ministry | presence & listening.

While I would love to sit here and write a post about all of the things that I have learned thus far in ministry, it would be a novel by the time I touched on them all (maybe one day!) I still have so much to learn, but two things from the ministry experiences I’ve had thus far, and from the pastors and various other ministry leaders whom I have observed, shadowed, and learned from, two actions in particular have stood out to me as being of utmost importance – the ministry that can be done through your listening and your presence. The two go together and are often underrated because they seem far too simple to be effective. But while listening and being present with someone may be simple, it’s meaningful, because both are signs of genuine care and have the ability to positively impact a person & their circumstance, more so than we realize – I don’t think we don’t give God enough credit when it comes to his ability to work through us!

Because I have both seen and experienced the importance of these acts, it has become important to me, as a friend, daughter, sister, aspiring pastor, and human being in general, to carry them out, and I hope to offer a calm presence or the ability to sit and listen each day to those whom I encounter, whether it be in church, in school, on the sidewalk, in the store, in my neighborhood, and anywhere else God will have me. Listening to somebody when they speak about the trials they’re facing or even the joys in their life can be so meaningful to them and can remind them that they are not alone – to be listened to is to be cared for, and to be in the presence of another in the midst of sorrow is to be comforted – ministry, I believe, can be carried out in both such acts.

When I think about why these two specific things have found a place of importance in my heart for the ministry that I am called to, I think of two main reasons —

# 1) I myself seek them out in those whom I confide in, and therefore I want to be that for others, the way people have been for me – when I find myself wanting to verbally express what I am feeling, my hurt, or my confusion, I ask myself: who is going to listen to me because they genuinely want to? Who is going to listen and offer their honest thoughts, whether it’s what I want to hear or not? Other times, rather than talking, we find ourselves wanting somebody who can simply sit down beside us and be a calm presence while we think and process our thoughts & circumstances. People appreciate being listened to, and people appreciate being in the presence of someone, especially when they are hurting.

# 2) Whether it be because I am studying psychology,  am aspiring to become a minister, or simply because I like to sit and have coffee with people, converse, and listen, individuals come to me often with issues that are typically on the heavier side, and while I do happily talk with them and do suggest other resources for them if I feel it is over my head, more times than not, I feel as though my presence and these two listening ears of mine have the ability to minister to those individuals more than my moving mouth does. I want to give all that I can, and sometimes, that is simply myself – my time & my presence.

I’ve shadowed a handful of pastors through the years as they have attended to what I believe to be one of a pastor’s most important tasks, and that task would be pastoral care visits (in hospitals and at the homes of individuals who are no longer able to physically attend church). Something that I have observed along the way during these visits is the pastors’ willingness to sit and listen, simply being present with the individuals, some of whom were in their last hours of life, some with terminal illnesses, some not aware that we were even there, some who had had a bad fall which landed them in the hospital to recover. My grandfather has dementia and has progressed to the point where he does still speak but my family and I seldom know what he is trying to say, so we will often resort to smiling and nodding along, but just the other day, my mom and I were sitting on the couch watching T.V with him and he turned to us and said, “it’s so nice having you guys here.” My church grandma, Ruth, is bedridden at the moment, and talking is often very tiring for her, so there are frequent and long pauses during our visits together. When I go see her, I’ll sit myself down beside her, and sure, there will be silence, but even so, when I stand up to leave, she’ll so often say “you’re not leaving, are you?” Gordon, her late husband, (my church grandpa) didn’t have the strength to speak much as he got closer and closer to meeting Jesus face to face, but when I would go into his room, I’d sit there and hold his hand, and he knew I was ‘there’, though we didn’t really speak, he knew I was present.

Presence matters, friends. It means something – God’s love doesn’t need to only be spoken in order to shine through us. It can be observed through us by our actions and it can be felt in the silence as well.

Something also important to remember in ministry and in life is that you are not always going to know what to say, and that is okay. You are not always going to know how to respond to the things people bring before you. You are not always going to understand. You cannot ‘fix’ everything, as much as you want to. When somebody is sitting before me and struggling with something heavy, painful, and not ‘fixable,’ I can learn the classic, “it’ll get better,” you’ll be okay,” “God is with you” and while there is nothing wrong with any of those words, I have found that I often resort to saying them when I panic in the moment because I don’t know what else to say or how to handle silence – but having the ‘right’ thing to say or merely having a response is not nearly as important as sitting with that person and simply being a calm presence, perhaps praying with them/over them. You don’t have to understand exactly what they are going through, and you don’t have to have an immediate response or the ‘right’ answer. There have been times where people will talk to me for what seems like hours and I won’t have any idea how to respond to the things they are laying before me, and it is in those moments and even before those moments happen that I ask God to please help me and give me the wisdom and the words – words I couldn’t possibly formulate and communicate well to a hurting individual on my own. God will give you words when you have none, but sometimes – your presence will be enough. We all have thoughts to process, tears to cry, words to speak, figurative mountains to climb, and sometimes, it’s just easier to do with somebody by your side. Many, if not all of us, know that the presence of somebody during those moments of releasing our hurt, whether it be through tears, words, prayer, deep breaths, or silence, can be so encouraging and comforting – it can be seemingly pointless but it does hold power. If you’re ever in a conversation with somebody, and while they are talking, you’re thinking of how you’re going to respond and what you’re going to say because you don’t want to leave even a moment of awkward silence, odds are you’re like I used to be (and sometimes still am) – you fear the ‘awkward silence.’ But I have since learned that silence isn’t something to be terrified of and it doesn’t have to be awkward – I think I learned that because of the number of times people have come to me and I haven’t had the ‘right’ words to respond with, leaving me with no option but to sit and think for a bit, or just accept that I have no words, and allow myself to simply sit with the person and just ‘be’ – more times than not, that is enough. When you were a little kid, did you ever run into your parent’s room in the middle of night after having a bad dream? You snuggle up in between your parents, and they may have asked you why you’re there, but they don’t begin a conversation or anything, you just laid there and tried to fall asleep again in the silence, but instantly you felt comforted by the mere knowledge that someone was beside you.

