I will graduate on May 11, mere days from now. God willing, I will soon possess a diploma that says M.A. in Theological Studies. I took the scenic, part-time, pay-as-you-go route through seminary, so this has been a four-year project.
Which is why so many are recently asking: “What will you do after seminary?” In return, I often respond with an ironic, sad little smile. But I am not the only female seminarian who answers this question with a bit of nervous laughter and a hedge. I know I’m not, because I listen to my seminary sisters when they are asked this question. I listen to their answers, and later, I go home and I cry.
So I have decided that perhaps, in the style of Jesus, it might be best to turn the question into another question for my questioners. (Did you get all that?) I have decided that in certain situations it’s OK to ask: “What will you allow me to do with my degree?”
Because this is the question that will largely determine what I do with my degree.
A year or so ago, I served on a temporary assignment as an interim pastor of evangelism in a local congregation. If I had any doubts about the place of God’s daughters in his church, they were dispelled. Pastoring was as natural to me as breathing and wildly challenging and heartbreaking and beautiful. It felt like I had found what I was made for, and I poured all my feminine, life-giving experiences and brokenness and training and life into those I ministered to and with. While I was helping out at a funeral one day, a 70-something woman approached and had this to say: “A female pastor. How wonderful! And I got to see it before I died.”
There’s no doubt it was meant as a compliment, though I was rendered completely speechless.
And I got to see it before I died.
What will it take for sisters to join with their brothers in advancing the cause of the Kingdom? How many times will a search committee or personnel committee say, “Well, we’d be open to hiring a female, but we don’t want to make an issue out of it.” I wonder. And as I wonder, my heart grieves. You see, I believe that Jesus sending Mary Magdalene out as an evangelist and an apostle to his chosen 12 made a tremendous issue out of it. An inappropriate, unbelievable, not-acceptable issue out of it.
There he goes again! That Jesus! Defying the religious norms, breaking society’s rules, hanging out with the marginalized and then promoting them as first ambassadors for his gracious rule.
Male and female pastors and leaders serving side-by-side?
This is my dream, this is one of the areas I believe the gospel restores. It happened when the relationship between men and women, broken in the Garden of Eden, sprang to life again as Jesus traveled through another Garden, the Garden of Gethsemane. This gospel-sized dream calms my heart and lifts me from discouragement to a spirit of wonder about all that could be accomplished through God’s original team—a man and a woman—created to spread his gracious rule.
So in answer to the question I know you’re still wondering about, perhaps my answer should be this: I will be joining with Christ’s body to advance His Kingdom through all means available. When given the opportunity to use my preaching and teaching gifts, I will preach the gospel, his outstandingly good news.
Each Sunday evening, I will continue to lead a Bible study for women in chemical addiction recovery. Throughout the week, I will write of God’s dream of reconciliation for his sons and his daughters, for his Church. I want to take seriously Jesus’ command to feed the hungry and to welcome the oppressed. And in all things, I want to announce his gracious rule; I want my life to announce that Jesus is King.
This is what I will be doing after seminary. But for me, and for hundreds of other women who will graduate this May, the question to the Church still remains: “What will you allow me to do?” How we answer has Kingdom-implications as we seek to reflect his gracious rule—his unbelievably good news of reconciliation—to a watching world.
Suzanne Burden enjoys weaving personal narrative and questioning with the grand story of God’s Kingdom purposes as revealed in His Word. She is coauthoring the book Reclaiming Eve: What the Bible Says about Every Woman’s Identity to be published in January 2014 through Beacon Hill Press. Find her on twitter.