Chasing “God Dreams” Despite Gender Bias (#WWVS17 Talk)

jordy1

My name is Jory Micah, and I am so honored to be with you today to share my story. When I was 13 years old, God planted a dream to be a minister in my heart, and I have been chasing that dream ever since, but due to my being born a girl, this dream has not been an easy dream to chase.

I faced gender discrimination before I was even born, from my own well-meaning parents. Yes, that is right. Allow me to begin at the beginning.

My parents were ministers and were very involved in “The Jesus Movement,” which was basically a group of Charismatic hippies who enjoyed chasing around Pentecostal preachers on the weekends. In 1983, when my mother was 8 months pregnant with me, my parents went to see a well-known charismatic evangelist and author by the name of Judson Cornwall at a local church.

When they walked into the crowded building, my mom felt like Judson was staring at her and told my dad. The two laughed it off, but soon enough, Judson made his way through the crowd and came right up to my very pregnant mother.

Judson told my mother, “Sister, the moment you walked into the building, God impressed it upon my heart to tell you that you are carrying an evangelist and that you are to speak the things of God to your unborn child in these final weeks of pregnancy.”

My mom and dad praised God, and assumed right away that they would be having a BABY BOY.

Well, God had other plans, because a few weeks later, my mother had a baby girl. Instead of deciding that the prophetic word was wrong, they decided that their prejudices were wrong, and kept the word close to their hearts, hoping that it would come to pass.

From age 0 to 11, I lived off my parent’s faith. I showed some signs of becoming a minister. I would preach to my baby dolls and share the salvation message with my little friends; but my dad was a preacher, so that was all sort of normal mimicking behavior. My parents rarely spoke of the prophetic word that was spoken over my life. They put it on the shelf where all prophetic words should be put, just waiting and watching to see if it would come to pass.

At age 12, I began to lose interest in Jesus, and put my parent’s faith on the back-burner. I wanted nothing more than to be popular and to have a boyfriend. I began to swear a lot because that is what the cool kids in junior high did. I began to explore my sexuality a little bit with my new boyfriend. I began to rise in my popularity. I began to rebel against my parents, talk back, disobey, and lash out at them. I went to youth group because my parents made me, but I didn’t care about God. I cared about me, and only me.

When I was 13, my mom asked me if I wanted to go to a Christian youth convention for a long weekend and I agreed, only because it was an excuse to get away from my parents’ authority for a few days. After my mom paid for it, I found out that it was over a holiday weekend, and I was furious because, with my friends not at school, I would have rather stayed home.  I tried to get out of the conference, but my mom made me go. In bitterness, I packed my bags, and headed to the youth convention.

The youth convention took place in an arena, filled with thousands of teenagers. I did not pay attention to much the first few days I was there, but something happened the last day, at the very last sermon that was given. I don’t remember what the preacher spoke on at all, or what he looked like.

All I remember is my heart beating out of my chest when he asked all of the teens to come forward if they wanted to give their lives to Christ.

Something strong was compelling me to go forward. I stood to my feet and walked to the stage and dropped to my knees. I put both of my hands up in the air and began to sob. I asked for Him to forgive me for all of my sins, and I knew that He did. I felt the love of God for the first time in my life. I experienced Christ for myself, for the first time in my life, and I knew He was real.

Not only this, but Jesus spoke to my heart in that same moment and told me that I was called to devote my entire life to ministry. It was as if every gift I needed to be a minister was turned on and activated in that very moment, and my heart totally shifted away from dreams of popularity to dreams of being a minister of the Gospel.

I stood up that day, as a 13-year-old girl, absolutely knowing what I was called to do with the rest of my life.

When I got home, filled with excitement, I ran to one of my best friend’s houses down the street and told her and another friend that was over that I had given my life to Jesus. I immediately asked them if they wanted to give their lives to Jesus too. They agreed without hesitation, and I led them in prayer, and began to disciple them within the next couple of years. It did not stop there.

That summer before going into high school, I sat on the couch with my best friend, Ashley, who was the most popular girl in school. Ashley grew up Catholic, so she had a strong religious upbringing, but she did not have a personal relationship with Jesus, and she noticed something different between her and me. She knew God and prayed every night, but she saw something in me that she wanted. I remember her asking me, what is different about you? What happened to you at that convention?

