This week I am writing about a topic that in so many ways has influenced my decisions and as a result, my whole life. This post is written to young women that are in ministry or for anyone contemplating working for God in any way, shape or form. I do not wish to take it upon me to speak for all young ministers out there because I understand that we are each made unique and walk separate paths. This is only my story; one carved by my struggles and individual calling.
I am blessed to have grown and been mentored in a community of faith that fully supports women in ministry. I grew up with a voice, and was encouraged in the gifting God had put in me. My local church leaders discerned my gifts and help me develop them. Having said this, I am fully aware that ‘having a voice’ is not a privilege that all women around the world enjoy.
I felt my story would somehow be incomplete if I talked about my experience as a young woman in ministry without pointing out that there are many of my sisters that are being ‘shut’ not only in society in general or in political office, but also in the church. The "why" is varied; from being part of a church's doctrine to cultural upbringing to tradition or like I learned recently, distraction and entertainment from the media. Whatever the reason, today I am writing in solidarity and love for them.
I love the church, and I believe in the power of the church that Jesus had in mind. However, many times as I have observed the modern day church, I have been disappointed, heartbroken and sometimes even repelled by the way some people insist on portraying Jesus. If Jesus was like many people I have known or if he even endorsed a slight portion of the horrors that are done to people around the world, I would have no interest in following this Jesus. In my personal experience, Jesus is not like that. Like many other young believers, this distorted view taught by others resulted in a crisis in which I was left with no other choice but to start a journey of wrestling and discovery of who God was (for myself) as opposed to what I had seen through people. Surely, when we seek Jesus, he makes sure that we find him and fall in love with his character and attributes. How can you not love, Love?
When looking at ministry, especially in the evangelical arena, there's one question that I wrestle more than others in my life. Who determines if you are called to ministry, and most importantly who determines if you will be allowed to exert your calling? In other words, who holds the rights to our voice?
Through the pages of the Bible, I discovered that Jesus listened to women, never belittling them. He never judged or approached them according to cultural standards, prejudice or expectation, but instead redeemed, forgave, and restored, all the while pushing the envelope one step further. I now know that the same Jesus that walked the earth still moves and is still lovingly calling us to be part of His story of redemption.
My calling is not and cannot be limited to a pulpit
There are many that are questioning church denominations and their leader as to why capable and highly trained women are not being allowed to teach, preach, and exert ministry in the church. While that goal is honorable (and necessary), I’ve learned that a church pulpit is such a small part of the bigger picture of what ministry is and entails.
I was called to ministry at the age of 16, and entered a training program in which I attended church seminary and different leadership trainings in addition to my regular schooling, part-time work and local church responsibilities. At the age of 24, I was licensed as a minister (after being a lay minister for a few years), going down in history as the youngest, licensed minister for our denomination in Eastern Canada. Along with my license, came a new set of responsibilities, credentials, and a written endorsement from the church as an organization. However, it did not replace all the years of service ‘as a non licensed’ volunteer that gave me a great deal of experience and growth.
Pre and post licensing, my pulpit has always been any place where there is a person that needs to hear about Jesus. It is a biblical principle that when we are faithful with little and use it to the best of our ability, we grow and mature enough to handle a lot more. I was mentored in that direction because I wanted to serve God, and I understood I could do that without a position, title or credentials. I say this humbly to point out that credentials did not suddenly make ‘entitled’ to a ministerial position. Leadership, anointing, and authority does not automatically follow a title. As a leader I had to learn to find joy in servanthood first and allow God to develop my character and fruit to live as worthy of the calling.
It is not because my church supported and poured into my life as a leader that I never encountered resistance, or that I was not sometimes overlooked and criticized. Yes, it happened. Was it because I was young and a female? Perhaps. As much as I think this point is relevant, I still believe that before others could fully acknowledge what God had put in me, I had to learn to trust God. I had to learn and trust that my life, destiny and ministerial career was not and IS NOT IN THE HANDS OF MEN but rather in the hands of a sovereign, powerful God that has impeccable timing. This is what faith is; entrusting my destiny in the hands of a God I cannot see, to take me to an unknown destination, and in this case, to start walking through the sometimes unconventional doors that He would open for me.
