Every now and then I have memories pop into my head. One might be an embarrassing memory from 7 years ago that I am still beating myself up over…some are great memories, some I find hard to digest, even now. Last week as a friend asked me to write a piece on evangelism, a memory came to mind that I can’t even find a category for; confusing? frustrating? humorous?
Two years ago, while living in Alabama, I found myself frustrated that I was surrounded by SO. MANY. CHRISTIANS. I know, I’m ridiculous. But hear me out…I think fellowship with believers is absolutely necessary–there is no question about that. We are reminded constantly throughout the Bible that surrounding ourselves with healthy, uplifting, encouraging and challenging believers is something that God not only desires for us, but commands us to have. But the goal of our faith is not to just become “better Christians”. More than anything, our sole purpose in life is to bring the good news and hope of the truth of the Gospel to those who have not heard or who do not believe. That is what all of this–life– is about. When I lived overseas, I saw first hand the immense joy that new believers, well into adulthood, experienced when they decided that Jesus was the real deal and they wanted in. I saw the ache of the genuinely lost, searching for something to fill the void in their hearts. When you see the turnover from the genuinely lost to the genuinely joyful, nothing else matters. After witnessing the turnover, and being a part of it at the ripe age of 11, I realized that that was all I wanted in life–to be a part of it. Not because it made me feel like a good samaritan, but because ultimately, nothing else was as satisfying or fulfilling as being used by God to tell others about the hope they can have in Jesus. So, my heart longs for deep fellowship with believers because the Christian walk is not an easy walk. But more than anything else, my heart burns to be surrounded by the lost. Let me love the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Agnostic, the Atheist, the Nihilist, the Not-Sure-What-I-Believe, the Bad Kids, the Good Kids Who Don’t Know Jesus, The Gays, The Lesbians, and everything in between. After about 6 months in Alabama, my heart ached to be around these kinds of people–to know them, know their story, and love them. I knew and appreciated the blessing of going to a Christian school and to be able to worship and speak openly about my faith–but I wanted out of the “Christian Bubble” so badly. Mobile, being a port city, is overflowing with immigrants–I had the opportunity to lead and be a part of a team that worked with Internationals in the city who had put down roots in Mobile in the form of cultural coffee shops and restaurants (an extremely frustrating, tedious, and discouraging ministry–another blog post for another time). Finally, coming into my second semester, I was meeting people who were so different from me–people who I so desperately wanted to share Jesus with.
I remember this scene so vividly: I shared the joys of my heart, the things that made my heart beat faster, the things that I knew God had given me a passion for with some friends at a table outside one afternoon. It seemed that my endless prayers for a place of ministry within the city of Mobile had been answered. God was knitting together my path with the paths of those who desperately needed Jesus. Butterflies fluttered around in my stomach as I spoke of what God was doing and how excited I was that God would choose me to be a witness to them. Soon, a good friend spoke up. Somebody who knew my heart (so I thought), knew my past of a life overseas, and knew about my passion for the lost thought it necessary to utter the words “I just don’t think you are ready to share the Gospel, yet.” OK, YEAH, I AM NOT JOKING, THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED. Speechless, my eyes hit the ground. I mean, what do you say to that? As I continued to stare at the ground, he attempted at some advice.
“I really want you to read this book before you try to tell somebody about Jesus.”
This, by the way, was the same person who told me in the previous months that I had been sharing my testimony the “wrong way” my whole life.
I’m sure there was drool spilling out of my mouth as I stare, open mouthed at my friend who apparently didn’t believe in me that much. Still not speaking, I’m sure I rolled an eye or two. He continued to tell me that the book was full of some great tips and how-to’s on how to share the Gospel. At this point, I’m pretty offended, wondering if he really even knew me at all. I am not stubborn enough or frankly even smart enough to ever think that there is one way to share the Gospel or that there is no room for learning. But in that moment, the focus shifted from God’s work and His faithfulness to how I wasn’t smart enough, capable enough, or equipped enough to tell people about Jesus, and that was not ok with me.
Later in the semester, I noticed that there was a pattern of degradation towards my ability to share the gospel and articulate sound advice or encouragement for people. When people would come to me for advice or guidance, I would be shut out by a male, usually older, who thought I apparently wasn’t doing a good job. I was hurt, knowing that the men around me really thought that God didn’t have anything more for me than being a follower. My whole life I had been thrown into situations that forced me to grow into a leader, to be independent for myself, yet fully dependent on God (something I am deeply grateful for, now.) This had never been questioned or threatened before based off of my gender and/or age. All of a sudden it seemed like all I was getting was criticism, and I questioned whether or not I really was capable enough to be in the types of roles of ministry that require care and love and guidance for people–the type of ministry my heart beats for.