I told her, “I am not sure, exactly, but I felt the Spirit of God and it changed me from the inside out, Ashley. I will never be the same. I knew about God my entire life. I grew up in church. My dad is a minister, but I have never experienced God like this before. I feel like I know Jesus for myself now.” Ashley had a big decision to make. Would she lay down her “most popular girl” relationship and put aside her friends who were very popular but a bad influence, to have a real relationship with Jesus?

I asked her this question, and she decided she wanted Jesus more, so we prayed together and she accepted Christ that day on my family room couch.

After that summer was over, Ashley, along with a couple of other girls we had led to Christ, went into high school on fire for Christ. This was bad news for the senior boys who were looking forward to hooking up with the cute new freshman girls, because we were huge on saving sex for marriage. In fact, I was nick-named “Hitler” by some of the guys because I encouraged all of the girls to maintain their virginity and not to give it up to these guys who were simply looking to use them.

Since we were popular, cheerleader-type girls, we had quite a bit of influence in our high school, but we still got picked on a lot for being Jesus’ followers. Some of the guys started calling us “the church girls” to be mean, but we actually embraced the name, and it became a name of endearment that we used all through high school. All through high school, we girls led tons of teenagers to Christ. At one point, we organized a Bible study in my home that grew so large that we had to rent out a fire hall.

Everyone from the captain of the football team to the really strange kid that wears the long trench coat showed up to hear the Gospel being preached. I began preaching little by little, starting as a 14-year-old. I would simply share my testimony, and mostly say how Jesus is the only thing that has ever satisfied me in my life.

I was the strongest Christian leader in my high school and one of the strongest Christian leaders in my town. Further, my friends, “the church girls,” were the strongest Christian leaders in our high school. So, I was used to seeing strong female leadership as a teenager.

No Christian teen boys even began to compare to the teen girls’ leadership in the Christian sub-culture in my high school and town.

I was highly favored by my youth pastor, given opportunities to lead and preach, and always encouraged in my ministry gifts as a teen; so, you can imagine my shock when I found out that some folks discouraged women in ministry.

I remember the first time I experienced gender discrimination in the Church like it was yesterday.

I was 18 years old and brand new to Bible School. I was walking out of the cafeteria after lunch when a group of the cool guys who were a year older than I was called me over to them and asked me to come have a theological discussion with them. Being naive, I thought they wanted to include me, so I practically ran over to join them and sat down.

We sat in a circle and they opened their Bible and began to point out Bible verses one by one, explaining to me why God does not call women to be pastors or Bible teachers to men, and why women are actually meant to be silent in the Church for the most part. I did not know theology well at that time in my life, and I took them at their word, since they were showing me Bible verses to back up what they were saying. I was absolutely shocked and devastated.

I had never heard anything like this in my life.

I ran back to my dorm and called my dad, crying my eyes out. I said, “Dad, why am I here? Why am I in Bible school if God does not call women to be ministers, and if the Bible calls women to be silent in the Church?” My dad calmed me down and told me that those guys did not know what they were talking about, and that they were taking the Bible out of context. A week later I received a package in the mail full of egalitarian theology books.

That was when I realized that it was not enough for a woman to be simply a minister; I would have to become a theologian, too.

After two years of Bible school, I went to a university and earned my bachelor’s degree in Church Ministries. When I graduated at 22 years old, I thought that I would simply apply for a youth pastor job or something of that nature, and move on up that ladder as I got older.

Boy, was I wrong!

As I searched for pastoral positions, job descriptions would literally say, “We are looking for God’s man for the job,” and they would almost always use male pronouns when describing what would be required of the ideal candidate. I applied at many different denominations within the evangelical church, even so-called egalitarian ones, but never even got interviews.

I did not want to be a children’s pastor, nor did I feel called to be a children’s pastor, so I thought that I would try to substitute teach in a private Christian school until I found a ministry job. In many private schools, you do not have to have your teaching degree, as long as you have your bachelor’s degree. So, I applied at one school and got an interview.

During the interview, I asked the principal, “Do you happen to have any full-time positions available?” He replied, “Well, we are looking for a 7th grade teacher, but we were hoping to hire a man.” My heart sank. It was becoming clear to me that I was living in a man’s world and I was just a girl.

He went on, “There are 12 girls in the upcoming 7th grade class, and 4 boys, but the boys are very strong-willed and difficult to manage.” I replied, “Well, I too am very strong-willed and difficult to manage.” We both smiled and he offered me the job.

I taught 7th grade for one year. I honestly could not care less if those kids learned math or science, but I was going to make sure they had an experience with Jesus. I was a minister, walking in teacher’s shoes. I planned a spiritual retreat for the entire middle school, and Jesus showed up. Many of the kids gave their lives to Christ that weekend and had radical experiences with Christ.

