Kristen Padilla may have achieved the impossible with Now That I’m Called.
It is difficult to write a book on women being called to ministry without playing into the obvious conflicts surrounding ordination and eldership, namely: are these roles women are allowed to pursue or not? Given the clear and direct language of scripture, I’ve concluded these roles are reserved for men. I’ve accepted those boundaries as an opportunity to be creative. Given that the most obvious role is not available to me, what other opportunities should I seek out?
Padilla has joined a denomination in which ordination would be a possibility for her, a possibility she is considering. So we’ve come to different conclusions on this big and important question. But her purpose in writing this book is to show women that “receiving this kind of call does not mean that they must hold a church office” because the gifts of the Spirit “can be exercised outside of a particular office in the church.” Though she doesn’t discount the possibility of ordination or vocational ministry, Padilla nonetheless has written a helpful guide for women pursuing ministry opportunities that will appeal to readers no matter where they stand on women’s ordination.
It may seem strange to recommend this book given that I don’t agree with her position on ordination and I’m not sure I agree with how narrowly she defines “calling.” Now That I’m Called presumes that some of us are uniquely called to leadership roles in ministry (whether that means teaching the whole church or teaching women and children). I find the concept of “calling” to be misleading. Does God speak directly to some women, hand-selecting us like he did with Jeremiah and Paul? Or is it more accurate to say that some women simply feel a desire to teach and lead as they grow in maturity? I know I’ve never heard a clear calling; I simply recognized a desire to learn and to share what I was learning. I prayed for opportunities and kept my focus on learning and growing.I’d also want to press back on her premise, which equates modern-day callings with the very specific way that God called prophets and apostles throughout scripture. Padilla says “God will not leave the shepherding of his church and the spreading of his mission to ‘chance,’ to whomever aspires to it or volunteers” but I disagree. Aspiring to be used in ministry is a noble thing (2 Timothy 3:1) and does not require that we are given a hand-picked assignment.
However, Padilla is right to recognize that one of the ways false teaching slips into a church is through women’s ministry “because churches are not hiring called, biblically learned women to teach the women of the church.” I agree wholeheartedly that churches should not neglect or outsource the training of women in their church. Women are vital members of the body and they have unique and important ministry opportunities that require robust theology. Too often, women’s Bible studies are pre-packaged and imported without a second glance. Padilla encourages churches to intentionally train their women, and encourages women to pursue training for the benefit of their local church body.
At the end of each chapter, Padilla profiles a woman who felt called to ministry. At the end of the chapter titled “Does the Bible Restrict the Callings of Women?” Tish Harrison Warren, an ordained minister in the Anglican church, offers this advice: “Don’t go into ministry to make some kind of statement about women in ministry… Only go into ministry if you love people and serving the church and the gospel and (mostly) if you sense a call to ministry that’s been affirmed by close friends and community. There is a great need for women to be in ministry, especially women who really love the church…Women desperately need other trained and theologically rooted women who are spiritual authorities in their lives and in the church.” These words serve to reinforce what Padilla emphasized throughout the chapter: “You do not have to be a senior pastor or preach where men are present to have a call to Word-based ministry.” Statements like this underscore my belief that this book will be a helpful tool to women on both sides of the ordination debate, even for women like me who have concluded that women ought not seek ordination.
Padilla persistently turns our eyes back to the needs of those around us, reminding us that all kinds of people need shepherds including women, youth, children, the dying, the sick, orphans, the disabled, and “the broken, abused, lost and forgotten.” She encourages women to proclaim the gospel in creative ways, adapting their call to meet the needs of their congregation while still fitting within the framework of their denomination. She champions women’s education, reminding readers that “your teaching will be limited by the knowledge you do and do not have.” Padilla thinks many more women should seek seminary training as both “a gift from God and an offering to God.”
If I could add a word to Padilla’s encouragement, I would tell women: Start where you are. Set an example with your service and your diligent study. No opportunities are beneath you. You don’t have to wait for any specific calling. You’ve already received the call to which you’ve responded in faith. Now take up the prayer of 2 Thessalonians 1:11 that “God will make you worthy of his calling,and by his power fulfill your every desire to do good and your work produced by faith.”