My College professor told us in my first ministry class, “If you can do anything else and be happy, do it.”
I have used that question as a gauge throughout many years working in small churches, large churches, rural churches, city churches. When Ministry became very hard and I wanted to quit, it was this question that grounded me, that reminded me; this is not simply a job, it is holy calling.
I was in seminary, a major SBC seminary, in the 90’s before I first heard the term complimentarian. I had graduated college from a Texas Baptist college with a theology degree. I had grown up in SBC churches and gone to youth camp and never once heard that word. But the 90’s were a turning point
in the life of the SBC. The fundamentalist takeover that had been in the makes since the early 80’s had come to fruition. I sat in seminary while they removed all female professors. I was working on my MDiv, and was suddenly told I was not allowed to take preaching classes (I had to substitute speech). I was in a hostile environment. Professors and classmates ignored me completely. And all because of this one word, complimentarian,which I had never heard before.
You see, my Texas Baptist family had supported my call. My church licensed me, my Texas Baptist university had empowered me (I DID take preaching there). My professors never once said my gender should prohibit God’s call on my life. So you can imagine, sitting in seminary, this was a shock. I knew then that this wouldn’t end well for me.
After seminary, I had decided that regardless of what the SBC thought, God HAD called me, I WAS equipped, and I WAS going to follow him into ministry. So I did just that. Perhaps naively, I thought I could change the system, change their minds, fight for justice. And I tried, for 29 years. For 29 years I found those Texas Baptist churches who would hire me and support me. But even in the most progressive ones, I was noticing a shift. The culture had changed. It was clear women were not invited to the party. What I learned to do during that time was survive.
I learned how to lead without coming across too bossy. I learned in meetings to express my ideas in a way that the men thought it was their idea. I learned not to rock the boat, not to speak with too much authority. I learned to chuckle when sexist remarks were made or sexual jokes were told in my presence. I learned how to mange the boys club, doing things women have been doing for centuries among oppression. And that is how I survived.
God was faithful. He always had one more place for me, or one person at the right time who would speak truth and affirm my calling. But a few years ago, after a particularly ugly church swing, I had enough. I had decided I COULD do ANYTHING else and be happy. The SBC had beaten me, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, I was done.
A friend reached out to me and told me about a church in Indiana. I was skeptical for many reasons. It was Indiana! And it was a UMC church. I knew nothing about the UMC except that they had women pastors and I was intrigued. I met with them, and learned something very quickly: they paid no attention to my gender. It never came up. So in just a few weeks I packed my jeep and moved across country. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I knew this was a place that would affirm me and a place God had for me.
What has happened in my life since has been transformational. I have had to re-learn how to lead. I have had to find my voice and not be ashamed to use it. I have been empowered with full authority in my ministry area. I have a senior pastor who encourages me, who pushes me, who shepherds me to be not just a great female pastor, but a great pastor. I am no longer in a position where I am tolerated, but one where I am celebrated. My gifts are utilized and I am learning that living out my calling in this environment brings a joy I haven’t known before. I am welcome at this table, and not just as an observer, but as a participant in the grace and mercy of God.
I have wounds form my 29 years in the SBC. At times I am still angry at the injustice I witnessed there. I will continue to fight for women there and everywhere, but I know one thing…God called me, not man. Its His holy calling and I answer to Him. He is faithful, He is just, and He does exceedingly more than I could ask or imagine. It’s who He is. He will take those wounds, He will use my story, and my voice, to further the Kingdom.
COULD I do anything else and be happy? No. Could you?
ABOUT TANDY: Tandy Adams serves as the Director of Family Ministries at Castleton United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. She graduated from Howard Payne University with a degree in theology and went on to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Tandy comes to Castleton from Texas, is a lifelong Cubs fan that enjoys playing the guitar and is passionate about Jesus, the Church, families, and teenagers. She is married to Brian, a high school teacher, and coach. Together they have a daughter, Taylor, and a son, Jonah.