What happens when you discern a call to ministry that seems totally impractical? What happens when you enroll in seminary without any assurance of a future job?
Those are the uncertainties facing the women I interviewed for my doctoral research last year. I sat down with female seminary students at three conservative, evangelical seminaries for the primary purpose of understanding “what worked.” What encouraged them to enroll in seminary when so few of their peers do the same?
Throughout the course of my research, I discovered numerous encouraging findings about how church leaders are identifying the gifts of women and equipping them for ministry. However I also uncovered a surprising obstacle. In addition to the expected hurdles of tuition costs and lack of job prospects, I found that over a third of the women wrestled with an abiding sense of guilt.
One woman confessed, “I thought maybe I was being selfish by wanting to attend. Like, I wanted to prepare myself for my career, instead of supporting my husband’s.” Another woman also admitted to feeling selfish for enrolling, that she ought to “give to people instead of giving to [herself].” One student described her own feelings of “guilt and shame,” while another expressed her fear of attending seminary “for the wrong reasons.”Keep in mind that feeling guilty is about the worst thing that can happen to someone in our culture. If someone feels guilty or ashamed or anything other than warm and fuzzy, that means that someone else has done something bad and must be punished. This nonsense infects the "Christians" part of out society in much the same way it does the broader culture.
She does make an accidental correct point:
No Christian tradition denies the goodness of women equipping themselves to better serve God, so this sentiment is terribly misplaced.Amen to that, the church absolutely ought to be very concerned with equipping our sisters. The question is not quite that simple because from that statement she makes a number of leaps including the grossly erroneous notion that equipping anyone in the church, male or female, requires or suggests formal theological training leading to a job at a seminary. In contrast we see that when Paul wrote to Titus he set out for us how we should equip women as well as the setting:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3-5)So what is the proper way for women to be equipped in the church? It is a lot like the way men should be equipped, namely by the emulation of more mature Christians. In contrast to the "send more women to seminary" model being espoused here, what Paul commends is that younger women learn from older women right where they are and that what they are to learn is how to behave respectfully and reverently, to love their husband and their children, to keep the home and submit to their husband as the church submits to Christ. In the pages of Scripture we have no example of women leaving home to get a vocational ministry degree in order to be a leader in the church. Of course there isn't an example of that for men either. What this is symptomatic of is the contemporary secular mindset that demands that women have "a career of their own" to be fulfilled, a mindset that has been immeasurably damaging to our broader culture and even more so in the church. Of course what the Scriptures have to say on this topic isn't all that important in light of our enlightened modern sensibilities. What is really important is that some women feel guilty about this whole thing!
What then is the solution to this guilt? Well if you are unsure if you can get a job and that makes you anxious, then we should create more jobs for ya!
"In addition to providing more paying jobs for women with ministry gifts, church leaders need to be intentional about how they talk about gifts—not only the gifts of women, but men also."So....some women feel guilty about getting an expensive degree from seminary so to assuage that guilt the church should make up yet another paid job in "ministry"? A chicken in every pot and a full-time staff job for every seminary grad? This just assumes an endless pot of money to provide paychecks to everyone that wants a church job. Given the decline in attendance, that just doesn't make a whole bunch of sense, setting aside how unscriptural it is on so many levels.
I must have missed the part in Scripture where the church exists to provide full employment for people who feel "called" to ministry. How about we encourage people to minister right where they are rather than insisting that they have to get specialized vocational training and in turn demanding a paycheck to minister? What we need in the church are not more "paying jobs" for men or for women but more engagement from the rank and file who sits mutely by while the professionals are expected to do the work of ministry. That is true for men and for women.
One would be hard pressed to argue that women need less help in caring for their home and family and more help in getting a seminary degree. As I have argued for, well pretty much for as long as I have been blogging, if we really want to help our sisters in the church we ought to be telling them "It is OK to want to be home with your family". I don't know of many women who have the "being a mom and wife" thing all figured out and are bored looking for something else to do, just as I haven't met a single man who has the "being a father and husband" thing figured out.
Snarkiness aside, we have to get out of the professional ministry mindset. The best training ground for the church is right at home where we live, work and raise our families. There is a place in the church for academics and professionals but it isn't the place for most of us, not for men and especially not for our sisters who are already overburdened by the pressures of raising a family and caring for a home in our modern era. The best teachers in the church are not the guys with the fancy degrees and a litany of letters after their name but rather are the men and women who live the lives others ought to emulate. You don't have to go to a seminary to find them, they probably live right by you and best of all watching and imitating them is free!