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I was six years old, sandals just brushing the floor in the sanctuary of a foreign church, where my grandparents and I sat to witness my cousin’s baptism. The building was remarkably like ours at home—toddlers hollering in the fellowship hall, coffee percolating in the kitchen for post-service gossip.

But at the close of the prelude, I straightened in the pew. There behind the pulpit was not the suited figure I was accustomed to, but a woman in a brilliant pink blazer who raised her hands, blessing the congregation into the house of God. My grandma must have noticed my change in posture, for after the service, she nudged me towards the woman. “This is Pastor Joy,” she said. My eyes grew all the wider—our names were too similar for this to be an accident.

That day in my cousin’s church thirteen years ago was the first and last time I heard a woman preach in person. In the Christian Reformed Church, the question of women in the ecclesial offices is left to individual churches. My congregation falls on the “traditional” side of this issue, championing texts like 1 Timothy 2:11-12. “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she is to remain quiet.”

My father, with good intention, pointed me to this verse when I came to him, years after that service with Pastor Joy, with my questions about being a girl who loved God and wanted to talk about it from a pulpit. Convinced Paul’s words weren’t really all that simple, I rushed to Desiring God, my family’s second Bible. I won’t—I can’t—forget the plummeting of my stomach when I read, “To the degree that a woman’s leadership of man is personal and directive, it will generally offend a man’s God-given sense of responsibility and leadership and thus controvert God’s created order.”

I tried to obey, I really did. In the years following, I found more Piper. Listened to more male pastors. Read the Bible about as much as I could stand and tried to keep my mouth shut. When I finally realized I couldn’t pray myself into submission, I was left with what felt like a sinful secret. I was just as equipped as my brothers and male classmates, maybe even more so, to read and share the Bible. Yet when it came to my church, there was nothing for me to do but “remain quiet,” or, according to my solemn adolescent perspective, face the fires of hell.

This submission was my legacy—how many times had my mom thoughtfully critiqued an error in our pastor’s sermon? Or prayed more beautifully and powerfully than any man I ever heard? Yet her gifts were largely confined to our church’s Sunday school rooms, where nobody but children could hear her speak.

At age fifteen, my long-suppressed tangle of emotions bubbled to the surface in front of a teacher. He sat quietly while I explained, then rifled through his desk drawer, emerging with J. Lee Grady’s Ten Lies the Church Tells Women. “Here,” he said. “Let me know what you think.” I tore through the book, especially awed by the troves of biblical women unearthed. Women like Huldah, Anna, Phoebe, Junia, Salome, and Johanna did not live into the quietness I was taught to inhabit, but filled authoritative positions where God called them to raise their voices in accordance with their spiritual gifts.

And yet, my secret remained. Here I was in a congregation composed of loving people who had raised me from infancy and held the view that my call was to quietness. While these congregants encouraged me on nearly every other level, their patriarchy was ingrained and pervasive. Even those who view this as a topic that leads to “two different perspectives and convictions” often are unaware of the emotional and practical impact. Opening or closing the door of ministry is not merely an intellectual matter of getting it “right.” There are living, breathing consequences. Women are not only prevented from exercising the full range of their spiritual gifts, but grapple with the message this sends about their worth as church members and simply as humans.

I have witnessed many female congregants, including my mother, subjected to this understanding of church-bound quietness. Throughout the past two decades my mother has planned and led music for worship services, taught Sunday school and children’s ministries, organized choirs and programs, orchestrated outreach projects and vacation Bible schools, and engaged in countless other volunteer activities. Her contributions often surpass those of the male office holders of our church.

This would be slightly more palatable if our male church council sought input from her or other women congregational volunteers before passing decisions that dramatically affect these women and their unofficial ministries. I can recall specific instances when my mom learned from a congregational announcement that the program she planned had been cancelled or rescheduled, or that the pastor made an executive call on her Sunday school or church music with little expertise and no forewarning, or that the resources she and the other volunteers needed to complete their expected duties had been cut.

