“I Can’t Change My Spots”

12 comments Written on April 23rd, 2014     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Submitted by:
Rebecca Worl

The elderly woman caught my attention as I was exiting the church. She gave me a smile and waved me over. Her eyes glistened a bit as she grabbed my hands and put them between her own.

“Hello dear, I just wanted to tell you, that I was so moved by your… talk today, it was one of the best – you know, I ever heard in all my 80 years… “

I smiled as I could tell she was struggling with the words, I offered a little help,
“The best…Sermon?” I volunteered.

“Well, I wasn’t going to say THAT, you know, after all, at my age I can’t change my spots!” She laughed a little under her breath.

I was puzzled. “Sorry, what spots do you refer to?”

I took her hands even tighter into my own and led her to a chair so we could talk. Her sweet spirit and kind words moved my heart, and I could tell we had more to chat about.

“Well, after all these years of believing that women shouldn’t be in the pulpit, I just can’t change how I feel about that. But your – ,” she hesitated again.

I smiled again and tried one more time, “Sermon?”

“Ok, for lack of a better word, yes, your sermon was really one of the best sermons I have ever heard, and it challenged me in my faith – imagine that, after 80 years of walking with Jesus.”

I was very humbled and grateful for her generous words, but wanted to push further…
“Ah, thank you so much! It was my true honor to bring God’s Word today. I’m so thankful that the Spirit ministered to you. So you are not sure if women should preach, but you think that maybe, I’m an OK preacher though?” I pushed further.

“Oh yes! The best! But that’s just you honey, I don’t know about any other woman out there.”

“So, if I’m a good preacher, and I am a woman, isn’t it possible that there are other good preachers out there who are women too?”

“Well, I suppose there may be…but that doesn’t mean they should be in the pulpit.”
“Where should they be then?”

“Maybe standing on the floor, or speaking just to women. That’s biblical.”

Our conversation didn’t have a chance to go any further, but I walked away with a thoughtful smile. So… if I can stand behind a music stand, on the floor, and “talk”, that is “biblical?” Or if I make sure my audience is composed of the correct gender, then I can “talk.” But if I stand behind a pulpit and the congregation is mixed, then I shouldn’t be… what’s the word again…preaching?

I thought of the first person who was entrusted with bearing the Word of Good News within her, a woman, Mother Mary. I thought of the first person who was entrusted with delivering the gospel message, to men… a woman, Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-18). I thought of the first student of theology and missionary, the woman at the well (John 4:1-39). I thought of the first “theology professor” who taught and trained a man in the Word, a woman, Priscilla who was the primary educator of Apollos, a preacher “mighty in the scripture” (Rom16:3-5, Acts 18:2, 24-26, 2 Tim 4:19). I thought of the first apostle, Junia, a woman, whom Paul addressed as a kinsman who was “prominent” or “outstanding” among the apostles (Rom 16:7). I thought of the Holy Spirit as He filled, equipped, gifted all people gathered in the upper room, including women (Acts 1:12, 2). I thought of the prophecy of this event spelled out Joel 2:7, and I thought of how the Holy Spirit distributes gifts without bias or preference on His authority (Acts 2:1-21, 1 Cor. 12:7,11, 14:31).

I thought about these things…
And I had great love in my heart for this kind and thoughtful woman, and hoped that she would continue to allow the totality of scripture to shape her understanding of God’s work in the world through his sons and daughters. And that maybe she would hear more wonderful sermons from gifted women, and take a closer look at Paul’s theology of women.

I thought of the gift the Spirit gave me, to deliver the good news of Jesus Christ whenever, to whomever… to recipients whom God knows needs to hear it, male or female. I thought… I sure do hope I get to do more “talking” in the future… For that is what God created and called me to do.

“The very first person to be commissioned was a woman. And she was commissioned to go to men to share her testimony…and then also to give His Word. I know there are some people who will draw a line and say I can give a testimony, but I can’t share the Scripture. But Jesus didn’t make that distinction. He gave Mary Magdalene both commissions, to share her testimony and to give out His word.” Ann Graham Lotz

“That Christ ushered in this new era of life and liberation in the presence of women, and that he sent them out as the first witnesses of the complete gospel story, is perhaps the boldest, most overt affirmation of their equality in his kingdom that Jesus ever delivered. And yet too many Easter services begin with a man standing before a congregation of Christians and shouting, ‘he is risen!’ to a chorused response of ‘he is risen indeed!’ Were we to honor the symbolic details of the text, that distinction would always belong to a woman.” Rachel Held Evans

Rebecca Worl is a graduate of Fuller Seminary, with a Masters in Theology, specializing in Biblical Studies. She currently serves in her home church as a fill-in preacher and small group bible study leader. She also has answered the call to be a retreat speaker, and has had a variety of opportunities to speak at women’s retreats around the Covenant Conference. She spends most of her time with her 2 year old and 7 year at home in Maple Valley with her husband, Robert Worl.

