Updated: Sep 13, 2019
"Kimberlee, I understand you're talking about going into ministry, but I have to tell you that you're going to need to tone it down. You've stepped out of your place, and you're upsetting other students."
In an instant, all the optimism and sense of promise I had felt as an 18-year-old first semester freshman felt like it was being shoved back upon me in a calamitous blow, only to be replaced by a sense of confusion and painful embarassment. Here I was settling into my first year at a well-regarded Christian university for one major purpose, to prepare for God's calling on my life, and the dean of my department didn't think my calling had anything to do with ministry. Well...at least the general kind of ministry I was talking about...
"You can stick to women's ministry or children's ministry, but anything other than that is just plain wrong." Hmm. What she was saying wasn't at all in line with the position of the university's denomination, but it did support the cultural traditions of many of the students in that region of the country. Apparently, both she and my peers were at odds with the official stance.
The truth is, I didn't know what I was called to in ministry, and I didn't pretend to know either. I just knew that somehow, in some way, for some time in my life, I was called. To ministry. And that God had assured my heart He would use my willingness to serve Him.
Wanting to leave my options as open as possible for whatever good works God might have prepared for me, I was enrolled as a communications major. Communication skills are helpful for someone wanting to communicate biblical truth, right? And perhaps a fairly broadly-focused degree might help me land a job someday. Admirable aims, for sure. However, as the semester progressed, I found myself increasingly at odds with fellow students. Around the same time as that devastating meeting with the dean of my department, our university welcomed a guest speaker to chapel -- a woman with profound ministry experience serving the most vulnerable and downtrodden on the globe. She approached the podium with decades of fruitful, passionate, inspiring ministry (all alongside her equally effectual minister husband), but as she arrived at the mic about 2/3 of the male students in the room stood in unison and walked out.
I was stunned. I'm sure she was too.
She went on to deliver a memorable sermon on the role of worship in the life of a believer and the kind of worship that would be honoring to God. I think most of those who stayed were deeply touched by her authentic desire to please the Lord and moved to a deeper sense of reverence for our holy God, but any sense of the sacred was soon to be shattered by the mood at lunch.
"There's nothing a woman can speak to me!" My male peers, all 18-20 years old, loudly protested her presence in chapel that day as they downed heaps of cafeteria food.
"Nothing??" I wondered. "There is nothing of value a woman of her caliber could possible teach a young man barely learning how to keep up with classes and laundry simultaneously?"
This seemed hardly plausible.
In all reality, not only did I have a sense of divine calling to ministry, but I also had swirling in my mind and heart a cocktail of feminist ideologies compliments of 13 years of public school influence. Most of my teachers had encouraged me to never let a man stand in my way, and here, in this moment of obvious male arrogance, I would show them.
Something was seriously wrong in the world, and I was going to be the one to change things. To change them.
"Use me to change them, God! Use me to show them! Make them listen, Lord, and use me. Use my life to show the world that women have things to say, too!" I poured out my angry frustration to God.
And God replied.
Yes, God replied.
Into what would become one of the most pivotal moments of my life, God spoke words that would burn into my soul forever. "Kimberlee, you do not need to force closed doors open."
"Stop trying to force closed doors open. Kimberlee, you really are called, but forcing closed doors open is not your job. It's mine. If you will just spend your days walking through open doors in ministry, I assure you, you will never be able to walk through them all. I will send so many open doors your way that if you spend the rest of your life walking through them, you would never reach the end of the open doors. The harvest is so great, let me handle the closed doors."
Not only had He just given me a divine mandate, on that day God began stripping away unnecessary feminist ideologies and reframing my way of thinking about the role of women in life and ministry. He was teaching me to walk in the same calling He has for all of His people, both male and female -- to commit myself to simply reaching as many people as I possibly could for Him. He was teaching me the same thing He has been teaching His people since that day He commissioned His disciples...
"Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet." (Matthew 10:11-14)
"Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
He taught Paul the same thing when He went to Corinth.
"Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, 'Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." (Acts 18:4-6)
I think we can all agree Paul was a spiritual giant. However, not everyone was so happy with him. In fact, disagreements had become so sharp regarding his gospel message that members of the Jewish community in Corinth had become abusive.
