I’ve always seen myself as a leader. But I never saw myself as a pastor. I assumed it was because I chose to work for a para church campus ministry and that I wasn’t drawn to church ministry. But as time has gone on I realize it was more complicated than that.
The real game changer was when male peers- men I had gone to college with, ministered with, was friends with began to step into pastoral positions. I felt like Scooby Doo- “Raggy? Is that roo?” How are my guy friends pastoring churches? It wasn’t that I didn’t think they could. But these were my peers. Suddenly my peers were in this role that I had never identified or connected with. Up until that point we had done the exact same ministry. And now I had to grapple with the dissonance that I felt. I realized that though I believed in the Biblical basis for women in leadership I was uncomfortable with it in praxis. I was guilty of the same kind of subconscious male bias that I had experienced through others towards my leadership. I couldn’t picture myself as a pastor because I was woman.
Head pastors have always seemed like wooly mammoths- some other weird species. Growing up in the Korean Church, pastors were always older men. All my youth pastors, all my head pastors, even when I changed churches in high school and again when I moved in college, were always older white men. I simply couldn’t envision myself in that role.
But then my peers, my friends, became pastors.
I thought about their leadership. I knew that I could lead as well as them.
I thought about their preaching. I knew that I could preach as well as them.
I thought about their ability to gather people. I knew that I could gather people as well as them.
I realized that I had never thought about pastoring a church because I couldn’t see it.
It was a position that seemed “other.”
But when my peers suddenly started stepping into these roles, I felt frustrated. Why did they feel so confident of their ability to carry that kind of leadership- but I had never considered it?
People talk about the need for role models and this may be the situation where I most identify with that. Last year I visited a friend who was attending a conference of Covenant pastors. She introduced me to her friends there, many of whom were ordained women working as head pastors and associate pastors in churches. It was like being at the world’s most amazing zoo- everyone was a sparkly unicorn. If I didn’t have some sense of social decorum I would have pet their heads and cooed. “I’ve never seen one of you before. Lady pastors are neeeeeeat.” I was interacting with them differently because I was identifying with them. I wasn’t viewing them as people in a role far far away, I could see myself in them.
A couple weeks ago I was catching up with a couple girlfriends. And as I looked around the table I realized that two out of four of us were church pastors. Now even my peer women are pastoring churches. I felt so proud. Of course my friend Latina is the most bad ass picture of a pastor ever. As an African American woman from Detroit who cruises around LA on her motorcycle wearing head to toe leather, she is in a category of her own.
Realizing that having so few role models has deeply impacted me I wanted to shine the light on some women pastors that inspire me and give me a picture to look at.
First I have to express gratitude to the African American church. I think that all of the first women pastors I saw were in the African American church. Black women have been pioneers in terms of being preachers, not only for me, but in this country.
Let me give a tip of the hat to Rev. Brenda Salter McNeil. As a student in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship I was exposed to Rev. Brenda at Urbana Missions conferences and various other conference. She has amazing rhetorical style, theological depth, and conviction. She would preach on racial reconciliation, Jesus, purpose, justice in an exuberant and thoughtful manner. She is currently the teaching pastor at Quest Church in Seattle.
Reverend Alexia Savatierra is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church and she rocks a collar- which is a whole other level. She is a founding leader of the National Evangelical Immigration Table. What strikes me about her as a leader and speaker is the gentleness and clarity with which she addresses issues of immigration. She has helped build a coalition between Christian leaders of wildly different backgrounds. She has so many deeds done in the social justice world, but she carries herself with grace and kindness.
Reverend Jennifer Ikoma-Motzko was just installed as Senior Pastor at Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle. I emailed Jennifer out the blue a few days ago and she told me she had just become a pastor. It was special to see an Asian American woman my age stepping into this role. I first met Jennifer when she was working on staff with InterVarsity. I felt inspired to see that she had pursued her M.Div. and then stepped into leadership of an Asian American congregation.
From Left to Right.
Natalia is an amazing ministry planter. She has successfully planted multi-ethnic ministries at commuter campuses in both San Diego and Los Angeles.
Sandra is a preacher, trainer, and worship leader. She currently serves as pastor of Grace and Peace Community, an urban church on Chicago’s west side.
Me- Leader, Singer, Social Justice and Multi-Ethnicity specialist
Latina- aforementioned biker pastor who just became minster at Tribe in Los Angeles.
I’m excited that my generation is stepping into leadership in the church in ways I never saw growing up. I can’t wait to see what that will mean for the next generation.
PS- There was recently a bit of hubbub on the internet about not being able to find qualified women speakers, particularly ethnic minority women speakers for Christian conferences. Well, internet, here are seven great options.