To Be a Woman in Ministry

by Ashley Guthas on March 14, 2024

I feel uneasy labeling myself as a pastor. Each woman in ministry has their own story. I thought I would pull the curtain back for a moment and invite you to see a little of my own journey.

During my college years, I internalized the teachings of male leadership and female submission. For years, I worked in churches that excluded women from leadership. During staff meetings, women were dismissed early or simply uninvited. Women were labeled “associates” and only men were labeled “pastors.” Though this often confused me, I accepted my place and did not question it. My title was of little importance if I could do what I felt called by God to do. 

What I did not realize was just how entrenched these teachings were into other areas of my life. It was not just my workplace that was affected, but also my relationship with anyone of the opposite gender. I felt a need to trust their voices and opinions over my own. I did not think I could trust my own spiritual journey without some stamp of approval from a man. I remember telling a pastor I worked with that I felt called to serve in another country. He quickly told me that I would not live overseas. I was crushed in that moment but felt I had to trust his spiritual leadership. As the progression of this teaching continued to seep further into my being, I began to believe I could serve God better if I had a husband. I can also look back now and see how I would even find a way to give credit to the men in my life for things I had accomplished. 

I lived with this mentality for over a decade until I could see the damage it was causing me and many other women. I served in many churches throughout those years and deeply regret the fact that I regurgitated some of this toxic teaching to others.

When I entered seminary, my own faith was barely hanging on by tattered threads. I did not have a career goal as I simply wanted to learn. My mentor told me, “Seminary is a risk for you, but you are ripe for the journey.” I could have never expected how this three-year journey would shatter me and turn my world inside out. 

I had long given up the desire to work at a church again because of the ways men’s voices and stories were consistently believed over women’s and the pain that directly caused me personally. I did not realize it then, but I was also contributing to the silencing of my own voice due to those internalized toxic teachings. I knew I cared deeply about the church and humanity, and so I found contentment in volunteering. 

When I had to work for a church to complete a seminary course, I was not looking forward to it. Within my first few weeks into the internship, I was caught off guard when the male associate pastor told me they were going to change the staff meeting day and time to accommodate my schedule because they believed my voice was important. 

As if a tidal wave crashed over me, my coworkers, classmates, and professors, male and female, were affirming pastoral gifts within me and encouraging me to move towards ordination. I resisted as I wrestled theologically with what it meant to be a woman in leadership in the church. I fully supported my female friends in all areas of ministry, but I still could not accept it for myself. I remember vividly when I had to preach my first sermon in class. I felt physically sick. I was lying on the floor in an empty classroom not knowing if I would make it through without collapsing in front of everyone. I walked outside for fresh air just before class was to begin and Andrea Corso Johnson saw my eyes and immediately stopped to offer words of encouragement. While I do not get physically sick when I preach now, I still wrestle with whether I should be leading in this way.

I did not anticipate finalizing my degree and divorce at the same time. It was overwhelming to choose a job to provide for myself and my daughters. With the label of divorce over me, I felt even less sure of my call to ministry and even further from the title of pastor. 

God continues to tug at my heart, gently nudging me towards the call to shepherd. I accepted the advice of ministry leaders and professors and pursued ordination. (Thank you to those who were present and those who were there in spirit!) Regardless of my gender or marital status, and even amid my own doubts and insecurities, here I am. I am trying to live out this calling even in, or especially in, my own frailty. 

Ashley Guthas |

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