“All pastors would be better off to admit what many women pastors know from the start – expect some hostility and resistance to faithful ministry.” – Will Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry
I learned that a pastor was hired in part because he comes from “good stock.” And while I have had tried not to allow this statement to bother me, it continually gnaws at my core. I think of stock regarding soup, animals, or bonds; however, I realize this comment has everything to do with familial breeding and denominational heritage.
And by this definition, I will never be qualified for service. So, it begs the question, why do I continue to serve?
I find It is a bit of oxymoron to select pastoral staff based upon breeding. If for no other reason, it is contrary to scripture. The message of the Gospel says we are adopted and made new. God himself, destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, (Ephesians 1:5, NRSV). As well as, so if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new (2 Corinthians 5:17, NRSV). Apparently, in some Christians circles, this means absolutely nothing. The message of the Gospel say, we are all well-bred.
This nothingness has me longing for days in any of the offices I occupied as a human resource professional or program assistant. The racism, prejudice, misogynism made sense in those settings, and I could navigate what I saw coming. I understood what it meant to walk into a room and have the gentlemen say that I was not what they were expecting. Or to have to prove myself over and over to the same people I had worked with or lead on multiple successful projects or to get the crap assignment because the minority was expected to fail. There is nothing like overhearing your director inform your colleague that the expectations were different for you, the bar was intentionally higher and the challenges intentional, nothing like being set-up to fail. I digress. However, I never failed, was never terminated, never faced corporate discipline. Still, I walked away from people and places that others would never leave, because there is a limit to the level of disrespect I can tolerate.
The local church and ministry are a different arena. I do not mind the resistance that Willimon speaks of; my skin is thick. I may not be well-bred, but where I come from there is no room for weakness. I have turned the other cheek, tolerated a level of disrespect and maltreatment because of my love for God’s people. If this had been my former professional life, I would have walked away from it a long time of go. Alas, I had hope. Don’t miss that; I used the word had. I always believe that there is room for God to move. However, I have always been aware that in the heart of man lies bias, prejudice, and racism. I believe most of us in ministry without familial, generational ties, or who are members of the other undoubtedly find ourselves only able to achieve an average amount of respect if we are lucky. Sadly, luck is a term often associated with gambling, an activity frown upon by the church. Many of us find ourselves hoping to get lucky in ministry.
I was part of a denomination that affirms women. And even though I found myself in an affirming body, I did not always feel affirmed. I was very much on the outside looking at “the in crowd.” I tried to fit my call into the predetermined box, I served in hospitality and led a women’s small group, and decided to focus in the areas where women belong. My experience is one in which I find leadership being welcoming of diverse congregants. However, the leadership structure lacks diversity in race, ethnicity, or gender. Therefore, as a Black/African American woman there continues to be the question of belonging within a primarily Anglo-Caucasian denomination? I have never had an issue with being the first or the only one but in the being the first or the only one, I just do not want to be the ethnic minority checkbox. And that could be the problem. I am not playing my role and staying in my lane.
I am not content to ignore the social ills of the local church or worship at the “black” church because that is where I belong or be the token minority seen but not heard. I did not play the role of the token when I worked in the corporate and academic arenas, and I am not going to play it for the local church. I contend that the local church cannot be a bridge in the community unless the body deals with our internal strife and division.
I was not born in my previous denomination. My religious life was eclectic during my childhood and youth; furthermore, my family of origin is not the “best.” I am either quiet or opinionated (there is no in between), I do not particularly care for women’s ministry or children’s church, my husband is the head of our house, but my validation does not come from him. The script of my life (ministry) has not been written by men or women; however, they seem to have predetermined my place.
And with this predestination has come blatant disregard for the things God has put on my heart, and disrespect for the knowledge, skills, and abilities I possess to accomplish those things. Leaving me with one recourse. I live entirely the truth that God called me, not a denomination, man, or woman. I get my orders from God, not from a man or woman. I am both sinner and saint, I have no stones to cast, but I do have a message to share.
“Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” (John 4:29 The Message)