In January 2016, I moved from New Jersey to Texas to take a job at a church. Over the next several months, it became clear that my boss was battling some pretty serious mental health problems, and because I was unhealthy mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, his issues became mine. I took his behavior personally, and took my frustration and confusion out on the people around me. It was exactly the train wreck you might imagine.
Less than a year after I arrived, my boss resigned, and I took over a lot of his responsibilities while the search for a new Discipleship Pastor was conducted. In that time, I oversaw Women’s ministry, Men’s ministry, LifeGroups, Connections, and what felt like about 20 other things. And in that time, I put a lot of work into getting healthy.
But in that time, I continued to experience a lot of frustration in how I was treated by the Executive Pastor, a man who I never really felt comfortable around, but who I was told on numerous occasions I had to trust. I grew in my leadership and influence, and really started to love my job and the people I had been called to Texas to serve. It was a weird time, but overall, I was happy. But there were patterns of behavior in the leaders of the church I didn’t understand at the time.
In light of recent events in the Southern Baptist Convention, I now understand what those patterns were and what they represent. My experiences in an EFree church were not so different from what women were experiencing at SBC institutions.
These patterns look like this:
- When i would go to my Executive Pastor for help with a problem (which I did only after trying to solve it myself), somehow, I would end up being blamed for whatever it was. More often than not, he would use that against me at a later date, mostly during performance reviews as a reason I would not be getting a raise and would not be considered for any sort of promotion. (Message: “Women, if you have a problem, it’s probably your fault somehow.”)
- Women on staff were mostly in admin positions, and the few of us who oversaw ministry areas were excluded from higher levels of leadership, including representation on the Lead Team. (Message: “Women don’t belong in church leadership. The Bible says so.”)
- Men with similar levels of responsibility were paid more than women, and were given the title “pastor”, even those men who served no pastoral functions. In my role, I was writing the LifeGroup curriculum (aka teaching), and counseling, but I was a “Director”. (Message: “Women, your gifts aren’t as valuable as men’s gifts are, and there are certain gifts that you couldn’t possibly have been given.”)
When the new Discipleship Pastor was hired, I had hoped things would get better, that he would take some things off my plate (I was getting pretty exhausted trying to do two people’s jobs), and that we would be able to form a really great team. But from the minute he walked in the door, he made it clear that he was in charge, and that he didn’t want me there.
I made a couple of attempts to have conversations with him about what I was perceiving, but neither conversation resulted in any real change. I tried to talk to both the Executive Pastor and the Lead Pastor about what I was experiencing, but again, I was blamed for his behavior.
In November of last year, a week after I had completed a significant writing project, I was very suddenly laid off (it was so sudden that I had actually signed the lease for my apartment for another year just that morning). The reasons I was given in writing for my termination were:
- I had failed to create teams. This struck me as odd considering I was leading the second largest volunteer team at the church, and I had intentionally begun focusing on leadership development with the Women’s team. What other teams I was supposed to have created remains a mystery.
- “There is no place for your gifts here”. This one was the kicker, given the timing and that I had just used my gifts to complete that major project, I was using them to write LifeGroup curriculum every week, and I was pastoring the women in the church.
Needless to say, I was shocked, angry, and really, really sad, as were a number of my friends and volunteers who didn’t understand how either of those things could possibly be true.
Unsurprisingly, they weren’t true. The truth, which came out later, was simply that the Lead Pastor, Executive Pastor, and my new boss didn’t think I respected my new boss. This was 100% true, but again, I was the problem, in spite of the fact that between the two of us, I was the only one who ever made an effort at working as a team.
So because a new man was hired to do the job I was mostly already doing and he didn’t want me around, I lost my job, my church, my income, my health insurance, and even some friends.
Today, there are now no women on staff at that church who serve in any full-time leadership position, meaning there are still no women on the Lead Team, there are no women on the “Core Team”, and there are no women in the weekly Sunday review meetings.
Their message to me that there was no place for my gifts at the church seems to be the prevailing message to all of the women in denominations like the SBC and EFree: “Stay in your lane and let the men lead”.
I know I made mistakes in the time I was at that church, and I know some of those mistakes caused problems for other people. Even as I write this, I’m still fighting away regret and shame for some of the things I did out of my frustration, discouragement, and sinful pride. I’m still grieving what happened, and still have days when I need to work hard to fight off bitterness and resentment. Today is one of those days.
Watching as the board of a large seminary allowed a man who had encouraged women to stay in abusive situations, had made disgusting comments about a 16-year-old girl, who punished a woman at his school for reporting that she had been raped, and who is allegedly involved in the cover up of another pastor accused of sexual abuse to retire with full honors and a compensation package few of us could imagine has brought a lot of my own pain, confusion, and frustration to the surface.
My situation isn’t nearly as serious as countless other women who have been abused, degraded, and oppressed under the leadership of men who firmly believe that they are more powerful, important, and blessed simply because they’re men. However, the patterns I observed in my church are the exact patterns that allow these men to continue to sin against their sisters unchecked.
I know some people will write off my story because I’m “bitter” or “emotional”, and today, yes, I am. But more than that, I’m finally telling my story because I want to stand with so many other women and say, Me Too. It happened in my Church Too. Abuse in the church doesn’t have to be physical or sexual to be damaging. Spiritual and emotional abuse are just as bad, and often precede and accompany other kinds.
Women, we’re going to need to be even braver than usual in the coming days. The battle we’re fighting is spiritual, but it has physical ramifications. We will see an increase in men telling us to sit down and shut up because “the Bible says women are supposed to submit and be silent”, and because we’re “just trying to usurp men’s God-given authority”. Those are lies straight from the pit of hell.
God never meant for women to sit down and shut up. He used them over and over again throughout history to save His people, to share the Gospel, to found the Church, to heal the sick, to set the captives free, and to preach good news to the poor. Our voices and our gifts are needed in the Church. None of the lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible contain an asterisk stating “Men Only”.
Women, please don’t give up. Change is coming!
Men, we need you. Whether you admit it or not, you do have the power to make things right for your sisters in Christ, those co-heirs and co-laborers who are desperate to work alongside you in the Kingdom. If you see something, say something. If you have an opportunity to elevate a woman to a place of equality, please do it. You’re not giving up your seat at the table, you’re simply pulling up another chair. The table is big enough for all of us because the God who created it has no limits.
Church, we are in a battle right now. The war has already been won, but our enemy is still fighting to take as many people down with him as possible. Strap on your armor, stand together with your shields up. Pray earnestly for the gospel to go out into the world through any voice God chooses.
Pray for each other, pray for your pastors, and pray that through all of this, God will be glorified through His people working together to love and serve in the name of Jesus.