And in my community, where the religious and social and familial combine inextricably, this expectation of silent endurance from women continues. It was there in my eleventh-grade doctrine class, when I summoned the courage to present my views on women in church leadership and a male classmate punctured the post-presentation silence with a sexist comment, dismantling weeks of work with one misogynist “joke.” It was there in my first week of tenth grade, when I approached my principal, having learned that two of my male classmates created a list ranking all the women in my class by specific body parts, and the principal told me not to worry because he had done something similar to his female classmates in college, just “not as bad.” It was there when a male professor repeatedly ignored the points I made but praised a male student for raising the same comments. It’s there every time my boss chooses to comment not on my skill or work ethic but some aspect of my appearance. It’s there when men I love and respect dismiss the toxic comments of male theologians (who convinced me in childhood that I would go to hell for using my spiritual gifts), in favor of holding onto the parts of their theology they enjoy. The message endures: I am to remain quiet.

I know my church’s message. I recognize the foundation of male headship and female subjugation that my community is built upon, and I have counted the cost of disrupting this structure. But I also know I cannot remain quiet any longer.

Joya Schreurs

Joya Schreurs is a student at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa.

50 Comments

  • Jim Loomis says:

    Bravo Joya!

  • Nancy Boote says:

    Thank you, Joya, for sharing your journey and for vowing not to remain silent. My question has always been, if God didn’t want women as pastors/leaders, why does He keep calling them into ministry? I will be forwarding this on to a friend who is wrestling with this very question and is feeling the God’s call upon her life. She currently is in a church with male headship.
    I am grateful for the men and women who have encouraged me to follow the call God placed on my heart. It was not easy and when I wanted to quit, a dear mentor told me, “Never doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light.” Blessings to you as you follow your call!

  • Joan Bouwma says:

    Listen to the Spirit of God who is calling you to use your gifts. Patriarchy is so deeply ingrained in our culture and in our churches that those who benefit from it fail to see the sin that it is. We need female voices in our churches and in our pulpits.

  • Looking forward to your leadership in the church. Preach!

  • Your eloquence and passion about this terribly difficult path testifies to your gifts and call. So much of this resonates, having had to emerge from patriarchy to freedom in ministry, although my barriers were internal as much as external. You have a great company of supporters, and I have no doubt you will find your way and your voice!

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Thank you Joya for this beautiful reflection.
    What God has taught you in the quiet tell forth with confidence and make a joyful noise! (No matter how uncomfortable it makes other people).

    One other thought that came to me as I reflected on this piece. Joya’s story should not be co-opted but you “could” respectfully place a young LGBTQIA+ person in the center of it and find so many similarities of culture, bigotry, shunting off into silence, and additional judgment. Unfortunately this child of God would need to search high and low to find anyone like him/her/them in the pulpit to be a guide or inspiration. How long, O Lord?

  • Carl Fictorie says:

    Thank you, Joya. Well said.

  • Dana VanderLugt says:

    So glad for your voice. Keep on using it!

  • Verlyn De Wit says:

    Well done, Joya! May God encourage you on this difficult road.

  • Hazel Haverhals says:

    And do not forget the great women of faith who went all over the world to preach the gospel and when they came back to report to the churches had to speak in the basement!

  • This brave and painful piece reminds me of when I moved to Imlay City, Mi from a large RCA congregation in Holland, Mi. We began attending the CRC church because there was no RCA congregation (great reason, right?) anywhere in the “thumb.”) Within a year I was taught my place as a woman: I developed a class for adults on a John Ortberg-type book and was told that I was not allowed to teach anyone older than 7th grade. And when I walked into the congregational meeting unawares, I was told at the door to the sanctuary that women were not allowed. It didn’t take long for me to begin driving 30 miles to a large Presbyterian church in Flint which had its flaws but at least allowed women to participate. About two years later I was invited to become a deacon and found my place in the breakfast ministry to the homeless and working in the church library.

    • Joya Schreurs says:

      Thank you for sharing your story, Karen! Women like you who devote themselves to Christ-centered change in the face of powerful opposition are incredibly inspiring to me. Thank you so much for your work in bringing the Kingdom!

  • Travis West says:

    Thank you, Joya, for sharing this part of your story of silencing and marginalization, and of your courage and vulnerability to speak it out. There is a great cloud of witnesses cheering you on, who affirm your obvious gifts of eloquence—and the power and potential of the Spirit of God to call and equip whomever God chooses—including you!!—for the upbuilding of the church in all its manifold forms. All strength to you as you continue to courageously show up for your life, even (especially?) in the face of male resistance (perhaps they feel threatened by your gifts?).

