The Table Podcast
Elisa LairdHeather ZimmermanKymberli CookKymberli CookDarrell L. BockDarrell L. Bock

Challenges Facing Young Women in Ministry

In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock and Elisa Laird, Heather Zimmerman, and Kymberly Cook discuss challenges young women face in ministry, focusing on dispelling false perceptions and overcoming challenges.

Timecodes
01:38
Descriptions of each ministry represented
03:54
How each guest ended up in ministry
07:08
Balancing ministry and family life
17:44
Challenges for women in ministry
32:56
Perceived limitations for women in ministry
44:27
How churches can encourage young women in ministry
Transcript
Dr. Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I'm Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And our topic today is young women in ministry. And I have three ladies, they're three of my favorite ladies here on campus. I work with two of them, and the third one is my daughter. So, it's a combination of the women I spend more time with than my wife. So. But they're all three engaged in ministry, in different ministries. So there's Elisa Laird, here on the far end, and she is my daughter. So if she slips and calls me Dad, it's okay. And then, Heather Zimmerman, who works at the Hendricks Center with me, and Kymberli Cook. I always call her Kym. So Kymberli Cook, who also works at the Hendricks Center. And all of them have a seminary background and ministry background. And the way this works is is that Elisa is married, but her husband … does not work with her husband in ministry. Heather is single, and Kym is married and works with her husband in ministry. So that's the way we've broken this down. So I'm gonna let each of you talk about the ministries that you're engaged in, and we'll go from my right to my left. So Kym, you get to start.
Kymberli Cook
Okay. I am largely engaged in singles ministry with my husband at the church. And we do … my main responsibilities with him are discipleship of the leadership team and working with, especially, the women there, because he is a man, and working with single women is kind of difficult for him. So I'm a good buffer. And so we work discipleship, and then we also do … we've started writing Bible studies together for both the men and the women's Bible studies. And then, I also co-teach with him, both on Sunday mornings and also at specialty events. We have a thing called Doctrine and Dessert, where he and I sit and we walk through doctrine, just reading them doctrines with our singles. And so I'm with him all along the way, and my seminary background allows me to hold my own ground, as well as be along with him.
Dr. Darrell Bock
'Cause you majored in Systematic Theology, right?
Kymberli Cook
Um-hmm.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So you and John Calvin are just like this.
Kymberli Cook
BFFs.
Dr. Darrell Bock
[Laughs] Okay. All right. Heather?
Heather Zimmerman
Yeah. So I've been involved in various things, and at a transition point right now. But my main ministry experience was working for four years with a short term missions organizations that facilitates the mission trips for youth groups. And so I was in a leadership position overseeing the staff teams who ran the mission sites. And now I'm transitioning to theological education. And this summer I'm traveling to Ethiopia to teach at a Bible college there.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And you've done some social work, as well, basically, right? Is that fair?
Heather Zimmerman
Yeah. Yeah. So the organization that does the short term mission trips does a lot of community development and poverty alleviation, so that's probably my biggest experience. But I'm hoping to go into theological education.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. And Elisa?
Elisa Laird
I'm at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship. I'm the Early Childhood Programming Director. And so my basic responsibility is crafting our worship times for our kids. I recently transitioned from doing both elementary and early childhood to just now early childhood. My primary experience, ministry-wise, has been at churches. So … and in kids ministry. And so that's basically what I do.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Let's talk about how you came to end up in ministry. How'd this happen? I think we'll just do the same sequence, okay? [Laughter]
Kymberli Cook
I always knew I wanted to be in ministry. And so, I started … when I was 16 I worked at a camp, and I worked at that camp for 6 more summers all through college, and I knew that I wanted to be in full time ministry. That's what brought me to seminary. And I ended up getting married, which I never would have seen coming. [Laughter] And so I'm in a different sort of ministry, and a role then I would have ever thought. I would have thought I would have been a little bit more in an active role in a church, or in a seminary, or college or something. But, at this point, I landed in a more of a family type ministry.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. All right. And Heather?
Heather Zimmerman
Yeah. I don't know if you knew this or not, but I've actually wanted to be a missionary ever since I was seven. I would pretend my Barbies were missionaries, [Laughter] pretend …
Dr. Darrell Bock
I don't think I've ever heard Barbies played with that way. But that's a new one.