I shared the heaviness of my heart with a friend who grew up in the area, wondering if she had felt the same judgement. I spoke of how I felt like God was calling me to be something other than a Sunday School teacher. I was teaching twice a week at a local church and while I deeply loved the teens I got to mentor, I knew that teaching was not my gift nor my passion. Like I said earlier, I would much rather be in the nitty-gritty of life, walking along side families as they experienced the good and the bad (pretty fitting that God later revealed to me that I should pursue a degree in counseling). I explained the ache of my heart to be in a different area of ministry, she grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye, and said “You just need to accept that this is your role in ministry as a woman.”
I was dumfounded as I heard a woman say this to me; that God did not have more than that for us because as women, our roles were to sit back and take care of the children–and if we felt the ache of God calling us somewhere else, we needed to just accept that we needed to be doing something that the rest of the world was telling us was “God’s calling on our lives”–completely disregarding what God might actually be saying to us as women, as followers of Jesus, and hearts longing to be obedient to Him.
I felt so hopeless in this season of my life–based on what all my peers had told me, what I knew about God previously was apparently “not correct” and I had been living in a way that God “did not approve of”. Apparently, I had been doing ministry wrong my life, and even if I felt a fire in my heart for a certain type of ministry, I needed to accept that God just wanted me to be in a place that I had no gifts or passion for, just because I was born a woman.
To the women who are tirelessly teaching Sunday school to all ages: you are incredible and I support you. You are the ones entrusted to be a part of children’s spiritual growth while the tired momma’s and papa’s take time for their own spiritual growth. What an incredible responsibility, privilege, and honor. You do you, ladies. I applaud you for taking the action of obedience to be faithful in what God has called you to do, because this ministry is hard and exhausting and under-rated.
To the women who are being nudged by the Holy Spirit to be active in a different area of ministry, like myself: you are incredible and I support you. You are the ones who are entrusted to take the Gospel in areas outside of the classroom. I applaud you for being faithful to what God is calling you to do. You do you, ladies.
Women and Men: if you have found relationship with Jesus and surrendered your life to Him and to the telling of His story–you are missionaries. Listen, people! God gave every single one of His children unique talents, gifts, and callings–these were not for us. They were given to us so that we would have a medium to share the Gospel through–a medium that will reach a range of people that might not be touched through somebody else’s ministry.
Ministry is not a men vs. women thing like the world has made it out to be. Let’s stop closing the doors in people’s faces when they seek to understand what God’s calling on their life is. Let’s quit shaming women for wanting to be world changers for the sake of God’s kingdom–because if anything else, we should be rejoicing when a believer walks faithfully into what God has lead them to do. Stop making all men feel like they need to be preachers and pastors in order to be manly followers of Christ. Let’s stop equating Godly femininity with being quiet and letting men tell us what to do–there is great spiritual wisdom in a women who listens and obeys what God is telling her to do, rather than any human.
To the women who have been degraded for seeking God’s will for them, YOU DO YOU. To the women who have been disrespected by male Christians who don’t believe in you– YOU DO YOU. Fight the good fight. You are incredible and God’s plan for your life of ministry (regardless of whether it is within the church or not) is determined by HIM and your willingness to step outside of your comfort zone and be faithful. When you are criticized for your obedience, cling to Jesus and give Him the glory. When you are successful in your ministry, cling to Jesus and give Him the glory.
When I start thinking or talking about all the ways in which I could be spending time with the types of people that are shamed by the rest of the world, my heart starts beating faster. I want so desperately to be the friend that nobody understands–to be the one who is loving, kind, patient, gentle, and caring to ALL people, despite their past, present, or future. This is what I am passionate about and this is the ministry I feel God is calling me to. I have absolutely no clue where, or how it will shift from now to ten years from now, or how hard it will be, but I am clinging to the truth that in Jesus, there is freedom. Freedom not just to live life free of guilt and shame from my sins, but free to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and to walk in obedience to HIM and HIS plan for me; that I don’t have to have the same type of ministry that culture has urgently expected from me, as a woman.
To the women of God who are seeking a new ministry that they are afraid of or nervous about, I am right beside you. Ministry is about Jesus and the freedom of the Gospel–the good news. Ministry is so much more than what men and women “should do”. It’s about what God is calling us to, nudging us to, guiding us to, dragging us by our feet to. I support you with my whole heart. Jesus is calling and the lost are waiting. Run the race and fight the good fight.
All my love,