    Travis West

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Thank you, Joya. It feels to me like this was courageous for you to write. But it shouldn’t have to be. Nor should women like you have to endure the degradations of males both in terms of what “we” will allow you to do and how we atomize women into so many body parts. It’s all wrong on more Gospel fronts than I can count. Thanks for bearing witness.

  • Mary Huissen says:

    Like other commenters, I wish the writer well. She will be a blessing to all who will someday have the opportunity to grow under her leadership and her gifts for ministry. But this post made me sad and angry.

    I’m thinking about all the young girls and women who internalize these messages without receiving a call to ministry or having the courage to speak up or to claim their worth. These messages are insidious, damaging, and consequential, whether someone is called into ministry or not.

    It makes my head spin and my heart hurt.

  • Krista Van Bruggen says:

    Thanks Joya for a profound statement! As a member of the same church, I agree that we have missed the mark on how women should be integrated into worship and used on a larger scale. I am still of the traditionalist view on office but completely in support of our male counterparts utilizing the talents, knowledge and passions for Christ. Women are so completely under appreciated in churches and I do feel like God has called us to speak and be bold. Women have an extraordinary place in God’s world and we should not remain silent,,,,, ever! God has gifted us! I also feel like that is still under the biblical preface of 1 Timothy and creation. (Genesis). We are created a helpmate. It is our denominations great error to not recognize that important fact! God uses women profoundly in this world, in our churches and in society. (and historically in the bible) There is NO difference in my mind that women preach boldly and with great talent! But that being said, women also hold a special, unique and purposeful spot in God’s plan = along side a man, who God gave authority. Even the rocks will cry out! Don’t hold back your passion. But don’t aim for a title in your quest! Let God send you boldly into this world to proclaim HIM and not a position. Your mom has touched many hearts at church with children’s sermons as well. To the point at times (many times) that her words are held in peoples ears and hearts more than the sermon given by a titled “Pastor”. Progressive thinking is creeping into our world as the proper way to sooth equality but God created us to Love, Worship and Honor and he also teaches, submission and leadership. I choose to speak boldly as a woman! I choose to honor God’s design! I choose to not let hype and titles overcome my desire to preach daily to all, not just a congregation. Joya, I hope you preach at our church some day! Because women CAN preach! Amen! But God has also called us to obey and submit. I don’t believe women in office/pastor roles is proper, biblically speaking. (so, basically not, leadership, I guess – not knowing the official words here…) But boy, hear us! We have passion! We can proclaim the word in churches, in public, with our friends.
    Let us protect the words of the bible. One step out of the word, brings us to opening a can of ugly worms if this article was written with abortion, homosexuality, bestiality and the like as your subject. I love and respect you sooo much! God has such amazing plans for you! I can’t wait to see where he sends you! Let your destination be to bring people to Christ rather than to tout a title.

    • Caleb Schreurs says:

      Ah yes, the letting-women-lead to bestiality pipeline is a real and prevalent issue in society.

    • Joya Schreurs says:

      Thanks for the response, Krista! I have certainly valued being in your church family for the past many years. One excellent book that I read after I wrote this piece was The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Dr. Beth Barr. It addresses many of your concerns, and countless women and men from across the denominational spectrum have named it as being very helpful in terms of clarifying many of their questions around this topic.

  • Tony Vis says:

    Go for it, Joya!

    That Piper quote made me wonder. What kind of man was he talking about? A weak one I’d suggest.

  • Christa says:

    Joya, keep following God’s call on your life! I am a generation ahead of you, but my experiences as a young girl in the CRC were similar to yours — and it makes me profoundly sad that young women are still experiencing this. But know that there IS a place for you. There ARE churches and ministries that will welcome you and your gifts with open arms!

  • Mary Ann wierks says:

    Travel around the Christian church in the world and you will see that God has used women leaders in all the same ways he uses men as leaders. As hard as one denomination works to determine God‘s will, they may still unconsciously be victims of a long established worldview of the submissive restrictions on women. Take a look at the bigger picture of what God is doing in the world.

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr. says:

    “Opening or closing the door of ministry is not merely an intellectual matter of getting it “right.” There are living, breathing consequences. Women are not only prevented from exercising the full range of their spiritual gifts, but grapple with the message this sends about their worth as church members and simply as humans.” This is the same argument being made now by LGBTQA+ members of our congregations, with same result…

    • Exactly! A snowflake of a man who is intimidated by strong and intelligent women! That’s really what this is about, far more than biblical exegesis.