Was it wrong of them? Absolutely.
So, what did he do?
Go next door. Yep! Just next door. Check it out...
"Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God." (Acts 18:7)
And was it worth it? Absolutely!
"Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized." (Acts 18:8)
Did you catch that? The open door God had for Paul was literally next door, and the synagogue leader and his entire family also followed Paul, closing the door to unbelief and opening the door to new life with Christ!
SOMETIMES THE OPEN DOOR GOD HAS FOR US IS RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO A CLOSED ONE
Yet Paul must have been shaken -- perhaps a bit bruised and probably afraid. Surely, this shakeup in the local synagogue wasn't the result of merely one tough conversation, and despite a powerful move of God among Crispus, his family, and many other Corinthians, Paul needed divine reassurance.
Thankfully, God does that for His people.
"One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: 'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.' So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God." (Acts 18:9-11)
Paul's audience may have changed, but his calling hadn't. He was still to speak, he was not to be silenced, and he was not alone. The same Lord who had once appeared to Him on the road to Damascus had not forsaken him. He couldn't see God, but God was with him and was watching out for him. Despite reality, both abusers and the enemy of our souls love to make people feel isolated. They can't change a believer's position before God, but they sure do like to make them feel as if they're of no value, ineffective, and incapable of fulfilling the purposes of God. They want to shut up the messenger in an effort to shut out the message, but God always gets the final word.
In a tender moment, God spoke, urging Paul onward in divine mission, despite the fact that his abusers were dead set on his destruction.
"While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. 'This man,' they charged, 'is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.'
Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, 'If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.' So he drove them off." (Acts 18:12-16)
In a fascinating twist of events, God kept Paul from even defending himself (and believe me, he was capable!), instead using a heathen proconsul in a secular position to protect the man of God. God had people throughout Corinth, and He could use any of them -- whether they were part of His fold or not!
WHEN IT SEEMS THE ENEMY HAS THE UPPER HAND AND YOU FEEL AS THOUGH YOU'VE BEEN BACKED UP AGAINST A WALL WITH NO WAY OUT, KNOW IT'S JUST AN ILLUSION
Did God use Gallio to protect Paul because he was just a super compassionate guy? Nope. Not even close. Look at what happened next...
"Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever." (Acts 18:17)
God used Gallio to protect Paul because He's sovereign; He could. To top it off, He must have decided to turn that abuse back on abuser this time. (If Paul were here today, he would remind us that God didn't always choose to protect him from beatings and persecution.) Remember, Crispus had been the synagogue leader, but he left that crowd behind for Jesus. You better believe the folks in the synogogue who wanted Paul gone picked a new kind of leader -- the kind who would drag Paul before the proconsul and try to get rid of him. When their plan didn't work, they turned all their rage on the leader of their unsuccessful scheme -- a guy named Sosthenes. They beat him up, and Gallio didn't care.
God used Gallio to get the job done and keep Paul moving ahead in his calling of reaching as many people as he could in the days God gave him.
Pauls' job? Walking through open doors.
God's job? Dealing with the rest.
God doesn't change. Just as he called Paul, he calls us to walk through open doors and leave the rest to Him. He urges us not to be afraid, to keep speaking, to not be silenced, to know that He is with us, and to trust Him for divine protection and deliverance according to His perfect wisdom. He promises we are part of a Church that is greater than us, moreover, that He can use those both in the fold and not to open doors for ministry according to His calling on our lives.
We, like Paul, can walk right past the hostile crowd to and through open doors until the day God calls us home.
Are you looking for open doors? I hope you are, because that's where giants walk.
To God be the glory!
Author's Note: In case you're wondering what ever happened to me with all that conflict at my school, I considered that university an inappropriate place for me to study for ministry, closed the door to that brief chapter of my life, and moved on to another school.
When I asked an admissions counselor at the new school about their stance on women in ministry, I received this unforgettable response: "Well -- and I believe the university would agree with me on this -- the way I see it, if the rocks will cry out, I think a woman can lead worship; if a donkey can speak the word of truth, I think a woman can preach."
I am a proud graduate of North Central University!