Women in Ministry; One Woman’s Struggle with Equality by Kathy Escobar

women in ministry

women in ministryEquality is a bumpy road (and sometimes it makes me want to stand on tables & scream). I am coming upon my 10 year anniversary in full-time vocational ministry.

January 1st of 2004, I went on a big church staff as the associate care pastor; the following year I became the adult ministry pastor, and then the year after that I lost my job after a big ugly bru-haha related to power, politics, and inequality that would make your stomach turn. Since then, I have been co-pastoring our wild and beautiful little faith community, the Refuge, alongside my friends, brothers, and sisters. I had no idea when I entered vocational ministry how jacked up the system was. I was naive. I was passionate about healing and transformation in people’s lives through community. I was happy in my own little world until I began to see the realities of the system I was in. like all male elders, women doing announcements but never teaching. all the male pastors going to play golf together and never getting invited. Talk about “pastors’ wives,” but never “pastors’ husbands,” having it be completely okay for me to preach regularly to male addicts in recovery ministry, but “real church” was somehow unbiblical.

When we left to plant the Refuge, things within our own community were pretty easy related to equality for women. We really didn’t talk about it a whole lot inside the Refuge. We just did it. I attribute that to my friend and teammate Karl, who sacrificed a lot on behalf of a better way.

However, on the outside, in the wider church system, it’s always been a different story.

There have been too many weird moments to count, but the low lights include my book not being able to be sold by the #1 christian retailer because I am a female lead pastor, being dis-invited to speak at a baccalaureate once the conservative evangelical contingent discovered a woman pastor was coming, demeaning comments, sexist remarks, not being able to perform a memorial service in a church because of my gender, and speaking at a conference where the introduction was, “Okay, now let’s bring up the women,” after a long line of male speakers.

It’s so hard to explain what it feels like, shamed is a good starting place, but it’s more than that.

It’s confusion, too, a weird mixed message, we want you…but only when it works for us.

Each and every time one of these things have happened, I have asked myself, “Why am I still here?” “Why bother?” “Why stay in a system that does this to half the population?” “It’s a lost cause, patriarchy is so deep; It’s never going to change.”

Patriarchy is deep, insidious, ugly, and extremely pervasive in the world. The biggest travesty is that it is pervasive in the church of Jesus Christ which I always say should be the free-est-most-inclusive-most-wild-and-diverse group of people in town, but patriarchy won’t shift unless we keep working against it. The most strength over time is going to come from the margins. However, power never goes down easy.

There’s a lot of bru-ha-ha over why women would even want to be part of conferences where patriarchy is so obviously embedded. It’s tough, but if we’re going to get to a new place, we sometimes have to walk this crappy, ugly road to get there. It’s a dilemma. I don’t do that many outside gigs, but I know sometimes I am probably only invited to fill a female slot, and that sometimes sucks. Some experiences have really hurt my heart, but I have this deep sense that the only way to get to something new is to suffer the realities along the way.

if I were only paying the price for me, it wouldn’t be worth it. I have so many beautiful things in my life, a wonderful community, and plenty of satisfying and challenging work in my own little world. The last thing I need is the brain damage of sexism when it comes to some of these imbalanced events and groups-that-are-so-stacked-with-boys-that-it-makes-me-nutty. But it’s not just about me. It’s about my sisters, friends, daughters, and dear-women-around-the-world-who-need-someone-to-break-chains-on-their-behalf. And it’s also about my brothers who are trying to learn a better way.

Some will never get there; their theology will never support equality for women. However, I know far more men who want something different but are so used to the way it’s always been that they don’t even realize how hurtful they are being. Most men aren’t friends with women, and we all know we usually just play with our friends. That doesn’t let them off the hook; it’s time for them wake up, break out of denial, and practice a better way.

Women are on the hook, too. We are going to have to slog through some of this mess for a while. It doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be quiet and toe the line. We are supposed to call out the injustice and tell our stories so people will see. calling that disunity is an abuse tactic to keep people quiet, but we are also going to have to keep coming to play. I’ll admit, after a few wing-dingers, I don’t want to. I am re-thinking some things for sure, but I know this – the road to equality is bumpy, and the very best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.

How to deal with the Women in Ministry Inequality

That’s why we need to support each other as sister, brothers, and advocates for change. It’s why we need to look at the groups we are part of and ask ‘who’s missing and how do we invite them to the table?’ It’s why we need to give the microphone to people who have never had it before and learn from unheard voices. It’s why we need to naturally model equality instead of talk about equality. It’s why we need to learn how to be friends, men and women alongside each other as equals in true healthy intimate relationship with each other. It’s why we need to reconsider giving our money to organizations, events, churches that dismiss equality and remember we are a powerful economic influence, not to be dismissed. It’s why we need to vote with our feet and leave systems that perpetuate injustice over and over again and never try to change. Most of all, it’s why we need God to move in a mighty way to heal hearts that have been broken and restore dignity that’s been lost and call people to cultivating equality here and now in tangible ways.

Some days I have more hope than others. Today, I will say my hope supplies are a bit depleted, but I am going to borrow some from my friends who are bravely speaking out, risking their pride, scorning shame, calling out the craziness and reminding me that the road to equality is bumpy. It’s ugly. It’s going to hurt. Some days it’s going to make us want to stand on tables and scream.