    • It is time that we put aside the white privilege heterosexual bias as we read and interpret the Bible. The biblical message of salvation is an invitation to everyone who realizes they need God’s grace and mercy. As long as we only listen to white heterosexual theologians we will continue to thwart the gifts that many others in the church are called to share.

  • Being a newcomer into the faith, I’m disheartened this might be a battle I’m to fight ahead. God bless you for standing in his truth

  • James Schaap says:

    Thank you for this strong yet tender piece of very thoughtful writing. In an ideal world, what you testify to here would be up for discussion at elders’ meetings in any number of churches in the neighborhood. Maybe it will–I doubt it, but maybe it will.

  • Barbara Schaap says:

    Joya,
    I will attest to the validity of your experiences here in this corner of the world. Thank you for this piece and I will stand up boldly to defend your goals.
    Barbara Schaap

  • Marja says:

    Well done, Joya. It is certainly an uphill battle for women to feel a sense of worth and value in the church. May God use your voice to break down these injustices and to soften and open hearts.

  • Shannon Jammal-Hollemans says:

    Thank you, Joya, for sharing this piece! You articulate the experience of so many of us really well.

  • Emily Jane VandenBos Style says:

    Whew, the wages of sexism across the generations. Tiresome & tragic. Saluting your giving voice, Joya! Bowing to the Holy Spirit abiding in each of us, genderless, persistent, patient & powerful beyond measure. For onward.

  • Adrian de Lange says:

    Beautifully written, Joya. Thanks for sharing your story, for (re)counting the cost with us, and for speaking eloquently and powerfully against patriarchy and testifying to the work of the Spirit in all of us; women and men. God has a lot of work remaining in his church and I’m thankful he’s gifted you and equipped you to speak up and join in.

  • Cathy Smith says:

    Carry on, Joya! A blessing to read your poignant post. I was there, too, once upon a time, many decades ago. Listen to the Spirit’s voice prompting your faithful heart and be brave.

  • Thank you, Joya Schreurs, for this powerful article and to ReformedJournal for publishing it. If you’re ever in Indianapolis, you’re welcome to visit John Wesley Free Methodist Church and hear my wife preach (or to listen online anytime).. We’re not exactly Reformed, but the lead pastor’s husband is descended from a long line of Reformed Presbyterians.

  • Tim Everson says:

    You are an incredibly talented writer, Joya! My wife has had many similar experiences, in seminary especially, and as a pastor. The sexism and misogyny is so infuriating to me. We left our last church because of the subtle sexism that said they were egalitarian but in practice were not. We just have zero tolerance for any of that bs anymore.

  • Kathy Fictorie says:

    Yes, and Amen! My first question regarding this issue was when I was about 10-12, and I learned about Johanna Veenstra. A well known woman, the first to be a missionary in the CRC. Why could she preach to people outside of America? Why can’t women preach inside of America? It took me much longer than you to do something about it, but after 50+ years, I said goodbye to that denomination and joined the church down the road with a husband and wife pastor team. Could I have been a pastor? Oh, yes! Could I go back to school and get my MDiv? Probably! The Spirit moves in mysterious ways. I’m glad you are listening to the Call!

  • Judie Zoerhof says:

    Thank you! I cannot tell you how your words affect me. Coming out of the 60’s my career options were teacher, nurse, or hair dresser. Bless you for your courage and insight! May the Holy Spirit dwell in you richly!

  • Thank you for this wonderful reflection. I know the struggles of women clergy. My wife is the eleventh woman ordained by the Reformed Church in America. I remember our General Synod “floor fight” in 1979. This “floor fight” allowed women to be ordained. God, and God’s Holy Spirit will prevail!

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Besides all the support for your substance, I want also to affirm your writing. Excellent writing. How patiently, deliberately, and calmly you move your story and your case along, Your rhetoric is strong but not overly so, and your expression is measured. Apparently God has given you some gifts to go with your call.

  • Paul Janssen says:

    Thank you, Joya. For the life of me I’ve never been able to figure out what the detractors of women in ministry/authority make of baptism. Are we not all baptized into Christ? Well then, is Christ divided?

  • Diane says:

    You go girl!!!

