When Women are Called and the Church Says “No!”

When Women are Called and the Church Says “No!” June 28, 2012

My book, A Woman Called, was released last month. I spent several years creating, writing, rewriting, and getting the book published. There were days that my thoughts exited my fingertips and entered a computer screen, sometimes page by page as fast as I could type, but more often, I typed slowly, word by word or letter by letter as I poured out my prayers about my call to church ministry and preaching.

Sometimes, as I wrote, I naively told myself that when I was finished, I would never again discuss the topic of women in church ministries. I would let the book serve as my definitive declaration on the controversial topic.

The Christian life should be about service to the needy, justice for the poor, and spiritual formation of souls. Before I wrote the book, I had been a missionary in Africa and a campus minister in service to young Christians. I wanted to get the book out and free myself of it so that I could get back to the real work of the gospel.

My publisher arranged a book signing at Pepperdine University, where the book was first released. I really did not want to participate in the signing – I thought it seemed self-promotional, prideful. Or perhaps I was simply worried I would sit in what looked like the kissing booth of my youth (yes, there were once kissing booths which is very weird and I’m glad they seem to be extinct) and no one would come to buy my wares. I imagined awkwardly sitting in the book-signing seat while people walked by, pointed, and jeered at the author whose book no one wanted to buy. Silly me. Do I always have to be so dramatic?

The book signing turned out to be something very different than I could have imagined.

One person after another, men and women alike, came, and my book-singing booth hosted makeshift therapy sessions where I listened to stories of women who have been marginalized for way too long and men who long to hear their sisters’ voices in the congregated body of Christ, men who long for completion of something that is at present, incomplete in too many churches across our world.

One woman over 70, with her gray hair and eyes, said to me,

“You wrote the book I should have written thirty years ago. But, I didn’t want to stir up trouble at my church. I am called to preach, but now it’s too late; I feel like my life is over.”

And an older gentleman with tears in his eyes, was grateful,

“Thank you for writing this book. My own mother was studying to be ordained in the Presbyterian church, but when she married my father, she gave it up to attend our church, where women are not included in ministry. She has passed on, but I long to hear a woman’s voice at church because somehow those voices speak for her and redeem what she sacrificed.”

Or there’s the preacher who told me that his college-age daughter is called to preach, asking me for advice about how he can support her along a path that we both know will be challenging. And an elder at a large church bought ten books for the elders he serves with, saying that they have studied the role of women in church ministries for over ten years and are in agreement that they must move forward. But they are stuck because they don’t know how it will go, and they fear a church split if they change things. And one man asked me to sign a book for his daughter who can’t even read yet, saying

“This issue didn’t matter all that much to me until my baby girl was born.”

The stories went on and on. People waited patiently in line, not for some flowery autograph or for a word of wisdom I was supposed to invent. They just wanted to converse, to commiserate, to connect . . . . to commune.

The conversation about women as full members of the body of Christ, as it turns out, is about the real work of the gospel.  So, I listened, and prayed, and laughed and cried and communed . . . and even kissed a few cheeks . . . at my book-signing booth, thankful that God allowed me to join the conversation.

And I signed each book with my favorite Bible verse, accompanied by a prayer that God’s mighty work through Jesus Christ might show us all what it means in Mark 15:38: The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

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Sara G. Barton holds a B.A. in English from Harding University and a Masters of Spiritual Formation and Leadership from Spring Arbor University. She has taught high school English and Speech, worked as a missionary in Jinja, Uganda, and served as a campus minister at Rochester College. Today, she works with Rochester’s early college program for academically gifted teenagers from urban environments. In addition, Sara has presented at ZOE Conferences, Abilene Christian University, Pepperdine University, the Christian Scholars Conference, and at women’s retreats and conferences all over the United States.

About the Book:

In many churches today, Christians assume that women are excluded from the public role of preaching—yet women like Sara Barton experience a call to preach, forcing congregations and individuals to confront a complicated rethinking of tradition and theology. In this sensitive and moving memoir, A Woman Called: Piecing Together the Ministry Puzzle, author Sara Barton speaks openly and vulnerably about how the conflict  has played out in her life.

Rachel Held Evans has this to say about the book:

“Sara’s passion for encouraging women to teach is matched only by her stubborn commitment to Christian unity, and so it is evident that each sentence of this marvelous book was chosen with great care. It is positively brimming with wisdom and honesty and grace. This book changed me in ways I never expected it would, and I am grateful for it.”

The book has also been endorsed by Shane Claiborne and Mike Cope and includes a foreword by Scot McKnight. For more information about the book, you can visit Leafwood’s website.

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To understand why many of us think the Bible gives women the authority to be teachers, preachers, and elders in the church… read my series: Liberating Women for Ministry.

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