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“No Entry” – Women Need Not Apply

“No Entry” – Women Need Not Apply

Erin Beasley
  • She understands enough about music to know that she has a gift. She also understands enough about church to know that she will never use her gift in the same way as the man at the front of the room—she does not belong there.
Little Girl in Church Praying

Addi Panter – Finding Freedom

A young girl skips into the church building, holding her father’s hand. People smile, shake hands, clap shoulders. They discuss the unseasonably warm winter, the Cowboys’ upcoming rumble, and Laverne and Lonnie’s unrelenting flu. Hands pat the girl on the head, accompanied by remarks that she has surely grown in the last week. After a few moments, everyone takes their seats—the same seats they took the week before, and the week before that.

A solitary male voice begins to echo in the sanctuary—no instrumentation accompanying his booming baritone. The congregants create an a cappella chorus which swells to fill the room. The little girl joins them, her sweet soprano still growing, still maturing. She understands enough about music to know that she has a gift. She also understands enough about church to know that she will never use her gift in the same way as the man at the front of the room—she does not belong there.

Addi Panter grew up knowing the Lord, and knowing how he had gifted her: through song. She always knew that God gave her this voice as a tool to worship him, but in her church tradition, worship for women could only look one particular way.

She says, “Worship for me growing up was a very specific experience, and it did not include me as part of the leadership.”

Exclusion in this type of tradition often manifests in covert ways—men and boys lead prayers and committees, while women and girls have opportunities to commit to bringing a casserole to the next Wednesday potluck. Overt rejection for Addi in her church experience came in the form of a strict “no” whenever she expressed a desire to enter into the worship-leading space.

Still, Addi looked for whatever places she could to use her gift. In addition to singing with her church body during Sunday services, she also performed a cappella gospel with her family. She studied voice in college, worked in the music industry as a studio vocalist, and traveled with wedding bands, cover bands—you name it. She remembers striving to worship fully in those places, but any worship she gave felt incomplete.

Take Away My Gift

Eventually, her relationship with her gift became strained. At one point, she begged God to take it away from her.

She says, “It had been conditioned into a performance measure—used to get attention, affirmation, approval, from so many people in my life. I wanted to renew my mind, yet my gift continually reminded me of my humanness and my lack of intimacy with the Father.”

Tradition had crammed Addi’s talent into one box, and stuffed worship into another. Her voice could manifest the beauty and splendor of the King, but could not lead others to him. A spiritual shift occurred for Addi when, at the age of thirty, she took a leap of faith and
enrolled in worship school. As she learned more about God’s heart for worship, years of lies and hurt that had woven themselves around her heart began to unravel.

She remembers, “In worship school I finally allowed myself to grieve the fact that I could sing in clubs and bars and casinos, stand on my feet for four hours and entertain—but to use my gift to lead a body of believers into
the presence of God on a Sunday was literally considered a sin.”

Women and Worship in Corinth

The God she encountered studying worship not only allowed her into the space of leadership, but beckoned her there. She found for the first time that she could use her gift within the context she had always longed for—ushering people to the throne of God. She discovered
that her gift didn’t have to exist only in performance, but could bring her into true intimacy with her creator. In her words, “I didn’t know I could taste this kind of freedom with the gift he gave me. And to give it away to him, for him…changed my life.”

Now, after almost a decade of leading others in worship, Addi strives to help new leaders take hold of their gifts and discover how the Lord calls them to steward those gifts—regardless of gender. She teaches voice, and works specifically as a vocal coach for worship leaders. In her time teaching them she has discovered that “every single one has met trauma or the enemy by stepping onto the platform to lead worship.” The me-monster comes out. Imposter syndrome creeps in. Technical failures abound. So Addi has developed a philosophy: “We’re at war.”

Keeping Worship Leaders Off the Platform

Addi believes that, as with her story, the enemy will seek to keep worship leaders off of the platform. Once they step on, he will attack in new ways. Worship—entering into the presence of God and submitting wholly to him—strikes a powerful blow to the evil one. Addi teaches others to work against the lies, as she works against them herself. She knows humans will falter, but she also knows that God holds grace for all of us. Addi says that leaders should strive to “come wholehearted to this place—not present every moment perfectly, but submitted to him.”

Discovering her place on the platform has allowed Addi to interact with her God and her gift in more beautiful ways than she ever thought possible. Rather than lamenting the lost years, in which she believed the space of leadership a forbidden ambition, she has thrown herself enthusiastically into improving the worship experience for anyone who might encounter Jesus.

She hopes that everyone, whether called to lead or not, can find freedom to worship their Lord.

With an open heart, she asks, “What other ways can I experience worship? What’s worship like in my room, in a closet, with the door closed? Can I sing at the top of my lungs to him behind a closed door? Or only on a platform?”

“No Entry”

Women have often found “no entry” signs in places which need their gifts most desperately. The reasons for this may range from sincere doctrinal belief to grasps of power and control. But Addi’s story points to the freedom found in serving the Lord as he calls us—not as tradition dictates. Addi found true worship in leadership. True freedom. How much might the body of Christ flourish if everyone, including the little girls skipping into church, accessed that same freedom?

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