By Betty L. Aldridge
I heard the words nearly 60 years ago, and I have never forgotten them.
As I searched for God’s will in my life, the words triggered many questions. It has not been an easy search and, even today, I still have questions, but I give God glory for leading me and for the experiences he has given me. This is my story. I want to share how God has used me.
First, I should explain the context for those words. As a high school student, I was asked to preach a sermon at an all-day regional youth rally. As I concluded, a highly respected Christian church leader stepped onto the platform, shook my hand and said, “What a shame, God didn’t make you a boy.” At the time, I simply took the words as a compliment. To this day, I truly believe that is how he meant them.
However, as I grew older, I found myself wondering, Had God really made a mistake? Should I have been a boy? Was it wrong that I enjoyed preaching? It is certainly true that those words helped me accept certain situations in our churches, but it did not stop the questions.
I have decided it is time to write how God has guided me as I searched for his will. I must make it clear, however, that I am not trying to present an argument. Throughout my life, I have hated division in the body of Christ, and I certainly do not want to foster division now. Nor am I going to delve into much-discussed Bible texts that others have studied as they’ve considered this issue.
I simply want to share how God has allowed me to serve him. There is not enough room to name all the good people God has placed in my life or to give all the details of my circumstances, but I pray that this summary of my journey will help those who may walk a similar path. Perhaps it can also provide encouragement.
I was born to older parents and learned early in life to use the gifts God gave me. I had a serious illness in elementary school and had to work at home in order to move on to the next grade. As a young teen, I was diagnosed with a lifelong physical disability, but I could not use that as an excuse. My parents continued to encourage me during my high school years, even as they suffered with their own illnesses.
But the memories I cherish most are being led to surrender my life to Jesus Christ when I was 11, and being called to ministry by the Holy Spirit in my early teens. I wanted to tell everyone. With youthful exuberance, I was ready to study, work, and be the best I could be to serve him. I admit I was not quite sure where this would lead.
Some difficulty arose in convincing my encouraging, but practical, father that an unaccredited Bible college would be a good choice for a woman. And when church leaders encouraged me by saying, “Christian education opportunities for women are becoming more available,” I questioned what that meant. Could I really use all my gifts in serving God?
Then, about that same time, our minister, Dan Johnson, who was highly respected by my dad, accepted a call to serve as a professor at Kentucky Christian College. So, in the fall of 1955, I enrolled there.
At KCC, encouragement came from professors like Don Nash and Andy Dale. I loved my biblical studies (well, most of them!) and my preaching classes. Yes, I even loved my three years of Greek! However, at the end of my junior year, I transferred to Milligan College, which was accredited, and in 1959, graduated with a BA in Christian education.
During those last months at Milligan, several ministry opportunities became available. Mildred Welshimer counseled me and helped me develop insight into my strengths and weaknesses. By early summer, I was a youth minister in Cleveland, Ohio. What growing experiences for a 21-year-old! However, the experience I least expected during that time was God’s choice of my life partner.
Dale and I had met and dated during my second semester at Milligan. However, upon graduating, he went back to his commercial art position and served as a music volunteer in his local church. We continued a relationship, but if I was going to fulfill God’s calling in my life, I did not see a plan for us.
But God had a plan, and God led Dale and me through experiences we never anticipated.
We set a wedding date, but the Army called. We married two months earlier than originally planned, and I became the wife of an Army chaplain’s assistant. Then, before the completion of his Army commitment, Dale decided to go to graduate school and enter full-time music ministry. While Dale was enrolling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, his adviser encouraged me to enroll as well. It was then financially feasible for married couples to do this, and with my accredited undergraduate degree, what would keep me from enrolling?
Upon completion of our seminary degrees, God called us to serve on the staff of First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio. I was an assistant in Christian education and Dale was minister of music. During those years, questions about my place as a woman in ministry lessened.
Then God presented a new challenge. We became part of the faculty at Manhattan (Kansas) Christian College. In that role I was able to teach, speak, research, and write. I even had the opportunity to expand a child development ministry, which I had become passionate about during seminary studies. I won’t deny that being a married woman helped during those ministry experiences, but God also placed me with some very mature colleagues.
After nearly two decades of satisfying service to God, I entered a much-unexpected walk in my journey. I became a widow with two young children. Questions returned, and I could not see how everything was going to fit together. But God, my “help in ages past,” continued to be my “hope for years to come.” He was my “shelter” and led me through the dark valley.
