One “truth” I have struggled with for the past 30 years is why there are so many women absent from leadership positions in the church today. I remember talking with a woman pastor about a conversation she’d had with her 3-year-old son. He was eavesdropping on a discussion his mom was having about a new staff acquisition, a male graduate from the nearby seminary. Accustomed to seeing women such as his mom as pastors, the boy asked, “Mom, you mean men can be pastors, too?” It was refreshing to hear because that is such an anomaly from my world.
In most cases, especially in Asian American churches, women tend to be more absent from full-time pastoral roles than present. AAWOL is a play on the military acronym for “Absent WithOut Leave” and serves as a place to ponder with others the dilemma of AWOL women in the church. My participation in AAWOL has challenged me to revisit the truth of who serves in God’s church. At the same time, AAWOL provides a safe place to be encouraged as others find their confidence and voice as a community that embraces God’s affirmation for women serving in ministry.
It is critical for there to be a place for women to share testimonies of women who serve in full-time in ministry, about challenges such as difficulty in finding full-time opportunities, sustaining ministries or even raising sufficient support for salary. But oftentimes, these testimonies — these truths — can be discouraging. In 2 Corinthians 4:2, Paul tells us we need to be active and speak truth, even when that truth is discouraging.But we are not without recourse in the face of discouragement. Verizon, the mobile phone service provider, tells us that we need a network, a support system. As a mom to my daughter, I grew up following Hillary Clinton‘s advice that it takes a village to raise a child. I believe it takes five mentors (including youth workers, pastors, parents, etc.) around each child to produce a healthy youth. I believe the same is true for women in ministry, because when we lose sight of what is truth, we need others to remind us, and redirect us to the truth God intended. Being a part of the founding community of AAWOL, I treasure others who carry me into God’s truth.
I encourage you to seek out significant truth-speaking relationships. If you can’t find them, pray for God’s provision. If you are a woman in leadership needing community, I’d be glad to pray for you in your search.
Rev. Melanie Mar Chow serves God through Asian American Christian Fellowship, the campus ministry division of the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society (JEMS). She has been an ordained American Baptist minister since 2004. A Pacific Northwest native, she currently lives with her husband and daughter in Southern California. To contact Melanie, please send your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.