Heather Zimmerman
Yeah. Or we'd pretend, when our parents had small groups, that they were the communists, and we were trying to smuggle Bibles past them. So, yeah. So that was kind of my childhood.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Bible smuggling Barbies. I don't think I've ever quite heard of that ministry before.
Elisa Laird
This is a whole new YouTube channel.
Kymberli Cook
Young women in ministry.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. You never know. Exactly right. Okay.
Heather Zimmerman
Yeah. So then I wanted to go … I went to Moody to go into missions, and was considering Bible translation, but realized I'm not a linguist. And so, long story short, God brought me here.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Very good.
Elisa Laird
Well, mine's a little different. I was pretty much sure I was not going to end up in ministry.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, thanks to your dad, right? [Laughs]
Elisa Laird
Everything I saw. I did not, at all, want to be in ministry. I wanted to go into journalism. And so I … looking back now I say this is me being Jonah and fleeing. So I went into publishing. I was in publishing, completely happy. And then had my first child. And the publishing world isn't exactly conducive to raising a family. I had authors calling me at all nights, wanting to go through pages and stuff. And 10:00 PM, that's just not okay. And a position came open at our church in Illinois for the office manager. And I was like, "Oh, it's nine to five, Monday to Friday. I can get the work done. It's not really ministry, 'cause I'm just a secretary in the office." That's how they get you. And I volunteered for kids ministry, so I figured, "Hey. If I get all my work done, then I can do my volunteer stuff while I'm at work, and it works out really well." And, lo and behold, I've now been in ministry I calculated up nine years. That's the longest I've been in any one area of work. When we moved here to Dallas I switched over to kids ministry, which is what I'd been volunteering in. And I can't see myself doing anything else.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So you fell into it, huh?
Elisa Laird
Yeah. I totally fell into it. [Laughter] But it's what I was created … it's the way I'm wired. And I think that's what God was patiently bringing me to.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Um-hmm. Now you said you were having to negotiate this space. The interesting remark was is that journalism, or at least editing, is not particularly conducive to family life. You sometimes hear that about ministry. So, I'd like to compare those two a little bit.
Elisa Laird
Well, and that's true. I would say that's probably my constant struggle is that balance between family life and ministry life, and what I feel called to do. It's cool, because now that my boys are eight and 10, they're older, and so we're able to bring them in more, into what we do. So one of the things that we do, we have a local outreach that we do every Martin Luther King day with the local elementary school where we host a one day camp, so that way parents who don't have the opportunity for child care can have their kids taken care of. And our kids volunteer and buddy with them. And so, normally I work that. But my boys got to do that with me. And so it's really been kind of cool, passing on that legacy, and looking for opportunities to where our whole family can participate. Even though I'm on staff, they can participate in ministry alongside us. So there's a little bit more of a balance. Bent Tree's also really, really flexible in a lot of ways. And so there aren't very many situations where I feel like I have to choose between my family or my work or my ministry, so to speak.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now there was a time when Ray, your husband, was ministering at Bent Tree alongside you, in a different role, but there. And that is no longer the case. What difference does that make for ministry, or has it impacted it at all?
Elisa Laird
It's actually made it a little easier. What my husband does, he's a video engineer, and so he travels. And so, when he's gone, it's like it was before, where you're single parenting, and you're having to balance things. But, when he was there, we both had demands. And so we would both … And we worked for different areas. I worked in kids, and he was with worship and arts. And so, the time frame for when your big events are is the same, but the requirements are different. And so we would take turns. There was a lot of, "Okay. We're getting to the church at 6:00, 6:30. You take the kids from here to there. I'll pick them up here. I'll check them in. Here are the tags. You pick them up." And it was a lot of that. And now it's more of like when he's home he just is like, "Okay. I'll get the kids. I handle all that. Hey, you need to work late? No problem. I'll handle homework." There's a little bit more of a give and take, and a little bit more freedom.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So there are different … we're probably hearing different dynamics of what goes on with women's ministry, depending on where you are in your stage in life. So you've got to balance family. Heather, you've got another issue to deal with. And, since we're in this category, and that is, as a single woman, ministering in that context, have you found that challenging at all in any way? Or you just plunge ahead?