    I have a female friend, who also grew up in the same town and same church your dad did. She felt called to be a pastor, but was counseled not to. She left “our” church and went to seminary, and became a pastor. Those churches were blessed, our church suffered a loss!

  • gregory van den berg says:

    I appreciate your article. I am always amazed how people use one verse in the whole of Scriptures to prove their point. As C.S. Lewis once wrote in the Psalms the Psalmist wrote how the Lord covers us with us with HIs wings. Does this make God a bird? Of course not. Remember the slave holders in the South used certain Scriptures to defend slavery. Paul wrote his letters to the churches and individuals to address specific they were facing as well as laying out doctrine as well. Blessed are the feet of those who bring good news. Isaiah did not write blessed are the feet of men who bring good news. In fact, we know there was the preaching team of husband and wife in Corinthians. Let us not forget the genealogy of Christ begins with Rahab and also includes Ruth. In my opinion, everyone should answer any vocational call the Lord sparks within them. It is hard to believe such thinking as your father is still prevalent in 2021. One must exegete the whole message of the Scriptures and not use only one verse to prove one’s point. I would suggest you employ the use of Scripture in your articles. Scripture will only strengthen your point of view and not just use your opinion. Your article clearly shows the Lord chooses us to do what you do regardless of sex, race, and color. As we know, the Lord is not a respecter of persons. Thank you.

    • Joya Schreurs says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply! My intent, as well as that of Reformed Journal, with my specific piece is not primarily to present an exegetical argument, but rather the testimony of my experience–especially considering the limited word count! There is certainly a place for close research on proof-texts like those many find in Paul’s letters (which I have dedicated much time to over the past five years), and such interpretative work is available in countless academic sources. However, what I believe my voice can contribute in a platform like this is a personal account that evokes empathy, touching the heart in addition to the mind. My father has also since been one of the largest supporters of my calling, which testifies to the efficacy of emotional and intellectual persuasion!

  • Karen Wynbeek says:

    Thank you Joya, for your brave words. Because I am a member of a CRC where all the gifts God has given to women are welcome and encouraged to be used, I had no idea that the restriction placed on some women in our denomination is still going on. My aunt was Nelle Vander Ark and 25 years ago she spoke eloquently and forcefully that all of us regardless of gender are obligated to use the gifts that God has given us and the training that one has received. If a person has the gifts and training to be a pastor, he/she must use those gifts and that training.

  • Judy De Wit says:

    Thanks for this. When I preach in non-CRC churches, I experience the Holy Spirit at work in me as I preach. How can man stop the work of the Holy Spirit? Man can’t. If the Holy Spirit is working in my heart and spirit while I preach, it’s hard to imagine there is something wrong with women preaching the Word of God.

  • Michelle Gritter says:

    In your piece we can feel your sensitivity, grace, and tenderness. That being said, I began to wonder if these personality traits might have, from time to time, caused you to second guess yourself about unleashing your voice. I can remember feeling the call to ministry at the age of 15. I could feel the rumblings of the Spirit moving as I rewrote pastors’ sermons into what I thought would be more engaging and relevant messages. But, like you, every time I felt the tug towards ministry my lived experience would remind me, “That door is closed to you.”

    I pursued other academic fields first, but eventually, the Spirit had its way, and I made my way to Calvin Seminary. Even then, when others took speaking for granted, eagerly looking forward to the opportunities that lay ahead, I, along with the other female seminarians, had to trust that churches would take their chance on us when it came to the pulpit. It was one thing to study theology. It was another to stand in front of others and preach.

    You point out that patriarchy has very real, human consequences–that it isn’t just about theology. It is about lived experience. Your lived experience, along with mine and so many others was to diminish our passions, to squelch our callings, to hide our gifts, and to quiet our voices. Look at that list of verbs. Do those activities of lessening reflect the character of God’s dynamic, inspirational Spirit?

    Thank you for starting (because this is just the beginning, hallelujah!) to unleash your voice. What a beautiful, strong, articulate, helpful, truthful, humble voice it is!

    As you speak Joya, the Spirit speaks with you. As you speak, the ones who have gone before you will cheer you on! As you speak, new voices will join yours. When you speak you are taking your rightful place at the Lord’s table where you can expect the Spirit to initiate a chorus of response from those there with you with the invitation, “And all God’s people said?”

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