Let’s Do This “Biblical”: A Guest Blog from Jessica Bowman

October 22, 2012

We’re down to our last guest blogger, before we have a Q and A and book giveaway on Wednesday.  I’m happy to introduce to you Jessica Bowman, author of Bohemian Bowmans and the ebook on parenting ‘Parenting Wild Things: Embracing the Rumpus.”  Today, Jessica shares her experience of actually trying to teach and lead young people toward Christ.

They seemed like a lost cause, this group of throwaways.IMG_2680c-300x300

Dropouts, teenage mothers, family-less vagabonds bouncing from house to house of whoever would take them. Until that person tired of their drama and bounced them on again. Not a good fit for the youth group and hopelessly disinterested in the adult class, they had no place there. And yet they still caught the church bus every week, just bored enough to show up.

They were being nothing but a distraction and spiritual drain on the Sunday School class they had been plunked into. It was a painfully bad fit. And they sure weren’t going to open up in there. They desperately needed a safe place to speak, to question. To do anything but feign sleep or giggle during the lesson.

So I offered to take them on, to do my best with them.

A Room Full of Misfits

We found our own tiny room in the church to claim. Cinder block walls and uncomfortable folding chairs, a tiny space for the church of misfit souls. It wasn’t much but it was theirs and they loved the freedom found in the four stark white walls. Tattoos, lip rings, foul mouths, hangovers, and babies, they all walked in the door.

They had questions like “What is ‘sexual immorality’? Is it just sex or does, like, other stuff count, too?” They weren’t ready to take responsibility yet for the answers but they were at least willing to ask the questions. I told them from the beginning, “I’m probably going to piss you off at some point but I’m going to tell you the truth. And I want to be your friend.” They seemed up to the challenge.

Are We Doing This “Biblical?”

And it didn’t take long, not with a powder keg crowd like this. It happened one Sunday morning when examining a scripture that clearly defines the fruit that will be in a Christian’s life.  Their own fruitlessness pissed them off more than anything, I think. And so they pouted and spread half-truths about the lesson.

I was approached by church leadership – all men, and questioned.  I was up front about every word, every scripture.

They found no flaw with my message or my method but instead questioned my authority. After all, weren’t the young men in the class too old to be taught by a woman? Were they men? Were they boys? “I just want to make sure we’re doing this Biblical,” one said.

Are Church Splits Biblical?

The next Sunday I was called out of the room by the pastor before class started and asked not go back in.  I stood there, tears of indignation spilling over, and respectfully defended my right to help these kids.  I think it was a people-pleasing maneuver more than anything else but I was denied and it hurt. Deeply. I retreated to my car where I spent the remainder of the hour crying slow angry tears.

That was the beginning of the end in more than one respect. Not longer after, those same kids would be a cog in the wheel of a major split in the church. And not much longer after that we would also choose to leave for different reasons.

I don’t regret my short time there – I made some deep friends and learned some hard lessons. But I do regret that a budding ministry was crushed all because of an outdated understanding of gender roles in the church. Those kids deserved a space to feel safe, even when the truth hurt.

They deserved a teacher – man or a woman.

Tell us if you’ve ever run into the limitations placed on you in a church, whether you’re a man or a woman.  And then go read Jessica’s blog, Bohemian Bowmans.

23 responses to Let’s Do This “Biblical”: A Guest Blog from Jessica Bowman

  1. I could not help wondering as I read this, “What is the cutoff age for a boy to no longer be taught by a woman?” And then, “Does this apply to mothers and their sons? What if a boy is fatherless? Is his mother no longer qualified to teach him from the Bible because of her gender, even if he has no father to assume that role?” Guess so. Guess that the local Sunday School would have to completely assume that responsibility. Because we gotta keep things biblical.

    Remembering also, Jessica, an anecdote I read years ago from a pastor whose name I cannot now remember, about another minister who, upon getting to heaven and being asked what he had accomplished for God’s kingdom, crowed about keeping the women from pastoring and preaching…and not getting quite the reward for same that he’d expected.