Heather Zimmerman
Well, both. I plunge through the challenges. Yeah. I think … Kym's been there too, before … well, all of you have been, 'cause we're _____ [0:10:16] forever. [Laughter] But yeah, part of it's just the financial burden of … Well, a friend of mine was joking the other night about, "Us outside of seminary, we have to go to bed early and get up early." I'm like, "Hey. I have to bring home my own bacon and cook it, too, and do my homework." [Laughter] So there's the financial burden of that. And then, I think it's nice, 'cause there is more free time in that I don't have to balance the juggles of family life. But then, I don't really know how to describe the other side. There's the matchmaking, which I'm fine if God does the matchmaking. And I guess some of the expectations. I think some of us single women, and maybe women in general can sometimes be seen as a threat if we're not married, that we're a potential temptation or something, which we're just there to do our job and do ministry.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Um-hmm. Yeah. We can … actually we did a previous podcast with Sue Edwards, in which we talked about how women are viewed in ministry, and how that actually is one of the challenges, is that women can be set apart and treated very differently because they're women, but not because of anything that they've done, personally. And so that's an odd spot to be in, in some ways.

Kym, now you've got another adjustment coming. You're facing getting ready to have your first child. And we've had to negotiate [Laughter]
Kymberli Cook
At the center. [Laughter]
Dr. Darrell Bock
At the center, your role in ministry, while trying to help you move into the adjustment of preparing to have a child, et cetera. How have you found that experience, so far?
Kymberli Cook
Stressful, and super just … an open ended question, at this point. And I don't know who I am as a mother. I don't know who I am as a mother working. I don't know any of those kinds of things. And so just trying to, I don't know, just be patient and see and have open hands. And I would love to continue to work. And I feel like our work here is ministry, and so I would love to continue to be in the ministry even here. But I don't know. I don't know what that looks like.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. And, of course, we've had to negotiate giving you the space of being a mother and being pregnant and everything that comes with that. And so we talk about that, and I … this is actually part of the reason why I wanted to do the podcast is because we've got really three different situations. But any ministry has to cope with the variety of challenges that come from ministry in these kinds of circumstances. And so, we've had discussions about what's ahead, and then dealing with really the realities of being pregnant in some ways.
Kymberli Cook
Well, it's a very young women in ministry issue, like whether you're in academia, 'cause it came up in discussions that I had with some professors on PhD. And it also has come up here and in ministry. It's just a very unique time in life. And, obviously, it's only possible for one gender. And so it's just a very unique area we're having to navigate.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Right. And everyone has to navigate and then, just to be honest and with some disclosure, your early pregnancy has been challenging, health-wise.
Kymberli Cook
Yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so there's that adjustment that you have to go through, as well. Some people sail through that, and other people …
Kymberli Cook
Don't. [Laughter]
Dr. Darrell Bock
It's hard. [Laughter] And so, there's been that aspect of things. And so it requires people who are managing people in ministry, young women in ministry, who find themselves in this situation to be open and flexible in order to deal with what it is that they're facing. Hopefully we haven't treated you poorly.
Kymberli Cook
No, you haven't. And actually, I want to say, I think that is such a huge thing. And I've heard … I've read a thousand things, I feel like, at this point, on this whole area. But I feel like I heard somewhere that if … it's been shown that if you … if an organization or a boss is committed to the female worker who is pregnant, and flexible and tries to work with her, she will be loyal to them forever, because it's just such an interesting time.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well that's nice to know. [Laughter]
Kymberli Cook
And I can really identify with that. It's like I do feel like DTS has been flexible with me, and willing to work, and saying, "Okay. Well, we'll just see what happens, and we'll figure this out." And I think that's such an important thing, because you don't want to close off women our age from ministry, even though it has to take on a little bit of a different tone.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Right.
Elisa Laird
Yeah. And I don't know … So I was pregnant with my first in the secular world, and then I was pregnant with my second when I was on staff at that church in Illinois. And while both … As far as the health aspect goes, both were extremely flexible. But I found that the church was actually way more accommodating than my publishing house. And that was one of the things that actually made it hard when we moved down here was, "Geez. These people have been with me …" And my second pregnancy started out a little rough. We thought we were actually gonna lose the baby. And I remember having to call my boss in and tell them, "Hey. I need to go home. I have to be on bed rest." And they prayed over me, and they said, "You take however much time you need. We'll figure this out." No questions asked. They checked in on me, but it wasn't because they were passive-aggressive and like, "Hey, come back." It was …
Kymberli Cook
No pressure.