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12 comments ““I Can’t Change My Spots””

What a powerful testimony and so well told. Thanks for sharing your story.

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could you clarify a statement for me? You state that Junia was the first apostle. At least that is how the structure of the sentence compels me to understand your meaning. Does Junia predate the 12 in apostle-ship? I don’t think you meant that she was the first woman apostle, otherwise you could have stated, Junis, the first woman apostle… .
For reference, I do not feel women should not preach or that women should not be in pastoral positions. I am interested to understand your meaning .
Thank you, for your response and for your ministry.

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HI Scott — allow me to jump in with a reply. I’m the current chair of the Commission in the Covenant that sponsors this blog.  Rebecca is simply quoting a couple of the versions of Romans 16:7, saying that Junia was “outstanding” (NIV) or “prominent” (NRSV) among the apostles. There are a variety of ways that verse is interpreted, but she’s being faithful to a couple of respected translations.  I don’t think anyone would conclude that would mean primacy for Junia.  The larger issue is that there was a woman apostle in the early church, which is extremely significant.  I hope that helps, and thanks for the respectful tone of your question. 

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Thanks so much for this wonderful post, Rebecca! I have linked to it from my blog. It seems like oftentimes, people are opposed to women ministering in certain ways because they have just never seen it done, whether that’s preaching, or passing the communion plate, or something else entirely. As women are given more and more opportunities to serve in these ways, and develop relationships with the people they are serving, THAT’S when I think people’s attitudes about women in ministry will really begin to shift 

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Wow, Rebecca. Thank you for this wonderful perspective on the places women have risen to answer God’s call to serve. And God bless your elderly friend. She found, as so many who have been told their whole lives that women can’t preach, that a real woman, “with skin on” is much easier to accept. May God continue to break down the barriers for all women, and may every woman be encouraged and empowered to rise and serve. 

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I enjoy reading your blog. I don’t want to criticize you, but I would really like to know how you interpret 1 Tim 2: 8-15 without making excuses that it wasn’t wasn’t originally in the scripture or it is not relevant today. Or even 1 Tim 3:2 with regard to bishops. It is obvious from other examples in the bible, that women have been in positions of leadership, but how much? Where there women bishops or overseers? The problem is that the new testament only has men at the top. Women obviously have a role to share the word of God. But, under what authority or role, is the question? If you could give an answer to my question, I would appreciate it. 

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Hi Jamie – My name is Brian Wiele, and I serve as the Chair of the Commission for Biblical Gender Equality for the Covenant. Since Rebecca’s post is as a guest columnist, I thought it might be helpful for me to respond to your question.  Thanks for your sincere inquiry. Like you, we would encourage people to form their conclusions from wrestling with the scriptures. But we would hope that people would look at the entire Bible, and not take theological stances from one passage (especially a confusing passage like this one).  Throughout the Bible, as you note, there are many women who have been called by God to speak, and several were in positions of leadership. (Romans 16 is a great example of some of them). The conclusion we have drawn is that many have misunderstood Paul’s intention in I Timothy 2; he simply can’t have intended the kind of limits people have put on the ministry of women, for he didn’t place those kind of restrictions on the women he worked with.  In my opinion, for too long we have been concerned (like the 12 disciples) about who gets to be in charge  or be in “authority”, and hold the important seats in the Kingdom, and too little concerned about servant leadership.  For a good exploration of some of the issues in the I Timothy 2 passage, I commend to you this recent post by a friend of the Covenant, Gail Wallace: http://juniaproject.com/1-timothy-212-ten-talking-points/.  I hope this helps. 

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Jenny – Thanks for sharing this story from Rebecca Worl. Back when I was in full-time ministry, I had several similar experiences, even though I was part of a denomination that ordained women! For some, the idea that a woman could teach and preach with the same authority and command of scripture as a man was just hard to swallow. All I knew was that I wanted to be allowed to use the gifts God had placed inside me. Period. I am so delighted to see a new generation of female leaders taking on these false theologies and promoting a redeemed view of women, refusing to ignore the obvious fact that the Holy Spirit has empowered, gifted and graced us to lead alongside our brothers in Christ, to HIS GLORY, for the benefit of the church and to the delight and deep satisfaction of His daughters! Thank you for courageously doing what He’s gifted you to do.

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Rebecca, thanks so much for your outstanding blog on this subject. I, too, have had similar conversations with women… and men… on this issue. I remember a preacher saying to me (right after I’d preached) that most women are not anointed. I asked him if he thought I was anointed. He looked at his feet and said ‘yes, but that anointing is contributing to the feminisation of the Church.’

It’s difficult to get around ignorance unless the person is willing to allow themselves to think outside of the box they’ve been placed in by their traditions. yet the Bible says there’s no excuse for ignorance.

Great post, thanks.

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