There is power in presence.

Friends, don’t underestimate the meaning your presence has to the whomever you are present with. Don’t underestimate the meaning that your ears have when it comes to listening to somebody speak in the midst of their hurt or in their need for a confidant to spill their guts to. God has the ability to minister through you in a variety of different ways, and these are just a couple. We’ve all heard the saying, “we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” So listen. Offer the two ears God gave you to whomever is confiding in you, as you acknowledge that they sought you out for a reason and they are opening up to you for a reason. Be present. Sit with them in their hurt, grief, depression, struggle. Be the calm presence they may need. Plop yourself down before or beside them and simply let them know you’re there, with them & for them. It makes all the difference in the world. It’ll be easy to feel you’re not doing enough, but something I’ve learned to do (because I’m a ‘fix it’ person who can’t always fix things) is pray to God and ask him to guide your words in those situations.

Your presence means something, even if it seems meaningless or boring to you. Remember it doesn’t have to involve a bunch of people, bright lights, a big stage, pews, or a 30 minute sermon in order to be ministry. Ministry is carried out in a variety of different ways, and listening to others and being present with them are most certainly two of them.


If you’re reading this and you’re in need of someone to listen, myself and many others are here for you! If you’re reading this and you’re somebody who has taken the time to listen to my words or who has calmly been present with me in my trials & joys, I appreciate you!

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weak enough to lead?

This year at annual conference, as I was scanning the Cokesbury section, I came across a book titled, “Weak Enough To Lead” by James C. Howell. The title jumped out at me in such a way that I didn’t even need to read the summary on the cover before snatching it off the table and heading up to the register to purchase it. The book jumped out at me because its topic was one which I have wrestled with a lot in life, feeling as though weaknesses somehow deem me incapable of leading, especially, leading in ministry and as a pastor someday. At times, I have found myself plagued by this feeling of defeat, as though I was too weak or ‘not cut out’ for what God has called me to do. I have always been a perfectionist, always set high expectations for myself, and am hard on myself if I ‘fail’ or don’t reach my goals at the very time that I had planned. I don’t like to complain or dwell on bad things, and admitting struggle or weakness is something I am not great at. So, perhaps, after stating all of that, it’s not too hard to imagine this book being one that I just couldn’t pass by. As I have read it more and more, I have found that it addresses every single thing I have listed above, and more.

Many times, I have thought to ask myself, “am I too weak to lead?”

But never once have I thought to ask myself, “am I weak enough to lead?”

That is the very question this book examines:

Am I weak enough to lead?

My recovery is something that I am very open and honest about in my conversations with people and in my writing, which many of you know. I am almost 5 1/2 years in recovery from anorexia, and I’ll actually be on a mission trip in Cuba on the 5 1/2 year mark, but you better believe that I am still going to jump up and down a few times out of joy and celebrate the accomplishment it is to me. Something I am not so open about, however, is the fact that recovery is a journey more so than it is a one time decision, and like any journey, it has bumps, detours, obstacles, highs, lows, and everything in between, and for the sake of being honest and at the risk of being vulnerable, I do still struggle at times with my recovery, and it is for that very reason that, at times, it has made me feel as though I am somehow too weak or too incapable of leading. This isn’t because I see my recovery or the fact that I have struggled with an eating disorder as a weakness, rather, it is something about my life that is not perfect, and as a perfectionist, one can see how that could affect my confidence in my leadership abilities. It wasn’t until recently that I came to the realize and truly believe that being a pastor and being in recovery are not mutually exclusive. I thank God for helping me realize that, and I thank him for continuing to assist me in believing that.

My recovery and the ministry I am called to are two of the most important things in my life, and God knows that full well. He knows that I am in recovery – heck, he has been with me every single step that I have taken since day 1 of being diagnosed, to day 1 of beginning recovery, all the way up until now, and he’s still trekking along beside me, behind me, and before me.

God also has called me to be a pastor. He has called me to a life of ministry for him, in service to others. God knows I have weaknesses, and in fact, he knows those weaknesses inside and out, better than even I do. Even so, that doesn’t diminish his confidence in my ability, through him, to pursue his call upon my life to be a leader in the Church.

