Marginalized. Disenfranchised. These are words I hear often among Christian millennials (18-34 year olds) – my peers.
We are a tad obsessed with justice and equality. I began blogging seriously in 2014 and spend hours upon hours studying my peers; what makes them angry, what makes them happy, what motivates them, and why. I think I have come to believe that if I figure them out, I will figure myself out.
Most of us love the Church, but we are frustrated. Our relationship status with the Church is currently set to “complicated.”
There are some who are fine with the way things are. These are the ones who did not fall into the cracks. The ones who were loved and accepted as they were. The ones who got on board with “church politics” and didn’t question authority. The ones who “made it” in the church world. They are the “privileged church millennials.” A few of them are using their power to fight for those who got left behind, but most get annoyed with those of us who are frustrated. We got on board with the way things are, why can’t the rest of you, sort of thing.
It’s not their fault, really; it’s their reality.
The privileged church men found their places as lead pastors, associate pastors, small group pastors, college pastors, youth pastors, worship leaders, elders, Bible teachers, and spiritual leaders of their home.
The privileged church women found their places as children’s pastors, sometimes youth pastors, sometimes worship leaders, pastors’ wives, Christian school teachers, women’s Bible study leaders, and homemakers.
I wanted to be a “privileged church millennial” and in my mind I should have been. I had all the right ingredients. First of all, the color of my skin is white. In the Church, we like to pretend that we don’t discriminate based on race, but we do. If we are not intentionally searching for people of color to sit at our “important” tables, then we are either knowingly or unknowingly discriminating. We either care to correct racial imbalance in our churches or we don’t. Most of us don’t, because those who are privileged normally lack empathy for those who are not privileged because they never walked in “unprivileged shoes.”
I was born and raised in evangelicalism. My parents were well-known Christians in our community. I knew my Bible. I spent every Sunday in church my entire life and, as a teenager, I went to two youth groups every week. My dad was a worship leader and a preacher. I went to Bible school in the Bible belt. The now famous worship leader, Kari Jobe, was my college roommate. I sat under the greatest preachers in America. I was on the prayer team and the evangelism team. I did overseas mission work. I did what a good church girl who was going into ministry was supposed to do.
After two years of Bible school, I attended university and completed my 4-year ministry degree. I graduated at 22 years old with a BS in Church Ministries and moved to Denver, Colorado.
I was single and had no prospects. I could not be a pastor’s wife.
I lived in the basement of my older sister’s house. I could not be a homemaker.
I don’t really sing all that great. I could not be a worship leader.
I was a very young woman, was new to the area, and did not have a home church. I could not be a woman’s Bible Study leader.
I had no desire to be a children’s pastor.
This left me with two choices in most of the American evangelical church: I could be a children’s/youth pastor or a teacher at a private Christian school. Since I did not go to college to become a teacher, I reasoned that I would become a youth pastor, climb the ministry ladder, and perhaps someday become a woman’s pastor or a pastor of evangelism (which is what I really wanted to do), not realizing that these two positions were extremely rare and often only found at mega churches.
I searched high and low for a job. Many of the youth pastor job descriptions would actually say, “men only should apply.”
For the first time in my life, I was marginalized due to my gender, and it was the Church that did it to me. I did not find a youth pastor job. I found a place at a private Christian school teaching 7th graders. I actually loved it because I got to teach them the Bible every day and I convinced the principal to allow me to plan a spiritual retreat for the kids. I didn’t care all that much if they bettered their math or reading skills, but these kids were going to have an experience with Jesus whether they liked it or not.
I was a minister, walking in “middle-school teacher shoes,” because those were the only shoes I could find.
Those shoes didn’t fit perfectly, but I made them work for one year. I fell in love with my class, but could not imagine taking on a new class the following year. I was not born to be a 7th grade teacher. I was born to be a minister. I know, I reasoned, I will become more educated. Then maybe a church will overlook the fact that I am a woman and hire me and, if not, I will become a theology professor. I was wrong. I graduated with my master’s degree and found myself back in a private Christian school, now teaching 5th graders. As far as I was concerned, I was demoted. Things got worse.
The private school I was working at went out of business, and I became unemployed for eight months. During those eight months, I became depressed and stopped going to church. For the second time in my life I felt disenfranchised, and it was the Church that did it to me. I became so desperate that I decided I would apply for a children’s pastor job.
There was not a bone in my body that wanted to be a children’s pastor, but this was my place in the Church and it was time to accept it, get on board with church politics and submit to “the man.”
I served for two years. I kept my mouth shut and did my job. I loved my team of volunteers. I was a good leader. But I had so much more inside of me that went unnoticed. I submitted to the way things were and began to lose myself. I made $30,000 a year and it was the most money I had ever made. The job was easy and it was helping my husband and me financially, but it was not the job I was made for. It did not challenge me enough and I was not passionate about kids. I turned around a dying children’s ministry in about a year and I became bored. I wanted to preach the Bible to adults, but that was not my place. I accepted it, Sunday after Sunday, until I could not accept it any more.
I had a realization. As a woman in ministry I could accept “my place” or I could dust the dirt off my shoulders, and do my own thing.
I left my safe church job and gave up having a salary. My husband, who has always been very supportive of me as a minister, was scared. He wanted me to stay put in my safe church job. He wanted to see me succeed. I submitted to him for two years and I am glad I did, because those two years are my most valuable ministry experience. But, when God told me to go, I could no longer submit to my husband’s mixture of wisdom and fear. I had “holy rebellion” in my blood and Jesus was saying, “It’s time to fly, girl.” It was either I submit to the Church as is and my husband, or I submit to Jesus. I chose Jesus.
My dry bones were being resurrected. I began to feel alive again. After two years of remaining silent my heart was beating out of my chest for justice and equality. I was ready to say everything I had been keeping inside for years and I would no longer allow gender-based hierarchies to control me with a paycheck or a position. The walls of a church building could no longer confine or define me. I was ready to devote my time to the marginalized and disenfranchised because I now knew what it was like to be at the bottom of a pyramid.
I want to see women as elders and lead pastors and I am fighting for this, but I am no longer waiting for permission to be a minister.
I have decided that I will never again work for a church or even attend a church that does not fully include women at all levels of leadership. When I decided that I was done with submitting to “a woman’s place” and a paycheck and a title, I began to find myself again.
I had no idea how I would start a ministry with no money, so I started a blog. I never run out of things to write about because I remained silent for years. God has honored my holy rebellion. My blog went from about 300 views a month to over 30,000 views a month in one year. Not only this, but my husband and I were asked to join a church planting team made up of marginalized millennials who are focused on equality, social justice, and tearing down ungodly hierarchies in the Church. We want to help others dream again. We don’t want to force men or women into ill-fitting boxes. There is no lead pastor and we get together each week to talk about what church could be and how we can win our generation and those younger to Jesus.
Something is shifting in the Church.
Too many of us have been marginalized – men and women alike. We are tired of it and we feel deep empathy for “the least of these” because we have walked in their shoes. Perhaps it was all for a reason. Perhaps it was God’s plan for me and others to fall into the gap.
Maybe it is in the gap that we find Jesus once again.
(Update 12/22/15: Comments are now closed on this post. Thanks for participating! We love hearing from you.