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Paving a Road for Others To Follow

By Priscilla A. Mondt

Enrichment Journal Fall 2000

Several years ago I was called to the hospital in response to an emergency. I ran out the door and sped to the hospital where I parked in clergy parking. While I was running toward the front door of the hospital, a woman stopped me and rebuked me for parking in clergy parking. She told me clergy needed those spaces.

As I reached the front door of the hospital, I saw my reflection: long hair blowing in the breeze, blue jeans, T-shirt, and tennis shoes. I thought, Girl, you do not look the part. The lady was well intentioned, but nevertheless mistaken.

As an Assemblies of God minister and a chaplain in the United States Army, I suppose, by others’ standards, I often do not look the part of either clergy or soldier. So what does a female minister look like? I found the answer: a female minister looks like whomever God chooses to call.

Is There A Place For Women?

A woman who accepts the call of God on her life may face some major obstacles. With so few evangelical women in ministry, some question the validity of women in ministry. A chaplain advised me: "Never try to validate your calling before mankind. God will do that for you, and no one will be able to argue with the results."

The few women who are in ministry may not be in ministries that we typically classify as "called ministries." The place where God calls is sometimes uncomfortable for both genders. This may further our questioning of the validity of God’s call. No one could have told me that my first assignment in the military would be as the first female chaplain in the 82nd Airborne Division, jumping out of airplanes, and going to war.

I often feel alone among the many men. In Desert Storm, I wondered if any other female minister has been in my shoes. I could not think of a single female who could share my experience as a soldier in war. Nor could I think of a female minister who had experienced the awesome thought that every parishioner in her congregation could potentially die and face eternal life. Men talk of war; women don’t.

If God can open doors of ministry to a woman in a male-dominated arena like the military, He has a place of ministry for each person, male and female. The woman’s responsibility is to answer the call; God’s responsibility is to open the doors for the call.

Defining A Woman’s Role

During seminary, I suggested that a female role model might be appropriate. A key leader challenged the idea. I responded, "If I’m pregnant, do I still preach? I’ve never seen a pregnant woman preach. Is it acceptable? Since we believe in full immersion baptism and women traditionally wear dresses or skirts on the platform, do I wear a dress in the baptismal? Should it have weights, since it will float up? If I choose to wear slacks in the baptismal to be more modest, will people accept it?" This leader could not answer my questions and conceded that a female role model might be appropriate.

Few female ministers have mentors, but we need them. Very few women have experienced the roles where God has led us. Evangelical circles tend to define a woman’s role by secular standards: mother and wife. God’s standard is whether we are His child and are fulfilling His calling. Ministry is as high a calling as being a wife and mother. Assuming God does not make mistakes, we should not ask women to choose between callings. Each person is uniquely gifted and should develop one’s own gifts.

Where Is A Clergywoman’s Place In Ministry?

I attended a conference where 300 clergymen outnumbered 10 clergywomen. Five of the women sat together. At the first break someone asked us, "Why are the women sitting together?"

One chaplain turned, looked at the crowd, and asked, "Why are the men sitting together?" This was a clever and diplomatic way of pointing out the absurd, while not being defensive about a natural bond between people who have commonalties. The military assumes that one automatically fits into a group by virtue of one’s position. This concept does not translate to the world of clergy. Women ministers stick out among our peers because there are so few of us.

Women do see life differently. Sometimes we are given compliments that we take as insults. Asking about intent of the comment that offended us may deflect hard feelings.

Collegiality requires that we associate closely with men. Never do anything that you would not want your spouse to see or hear. Our society considers discussions about sexuality a form of making a pass at a person of the opposite sex. In my experience, the greatest violators of this cultural taboo are male clergy. We must immediately confront this behavior regardless whether the questioner is parishioner or clergyman.

Our ministry is not limited to ministering to females. Churches are not divided by gender. Ministers counsel everyone in their parishes regardless of gender. Men may want to refer a woman to you simply because they are uncomfortable with an issue (such as rape). While this may be appropriate in some instances, you can be a consultant for male ministers. Besides, your unique prospective as a women can be an advantage is certain situations.

The role of women in church leadership is a difficult subject. The fact we hold credentials marks us as leaders in the church. We must seek and accept leadership roles. Clergywomen are responsible before God and the church body who embraces them to participate at the level equal to the credential granted.

All ministers are expected to attend and participate in district and national councils. Clergywomen are no exception. Some women are uncomfortable in this role simply because we lack examples of women conducting the business of the church body. Women cannot abdicate their responsibility, leaving the burden of conducting church business to male ministers. We must carry our load. Our district council and the General Council granted credentials to us so we might have the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of church leadership. As uncomfortable as it is to transact business without female role models, we cannot shrink from leadership roles.

When we begin to fulfill our responsibility in the church, displaying interest in the life of the organization, clergywomen will be entrusted with more responsibility and more visible leadership roles. As God leads women in the Assemblies of God into higher leadership positions, a road will be paved for others to follow.

Priscilla A. Mondt is an Assemblies of God minister and chaplain in the U.S. Army.