I am thankful for every wonderful opportunity God has given me to share the good news of the Gospel. Whether it was on the subway, in a campus bible study or outreach event, in casual coffee dates, in a mosque (yes, you read right), camps, conferences or trainings, because in every occasion God opened the right door. After making so many mistakes I have finally understood that it’s time that we (as the church) spend more time fighting our battles on our knees and bringing our frustrations to the Lord of the Harvest (to the real boss) instead of spending so much time quarreling in an attempt to convince people that are determined to prove me wrong. The alarming truth is that this young generation of Christians has the overwhelming task of spreading the gospel to the largest world population in history in the shortest amount of time. Needless to say that ALL hands are needed (Luke 10:2) for the task, and that there's no obstacle, argument, tradition, doctrine or plain machismo that can ever stand a chance when faced with God's relentless love for humanity.
Call me crazy, but I firmly believe that He will (and faithfully has) worked out his plans for my life (Psalm 138:8) and changed the hearts of the most stubborn people and opened doors where there was no door to begin with.
I refuse to be boxed
In her lecture called "The Danger of a Single Story" Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says that the problem with stereotypes is not that they are completely untrue but mainly that they are part of an incomplete story.
Believe it or not, there are stereotypes about women, about ministry, about Christian women, about young women and finally about young women doing ministry. There are expectations, teachings and mental images that even the best people have formed in their heads about what one should ‘ideally’ do, wear or even say. The proof of that is that every time I travel for ministry and clear customs there is always an immigration agent that will look at me with doubt and say ‘you are a priest? But you are so young and a girl’ (ha!). Usually after a few minutes of friendly conversation where I swiftly incorporate the presentation of the gospel he lets me go with a ‘welcome back to the United States mam’.
As a young woman doing full time ministry, I find that I have to constantly fight to maintain a balance in order not to fall into the temptation of fitting everyone’s expectations. I serve others and I happen to be born a woman but that is not the totality of my story or who I am. I have a brain, a personality, dreams, passions, aspirations, a family and so many elements that make me who I am and for people to know Valerie, I have to tell the full story. There is so much individuality and uniqueness that I sacrificed at the point of my life when I had yet to understand about how much God loves and delights in diversity.
Fear of not being accepted or recognized, often motivates women to conform to a ‘ministerial persona’, ‘ministerial look’ (whatever that is), to be as efficient as the Proverbs 31 woman on a daily basis (nothing wrong unless like me you get tired solely by reading all she does) and to mute all type of ‘zaz’ that may distinguish them from the rest. Fear is never a good motivator and is never from God. For many years we have failed to recognize that there is beauty in diversity and individuality, it is actually through it that we can better serve and be a blessing to the world. Difference in personality, passions and abilities lead us to separate platforms that work parallel to fulfill the great commission given by Jesus himself.
Your existence is not insignificant. You are important, you are loved, and the story is not complete without your input. In other words, we are so important that Jesus not only gave it all to save and restore each one of us, but is also constantly looking for ways to brings us to a closer relationship with him. He does this through conversation (commonly known as prayer), written correspondence (his word) and through loving relationships with others. As if all that was not enough, God also chose to put in us a message of good news and keeps inspiring unique ways to convey it to a world that He loves.
I firmly refuse to be boxed and limited by short snippets of my story that people choose to focus on. Like someone once said, 'whoever defines you, owns you' which is a statement that immediately makes you think and rethink the whole notion of preconceived ideas. If you choose to serve full time as a minister or in any other way, go for it full force and do not let people limit you by making you feel like as a woman, you are limited to speak for or to women only, or to the youth only, or to a limited cultural group (just because you happen to belong to that cultural group). God has no limits. I could have chosen to conform (as part of a minority, culturally and in gender) to not follow God's crazy adventures for my life by focusing on labels and expectations. Instead, I choose to follow my own story. I choose to see my cultural heritage and gender as assets of incalculable wealth as opposed to limitations. It’s almost like God keeps saying (and I paraphrase), "Girl, my purpose for your life cannot be boxed because it does not fit the expectations or prejudice others may have." I pray that through our belief in His purpose, we will take giant leaps of faith; refusing to be limited to our comfort zone or labels and follow God further than where our imaginations could have ever taken us.