Elisa Laird
No, not at all. And it … And then, when it came time, we sat down and I'm like, "Okay. I've got two. I can't afford two in full-time childcare. Would you consider job sharing this office manager?" And he was a little nervous about that. He's like, "Uh … " And we found somebody. And it was … he's like, "I never thought this would work, but this was awesome." And so they were willing to try something. And so even as somebody, for lack of a better term, is on the lower level of skill-wise as an office manager … which does require a lot of skill, but just, it's not like a pastoral or a staff position … to be willing and to be flexible to accommodate those kinds of family desires and financial considerations, was huge for me.
Kymberli Cook
Well, and it allows you to keep your talent, and you have continued, and even taken on greater responsibilities as you were able, and they didn't lose you in the midst of that because they were flexible.
Elisa Laird
Yeah. And I think too, when you're young, and you're still figuring out who you are, like you said, as a mom, as a ministry worker, as far as your calling goes, to have that kind of flexibility and that relational collateral, really helps you continue to have open doors to where you can continue to grow on that path, whereas I don't know, necessarily, if that door had shut, what that would have done to me in terms of ministry, and whether or not I would have felt free to continue, if that makes sense.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So that's interesting. That means that, not only is there loyalty to the employer, but there may well be an impact on how you view ministry long-term, in terms of how you're treated in this kind of a situation. It's pretty important.

Let's go through … and the rest of what we're gonna do is probably gonna park here in some ways. Let's go through some of the challenges of ministry in being female. And I want to segment this in that the first conversation I want to have is, all right. We are at a very conservative seminary. You're in some context of ministry where the issue of women in ministry is not controversial at all, in terms of what they do or whatever. And so it's … theoretically it's supposed to be a little more straightforward run. But, in this context, where you're in a theologically conservative environment where some have questions about the role or women in certain kinds of ministry, how did you fine, first of all, your … or are you finding your seminary experience … how have you been treated by people other than your husband and your boss [Laughter] in ministry? And what has that meant? And what advice would you give to a young woman who's thinking about coming into ministry and going to seminary, about what she might have to be prepared to face?
Kymberli Cook
Is that me?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, you. You're getting to lead off a lot here.
Kymberli Cook
Great. I … Honestly, I had a fantastic seminary experience. I really didn't encounter much friction, as far as me being a female. And I did the ThM here, so I was in a lot of the classes where I was the only woman in the room. And, for the most part, I felt welcome. Sometimes I felt like their mascot, a little bit, like they would cheer for me when I got something right in Greek or something. [Laughter] But it was never in a harmful way. I think they were really excited that there was a woman in there, and they were cheering me on in a very helpful way as brothers in the Lord. The only people I think I ever had run ins with were students more than faculty members or administration or anything. And those students, they're working through things, too, and they're figuring out what they think, and they're encountering new things. And, for the most part, even the male students that I ran into that had some questionable statements, I even had them come back and apologize later on, several years later, and say, "I've learned things since then, and I really … it stood out to me, and I apologize for that." So I had a great experience. And I would just encourage anybody, any woman who is considering it, to come in and not really have defenses up. I think that's maybe one thing that I just didn't have. I didn't carry myself as a woman in seminary. I just carried myself as a seminary student. And I think that made a big difference, at least, in my interactions.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Heather?
Heather Zimmerman
Yeah, mine was different. There's part one and part two. So, part one was really challenging. And there's also the geographical dynamic here. So I was from a very … a part of the country where women are in very high levels of leadership in education and everything. And so, coming down here was really … I hate telling people this, but honestly, I didn't realize I was a woman until I came here … not that I didn't know my gender, but I never felt so defined by it. And there were a lot of challenges in my first half. And there was a situation where I was denied a ministry experience during my time here because of being a young single woman. And so … which that person and I worked it out, now. We're on great terms. But that was really hard. And I left that season really bitter. But then, part two has been wonderful. And I served on the Academic Affairs Committee here, got to see the men who are really leading this seminary and hear their hearts, and it was incredible. And then, even just now, my preaching class, I'm the only woman in it. But the men are amazing, and we just have a great camaraderie. And so, yeah. And a few negative situations with students. One guy, when he asked what my emphasis was, and I told him I want to go into homiletics, but that's not really the best path for me, if I'm going into New Testament. And he's like, "Have you considered celibacy a possibility?" And so, thinking no guy would want to do that. But, aside from that, it's really been good overall.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Almost turned this into a sports metaphor, the first half and the second half, and the first half was interesting, and the second half was better. But I want to probe some of the things that you ran into in the first half. Can you share some of the … no names, please … but some of the experiences that you had that signaled or created awkwardness in being a woman in ministry?