    Sorry you had to go through this. Damn sorrier for those kids.

  2. “After all, weren’t the young men in the class too old to be taught by a woman? Were they men? Were they boys? “I just want to make sure we’re doing this Biblical,” one said.”

    And let me guess–the male “leaders” in that church probably were having nothing to do with this group of kids up until this point, right? I’m guessing they were probably content to pat themselves on the back for just getting the kids on the church bus and had no freaking clue about what to do with them once they got in the building.

    That seems to be the overarching trend with a lot “ministries”, anyway–just get them in the door and assume that everything will magically work out afterwards.

    But apparently that’s more “biblical” than letting someone with a vagina (yeah, I said it!) be in charge of something. What a load of crap.

    • Several of the leaders were actually personally invested in this group of kids which is partly why there was a bit of defensiveness, I think. But you’re right, a “thriving bus ministry” was just code for busing in kids that didn’t want to learn about God and that we didn’t know how to handle which is how we got to that place to begin with.

  3. Just ridiculous.

    The only experience I had was when a sermon was given about the qualifications for elder, since the church was planning to add 2 more of them. I then waited 2 weeks to calm down a little bit and sent off an email about my disappointment in the sermon. The conversation didn’t really go anywhere (not surprised).

  4. When i was a young married girl of maybe 26..my husband and i had been teaching the 3-4 year old sunday school class. Our own daughter being one of the little ones. I was asked to step down from teaching because they had found out i had been married before as a teenager. This was BEFORE I knew Christ as my Savior. I was so hurt and yes we left this church over this.Our many friends there were very hurt for us as well.
    It did not stop us from teaching another class together eventually. However i did let the next church we attended know i had been married before when we offered to teach,, I taught at that church every year for 12 years from 3 years to teenagers.

  5. It is unfortunate that we can’t just ask the Apostle Paul what he meant when he penned “those” verses about women’s roles in leadership and teaching, especially when he seems to contradict them in other parts of his letters. I am an ordained woman pastor serving in a denomination that has ordained women from its inception, although at various times in our history the reality hasn’t always matched the official position. To make things more interesting, God has relocated me from a Northern state to the Deep South where, as you can imagine, the idea that women cannot serve in leadership or pastoral roles in the church are more deeply entrenched and are defended with dogmatic enthusiasm. That said, I find that God blesses and gives me the grace I need to deal with those who believe I am destined for hell for following His call on my life. I endure by reminding myself that, while He could have chosen anyone, the very first person our Savior Himself entrusted to carry the news of the Resurrection was a dear sister.

  6. I identify. When me and my husband led a small group of church misfits–some homeless, some mentally ill, some just plain strange–we were blessed (and sometimes stressed) beyond what we could have ever imagined. But it was a church in a college town, trying to draw young people, and though my husband and I fit into that age demographic, our group members did not. We were never given priority on the church schedule, especially when a group of trendy young adults wanted to have band practice during our group time. It was heartbreaking to realize that the church did not value our ragtag bunch as much as it valued building its image as ‘the cool church.’ It is so hard not to get cynical about stuff like this.

  7. I always find it intriguing that no one seems to care about the women’s role in the church issue until someone gets their panties in a bunch about something. I think, if they really wanted to “do this biblical” there never would have been a “misfit class” in the first place. Bless you for doing what others wouldn’t- reaching out to those who aren’t as easy to love. And forgive them for not doing what they should have in the first place.

  8. We had an interview with a pastoral ministry about possibly going into full time ministry after some school and training. The only questions they asked seemed to revolve around what my husband’s attitude was towards his tattoos. They didn’t really even ask us how we were serving in our current church or what growth we had experienced as Christians.

    We left both laughing and crying.

  9. It is disturbing how “Biblical” some people can be. My husband is the youth pastor at our church and regularly gets questions about the music he listens to and so on instead of asking how our confused and hurting teens are doing. I’m just grateful he fields all of that nonsense, so I can do my part in peace.