By the end of the year though, I could not imagine teaching another year. My heart was beating to chase the dream that God placed in my heart when I was 13 years old, so I decided to go to seminary. My thinking was, if I get my master’s degree, maybe someone will overlook the fact that I am a woman and hire me for something other than a children’s pastor or a private school teacher at a Christian school.

My thinking was wrong.

I again looked for pastoral jobs in many different denominations within the evangelical church. I was willing to take any pastoral position, except children’s pastor. But there was only one problem: I was still not “God’s man for the job.” So, I did the only thing I knew to do; I started applying to teach at private schools to be a teacher again. This time I got hired as a 5th grade teacher, making $12 an hour.

Here I was, with a master’s degree in Biblical studies, and I was a 5th grade teacher, making 12 bucks an hour. As far as I was concerned, I had been demoted. Then, to make matters worse, I was laid off at the end of the year, because the school did not have enough rising 5th grade students to rehire me.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally broke down for seven long months. I went into a deep depression. I felt like I had wasted my entire life pursuing this dream that God had put in my heart when I was 13 years old.

I suffer with a chronic migraine disorder that worsens under stress, so for 7 months I lay on the couch with an ice pack on my head in severe physical & emotional pain. I totally gave up on life.

I refused to look for jobs. I gained 40 pounds, because I ate my feelings and was on a ton of medications with a ton of side effects. I did not cook, clean, or take care of myself.

I did not pray. I was angry at the Church, at myself, and the world, and at God. I wondered why God called me into ministry at all. I wondered why God bothered to send me to Bible school and seminary? I wondered why God had me waste $80,000 on seminary?

I wondered why God had me waste my entire life chasing this dream that was impossible for a woman to catch?

My body, faith, heart, and dream were totally shattered.

My husband, Luke, held our lives together. He worked full time, did all of the cooking, all of the cleaning, and reminded me to take a shower once in a while. He replaced my ice pack for me every 30 minutes when he was home, and scooped me my Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, as I caught up on the latest Days of Our Lives episode.

Wendy from The Wendy Show and the journalists from The Today Show became my best friends. I rarely spoke to my parents and I never spoke to any of my friends. It was the saddest and loneliest 7 months of my life.

One day, out of nowhere, my husband asked me if I would like to apply for a children’s pastor job that he had found on Craigslist. I replied, “Not really, but you can apply for me if you want to.” I still had no desire to be a children’s pastor, but my life had become pathetic, and I knew it. I was dying inside, and I had no idea what to do, so I apathetically agreed to let Luke apply for the job for me.

Luke wrote my resume and cover letter and sent them in and within a week, I was called in for an interview. It took everything in me to get off the couch, take a shower, and go interview for a job that I did not want.

The lead pastor asked me, “Why do you want to be a children’s pastor?” I put on my best fake smile, “Well, I have never felt a calling to be a children’s pastor, but I am a strong leader and God has called me to be a minister, and I am confident that I can do well at this job.”

Within the next several weeks, Luke and I met with several different pastors and they loved us. While I secretly hoped I would get turned down for the job, so I could return to Wendy and my friends over at The Today Show, who were obviously missing me by now, God had other plans, because I was hired to be the next children’s pastor at this church that was ironically named, “Reality Church.”

Yes, this was reality all right. It was finally time for me to accept “my place” in the evangelical church as a female minister. I am a children’s pastor, whether I was called to be a children’s pastor or not, and whether I like it or not. It was time to swallow that bitter pill; it was time to accept it, no matter how bad it tasted to me. It was either this, or the couch of despair.

The children’s ministry was a disaster. The church had been without a children’s pastor for almost a year, and it was being run by a handful of burnt out volunteers. The kids were literally bouncing off the walls. There was almost no structure, and very little order.

The leaders were struggling to keep volunteers because the children were so unruly, and even the leaders were ready to give up. Quite honestly, the children’s ministry was just about dead, and it became clear that everyone expected me to bring it back to life.

There was only one problem; I was just about dead inside, as well. I was still chronically ill and very depressed.

Plus, I didn’t have a desire or a sense of calling to be children’s pastor. I had no idea how I would conjure up the motivation to care about a ministry that was an absolute disaster, that I simply did not care about, when I was sick, depressed, and resentful that I had to take this children’s pastor job in the first place.

But, slowly, I started to care; and as I slowly brought this children’s ministry back to life, God slowly brought me back to life. Within one year, the children’s ministry became the healthiest and most vibrant ministry at Reality church. I had recruited and trained over 40 volunteers, most of whom were women, and the ministry ran like a well-oiled machine.

In fact, it ran so well, that I was bored after a year, and had to find something else to do with my time. I decided to do what I loved; I began to invest my time in my women volunteers. I would take them to Starbucks or lunch and hear their stories. I joined the small groups that they were leading. I spent hours on Facebook liking their pictures. Luke and I double dated with some of them and their husbands. I became an expert on the women in our church.

After two years of investing in the women and children at Reality Church, I sensed a strong compelling of the Spirit that it was time to start my own ministry. I was not called to be a children’s pastor and I knew it. It was time to start chasing the dream, yet again, that God placed in my heart when I was 13 years old. I finally realized that no one was going to hand me my dream.

Yes, many men in ministry are handed their dreams, but I am not a man, so it was time to stop waiting around for someone to give me an opportunity that I was never going to get. It was time to create my own path, and that is exactly what I did.

I quit my job as children’s pastor and practically begged my husband to join my awakening. He did, but it was not easy for him, because it required that we live off his income alone. Not only that, but I was not happy living in Virginia Beach, and we really could not afford to live there on one income, so again, I practically begged my husband to move with me back to my home town near Pittsburgh, PA.

Again, he did, but this was a great sacrifice for him for a couple of reasons. One, we had to live with my parents for a year, because we only had one income and we could not afford our own place right away. Two, Luke had to find a real new job, as I convinced him to get on board with me becoming a “professional blogger.”

Now, my husband is a sacrificial man, but this about pushed him over the edge. Especially because when he finally did find a job, it was all the way in the city, which required him to walk across a bridge every day during the winter storms of freezing cold snow and rainy ice. Needless to say, it was not a good time in our marriage, but somehow, we made it through.

As for me, I got to work blogging. I wrote every single day. God gave me the theme, “Breaking the glass steeple,” and I never ran out of ideas. I had kept my mouth shut for so many years, that I could write and write and write and never run out of things to write about. I was on fire for Christian feminism, and people began to notice quickly.

Within a year, I was named a top female blogger by a veteran blogger by the name of Frank Viola, I wrote on the popular blog The Junia Project, and I featured the popular blogger, Sarah Bessey, on my blog, and was featured on her blog. The second year I was published with Relevant Magazine, Christians for Biblical Equality, and was getting more and more speaking engagements.

On top of all that, publishers began to contact me about writing a book, so I knew it was time to seek out a literary agent. Last year, I signed on with Rachelle Gardner, who is also Sarah Bessey & Rachel Held Evan’s literary agent, and I have just completed the first draft of my very first book. The book is called Breaking the Glass Steeple, and we hope it will be published this year or next year.

Now I don’t say all of this to show off whatsoever. I say it to motivate you to chase your dreams, no matter what sacrifices you have to make. I have learned that simply being a woman is a road-blocker in my career, and let’s face it, it is a road-blocker in many careers, but there are always other routes we can take if we are creative, work hard, and refuse to give in to fear.

What I want you to remember today is that there is always, always a way to chase your dream. It may seem like every door is shut and every window is nailed closed, but there is a crack in the wall somewhere, and you can find it if you look hard enough, and start chipping away at it until you create a hole just your size for you to fit through, break free, and run towards your dream.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

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7 Comments

  • You seem to have a unquestionable certainty that God has called you into the ministry. Ministry, as I’m sure you well know, above all else is service. In reading through a couple of your posts, it is hard not to get the impression that your of view ministry is more closely aligned with self-fulfillment. Your husband appears to be at the mercy of your calling and is willing to sacrifice much in order for you to find satisfaction. Have you considered that your your ministry could look a lot more like meeting his needs rather than constantly trying to meet your own? I know you will view that as some type of misogynistic attack attempting to force you into a supporting “wife-like” role, but I mean it more simply as Christian loving and serving those closest to you and working to develop their gifts rather than you own. I can only gauge by what has been written here, but the theme is hard to ignore. You are constantly pursuing something you can’t quite grasp, and others are compelled to follow along in hope of realizing your dreams. Your idea of ministry appears to be solely based on your terms and your idea of what qualifies as meaningful ministry.
    I’m just wondering if you have considered the possibility that your own interest may have interfered with your true calling?