Heather Zimmerman
Yeah. And I will say, my first half was better than some other women's first half, because I went to Bible college before coming here.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So you were inoculated. [Laughter]
Heather Zimmerman
Well, _____ [0:22:45] inoculated. Although that also had two parts, as well, and so similar style. But I had three years of Greek coming in. So, a lot of the comments my girlfriends were getting from guys about this being a man's program, and just having lower expectations of them intellectually, I didn't have that as much, even though some of them are smarter than me, because I'd already taken three years of Greek. And so that helped my background. But I think …
Dr. Darrell Bock
So you could out-parse the guys if they gave you a hard time. Is that what you're telling us? [Laughter]
Heather Zimmerman
Maybe, maybe. Yeah. And so, I think part of it was … and I just … you know this from my personality … I don't like being boxed in. And that, so often when men, and sometimes women think about women in ministry, there's certain categories that are okay for a woman to do. And I'm not talking about the broader biblical standards that men and women … I'm just talking about cultural stereotypes … and that women who aren't passionate about Pinterest, and putting on women's ministry events that are like that, which are wonderful and they're needed, the women who have passions for homiletics, for preaching, for teaching, for leadership, often those are seen as threatening, even though we're not trying to take over the church, not trying to be a senior pastor, and trying to find a place for me. And so, sometimes men not understanding that and feeling threatened by that, or just not treating us as academic equals.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So that's the overview. Are there any particular incidents that you remember that are typical, or that you're aware of that other students have had as they've gone through that indicate things just to be aware of, and then think about how you negotiate your way through that kind of space?
Heather Zimmerman
I think one thing … this is general, again, but it comes from a specific incident … is that myself and some friends have felt that the people treat, those of us who are single women going into ministry who do decide to get married, that ministry's just a way of our passing time until we get married, and then we'll fit into this nice little box as a pastor's wife or whatever that is. And so really I think I genuinely want to do ministry, whether or not God provides that man. And I want to continue doing it, obviously, different seasons of life, things will change, whether you get pregnant or move or whatever. But seeing that I am a valid contribution to ministry, not just passing time.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. That makes sense. And I think that that is actually a very important common problem that does come up in relationship to women being involved in ministry. Elisa, what has your seminary experience been like? Has it been that hard? You're in a slightly different situation in that you have been in ministry the entire time you've been here as a student. So you're more a commuter student then really being a part of the community here.
Elisa Laird
Correct.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So that makes it a little bit different. But still, have you run into anything as you've done your work here?
Elisa Laird
Yeah. So a lot of my struggle is really deeply personal. And so sometimes when I've been in class … I know _____ [0:25:54] exactly what you're saying about there's this box, and there's this expectation, and I've never fit into the box. I've always been different, which is fine. Well, sometimes it's fine, for me. Sometimes it's not. And depending on my mood, it'll determine whether on not, how I feel about that. And so that's been a lot of what I feel like this season and just this journey has been in that, I think one of the reasons why I wasn't interested in pursuing ministry earlier on was because I felt like there was this box. And I looked at the box, and I'm like, "Well, there's no way I'm ever going to fit into that box. I don't operate the way a lot of women operate. I don't look the way a lot of women look. I don't process things the way a lot of women process. So clearly that's just not gonna work for me, and I need to find a different avenue." And then, as I stepped into, obviously, kids ministry, which is traditionally completely okay for women to be in, but I've always gone about it a little bit differently. It was okay.

And then, making the decision to come into seminary, I figured, "Well, I'm gonna do online classes, and I'll take a class here or there, and I'll be able to just scooch in under the radar, and it'll be fine." And I took a class, and we were doing group projects. And I was the only woman in this group. And we were talking about gender differences. And so that was interesting. And a lot of the conversation, it was great conversation. The guys were amazing in terms of just us navigating. But it did bring up some stuff. And I remember coming home … I remember, because you don't … because I'm not on campus a lot, and so I don't know a lot of people, it's not necessarily a safe … The group environment is not a safe place to process that stuff.