God, show us what it means to be a reflection of you. what we’ve created sure isn’t.

Editors Note: For those that don’t know Kathy, she doesn’t use caps see http://kathyescobar.com/

By Kathy Escobar


  1. Kathy Escobar is right! Gender discrimination is rampant in the male dominated institutional church. Of all the places this problem exists, the Church is the last place it should be found. I’m appalled at the amount of discrimination to be found in an institution that is supposed to be blind to our race, gender, and economic status (Galatians 3:28) If the Church is a place (and its not) then it is a place where LOVE is supposed to trump all that nonsense. Having said that, I don’t think the problem is really discrimination.

    To live in a world of inequality is common to everyone. We all know that we are all equal but some are more equal than others. (tongue in cheek – sorry) Sure the Institutional Church is strongly sexist and leadership is usually male. That reality is reinforced with Old Testament teachings which are often used to support the sexism in the Church. However, inequality is everywhere. Institutions and organizations are structured in such a way as to control people and elevate gender specific, race specific, language specific, (you get the idea) leadership. So forget about it. Don’t fight this fight in the institution. Once you win, you may discover positional authority isn’t nearly what you thought it was going to be.

    Several years ago I decided to go for the gusto and live out my faith organically. I left pulpit ministry. I turned away from the Institutional church after more than 20 years of pastoral ministry, denominational leadership, and climbing organization charts. It turned out to be a huge paradigm shift – mindset change – career change – identity crisis – realignment. Wow! I was suddenly a common middle class white American male. Reverse discrimination was apparent in many situations. But now the institutional church has no power over me. I do what God wants me to do. I see more miracles, more people touched with the gospel of the Kingdom and the love of God. I almost never preach even though I really want, too. But I have way more impact than I ever did from the pulpit.

    Fighting for recognition in the system is futile. Not that it can’t be done. And not that you can’t win. But what good is it to be at the top of a ladder that’s not leaning against anything? I’m sure the organized Church has a role to play in today’s Christianity, and I hope it plays that role well. If you are called to fight the gender fight and change the institution – keep going. But if what you are looking for is effective, productive, unencumbered ministry, get out of the institution called the organized Church. Quit fighting for rights you already have as a child of God. If you are called to love the world, change lives, and advance the kingdom, my advice is that you stop fighting systems that resist your very nature and your calling. Go be the awesome child of God you were created to be. Your gift will make room for you. (Just remember if you do this, your biggest problem will be your own mindset).

  2. After carefully considering everything the Bible has to say on the subject and some of the things it doesn’t say and doesn’t address, recognizing that my responsibility is to answer the call of God and not the issues of men in a church system that has been lopsided for far too long, I prefer not to waste too much time worrying about the good old boys system. The Apostle Paul may have said he doesn’t allow women to speak in the church. This is the same apostle who also spoke via the Holy Spirit that there is neither Jew nor Greek, Free or slave, Male or female but all are one in Christ Jesus. Personally I find my time is better spent concerning myself with preaching the gospel and equipping the saints in obedience to the Lord’s anointed call. May the Lord continue to bless you and your service to him!

  3. Standing on a table and screaming sounds like a good plan about now. Had a discussion with my male, complementarian pastor yesterday. That conversation taught me the meaning of the word “privilege”. I had always dismissed the notion of privilege as poppycock until I realized this morning that it was the perfect word to explain the disconnect in our discussion. He can’t understand that there is a problem. He has no idea how our denomination’s attitude and practice toward women has a stifling effect on every woman in the church. He doesn’t see how this atmosphere even throws up stumbling blocks to what we are supposedly “allowed” to do. He hasn’t experienced how claustrophobic it can get under that low glass ceiling. He has no idea what it feels like to be undeniably called by God but have men disqualify you because of something you can’t even change. How frustrating and futile and discouraging. To have your reason for disqualification compared to an unrepented sin. To watch males younger than you and far less qualified being ordained and celebrated by the church, or worse: watch the men shirk the call to ministry and your church dwindle and suffer and still they won’t acknowledge your call. He has no idea how these gender-based rejections can assault the very root and core of our identity in Christ. How the church only serves to reinforce the world’s fallen, evil message to women that they are inferior, unwanted, unlovable, and unnecessary in God’s work and plan. How could a man know? He’s a man, which means he’s privileged not to have to empathize with discrimination and gender-based rejection. . When he stood up and said God was calling Him, he was applauded and given all the help and equipping he needed. Knowing I am called, I can only serve where I can, educate myself, and wait for God’s timing to put me where He needs me. This calling is a fire shut up inside my bones and it’s going to burn me from the inside out. My male pastor has the fortune and privilege to have no idea what that means, what it feels like. That is what privilege is: the ability to be happily and doggedly oblivious to empathizing with the oppression of others.

  4. […] It was not Paul’s habit to put restrictions on the sisters. However, things changed when false teaching crept in and some believers, including an unknown number of women, were involved in the aberrations, some of which no doubt involved the Artemis cult. As a result, some six years after he left Ephesus (approximately A.D. 63), Paul must announce to Timothy, “I am not now permitting a woman to teach….” […]