Once upon a time, there was a man who felt drawn and called by God to seminary. After prayerful conversation with his family and faith community, he began to search for a school. He came upon a local school that shared his passion for the Mission of God in the world… it was, however, a seminary of predominantly female administrators, faculty and students. He understood the history of the school– where they had come from, and where they were going. He knew he would be in the minority in his degree track, and even perhaps face some hard questions about why he was there. But the chance to study at a school that was serious about being on Mission with God, and training leaders for that work– it was more than enough to propel him onward. He was ready for the challenge.
He purchased his textbooks and studied his first syllabus. He couldn’t help but notice that all the textbooks were written by women… certainly not a problem for him, but it was a curiosity. He knew of solid evangelical male scholars who had published books in this particular subject area. Would any of his classmates even know of these men and those books? Would his professor?
He sat in his first class, one of two men among 26 women. The female instructor stood at the podium and began the class. It was energizing, challenging, stimulating. They talked about Creation in Genesis, the image of God being manifest in male and female. “Yes,” he thought. “Without one or the other, we are missing part of the image of God.”
At class breaks, he noticed the easy way the women related to one another. They seemed to know the same Christian thinkers, have gone to the same conferences, had common work experiences. He listened intently and tried to gently enter into conversations. These were his sisters and he genuinely wanted honest, collegial relationships with them. Alas, it was as if they spoke different languages. His scholarly mentors and leadership gurus were predominantly male. His female classmates did not know of them… he, of course, had heard of most of theirs… sadly, had heard what some of those well-known Christian leaders had said about men pursuing leadership in the church.
He found that navigating awkward conversations was only the beginning of his unique seminary experience. He also needed to filter classroom lingo. “Woman” was often used to refer to all of humanity. Female students were often given specific instruction on how to navigate their marriages as they juggled family responsibilities and church ministry. He wondered if he should raise his hand and ask if there was specific advice for men going into ministry. He decided that since he was in such a small minority, most likely the instructors just didn’t see him sitting there. They weren’t ignoring him on purpose; it was just an oversight.
For quite a few weeks, the topic of gender in church leadership never came up. This man was thankful, thankful for the chance to simply be with his classmates before tackling what was sure to be a controversial issue. He hoped there was enough trust and care in the cohort’s emotional bank account, that they could be honest and forthright with one another… that they could disagree… and still be brothers and sisters who loved each other. He was relieved when the professor actually took his side in the debate. In his mind, the odds were 50/50 and could have easily gone the other way. He went into every new class blind on where he stood with the instructor. On this particular night (and many nights following), there was no resolution to the gender debate. He went home tired. It took a lot of energy to continue to stand where so few at the school did… and to keep standing there week after week, in faithfulness to his calling.
The topic of men in church leadership would continue to come up over his three-year degree program. Each time, lines were drawn. No resolution was found. He was often asked to speak for men as a whole. How do men respond to this? What do men think about this? He was puzzled by the question… do “men” think one way about anything? At one point, he was elected president of his cohort, certainly a gesture of trust by his classmates. He found it curious, however, when he heard comments such as, “You will do a great job keeping us organized. You’re so much better at administration than we women are.”
By their senior year, this man’s cohort had settled into their classes and relationships. There was periodic joking about him being the lone ranger in the group… about “proper roles” or gender stereotypes. For the most part, these things didn’t bother him. But there were times when he bit his tongue and chose not to wade into the difficult waters of equality and justice. What would be the point? They were working together the best way they knew how. He knew he needed their grace, and offered them grace in return.
Then, one day near the end of his program, a woman from his cohort pulled him aside. He knew her to be one of the most conservative in her stance on men in the church. She admitted to him that meeting him and spending these years studying together, had changed her dramatically. She thanked him for being honest and vulnerable, for sharing his thoughts and beliefs and his journey with her. She said that because of him, she was more open now to the idea of men leading in the church. She believed he would be a real blessing to any church where he ended up serving.
Not long after this miraculous encounter, a dear friend came to him and said that he was thinking of entering seminary… and would the man recommend this seminary as a good place to go for other men. He replied, “Yes, my brother. Yes, I would.” “Why?” his friend asked. “Because they need us.”