Having spent altogether 18 years wearing the many hats and shoes of a church staff position I made a decision to not only leave ministry as a vocation when I married my husband, but to make a point of not knowing the “inner circle” information at any church my husband and I felt led by God to be a part of. There were reasons for this decision. Below is the list in no particular order:
- Church people can be some of the most difficult to work for and with.
- It’s difficult when your place of employment is also your place of worship.
- You are never really “off the clock”.
- It extracts a fair amount of time from one’s family.
- I just didn’t want to know that the man in the pulpit had “issues”.
- How the denomination of faith we have chosen views women in ministry was a yoke that didn’t sit well on my shoulders.
- Despite my hunger for it, that master’s degree from seminary has always been outside my reach.
- I failed to leave the last church I served when God said it was time and in hanging on I hurt people.
I’m going to address the last reason first, because it is the most difficult. The last church where I served in a combination church staff role as church secretary and minister to youth was a church located in the city limits of Norfolk, Virginia that while I was there celebrated its 100th anniversary. It had moved in the late 1950-60’s from downtown Norfolk out to what was then the outer limits of the city. Sadly it did so to avoid integration. Even sadder the church which had been one of the largest in the Tidewater area declined in membership to where it almost died out completely.
When I came in the doors initially I came as a child of God who had made the wrong decision five years previously to leave the life of a Christian behind. I felt God had failed me when I finished up college. Refusing to acknowledge where I had exercised my own will over the will of the Father I sought freedom in the world. I found little freedom and nothing filled up the part of me that hungered for God. The wounds I carried were many and I sought refuge in church content to sit on the pew and not be asked to leave. To my surprise and amazement this congregation seemed to need me. Soon I was working as the church secretary and a year or two later as the minister to youth. I do believe it was God’s will for me to be there. The church needed my gifts and I needed the role of ministry.
After eight years I was exhausted, burnt out, operating on fumes and inwardly fuming as well. I knew it was time to move on. By then I had healed enough to know I couldn’t turn this church around no matter how hard I worked for building a church is God’s business not mine. Still I lingered out of guilt now for having allowed so many to depend on me. In that last year I met and married my husband.
Neither the church nor I could adapt to my being married and no longer being available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I wanted it to be a time to gradually shift the responsibilities I carried onto the shoulders of others but we were to accustom to my carrying them. I resented the weight of ministry, it was no longer a freedom but a mill stone around my neck. I made poor decisions. My hanging on hurt people. It ended badly. I knew I never wanted to be in that position again.
To top it off I was also knowledgeable about the inner lives of the other church members. It was incredibly difficult to cut loose when I knew the things I knew. I never wanted to be in that position again.
So as a church member of the church we belong to now and in the ones since we left Norfolk I’ve had a view from the pews that is sometimes difficult for me. I’m a former church staff member who has a keen awareness of how difficult life for those in ministry is, how much “behind the scenes” work goes into “church” and I still wrestle with having been a female in ministry in a denomination that overall doesn’t approve of that beyond a certain point, a point I crossed.
I’m a Christian. I’m a woman. I’m a wife. I’m a mother. I’m a sister. I’m a friend. Into each of these roles I carry the person I am and who I am has been shaped by every experience. I accept that awareness. I also know I am to give my best efforts to these roles, to fulfilling the responsibilities God has for me including giving of my gifts and talents to His church.
What I don’t yet accept are more difficult matters:
- Paul and Peter’s limitations of a woman’s role in church.
- Having talents and gifts that I feel are useful to God but unwanted in church.
So I want to explore those two reasons with you my readers and I will welcome your input. I know this is an area God is dealing with me in and I need to be sharpened as iron is upon iron. I have many readers, I have some subscribers, but I have few comments. I need your comments. I need to know if I’m really the only one dealing with these thoughts. I find it hard to believe I am. Please share with us your thoughts.