    It seems many of us have these painful experiences. It is so good to hear that even though we have had those experiences we haven’t given up on the Kingdom. Thank you for sharing.

  10. I’ve seen this happen as well in my college Sunday school class. Sorry this is something you had to face, but thanks for sharing your story.

  11. My mom and I were involved in similiar minstries. Fortunately for her, they encouraged her to keep going and reaching out to this young ones. My friend and I reached out to drunks, partiers, clubbers, and druggies. We were told to stop for liability issues.

  12. Wonder why no one says a guy can no longer teach a group because girls are now woman? All this because of ONE out of context verse in the Bible.

    Woman were recommended to be silent in synagogue because woman and men did not sit together, so in order for a wife to ask a question she would have to shout across the room.

  13. Timothy was raised and taught by his mother and his grandmother. But then Paul came along and became a spiritual father to Timothy. Perhaps there is a cut-off? Perhaps there is a season for the young males to depart and find male role models? I’m thinking out loud here.

    As a male I do not ever put myself in any situation where I am alone with a female or a group of females without another female who is my peer. I do so to avoid any appearance of evil or the possibility of sexual immorality charges being leveled against me. Temptations are real and better men than me have fallen because of less.

    I say this because I could not see myself comfortably teaching a group of females who were younger than I unless there were an older woman present whose spirit was believable and trustworthy. If the elders approached me and said, ‘Hey, we’re not totally on-board with you teaching these younger girls’, I would step aside. How could I not? I find it best to choose my battles wisely.

    Perhaps it was that dreaded old school misogyny that you faced. Perhaps it was something else. Either way, you left that particular church (for other reasons as you have said), but I know that seeds were planted by you in the lives of these people. Nicely done.

  14. Well Jessica Bowman, I’ve been thrown out of churches for things that were definitely immoral. Compared to what I’ve done you’re totally innocent .
    When I searched for a new church I was looking for a family of believers that would help me follow God. When I was looking for a church Acts 5:35-39 lit my way. My number one hope for you and everyone on this website is that you come to find and worship the true and living God, not an idol that is twisted by the lies of liberalism or tradition, but firmly built on the solid rock of truth the Bible. Thank you.

  15. Jessica, thank you for what you did with those kids, even though it was shut down by fear and assholery. It was people like you that saved me multiple times in my teen years. What you did made a difference.

  16. I think it’s more effective for a guy to teach a guy, especially because at some point he’s going to need to start confessing sins, and some sins are better confessed to someone of the same sex (I can only back this up vaguely – with things like “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” or “among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality or impurity of any kind” – I believe that talking about detailed sexual sins with someone of the opposite sex could lead to a hint of sexual immorality. So that the ideal would probably be a team of a guy and a girl.

    That said, it sounds like your approach was spot on and it’s a shame you weren’t supported.

  17. Hello. In my 20s, I was hurt by a leader’s “judgement”. Looking back 20 years later, my understanding is that her concerns for/about me were valid, but she handled the situation badly and created an “us” vs. “me” situation, which I ended up fleeing.

    While I do not agree with the elders for removing you from leading the study, I do think it would have been better to have a like-minded male with you while you taught, as much for accountability purposes as for giving the boys/young men a positive male role model and a second person to back up what you said as truth. Slowly introducing more people from the church also would have broken down barriers between your “misfits” and the experienced church attenders and made them feel more at home and more likely to stay and the church more likely to stay together. But it is easier to make these judgments in hindsight.

    God bless your work!

    • I did have a male teaching partner on another night of the week with these kids, but not in the beginning of the budding sunday school class.

  18. I do agree that young guys need men to teach them how to be men. But I don’t agree that a woman can’t teach a young man anything. Especially if that young man isn’t saved and that woman is. This does seem (like you said) like a whale of a lot of people-pleasing. Sounds like some good ole’ quenching of the Spirit to me.

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