I grew up believing and practicing that God wants men to be leaders and teachers, and He wants women to be followers only. I would now identify these teachings as complementarian, but at the time we didn’t have a label for it, we were simply trying to follow biblical and traditional roles for men and women. I was very comfortable with this arrangement. Not because I saw any evidence to suggest this was inherently true. I did not witness men as better leaders, having special biblical insight, or being more spiritually healthy. Some men were better at these things than some women. Some women were better than these things than some men- gender did not seem to play a determining factor in their ability. I also did not see a consistent biblical teaching that God’s desire was for women to be submissive to anyone but Him. There are some verses that seem to suggest this, but there are other verses that clearly speak against it- at best it is a confusing teaching. Nevertheless, I was still comfortable with the arrangement- not because I saw it to be true nor because I agreed the Bible taught it. I was comfortable because I did trust God. I trusted God to be good and love me- I was comfortable submitting to Him. I was told this was His way, so I would arrange my life to fit it comfortably.
I was given many gifts in my home and early church setting- one of these gifts was an encouragement to indulge my curiosity and desire to study the bible. Years later while attending Taylor University College I was also gifted with an amazing group of professors who encouraged critical thinking and to value the scripture beyond my own interpretation of it. They led me to see that the Bible not as a “how to” book, but a book of truth and relationship.
During both my formative years, and the years after graduation, I engaged in church ministry by working with children, youth, missions, drama, music, teaching bible studies, and leading small groups. I quickly realized that my favorite and most fulfilling moments were spent researching and sharing how the Bible speaks the truth of who God is and who we are in relationship with Him. Later I was gifted again with another wonderful opportunity- I was asked to work as an office assistant in our local church with a pastor whom I will always hold with the utmost esteem. Over the next ten(ish) years I paid careful attention as Pastor Phil demonstrated who a pastor is- or at least what I had always hoped a pastor could be. During those years he saw my love for God and the Bible and gave me opportunities to grow and develop in serving Christ and His church. He encouraged, corrected, and challenged me- eventually asking me to go through the process of becoming a licensed pastor and preaching regularly in rotation with him.
Through all of this- I was at peace with how I was serving. At the point when Pastor Phil announced his retirement I was still leaning heavily towards my complementarian background. I was comfortable because I saw my role as an assistant. Even in preaching I was assisting the lead pastor and now as a co-interim pastor I was assisting the church. I was comfortable. I was not in charge, I was assisting and serving alongside a co-pastor who was also serving the church well. I wanted to stay comfortable and had no intention of submitting my name as a candidate to replace Pastor Phil- I truly hoped God would lead the church to choosing a man and I would be able to continue to serve as an assistant, or if necessary, a co-pastor.
But this is when things got uncomfortable. Through prayer, listening to the Bible, and numerous conversations with many people, I began to feel that God might be calling me to submit my name as a candidate. I will not detail all the occurrences that led me to submitting my name but there was a struggle because I argued… a lot...even with God. At one point I remember speaking out loud in the van after dropping off the kids at school- “But God I can’t be the pastor- I am a woman.” And it was in that moment of realizing the absurdity of me telling God He was wrong, and the absurdity of me reminding Him how He made me- that I realized the inevitability of discomfort. Either I was going to submit my name and be rejected, or I was going to submit my name and carry a role contrary to my understanding, or I would live in a space of having ignored God’s direction. There was no easy option.
I want to be clear- I do not subscribe to a “destiny” version of God’s will. There is not a “one way” all things are supposed to happen. I have no idea if someone else was called before me. I do not know if someone was called along with me. But I am sure if I had not submitted my name- God would have called another and another until someone did answer. I do not believe that my calling suggests that I was the only- nor even the best candidate. I can only share what occurred for me and I am sharing this because I am confident that I was called to be a pastor of the church. The subsequent discussions and vote by the church board and congregation affirmed it.
At first, I was uncomfortable because I accepted a call to pastor a church when I could not justify it biblically. I can now see the value of beginning a ministry in faith and not by validation- but this alone was not enough to maintain a ministry. It is because of my high regard for the Bible as the word of God and trust that it does have authority in our lives, that I could not bring myself to simply dismiss any part of it. I need to lead from a space of trusting God and the Bible- so remaining in uncertainty was not going to be sustainable. I had already spent years reading and trying to sort through the confusion surrounding a biblical understanding of men and women. I find it amusing that it was not until AFTER I stepped out in faith to follow God’s leading that I began to discover those teaching that brought clarity to the truth of who God is and who we are in relationship to Him- specifically to this topic. Again, I will not go through all the many occurrences that led me to confidence that there is biblical integrity to being a woman pastor- but a few names that pop in my head include- Leanne Friesen, Cynthia Westfall, the Junia Project, Phillip B. Payne, and Marion Taylor.
I love to engage in conversation with others about how I trust I am in full submission to God and His word- even as a woman pastor. But I do find it best to have these discussions one-on-one. There is simply too much of our own personal backgrounds, variances of interpretations, and seemingly conflicting verses that get tossed into this mix. To rattle off a few key “arguments” to explain it all in a few sentences is insufficient- for everyone involved. However, I am compelled to share at least one substantiating thought about this subject. Let us start from two commonly held beliefs. First the premise that God created men and women with the original and perfect intention of equality- that it was not until after the fall and subsequent curse when subordination between the sexes was introduced. Second, the premise that Jesus came to offer redemption from that same curse. If both of these are true then we must conclude that Jesus offers redemption from it all. It includes the curse of death and the curse of women to be ruled by their husbands. It would be misleading to suggest that Jesus’ blood is powerful enough to overcome death but insufficient to overcome social power differentials. Either Christ breaks all the curse or none.
I share all of these things to say that I am fully confident in a calling from God, and I am fully confident in the Biblical integrity of answering that call. But I am still uncomfortable as a woman pastor. Here is why:
When I was younger, I trusted God who is good and knows what He is doing, but I clung to comfort by ordering my life in ways that made sense to me- doing things I could explain and easily understand. I still have faith in that same good God who knows exactly what He is doing, but I no longer require the assurance afforded from a “comfortable” life. I can be okay with submitting to Him, even when I do not understand, and even when it is not easy. For this reason, I will choose to see it as a blessing that I am an uncomfortable woman pastor.
 If you are not starting from this premise but instead believe that God created women to be subordinate to men- then that is an entirely different conversation with a different set of considerations. The differences in adherence to this premise is evidence that one on one conversations are better due to our presuppositions.
 Again, this second premise may not be held by all. Which would require yet a separate conversation with a different set of considerations.
 Line from "Answers to Questions about Christianity" in 1944, also found in God in the Dock.
Meet the Pastor
Pastor Heather and her family have been a part of the Cold Lake Community since December 2006 and she has been the pastor at Community Baptist Church since September 2017.