So I'd come home and I'd be talking to my husband about all this personal stuff that it brought up in the sense of, I want obedient to my calling. I want to follow where God is leading me. And I … on the one hand, I don't want to just push on ahead because I feel like, "I am female, and I can do anything and everything that a guy can do," because that's not necessarily what God's calling me to. But I also don't want to be disobedient in the sense of saying, "Well, traditionally, that's a guy's role, so I shouldn't even consider that. That's off the table." But there's this … for me, there's always been this just emotional process of working through what that is, and wanting to, like I said, be obedient, not only to my logical thought process, but also to scripture.

And so, sometimes it means turning to a female mentor, or other mentors, too, and unpacking what that looks like. And sometimes it means doing a little bit more research, and getting into the Word, and really just kind of, at each step saying, "Okay, God. This is the direction I feel like you're leading me in. Help me to be obedient with that, whatever that looks like, not because I have an axe to grind or have an agenda, but because this is truly what you're calling me to." And so I'm a people pleaser. Even though I like to say I'm risky, I'm not. And so there are times when I think I tend to step back, because I'm like, "Oh, well that's gonna ruffle some feathers, or that's gonna lead to more interesting conversations that I'm not sure I'm prepared for, emotionally. And so it's easier just to stay safe in my little world and be okay.

And so that's what this whole process has led, for me. I don't know that it's necessarily been some big aha moment, as terms of the freedom that we, as women, have. It's been a much more personal journey for me. I came here completely content to stay in kids ministry, and not necessarily do anything unconventional … even though I can be unconventional. And I don't know that that's where I'm always gonna end up now. And so, I think, as you look out into that unknown, that's where I think seminary's been really, really helpful, actually. It's been a safe place to process that, and to challenge those things. Even in those challenging conversations and discussions with maybe guys who don't necessarily understand what all's going on in our heads as we're navigating this stuff, it's been really helpful to me. I think the biggest thing I would say that makes it hard, just from either … whether it's either seminary in a ministry perspective is, this … when people are sitting there looking at you, saying, "Hey, you're a woman. This is not open to you," and you feel called to it, and you feel equipped, and you feel created to do something, it becomes extremely personal. And at least for me, it's hard for me to separate the two, at times. And it becomes hard, in those conflicted moments, to communicate that clearly, to where it's like, "Hey. You may think this is a doctrinal statement, or a philosophical debate. But for me, what you're saying is, 'The way God wired you and the way God equipped you is not okay for you to actually act on it.'"
Kymberli Cook
In the church.
Elisa Laird
In the church. In the church, at least.
Kymberli Cook
You can do whatever you want in the real world.
Elisa Laird
You can do whatever you want outside.
Heather Zimmerman
I'll let you run for President.
Elisa Laird
But at least in that sense. And so, I don't know that guys necessarily understand the emotional, the identity issues that get brought up in that. I know guys have identity issues, too. But I feel like, especially with stuff like our calling, especially if we're called to leadership, or we're called to teaching, or we're called to certain things that maybe aren't, like I said, standard for women, it's a lot more complex. And it's … you have to really create a safe space in order to be able to dive into that. And a lot of times, the conversation starts at such a level that you don't necessarily feel like you have the safe space to really get into it, if that makes sense.
Heather Zimmerman
Can I add to that?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Sure.
Heather Zimmerman
I've had times like you're saying, too. And it's hard where you're wrestling where you genuinely want to do what God wants, and you're not looking to disregard scripture. But then, like you say, God's wired you and equipped you. And I've sat in a church before, a large church. And it hit me that in May I will have higher education than everyone in the church except for the senior pastor. And I'm not looking to overthrow the senior pastor, but I'm like, "Is there a place in this church for me? Is there a place for me to be used … not even paid position … but to be used in my gifting?" And so wrestling with that type of thing, too.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. I think it's a real serious tension. And everybody has to negotiate it because the space that you're talking about is not something you end up creating for yourself. It's something that the church has to give you in order for it to work. And so it can be a real serious challenge for everybody involved, particularly in communities where there may not be agreement on what it is that a woman can or can't do. The it becomes even trickier, because then, no matter what you do, someone else in the community is responding to what's going on. And that makes it tough. Le me …

Elisa, I want to stay with one more question before I throw a general one out to everyone that'll probably be the last thing we have time for. And that is, you said you wrestled with moving into ministry at all, that that was a hard move, and God slowly drew you in. What was it that initially made you hesitant? Was it this wrestling with the idea of, "I'm a woman, thinking about my role in the church?" And I know that, at least in some traditions, that … and the ones that I'm attached to, women aren't free to do everything. So, was that part of it, or was there more to it than that?
