.

Yes, I've seen people walk out while you are preaching, but, remember, when they do that it is really all about them and not at all about you.

The anointing of God is on you and flows through your life, Woman of God. Thank you for being a willing vessel that God can use and does use in many different ways, preaching is only one of them!

At 12:28 PM, Anonymous Ruth said...

Glad to see you address this so head-on. Doesn't mean it isn't painful. I, too, have had quite a journey -- growing up in a denomination that didn't (and still doesn't) ordain women. First I started to think maybe "other women" could -- took my years to recognize my own calling. Heather, there's a lot of good stuff printed on this subject. I hope that some day you will not lie in bed exegeting a single verse or two of scripture, and stumbling over it. Instead you will continue and expand the powerful work God has given you to do! Peace Pilgrim!

At 1:50 PM, Blogger Mary Abigail & Paul said...

Regena's comment made me tear up! I am proud to say that five of my friends from highschool are pastors and even prouder to say that one of them is a woman! :) You rock, Heather!

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Mark Batterson said...


Great post. I just want to say how grateful I am for your teaching and leadership! NCC wouldn't be the same without it.

We are blessed by your teaching and leadership!


At 6:41 PM, Anonymous Ryan Z said...

You already know where I land. :o)

-Ryan aka Lappidoth

At 9:33 PM, Blogger Patrick Sievert said...


First I want to say that you are a great communicator and I totally appreciate you preaching the word.

I was thinking about this today though. Though I think you are totally justified by God to preach, a lot of people don't think that way (as evidenced by people walking out when you do speak). As I thought about this today, I called to mind what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8. Though there's nothing inherently wrong with what you do, I think a woman pastor can be a stumbling block to someone else (I live in the Bible belt of Oklahoma, so that attitude is very prevalent here). Paul said not to let this liberty of your be a stumbling block to those who are weak.

I think this is kind of one of the gray elephants in the church.

How do you deal with this aspect of your teaching ministry and what do you do to avoid being a stumbling block to those who might be tripped up by a woman pastor in the church?

At 10:26 PM, Blogger Heather Z said...

Patrick- Really good question. I think that's part of the tension that I live in. Those gray elephants are tricky, aren't they? :)

I'm not sure I have a complete answer for you, but it's definitely something I'll be thinking about. Here's a shot...I think the key in both 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 is the conscious choice to do something that would make someone question their faith or fall into temptation. In other words, intentionally doing something in the presence of someone that you know would have a problem with it leading to a trip-up in their faith. NCC is affiliated with the A/G and Willow Creek. Thus, I feel like there's an "understanding" people should have when they walk in about where we land on certain things-- including women in ministry. For us, it probably falls into the same category with people who have a problem with Mark preaching in jeans.

In contrast, I would never go back to my Southern Baptist church back in Mobile, AL, and attempt to take on some sort of teaching/leadership role there because I would be violating those principles that Paul outlined. And whenever I'm in a place where I know that might be a sensitive topic, I try to participate in a way that is appropriate to their beliefs.

I think we also have to think through what "stumbling" means. In those contexts, I think it pertains primarily to participating in activities that potentially tempt people to engage in activities that they believe are wrong. Not sure a woman preaching is necessarily causing someone's faith to start shaking in the sense that Paul is talking about here. But at the same time, I do believe we are to strive for unity in all things. So yeah...I don't know!

I just try to keep lots of people around me who will keep me full of humility and ministering with a soft heart. And for whatever its worth, I think this is more of a burden than a liberty!

At 7:55 AM, Blogger Laura Mc said...

I wonder if people walk out on Beth Moore when she "teaches" to both men and women at her Southern Baptist church in Texas? I know she is not a "pastor", but I have heard that she does "teach/share" (gotta love those southern baptist words) sometimes in the Sunday morning service (maybe I am wrong).


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