Those Who Protect a Woman’s Call

Sarah Sparks-Franklin

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A Woman's Call

Thank God for those who protect a woman’s call!

“I’m not sure I can continue as a leader in this church.”

So exhausted from lack of sleep, and reeling from the many personal life changes swirling around me, I could not believe those words had escaped from my mouth. Seated directly across from my former female clergy supervisor, Stacee, I felt defeated and hung my head in shame.

Eight years older than me, Stacee’s limitless energy is contagious. She wears high heels every Sunday morning as she flawlessly leads hundreds of worshippers in the transition from the call to worship, to the sermon, to the prayers of the people, and the benediction. As a young woman new to ministry, I remember being in awe of Stacee’s confidence and inspired by her ability to connect with people of all ages.

Today, I’m pastoring my own church, and people often comment about my “limitless energy.” But the truth is, I haven’t always had that kind of energy and confidence. And I especially did not have that kind of energy and confidence when years ago, I sat across from Stacee in her office.

I was broken, discouraged, and beaten down.

But on that day, years ago, Stacee looked into my eyes with compassion and said to me, “Sarah, I’m so sorry that you’re hurting and that you feel like your life is falling apart around you.” I winced, half expecting her to encourage me to resign from my position in the church. Instead, the words she spoke next were ones that would forever mark my ministry.

“I want you to know that in the midst of this mess, you are still called. You are a gifted leader. And I believe that God is asking me to protect your call.”

Stunned, I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond to that. God was calling Stacee to protect my call? Taking my hands in hers she began to pray. Stacee fervently prayed for healing in my current circumstances. She went on to ask God for grace, health, and vitality over my call to ministry.

Looking back on that conversation and the events that followed, it quickly became clear that God was, in fact, calling Stacee to protect my call during a particularly difficult season in my life and ministry. She tilled the soil, and in the months and years that followed that conversation, I grew leaps and bounds. I began to flourish in my ministry. I fell in love with what God had called me to do.

Thank God for those who protected my call!

This practice of protecting someone’s call – of spirit-filled mentoring, of older, wiser leaders of the faith tilling the soil for the next generation of leaders – is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s an ancient one. When you dig into the stories of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, these “call protectors” abound…from Samuel with David, to Mordecai with Esther, to Elizabeth with Mary. Even the Apostle Paul had his own support system of “call protectors”.

When reading the story about Paul’s dramatic conversion in Acts 9, the focus is often placed on the supernatural encounter that he has on the road to Damascus, when he meets the risen and ascended Christ. In the midst of the excitement around Paul’s conversion, it is easy to forget about the series of events that happen immediately thereafter.

Enter Ananias and Barnabas. Post Paul’s conversion experience, in Acts 9:10-28, we discover the rest of the story. God brings Ananias and Barnabas into Paul’s life, and as Paul makes the decision to follow Christ, these two faithful “call protectors” tend to him, help him heal, believe in him, and vouch for him when no one else will.

In Acts 9:10-16, the Lord appears to Ananias in a vision and asks him to go to Paul. Ananias has his reservations. He knows about Paul’s seedy past, and the horrible things he had done to members of the early church prior to this alleged conversion. But even in his hesitation and doubt, Ananias steps up to the plate, goes to Paul anyway, and protects his call. He lays hands on Paul, he prays with him and heals him of his blindness.

Then later, after Paul’s baptism, in Acts 9:26-28, Barnabas picks up where Ananias leaves off with Paul. Although Paul has been baptized, his notorious reputation continues to precede him. In fact, Paul’s background is so questionable that the inner circle of Jesus’s disciples were afraid of Paul, doubted Paul’s sincerity, and wanted nothing to do with him!

And yet, Barnabas steps up, supports Paul, and vouches for him when no one else will.

Thank God for those who protected Paul’s call!

Several years after that fateful day when I was at my lowest point, questioning my call to vocational ministry, I finally found myself at my own service of ordination. After years of supporting me, praying for me, and cheering me on, my former female clergy supervisor, Stacee, prayed over me during the service of my ordination.

Following the service, Stacee presented me with two stoles, one red and one green. The stoles had been gifted to her years prior by her mentor, who had received them from his mentor, and she was now passing them on to me.

One day, when I have a few more years of ordained ministry under my belt, I hope to continue the rich legacy of call protecting for another young woman wrestling with her call to ministry. I look forward to the day when I will pass those stoles on to her as she begins her own journey of ordained ministry.

