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*Awhile back I wrote up my story as a female in the church for another blogger. It was quite long, as it combined my story along with my personal thoughts on the issue. This blogger liked it, and featured it on his blog – but I think it was too long. I decided to divide it into 2 parts and edit/re-work it a little. Here is part one, which is still a bit long. Ahem.*

Although I was raised in a Christian home and accepted Christ in late childhood, I didn’t really “grow up” in my faith until my late 20’s and 30’s. I’d always attended churches where leadership was all male, and women worked exclusively with other women or children. This never bothered me or caused me to question. I guess I just accepted it as the status quo?

Around age 30 we began attending a new church. At this church, I was given opportunities to serve that I had not been given before. I must emphasize that I was not looking for these opportunities, and was in fact a bit hesitant about them. However, I soon discovered gifts and passions that I didn’t realize were in me.

When we (my husband and I) began leading a mixed-sex adult Bible study, it seemed that I “naturally” excelled with the gifts to lead it. By the way, I do not have a domineering personality – in fact I’m an introvert, more known for being quiet-natured. My spouse has a more outgoing and sanguine personalty type. Yet, I seemed to end up the natural leader of the group. Eventually I was involved in other areas of serving as well, such as being a church board member that helped guide the direction of the church and coordinating the adult small group ministry. At some point it dawned on me that I was doing things that women had not done in past churches we’d attended. But meanwhile…

These responsibilities and opportunities helped me grow spiritually. A whole new world was opened to me that I did not know existed, as I indeed discovered gifts and passions that had been dormant. One reason (among several) that I decided to enroll in seminary was to be better equipped for all I was doing. Due to unfortunate circumstances, not long after I enrolled in seminary we had to leave this church. My journey since then has been a frustrating one.

I’d not realized what an unusual evangelical church this had been. It was egalitarian (not complementarian) – although I did not even know those words at the time. This church believed people should serve based on the gifts they had, and not be limited by their gender.

As we began to look for a new church home, the difference between this church and many other evangelical churches in my area (southeast USA) became glaring. At one church, we were asked to lead a small group and when it became known that I would take the primary leadership role, we were forbidden from leading a group – unless my husband took the primary leadership role and I served as hostess and secretary. My husband is a great Christian guy, but leading/teaching are not his gifts and he had no desire to lead a group. And there is nothing wrong with being a hostess and secretary, but those were not my gifts either. Even being participants in a small group was restricting – a woman was discouraged from praying out loud, and I was told that if I wanted to say anything that was “teaching” it was best to take the women into another room and say it to them. It was even questioned why I, as a woman, would be working on a seminary degree!

Suddenly, an issue that had never been “an issue” for me became one. I found myself intently studying the Scriptures to clarify what they said about the role of women. I discovered the evangelical groups of CBE and CBMW – and that each stood on opposite sides of this issue. While genuine believers can come to different conclusions, my prayerful study led me to a position that men and women alike should be able to serve in the church based on their gifts and not restricted by their gender. If you’d told me 15 years ago that this was where I’d end up, I would not have believed you! Truly, I’m an accidental Christian feminist.

I still consider myself a “conservative evangelical.” While my views on the roles of women in the church and home have changed, little else has changed in regards to my core Christian beliefs. Some seem to wrongly perceive that egalitarian views lead to changed views on a hot-button moral issue. My views on that hot-button issue remain the same. My point? This has not been a slippery rope into moral or theological “liberalism” for me. I’m also pro-life, in case the word feminist makes you nervous. And I don’t think men and women are exactly alike – another misconception out there.

After experiencing freedom, it was incredibly frustrating to be so restricted by my gender. For this and other reasons, we spent several years as spiritual refugees – although attending church, we were without a church home. At long last, we found a church to call home and have been there over a year. While a more mainline denomination, it is evangelically influenced, and gives women full freedom to serve. I did little at first, needing time to heal and adapt. Finally, I am beginning to get my feet wet again as I have led an adult Sunday school class this month as a substitute. I am thankful, and hope and pray for more opportunities to serve God’s kingdom using the spiritual gifts bestowed upon me by God.

(Part 2 on Monday…)