Elisa Laird
There's probably multiple layers to it. I want to … I probably should preface this with saying, I've never had any issue, at least at Bent Tree, in terms of having freedom to operate, and my giftedness. They're extremely accommodating as far as that goes. But, as far as my background goes, I went … There was this period when I was a teenager. And I was always drawn to The Bible, and I was always drawn to figuring out how to teach it. And I didn't quite know what to do with it, because … well, you know this. But we went to a church that was extremely conservative, growing up. You guys tell stories about … I remember this but I don't know that I knew it at the time … where Mom was the first one to pray out loud, because women weren't allowed to pray publicly. So even though you grow up in that environment, and you don't necessarily realize what that means, but you get the sense that there's certain things that you're just not supposed to do. And I … like I said … I've always felt a little bit like a fish out of water in a lot of ways. I'm always very self-conscious, even though I like, I think, to project that I'm extremely confident about who I am, I am also, like I said, people pleaser, and I'm aware that not everybody can handle me at my level. [Laughter] My husband will be the first to tell you that. But that's one of the reason why he loves me.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. We passed that on to Ray.
Elisa Laird
Yeah. The gift that keeps on giving.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That's right. Exactly.
Elisa Laird
So, like I said, this is a deeply personal decision for me. And so it would be … that love for scripture, that whether or not I had permission to operate in those giftings, whether or not I felt … We had … I think … I remember … and I may remember wrongly … as a young girl, having a lot of conversations about men and women, and what was okay and what wasn't okay. And probably in my teenage hormonal craziness felt like there were going to be areas where it just wasn't gonna work, and I wasn't ever gonna fit into that, and so why bother trying? Why bother trying to be something I'm not, when that's never gonna happen, and I'm gonna be unhappy. But what I don't think I realized was that in completely shutting that down, I also didn't ever suspect that God might have bigger plans, and that there might be a place for somebody as unique and quirky as I am in ministry, to serve women, to serve men, to serve their children and their families. And to be completely shut off by that was also not okay.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. I think it's an important observation that what I find people have is they have expectations about what a woman can and can't do. And their expectations are actually pretty narrow.
Elisa Laird
Correct. There's this defined little box that you have to fit in. We're not all Beth Moores. We're not all these different women that you see teaching. And there's nothing wrong with them. They have completely amazing ministries, and they've changed ministry in so many ways. And I know guys feel the pressure to be Andy Stanley, or insert Mark Batterson, insert people here. But, I don't know if it's … at least, for me, I feel like when you walk into a room there's an expectation already on you. This fall, for the first time, I taught women. I've never done that. I could have told you before I got asked, I would never do that. I'm completely fine with teaching kids. They love me and I love them. And you can't really ever … you might get a little sassiness back and forth, but you can give it back. And that was really hard for me. It was really hard because one, it was something I didn't want to enter into because it opened up a bunch of junk that I was just completely content to just let stay in my closet. And it was a lot of stuff that had to do with stuff that I felt from when I was a teenager of, yeah, you're gonna walk into this room, and you don't fit that mold. And what do you have to say to these women, because they're gonna look at you, and they're gonna see you as, well like, "I can't relate to her." And it was a completely different situation. In fact, it was really amazing. And it opened my eyes to the fact that maybe my box was too small, and that I'm not necessarily giving our body enough credit for the fact that they're willing to listen to many different types of voices. And maybe that's part of what's been a shift in culture. I don't know if that would have flown 10, 20 years ago. But at least now, I think part of it is the challenge to challenge our young women to step out in faith and encourage and to be willing to put themselves out there and take those risks.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well that makes for an interesting transition. Kym, you sound like you're resonating with what it is …
Kymberli Cook
Well, I was just gonna say, I've found, in … particularly since graduating, it seems like the Lord keeps opening up some teaching doors and some opportunities that I, strangely enough, really don't want to do. [Laughter] I've never really wanted to teach all that … I love academics. I love being in a … buried away in the library, researching. That's what I always wanted to do. Maybe teaching in a classroom. But as far as getting up and teaching, or even like preaching, that kind of …
Dr. Darrell Bock
Or doing podcasts. [Laughter]
Kymberli Cook
