I read an article recently on Christianity Today called “What Happens When We See Women Teaching the Bible”. I felt that I could identify with the writer’s lament that though she had a desire and gift for teaching the Word of God, she had never been able to see herself in that role because nearly all of her role models in the faith had been men. That is, until she heard Beth Moore. The experience of seeing another woman teach, and teach well, stirred something in her heart. She was inspired to get her Master’s and Ph.D. in theology to equip herself for ministry.
I still remember the first time I saw Beth Moore teach. I was encouraged and inspired by her conviction, passion, and knowledge. I saw her teach with authority and a clear calling from God, and I saw how her ministry strengthened women throughout the church, in the nation and even around the world. Similar things happened the first time I watched Joyce Meyer teach, saw Jen Hatmaker speak at a conference, read Madeleine L’Engle’s theological writings, and perused Rachel Held Evans’ and Ann Voskamp’s blogs. These women all come from different doctrinal positions, but they share a passion for the Word and for women in the church to know and adore the Lord.
As I walk around campus at my seminary, I feel blessed to be surrounded by many women who love the Lord. We are all in different stages of life. Some are single and preparing for overseas service, some are newly married and preparing themselves for joint ministry with their husbands, and some are older women wanting to grow in knowledge of the Word so they can impart the wisdom of God to the younger generation in their churches. However, we are still a minority. The article linked above claims that around 80% of evangelical seminarians are still men. In class, it often feels that we are only reading books by men, being taught by men, and listening the most to men in class discussion. Since seminary trains many, if not most, of the future leaders in the church, I feel that key voices are missing.
Women are not only an extreme minority on seminary campuses, but in wider theological discussion. I know that in our churches, we have women who can teach, who can write, who can dream big Kingdom dreams…but they may not know what that looks or sounds like, because they have never seen it. Some of the issue may be systemic, it is true. I wonder sometimes how many more Charles Spurgeons, G. K. Chestertons, and C.S. Lewises we have missed out on because they were born women who were not encouraged to cultivate their gifts. It is unfortunately true that in much of church history, women were not encouraged to use their teaching and writing gifts in the body of Christ, and so their talents lay fallow.
What better time than now to change the discourse? What better time than now to add female voices to the classrooms, the lectures, and the textbooks? Even if you belong to a denomination that does not generally ordain women, there are so many ways to grow the church and build the Kingdom that do not involve pastoring. We need to see more women evangelists, teachers, theologians, writers, missionaries, chaplains, musicians, and social workers who are fully armed with deep knowledge and love of the Word of God. There are possibly many women who desire to attend seminary and learn to teach the Word of God well, but they shy away from it because they have so few role models or do not believe in themselves, even though the Holy Spirit has indeed called them to ministry. Women must believe that we can add something valuable and unique to the discussion in seminary. We must believe that our ministries within the world, churches, and homes are important enough to make seminary a worthwhile pursuit. Ultimately, we must believe that the Lord and His Word are worth the time and effort.
We desperately need passionate, anointed women to teach the Word everywhere, and to be confident enough in the Holy Spirit’s calling to invest in it. Of course this is not every woman. Sometimes finances and circumstances limit one’s ability to attend seminary. However, if you have felt a tug on your heart to teach the Word of God, if that is what makes your soul and eyes light up, if the Lord has put a specific calling to ministry upon your life…please, for the sake of the Church, do not let your gifts lie dormant. We need what God has placed on your heart! Whatever mixed messages you may get from the world and even the Church, the Lord has given you your passions for a reason. We need women teachers who can read the Bible in Greek and teach it from a position of true knowledge and authority. We need women Bible study leaders who understand the historical background of the Old Testament. We need women missionaries who have studied Paul and people like William Carey and Amy Carmichael to use their knowledge and gifts to share the gospel with those who have never heard. We need women scholars to write textbooks and articles for Christian journals, to add their voices to theological discussions. We need mothers who are equipped and encouraged to raise children who desire meat and not just milk in their faith.
If you feel called to teach the Word in any form, I encourage you to pray about seminary as a way to build a firm foundation for your ministry. Yes, it is a commitment of both time and money. But please do not shy away from your calling just because of personal doubts or fears, or because you just haven’t seen enough women doing what you would like to do. They are out there, and this article from Christianity Today might give you some inspiration if you are not sure who they are. We need more of them! Attend seminary not just for your own sake, but for the sake of the young women in your church and in your family who will be able to see themselves fulfilling God’s calling in their life because they have first seen you do it, and have seen you teach the Word of God with knowledge, passion, and reverence. In Philippians 4:9, Paul draws his letter to a close by exhorting the congregation, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Let others learn, receive, hear and see what the Lord has gifted you to do. The church (along with the world) is waiting.
By Rebecca Dobyns. Becky graduated from the University of Texas and still loves the city of Austin in all its weird glory. Nevertheless, she currently finds herself keeping it relatively normal by studying at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, preparing for further cross-cultural ministry. She blogs about spiritual and physical wholeness at Wholly Redefined and Tweets about the adventures of abundant life with Jesus.