It’s The Message: What One Theology Major was Taught About Women in Ministry

Cherie Lynn Milliron, senior theology major at Southern Adventist University, talks about her journey from an introvert to an extrovert. Milliron worked to become more outgoing  so she can better serve others in her future career as a pastor.

by Anna Bartlett, published March 24, 2013


Senior theology major Cherie Lynn Milliron has wanted to be a pastor since she was nine years old. Growing up she fell in love with Bible class, went through a season of legalism where she saw everything in black and white, and spent a couple years digging into God’s word on her own and read the Bible for herself. Her study and her connection with God solidified the calling that full time ministry is her future.

“You don’t hear about a lot of 9 year olds who are like, ‘I want to preach!’ but I guess I am one of the few,” Milliron said. “I came to the point where I thought ‘there’s nothing else I want to do, I just want to be in full time ministry; I want to talk about the Bible to people, I want other people to get to have this type of relationship with God,’ and so from that point of nine years old, now I’m twenty-one, I’ve done everything I could to work towards being a pastor.”

 At Southern Adventist University Milliron is working on three majors, Theology, Classical Archaeology, and Near Easter Archaeology, and two minors, Practical Theology and Western Intellectual Tradition. She is a member of the Southern Scholars honors program and spent a summer as camp pastor at Camp Winnekeag.

Milliron is currently working on a theology externship at Collegedale Academy and holds a weekly Bible study in her home. She was Women of Ministry president of the Student Ministerial Association, and has been involved in several other ministerial positions and experiences since her nine year old calling. Milliron has used these experiences to transform herself into the woman she is today, a leader with a love of creating community and getting people into the Bible.

Growing up Milliron never got the message that women don’t become pastors.

“I did not realize that it was abnormal for a woman to be a pastor,” Milliron said. “I was always taught God had a role for everyone and you were supposed to work for Him with everything that you had.”

Milliron was baptized by a female pastor who profoundly affected her and even though her family moved to several locations, Milliron said her parents were very involved at whatever church they attended. The contributions of the female pastor and her parents gave Milliron the desire to also be involved and sent her the message that women can be involved in all types of church leadership. Milliron’s parent’s never told her otherwise.

“My mother never wanted, I think . . . for me to struggle with that,” Milliron said.

Milliron’s mother, Cherie Ada Milliron, said when her daughter shared that she felt called to the ministry, she felt that it was not her place to discourage her daughter from following God’s call.

“I did not feel like it was right for me to try to supersede that by putting any type of humanly take on it in anyway,” Milliron said. “The thing I always say to her is, ‘you’re only responsibility is to follow the lord . . . that’s all you’re responsible for,’ and, in her situation, it was following what she felt strongly calling in her life.”

Unfortunately, in the realm of theology students, Cherie Lynn Milliron’s experience is usually the exception. Rita Ordaz, junior Religious studies major, said that the message she received regarding women’s role in ministry growing up was very different. In her community, the sentiment was women could not be pastors.

“Definitely being a pastor . . . is looked down upon very strongly,” Ordaz said. “Even women just don’t approve of it. It’s very negative. If there are women pastors, they are always for kids or children or youth; they are never the pastor of the church for adults.”

Junior Theology major D. Luke Gonzalez’s experience growing up was similar to Ordaz’s. The view of his community was that women could preach, but they should not be pastors.

“It was very up front, very pointed, they don’t belong there—that’s a male job, and if you tried to argue with them on any sensible or reasonable basis, the arguments they brought forth were all rehashed from the flavor of the month pastor who was going up against [women’s ordination],” Gonzalez said.

Although Ordaz and Gonzalez received very negative messages regarding women’s role in ministry, some in their generation were sheltered from the controversy altogether. Senior computer science major and Milliron’s fiancé Thomas Olsen, said growing up his family was always supportive of women in ministry. He was unaware how controversial it was until he met Milliron.

“In my little bubble inside the Adventist church I didn’t realize that women’s ordination was such a contested issue,” Olsen said.

For female theology majors such as Milliron, however, women’s ordination is a topic of high interest—and a large part of their future. Milliron thinks she has a pretty good chance of getting a job after graduation based on her triple major and involvement in the honors program, but says she is often asked what she’s going to do with a major in theology.

“I’m gonna do the same thing all the other theology majors are going to do hopefully,” Milliron said. “I’m trusting that God has brought me this far; he will bring me the rest of the way. I don’t think that for the past 12 years of my life I’ve been working towards a goal and then he’s going to leave me hanging, but I don’t know what His plan is. I hope and pray that I get a job when I graduate here.”

Messages regarding the role of women in ministry can have a profound effect on the decisions of women to enter the ministry. In Milliron’s situation the message was positive, in Ordaz’s situation, it wasn’t.

“Actually, my major was chosen because my family does not support women in ministry—as far as being pastors. . . . I didn’t do theology, I chose religious studies,” Ordaz said.

Despite the different messages they received growing up, Ordaz and Milliron echo the same sentiment. They both feel called to the ministry, and the controversy over women’s ordination does not affect that.

“I am not a theology major because I have something to prove,” Milliron said. “I’m a theology major because I can do no other.”