Or doing podcasts. Right. That's not really what I had in mind for myself, and not really what's in my comfort zone. But it just seems like the Lord keeps opening those doors. And I've found that at least my training gets me the credibility I need. It has nothing to do with my gender. My training puts me in front, and they'll listen. And then, from there you have to earn it a little bit, and I don't know that I do. [Laughter] _____, [0:40:48] but long-term. But, I don't know. At least that's what I've found, is that because … I don't know. Because DTS has invested in me, and I've invested in that, people honor that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Heather, how do you … you don't strike me as the shy type. [Laughter]
Heather Zimmerman
No. It's funny. I get stereotyped for my appearance. I'm petite. You can't tell as much, I'm blond. But I relate with you. I play fantasy football, and I'm still working on you to play it. And serve and stuff like that. But yeah, I'm starting to find on the … I feel like a lot of my focus has been more on the negative. But I found a lot of positive experiences, like my pastor here in Dallas meets with DTS students, and anyone going to ministry on a weekly basis, just to talk about the stuff we don't talk about in seminary. And I remember the first time I came, I was the only girl, and they were just talking about pastors' concerns. And I'm like, "Ah, this is cool, but I don't really plan on being a senior pastor." And he, like that day I got home and there was an email waiting for me saying, "Hey. We need you here. We'd love to have you here." And so it's surprising how God has used men in very positive ways to invest in me, to believe in me. My preaching professor at Moody took me aside, really coached me through it. And so I've also had some really positive experiences when people actually take the time, like you said, to invest. And then that, their investment gives me credibility, as well.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So you've gotta be able to … several of you've been saying this … that you've gotta be able to trust the church to help you see the space that's possible. As we started off on this direction the point I was trying to make is that sometimes we do build our boxes so narrowly there are only … there's next to nothing that a woman can do. Well, in fact, there's tons that a woman can do in the church, and should be doing, is gifted to do, and should be encouraged to do, et cetera. And so, being able to make that point is actually part of the reason why we're doing the podcast is to say to churches, "Think through the rich well of resources that you have available in your communities when you give women permission to function in relationship to their giftedness, and you work that through biblically, the possibilities are actually quite open, and there's lots of potential to go in lots of directions with it.
Kymberli Cook
I think there's something … And I think, especially for men in leadership, at least I my experience, the encouragement of it has been huge for me. I'm shy. But it seems like I'm shy, but you're a little bit unsure of whether you want to be in that space, or whether you can be, or … I never really cared. I was like, "Well, I'm just gonna do it because this is what im going to do. But it seems like, in all of our cases, it's taken several male leadership voices saying, "You should do this. You should do this. Here's the opportunity. Get up there." That kind of thing. So I do think that is an important element. It's not just, "Okay. Well, you go do whatever you're gonna do." It's investing in them and making them do stuff that might be outside of their comfort zone.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. There's some encouragement involved here that I think is extremely important, and is something that helps the church to grow and to see how to function as a body, and to take advantage of the gifts that are available, and to do so in ways that are honoring.

Boy, the time's flown. Let me ask you all one quick question. What … and I'd like … this has gotta be crisp. You've gotta really be short. What's the one thing you would say to churches about being a young woman in ministry that you would hope they would get?
Kymberli Cook
You're gonna start with me, aren't you? [Laughter]
Dr. Darrell Bock
No. No.
Elisa Laird
So, I'll take this one. I would say, create a mentorship or leadership pathway, and be specific and intentional with it. We've actually started something like this at Bent Tree. And it's been really cool to watch whether it's women mentoring women or men mentoring women, I think that is really, really intentional. I think there's a great window of time to where you can … there's value in speaking truth over young women and saying, "Hey. I see this in you, and I see this in you now." Because it's a time of life where there are a lot of other things competing for that, and you don't always necessarily see truth in that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Well, we're … we are at a time …
Elisa Laird
Sorry.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I wanted to hear what the other responses would be. But I think creating that space is important. That's why we've done the podcast, to make people alert, to encourage them and to have ministries think about what the possibilities are with young women, 'cause the possibilities literally are endless.

We thank you for being with us to day on The Table, and we look forward to having you back with us again soon.
Darrell L. Bock
Darrell L. Bock Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 30 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Kymberli Cook
Kymberli Cook Kymberli Cook is the Senior Administrator at the Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary. She graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with a Master of Theology degree.
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