It wasn’t too surprising when he provided me an opportunity to teach in a Christian school. As a single mom, I needed that support for my teenagers, and they were able to complete high school there. The fall after my youngest graduated, God, once again, called me to a new ministry. There I used gifts I thought I would never be able to use.
While I served as children’s minister at East 91st Street Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, senior minister Russ Blowers encouraged me to be ordained. I will admit to some hesitation. However, at my ordination service, a dear friend, Charles Cook, opened his sermon by looking at the elders and saying, “What you are doing tonight is very right and very good.” Later, when Blowers gave the charge to me, he said, “I have given this charge to many in the past and I now give it to you.” That night, I strongly felt the Holy Spirit’s affirmation.
During the next few years, as I would present a Communion meditation, Scripture reading, sermon, or even officiate at funerals and weddings, Blowers, elders, and others in the congregation encouraged me. I was so thankful for those opportunities.
However, for a completely honest picture, I need to mention a few of the challenges. For instance, after I preached a sermon, one man commented, “Your husband must have been a preacher.”
I remember simply smiling and replying, “No, my husband didn’t preach.”
At times people would request a minister to perform a wedding or funeral, but when they found out a woman would be doing it, they would ask for a male minister.
Time passes, and changes happen in every ministry. We can complain or we can adjust. For me, I simply needed to remember that God does not change and he never stops leading us. Our responsibility is to submit to him. During the following years, God continued to give me opportunities to serve him, and they were always growing experiences.
Now, in this new season of my life, I feel blessed to be pastor emeritus. As I teach and counsel others, I never cease to be amazed how his Spirit directs me. You see, during all my searching and all my questioning, God used it for my good.
Do I still have some questions? Of course I do! However, I also realize I do not need to have all the answers. There is one answer, though, that is very clear—God absolutely does not make mistakes! He is “almighty, invisible, God only wise.” He did not make a mistake with me or with anyone. He intended for me to be a female, and I am very thankful for that. Now my prayer, for those reading this article, is that it will be an encouragement for my sisters in Christ who desire to use their God-given gifts in serving our Lord and Master.
Betty Aldridge is pastor emeritus at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. She also developed toddler curriculum for Standard Publishing and is author of Toddler Activity Bible published by Thomas Nelson.
Readers React to Betty Aldridge’s Story
I’m struck by Betty’s humility and patience in and through her challenging vocation as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the indelible mark of her calling is her joy, unspoiled by bitterness. I applaud God for not making Betty a boy and for giving her the promised gift of the priesthood of all believers.
—Aaron Wymer, Johnson City, Tennessee
After visiting the Two-Thirds world, I’m sorry, but I can no longer worry about an issue like women’s roles in the church. Thank God there are good women, as well as good men, using whatever gifts God has given them to make a difference in a world that desperately needs God’s love, joy, and peace. I love this article.
—Jackina Stark, Branson, Missouri
I want to congratulate Betty Aldridge on her love and devotion to the church. I have three wonderful daughters who all serve the Lord and his church in various capacities. As a fourth generation of five Christian church preachers, I was often told I needed a son to continue the long line of preachers in our family. I, like Betty, felt the words cut a bit since I knew my girls had a valuable role to play in the church, but I also knew it could be done without standing at a pulpit.
I never wanted to encourage my girls to play the role of the pragmatist and to contextualize Scripture to support their personal goals and the desires others may have had for them in ministry. Biblical truth must trump personal aspirations. Without question, many women in the church today are equally gifted as many men. What drives our movement and the Christian church in general is this burning question, “Is what I am preaching and practicing based on biblical truth?”
I believe Jesus placed in motion the order of leadership within the church from the role of qualified male elders and deacons to qualified men who preach the Word when the entire body comes together. By no means does this disqualify godly women from exercising their gifts in the church setting, but all gifts must be used in connection to biblical authority, no matter how touching our life story may be.
—James C. Book, Kissimmee, Florida
A line uttered by Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park has always struck me: “Life . . . finds a way.” I think that is true of women in ministry. Mrs. Aldridge’s life story is a testimony to the many brave, talented, and called women who have found ways to do ministry in a church environment that often seeks to thwart them rather than celebrate and use their gifts. Ministry is not for the fainthearted or passive. It sometimes requires dealing fairly and lovingly with mean-spirited, stubborn people. Not all women are up to this challenge, but neither are all men. Thank you, Betty Aldridge, for giving of yourself to the ministry of the church and loving its people.
—Mark Krause, LaVista, Nebraska
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