Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Stained-Glass Ceiling

The Stained-Glass Ceiling
by Kathy Escobar

I have pushed my head past the stained-glass ceiling. I look around and sometimes I can’t believe I’m here. I have to admit, the shards kind of hurt. I never set out to break through anything, but here I am, married with kids, just turned forty years old, co-pastoring a crazy church plant in North Denver, trying to live out what I really believe—that equality and diversity are sadly missing in the evangelical church and a different way is possible.

It seems so simple to me, ridiculous that people even argue about it, but the stained-glass ceiling is alive and well in the church. It’s hard to break through it. I have cuts to prove it.

I never thought I’d be a pastor. I wasn’t raised in a Christian family and didn’t know a thing about what good Christian women are supposed to be like. I was a liberal, an activist, always the one fighting for the underdog, but somewhere along the way I got suburbanized.

I married a military pilot, started having babies, began attending a conservative church with some friends, and the next thing I knew I got sucked into the typical role of a white, suburban evangelical Christian wife.

A few years into my marriage, though, I got mixed up with a group of women who started asking some tough questions about life and God. I got honest about my past, stopped pretending, and began to realize how submissive I had become in my relationships. Soon, we got into trouble at our conservative church; I guess we weren’t using the Bible enough. The more trouble we got in, the more my heart was coming alive. Jesus lit a fire in me to help set others free, too. I got sick and tired of all of the rules, the roles, the forbidden topics in the church, so I ignored the status quo and kept creating pockets of women who were hungry for authenticity, truth, freedom. During that season as a lay leader I didn’t worry about politics or status or organizational bullsh*t. I was just focused on whoever was in front of me who wanted to taste the real thing in their spiritual journey.

I went to seminary for a few years assuming that I’d keep helping women because that is what I loved to do. I feel so naïve now, limiting myself unintentionally, but no one was telling me otherwise. Then, in a wild and crazy twist, I got hired unexpectedly onto a mega-church staff as a care pastor. The interesting part was initially the title was Coordinator of Care. Hmm, but the guy in the job before was the Care Pastor. I spoke up—That’s not fair, I’m going to be doing the same thing as him. I won the battle not really knowing in that exact moment I had hit the stained-glass ceiling.

Over the next few years, I had a lot of influence in the recovery and healing community at our church. I realize now, in hindsight, that care and counseling is politically acceptable for a woman in church, kind of like all those vice presidents of human resources that are running around in corporate America. Still, I knew I was making an impact ministering to men and women, teaching, leading, and facilitating. But when the new, bright-eyed and bushy tailed teaching pastor (who was egalitarian) asked me to team teach with him all hell broke loose. It was the first time in the history of our supposedly progressive church that a woman had ever done anything but the announcements on stage. Before and afterward, some of the elders beliefs about women in leadership started seeping out. They liked me teaching to the addicts, but when it came to big church their theology didn’t allow it.

The fallout was brutal. It knocked the wind out of me. I easily could have stayed in the system, remained the token woman on the 9-member pastoral leadership team, and said the correct party line things to keep my job...and continue doing the announcements. But too much damage to my spirit had been done, the injustice had become too apparent. 100% of the time we never hear from 50% of the population kept ringing in my head.

There were many guest speakers who filled in at our church got to teach just because of their anatomy. I had more seminary training and graduate school than most pastors on our staff, but people still asked the business director with a finance degree to marry them before considering me. The list of injustices started to add up. The lights went on and boy were they bright.

There really was nowhere else for an evangelical leader like me to go. Thankfully, my friend the teaching pastor challenged me to do a new thing that I believe is the heartbeat of the church Jesus dreamed of—shared leadership, women and men serving alongside with different giftedness to bring to the table.

He asked me to co-pastor with him. I was terrified. I kept resisting but deep inside I felt Jesus whispering, It’s possible. Enough people kept encouraging me. My husband was my greatest cheerleader. This is a battle worth fighting. God has called you to be a pastor, you can’t get away from it. Lean into it. You can’t convince everyone so don’t even try.

So, we planted a new church called The Refuge. We are committed to equality, diversity, advocating for the marginalized and oppressed. And as the co-pastor, I am learning to use the voice He gave me, to shepherd, to boldly lead, and to love my neighbor.

A lot of conservative evangelicals think we’re out of God’s will, but in the emergent community I’m finding there are many who believe in what we are doing, who have this lovely and beautiful dream of the Kingdom here on earth... the one with no stained-glass ceiling.

Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, a church plant in north Denver committed to the messy, the hurting, the marginalized. she co-authored 'Come With Me: An Invitation to Break Through the Walls Between You and God', published by Discovery House Press, she also co-authored some new material coming out July 2007 called 'Refresh: Sharing Stories, Building Faith'; it's in a magazine format and published by New Hope. She can be found at The Refuge, The Refuge Blog, or you can email her at kathy at therefugeonline dot org.

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