A well-known female preacher recently wrote some reflections about the treatment of women around the world, and recounted her own experience facing discrimination as a woman in ministry. As I enter a season of transition from being overseas to stepping into full-time ministry in the States, I’ve been recounting my own journey as a woman navigating a call into ministry.
I don’t think I’ve faced the type of overt discrimination I’ve heard others go through: women who were told that they had no place in the church except in the nursery, others who were hit back with 1 Corinthians 14:34 if they expressed any opinions, even others who were told that a desire to go into ministry was actually sinful and of the devil.
However, I can recall subtle experiences here and there where I was discouraged from being who I am fully as a woman minister. I’ve heard people comment about the presence of so many “strong women” in my college fellowship, and they didn’t mean it as a compliment. A pastor once mentioned to me that he’d prefer a man to lead worship but since there weren’t any, that was the only reason I was allowed to lead. I’ve seen opportunities given to men that were never offered to me.
It made me think, where might I be ministry-wise, if I were a man? I’ve never thought to enter the pastoral ministry and still don’t feel the call to do so, but has that been influenced by the fact that nobody has ever encouraged me to do so because I’m a woman? And if I had decided to pursue pastoral ministry, would most doors get slammed in my face? Even where I am today, I’ve felt the need to advocate for myself and self-promote, oftentimes far beyond my normal comfort levels or personality. It has been frustrating at times being a woman in ministry. Wouldn’t it just be easier to be a man?
Then I remember, God has made me to be a woman. I love being a woman, and it is a good and beautiful thing, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God intricately designed me to be female, and He also intentionally called me to serve Him full-time.
As I navigate this tension, I’m reminded of the story in Mark 14 of the woman in Bethany who comes up to Jesus and anoints Him with expensive perfume. The men in the story chastise her for her act. While the text merely has these men outwardly questioning stewardship of the perfume, I can imagine the thoughts going through their minds: Who does this stupid woman think she is? Look at her being so wasteful. We walk with Jesus, and she obviously has no idea what it means to do God’s real work. She doesn’t belong here. I imagine in that moment, the woman felt discouraged, even crushed in her calling to anoint Jesus, just like the times in ministry where women have been subtly (or not-so-subtly) dismissed.
6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Mark 14:6-9 (emphasis added)
Jesus’ response is so different to the other men. He sees her, acknowledges her love and desire to serve Him, and affirms what she did. And he takes it one more step beyond. He says that her act would be preached throughout the world for the rest of time. He never says this again about the mighty men that walked with him: Paul, the disciples, Peter, John. He says it about a woman who has chosen to love Him with what she knew, somebody who had been rejected by the other people standing in the room. He honors her.
When I think about this story, my heart is brought to a place of peace once again. I am a woman and I have been called to serve my King. Perhaps the other people in the room might discourage those of us who are women, misunderstand us, or even discredit us, but the One who matters doesn’t. And He sees my heart and my desires to serve and love Him, and He receives the gift only I can give as a woman, affirms who I am, and honors me. That makes it completely worth it.
Ann Chen was recently serving in Malawi, working to see a discipleship making movement raise up amongst the Yao. She is an International Staff member with Epicentre Church and has a degree in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary.