One thing I love about our God is the story of redemption that God is continually weaving throughout the lives of those who follow the Divine. Those who have been abused, downtrodden, forgotten, or overlooked. Those who have sought wholeness in something other than the “I AM.”
Those who struggle to forge a path to freedom. Those who are still working out a consistent theology, ever seeking to know the heart of God and how to express it in this world. Those who long for freedom to share God’s word and grace freely with everyone, men and women alike.
In other words, someone like me.
When I was growing up, my father taught me that the only things that would restrict me from pursuing my dreams were my character and skill set. Being female was never presented as a disqualifier. It was no surprise, then, that he was supportive when I decided to join the Air Force.
I became a commissioned officer and was eventually promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. After 10 years on active duty, I decided to transition to the reserves and focus on my family. I spent my time caring for children and volunteering at church. A few years into this phase of life, I discovered that I wanted to do much more in ministry than I had ever realized.
I began to sense a call into ministerial leadership.
To pursue this new fire in me, I completed a two year ministry education program with an association of churches that professes support for women in ministerial leadership. During this time, I served in a leadership position at church, volunteering 20 hours per week to teach, build, and empower that body of believers. It was an exciting time!
I was learning a great deal from some amazing theologians and I had the opportunity to lead in a dynamic, growing church. The pastor had been telling me for well over a year that his goal was to have me join the paid staff. One day out of nowhere, though, he told me that my husband made too much money, and the board did not find my contributions worth paying for. Needless to say, it was devastating to be devalued in such a way by my brothers in Christ.
A short time later, I received another blow when I was told I would not be ordained because I was a woman.
My ministry diploma was left on the secretary’s desk for me to pick up at my convenience. Several other serious areas of concern made it increasingly difficult for my spirit to flourish in that environment, so my family and I began to pour our time into para-church ministries. We pulled away from the church that we helped establish.
Still, the call to ministry leadership refused to fade.
Encouraged and supported by a pastor and mentor from my past, I began a church planting qualification assessment. The process took over a year: another ministry school, travel, interviews, psychological tests, etc. I passed with flying colors.
My husband and I gathered a team and planted a church on Easter Sunday, 2014. The church is going well and has been an amazing experience of freedom. We have a healthy group of believers who have absolutely no problem with a woman being the senior teaching pastor. I have noticed, however, an interesting dynamic when it comes to women who preach and women who serve in the military.
There are some Christians who have a problem with the fact that I get up on Sunday mornings and preach the Gospel; but when I put on my Air Force uniform, things change. Suddenly, I am respected and valued.
As a military officer, I have authority over men and women alike. I write performance reports, direct them, teach them, mentor them, discipline them, and have even decided which of them would deploy to a war zone. For this, I am honored. For this, I am thanked.
But when I take off the rank, put away the uniform, grab a Bible and expound on scripture in a public forum, I am no longer allowed such authority. Many Christians who question the propriety of my role as a senior teaching pastor do not give a fleeting thought to my authority over men in the military.
Those who believe this do so based on a few scriptures—or at least their interpretation of what those scriptures mean. I wonder, though, how often any of us really wrestle with what we believe. How much of scripture do we take at face value without digging deeper to fully understand the heart of God?
The heart that God has revealed to me is freedom.
It is the Spirit being poured out on sons and daughters. It is everyone (both men and women) proclaiming the Good News, being empowered to bring Heaven to earth, and redeeming creation one life at a time.
In the face of the obstacles placed before me, I could have left behind God’s calling. But I am grateful that God has granted me the opportunity to serve a great bunch of folks who are dedicated to carrying Divine Presence wherever they go. The God who sees, heals, and redeems continues to prove faithful. Even when I thought the story was over.
Angela Hurst is currently the senior teaching pastor at Cross City Church in Richmond, Kentucky. She has served in many different ministerial capacities, including worship leader, staff pastor, spiritual development director, and outreach director. She has been an Air Force officer for over 24 years and is an active member of the Air Force Reserves. In addition to her ministry diploma, she holds a Master of Arts in Military Operational Arts and Science and a Master of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Management. She and her husband Jeff have been married for 24 years and have five beautiful children.
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