This post is not a theological exegesis about women in ministry (I will leave that discussion to a younger me or to other skilled writers that have done a fantastic job) but I do want to clearly state that I fully believe in women in ministry and the crucial role they play in body of Christ. I do not want to appear as if I am underestimating the struggle women live everywhere, because I have experienced it first hand, however I purposely chose to focus on a different perspective.
I have spoken about believing in God’s time and earlier in this post I added that we should trust his sovereignty. God raised a man and a women for ‘such a time as this’ in each generation. David was not raised to fight the Philistines, it was Samson. If God chose to put you were you are, it’s because you are the right one. I hope that you will bloom and make history right where you have been planted and not get discouraged by the resistance and adversity you will encounter.
I have found that trials, roadblocks, sticks and stones thrown at me (not literally thank God!) have really been the materials that I have used to build a stepping stone to get closer to God and His purpose in my life. I do not say it with anger or grudges, but I say it with joy. No pain no gain. This cool slogan is not just true when getting in shape, but also in our journey of faith. A natural human reaction is to try to avoid or shelter ourselves from the hurt that results from criticism and other realities of ministry, but the truth is, it is when we learn to soar above the negativity and let God guide us through it and let him take care of the haters, that we gain a scoop of maturity, strength,and victory.
This year marks my 13th year of ministry (4 as a fully, licensed minister) and this is honestly the first time I have stopped to think and publicly write about it in detail. At the age of 9 God started to make it known to me that He had a lot of traveling in mind for me and something about using me to reach ‘unconventional people’. That last part took me a while to understand because at that young age I still did not even know how unconventional I was myself (ha!) and how God would use all this weirdness for His glory.
I have since then travelled to many countries of Central and South America, United States and some parts of Canada preaching and teaching the word of God, done some missionary work and collaborated in some exciting projects, but I have still so much to learn, so much to grow and so many more places to go. Over and over again, God gently leads me back to a place where I can be undone and solely depend on Him because when I finally run out of resources and ideas, He can show himself powerful on my behalf.
Don’t go at it alone
Abraham Lincoln said: “I see further because I stand on the shoulder of giants.’ I love that quote because it literally represents my life. I came after people that are honestly great and giants in the faith. My parents, pastors, leaders, friends and mentors that have dedicated their lives to raise, pray for and pour all they had into my generation and the next. They conquered enemies that I do not have to fight and brought down walls that I will not have to break. They made a way through example, devotion, love and prayer for us to run faster and further then they could. I do not say this to boast; they intentionally lived for that to be the outcome and I work and live in order to impact the next generation.
As a young woman, I feel I have gained so much from my relationships with individuals that are different then I and that are willing to engage in dialog while challenging some of my ideas. Sometimes, as ‘churched’ people (I am speaking for me) we can sometimes be so disconnected from the world’s reality and needs. While God calls us to be a light and to live holy, he also chose to leave us in this world for a reason. This week I read an article about how identifying with someone’s pain can lead us to better love them and serve them and I believe that this is done when we as the church choose to let our guards down and engage in open conversation. It is through that dialog that we will be able to tell which part of God’s story we should tell first, and how we can better serve. Just like there is not only one type one biblical womanhood or only one type of ‘christian young female leader, there’s also not only ‘one size fits all’ way of sharing the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ. If we listen we will know how to answer.
And lastly, to all the young girls that are still trying to find their voice, their path, their personality, and are starting to discover the greatness that is in you, you are important and you are needed. In the past weeks the world has been hearing of Malala Yousafzai a young teenager that stood up against the Talibans for her right to education and even after she was shot she is still advocating for what she feels is important. I love her story because she could have let the difficulties of the suppressive and scary regime dictate her destiny and taker her voice away, but she did not back down within the limits of what she could do.
Do not let people take your voice or your influence. Be faithful within the limits of the world in which you have been placed. Give it your all and whatever door needs to be open for you to exert what God has for you, will be opened in due time.
After wrestling for hours with the question of ‘Who gets to decide the limit of my influence and the repercussions it will have?’ I still don’t have all the answers, but one thing I am sure about: MY life and destiny are in the hands of a powerful God that loves me and chooses to use willing vessels for his glory (women or men) and NO ONE can impede His plans.
Find more ressources concerning mutuality
Order this book that I am looking forward to read called 'Jesus Feminist' by Sarah Bessey. I'll write about it later.