Thank God for those who protect a woman’s call!

May we know them. May we be them.

 

Sarah Sparks-Franklin

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25 Comments

  • Thank you for this! Looking back I can see that at times the greatest threat to the calling God gave to me was me! If it was not for mentors and pastors around me I may have given into the self doubt. My favorite part of this may have been the prayer that included healing. You did not mention what your struggles were, but I often feel that we must pray for the healing touch of God that allows us to move past our anxieties, past hurts, physical limitations and what ever else may be getting in our way. Thank you for sharing your experience, it was a wonderful encouragement.

    • “I can see that at times the greatest threat to the calling God gave to me was me!” – YES! This. How often do we try to sabotage what God has called us to do? Gosh, so many people God calls to do something in both in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament try sabotage what God has asked them to do at one point or another. And yes, the prayer for healing was an integral part of that whole story. The grace, compassion, and support I received played a huge role in my ability to heal , grow, and eventually flourish.

  • Thanks for posting this. I am currently struggling with my call to ministry. The church I am in at the moment is very male dominated and only the senior pastors’ wives ever really get a chance to speak on Sunday. Which is a complete contrast to the church I was in 18 mounts ago which was leaderless as far as ordained clergy was concerned and at which I got to lead services and attend planning meetings and loved. (It is now fully staffed by male pastors). I don’t feel like God let me have the experience at one church so that I could be put back in the young mum can only lead in Sunday school box in an other.

    • Hi May. Thanks so much for sharing a little bit of your story. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you to go from serving as a key leader in the church to being placed in a situation where you can no longer serve the church in that capacity any more. Someone (or many someones, because I’ve heard it a lot) once said that if you can do anything OTHER than vocational ministry, do that, because vocational ministry is a tall order and it is so hard. BUT, if church leadership continues to “find” you while you are discerning a call to ministry, you might be called to it. I think the Holy Spirit has a way of revealing our callings to us if we are open to searching, questioning, and exploring as we live our daily life.

  • What a great article! I had never thought about this before and now realize this is something I desperately desire as well. I am a woman chaplain serving in mental health at the VA hospital and it can feel very lonely at times. This gives me new insight how and what to pray for and a new energy to keep pressing in to the discomfort. Thank you so much.

    • Hi Anne! Chaplaincy is definitely a calling. I did hospital chaplaincy for Clinical Pastoral Education during my ordination process, and it was a life changing but also extremely challenging experience. Some days, I didn’t know if I could keep going. Blessings to you as you do that necessary, much needed, and important work. I will definitely keep you in my prayers.

  • Sarah, I love this article and will repost to Kyria. Thanks so much for writing it. I did not have a Stacee but have done my best over the years to be one …Wonderful

    • Thank you for reading and reposting it, Beverley!

    • Thanks, Bill. As a Cedarville Alum, I really appreciate it.

  • This is wonderful. What a great concept.

    • Thanks for reading, Becky!

  • What I appreciate about this account is that it was a woman leader who was protecting a woman leader’s call by God to do the work of the ministry. The research is clear that in business when only one woman or even two women are on a board – the males still ignore their contribution and treat them as a minority viewpoint. But when three women join the work then they are able to create their own presence that is experienced as a vital part of the overall discussion and decision-making. The same is true of churches and why we are most effective when we have women in all players of clergy and lay leadership. https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/30/success/women-boards-representation/index.html

    • Denny, thanks for sharing. You highlight the fact that it’s not enough for leaders to bring one or two “token” female voices into the conversation. I think having a critical mass of female representation is crucial to the health of leadership within any setting. And, how wonderful it is when empowered women are empowering other women! I’ve been mentored, vouched for, and supported by many strong female and male leaders throughout seminary, the ordination process, and the early years of my ministry. I hope to pay that forward for others in the years to come.

  • How glad I am to see this post! Great story, Sarah.

    It really resonated with me, as I am grateful as well for the godly women in my life prophesy over me, encourage me, and protect my call!

    • Hi Lynn! Thank you for reading, I’m glad it resonates with you. What would we do without those prophesiers, encouragers, and protectors that God brings into our lives?