  • May I echo PB? Many of the same thoughts occurred to me. I have never seen Christian ministry as a career, let alone a hierarchy that you can move up in.

    In my complementarian world, the only ministry women are not to exercise is being a teacher in a mixed assembly, and taking on the task of ‘overseer’. Everything else is allowed, and more than that, should be encouraged. I don’t understand why so many Western women in the church see this restriction as some kind of intolerable burden. It’s not that limiting. I’ve also been around long enough to see first hand the effect when the restriction is laid aside as ‘not for today’, with the very thing it is designed to prevent coming into the church.

    I have read enough egalitarian writing (which I don’t always disagree with!) to develop the impression that ministry has become a means of self-fullfillment or self-affirmation, even possibly linked with self-esteem. The problem being of course the word ‘self’. The restrictions in the NT for women also apply to most men, and it doesn’t seem to occur to many egalitarians I have read that they might in fact be the will of God for women. I don’t think subjective spiritual impressions, let alone feelings, should ever override this.

  • “I was a minister, walking in teacher’s shoes.” This statement really touched me. It breaks my heart because so many people, particularly women, experience this misalignment between God’s calling on our lives and what we find ourselves limited to do. (Any ministry is limiting to us if it’s not what we are gifted and called to do.)

    Godly women seek to fulfill God’s calling on our lives. Because our opportunities are limited by people’s preconceived notions, we end up serving only in the area where we are allowed to serve, not always where God has called us to be. That does not benefit anyone in the body of Christ! We are often misaligned in our spiritual gifts. We end up doing “jobs,” rather than fulfilling our God-given mission. This rather than selfishness is the source of our discontent.

    With all due respect to the previous posters, this expression of frustration and injustice is not primarily about self. The joy that we get being in full alignment with our spiritual gifts is a blessing from God and a gift and service to the other people in the body of Christ.

    We each need to “play our own position,” if you will: the one God called us to, not the one someone’s misinterpretation of scripture or personal opinion allowed us to have. If I’m doing someone else’s job, who’s doing my job?

    Even in your time as a children’s Minister, God was in it! It’s great that you were able to minister to the mothers and the other women in your church. You may not have had another opportunity to do so if you had not been in that children’s position. Also, the women there would not have benefited from your wisdom, compassion, and commitment to them. Only God can orchestrate events in that way and turn what seems like a hindrance into a ministry launch!

    Jory, keep going! Women in my daughter’s generation need to hear liberating voices like yours. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  • To Ken and PB, as well as to Jory,

    I know that when women have a strong sense of calling, and are frustrated that doors are closed to them, it can sound like they want power or self-fulfillment. Let me put the problem in different terms:

    You are a kitchen worker at church. You are a GREAT cook, and besides, you love it. When you are able to make food that tastes good and serve others, it brings your joy. Even more than that, as Eric Liddell once said, you sense God’s pleasure because you are exercising the gifts that He has given you.

    One problem: the people who have been in charge of the kitchen for years won’t let you cook. Oh, sure, you can wash the dishes. And you might even be allowed to carry the food into the fellowship hall. But most of the time you are forced to watch silently as they serve up an unbalanced diet of starch and protein. And if you make any suggestions, you are treated as a child, or as a threat.

    Jory is not looking for selfish fulfillment. Jory, and all of us women who have pastoral gifts, are seeking to obey God and serve His people in order to bring Him glory.

    Thank you, Jory, for being an obedient servant. I am excited to hear more about your new “church.” I believe that is exactly the direction that Christians must move in for the sake of future generations.

  • Dr Laura – what if the Chef in the kitchen simply decided who should or should not cook? The analogy is not too close to 1 Tim 2, but gives an indication. Once women are doing all that God has said they may, and that’s a lot, why baulk at the remaining restrictions?

    What I can’t accept is personal revelation thought to come from the Holy Spirit overriding his written revelation through the NT writers. There is a lot of this. The reason we have a NT is to check, to ensure, that personal wants or ambitions are really in line with the revealed will of God.

    I’ve heard just about every argument going regarding 1 Tim 2 so there is no need to go there – it can get almost as bad as predestination or the details of the second coming. It’s not that difficult to understand, and I don’t understand the vehemence of the rejection of it except on the basis that other issues are coming into play, like ambition or self-fullfillment (or that is has been misused to put women down in a manner way beyond what the text itself says).

    Sorry, but all too often that is the motivation behind an alleged calling from what I have read. In the end, God alone knows what is in someone’s heart.

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