  • Something which I have asked before but for which I have never received an answer is, what exactly was the nature of your call? Coming from a denomination in which “call” is not part of the vocabulary, I don’t understand the concept. Was it a still small voice from God, was it a dream such as Peter had on the rooftop, was it a Damascus Road moment like Paul had? How does one distinguish a call from God from a desire brought about by an upbringing in the church or the influence of a teach or minister? I can’t protect a call if I don’t understand what it is.

    • Joe, that is a great question. As a woman who has been called into the ministry of preaching and teaching the Word of God, I would say that my call from God is a specific message to serve his church as a pastor. I think that God’s call for each person is experienced in a way that is unique to that person. As you draw near to God daily in prayer and Scripture, the Holy Spirit will make that call very clear and very real to you. He will also equip you with spiritual leaders or mentors and especially the spiritual gifts and graces needed to fulfill your calling.
      When I heard God’s call (not an audible voice, but an inner sense of his leading me), I had been working in the quality assurance field for many years. The facility where I worked had been closed down, so I was praying and asking God for guidance as to what He wanted me to do. As I attended the annual district assembly of my church, I heard a message from God in the sermon preached by the General Superintendent who presided over the ordination service. I started making plans to get the education I would need to become an ordained pastor in my church. This year I have a mentor who is being my “Stacee” – my encourager, and I hope to be ordained in May, 2020.

      • Linda! I completely agree with everything you said. Interesting how the more I listen to call stories from all kinds of different people that so often, those stories all a share similar experience to the one you’ve shared. I know for me, growing up in a church that was very focused on biblical male headship and complementarianism, I never had a “call protector” until my twenties. HOWEVER, my kindergarten teacher told my parents she thought I’d be an evangelist some day. Others said they thought I’d be a good missionary. (because women couldn’t be pastors but of course they can be evangelists and missionaries, right?! :-D) Thank you for sharing a bit of your story. Prayers for you as your continue your journey towards ordination!

      • Thank you for responding. In my experience, when I have heard men speak about why they became ministers (I have never heard a woman preach) they usually talk about wanting to spread the word to bring others to Christ and evangelize. The reason has always come from within them. My denomination has traditionally downplayed the work of the Holy Spirit outside of the written scripture and we have only begun to give the proper recognition of the Spirit within the last 30 years or so. The idea of a “call” has always been dismissed and has never been considered as a serious work of the spirit and those who claim to have experienced a call are thought to be deluding themselves. I have never been so quick to discount a call and that is why I want to read more from those people who feel that the Spirit is working within them so I can understand it better.

    • Joe, I know you have been wondering about this for quite some time now. Have you looked at the research on calling? There are several studies out there. Here is one I know about – you would have to access it through an academic library, or email me at gail@junia.thereachco.dev and I’ll send you the pdf.

      https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-4051695321/calling-the-caller-and-being-called-a-qualitative

      Here’s one from the secular research: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0001879113001334

  • Patriarchy gender ideology is obsolete, and religious patriarchy is now an obstacle to the mission of the Christian churches. Good for you, keep going!

  • Hi Pastor Sarah, thank you for your most inspiring and uplifting Blog – and I am sure this will be a God given encouragement to other women who receive the call.

    After reading an article in the UK Times newspaper on Easter Saturday 2018 entitled “Half of Jesus’ Disciples were Women” I was led to develop a study on “Women in Christianity” and have been in contact with Gail and Kate over the last year. What I thought would be a 2-3 week Sunday School Class has developed into a 12-14 week study and I am completing the 4th class next Sunday. It has been an incredible journey for me which has connected me with Christians in UK, Australia and the USA. My journey is not over and I am planning to publish my work as a study guide over the next couple of years. My mentors have included Paul Chilcote at Asbury Seminary Orlando, Barbara Riddle (now retired and the second woman pastor in the UMC FL), Marg Mowczko of Australia and many others.

    I was also delighted to see that your are pastor of a Covenant Presbyterian Church, as I heard a Sermon from a male senior pastor from a Covenant PC within the last 2 years justifying why women cannot be in senior leadership positions.

    May God bless you in your journey and your work.

    David Vatcher (Methodist living in FL – who became an honorary Presbyterian during times when living in Virginia and California)

    • Hi David! Thanks for reading. My call protector in this piece is actually a United Methodist clergywoman. I was serving as a full-time staff person at a Methodist church when she became an advocate and call protector for me. You are doing such important work. I’d love to check out the completed product once you’ve published your study. Blessings on you and your ministry from a Presbyterian who became an honorary Methodist while serving a church in Indiana!

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