I don’t personally think for one second that God looks at us and thinks, “she is strong enough for this” or “he is strong enough for this.” God doesn’t call only people who have no weaknesses or no imperfections, because if we’re being honest, those people don’t exist. This book has made me think about the possibility that, rather than calling us based on our strengths or how equipped we are, God looks at us and says,

“She is weak enough – I will give her the strength she needs to lead and I will use her weaknesses for the benefit of my kingdom.”

“He is weak enough – I will give him the strength he needs to lead and I will use his weaknesses for the benefit of My Kingdom.”

Brothers and sisters, it is normal – innate, even – to have weaknesses. There are many differences between you and me and everyone else in this world, but something we all have in common is that we all have weaknesses. We all have brokenness. We all fall short. We all have pain. We all endure hardships. We all sin. We all mess up. We all fail. We are all imperfect. No leader is without any of those things.

I am thankful to have not only a hand full, but two hands full of mentors, pastors, and simply amazing leaders in my life, and one of the many things I respect most about those leaders is their willingness to acknowledge weakness, to be vulnerable, to show emotion, to admit when they don’t know something, to acknowledge their imperfections, to admit their faults, to talk about their fears and their challenges, and let people know that being a leader doesn’t negate the fact that you’re still human. I pray to embody that authenticity as an individual and as a pastor someday. I have more distrust than I do admiration for leaders who try to portray themselves as these perfect individuals who are never weak. Because that’s fake. We all have weaknesses so to portray yourself as though you have none is inauthentic and misleading for those who look up to you and those whom you are leading. Having weaknesses and being a leader are also not mutually exclusive. If anything, they make you a better leader.

I am preaching to myself just as much as I am preaching to you when I write this, but do not be ashamed of the things that you consider to be weaknesses in your life, especially when you have a God who is eager to use those weaknesses! Don’t cover them up, rather, embrace them. I know that is easier said than done, but God can actually use them and perfect his strength in those weaknesses. Our weaknesses do not deem us incapable of leading. We are weak, but God is strong. We have flaws, but God is flawless. We are imperfect, but Jesus was & is perfect. I encourage you to ask the question: Am I weak enough to lead? & What does that mean to and for you?

To close out this post, I wanted to leave you with a quote to contemplate from the book I just have mentioned above (I strongly recommend picking up a copy!!)

…Is it that God uses our strengths? Or is it even truer that God’s strength is perfected in our weakness? (Howell, 2017). 


 

Loving and gracious God,

Thank you for using our weaknesses, perhaps even more than you use our strengths. Thank you for being present in our lives as a stronghold and rock, so that we don’t ever have to rely on our own strength. We pray that when we feel incapable or weak that you would remind us that yes – we are incapable and we are weak but you are strong and you are capable. We pray that you would fill us with spirit and enable us to go out and lead, and serve, in your Son, Jesus’ name. We pray that we would be weak enough to lead. Take our pride, God, and take our desire to be perfect and replace it with humility and peace not only in who you’ve made us to be but in who you are. We pray all of this in your name –

Amen. 

 

a response. for my sisters.

 

statuss

The above Facebook status was one that I wrote this past Sunday. It ended up receiving more reaction and attention than I anticipated, and because of this – because of the numerous comments and Facebook messages that I received following the posting of this status, and because personally, it has been weighing on my mind and on my heart this week, I wanted to elaborate further and write more, for you and for me.

This past Sunday, it was with a very heavy heart that I wrote this status following a church service that left me filled with utter disappointment. Those who read this status reacted to reading it exactly the way that I reacted to hearing the said sermon: shocked, angry, confused, disappointed. I knew that there needed to be light shed onto this because I have dealt with these issues before and therefore had the discernment to know that this is something that cannot be ignored. I cannot imagine that I was the only person in the congregation left feeling this way following this sermon, and I knew that if I ignored this, it would mean that I was tolerating it, and this is something that simply should not be tolerated.

I know that there are plenty of faiths and denominations that have these very same issues every single day regarding looking at men and women as polar opposites and treating them as unequal, and frankly, I am sure that will be a topic I’ll cover in another blog post on another day – But today I am addressing this issue that I was reminded of on Sunday which is still clearly going on within the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church prides itself on its inclusiveness and affirmation of women in all areas and roles of the church, and if we pride ourselves on that, we cannot be sitting back and allowing sexist preaching to occur within our churches. The fact that these issues are still going on within our denomination in the year 2017 does not come as much of a shock to myself and I am sure it doesn’t come as a shock to many of you either, but the fact that it is still present does not mean that we have to accept it and allow it to continue. We need to take our blinders off and know that if it is seen or heard, it should be confronted.

First and foremost, know that my reasoning behind writing and posting this status on Sunday was and still is not to drag anyone’s name through the mud, so with that, the person who preached this sermon will remain unnamed by me, as will the name of the church. I ask that if you do know it, that you please do not comment either of those names on this post. I should note that since my initial post and since talking with others about this, it is being addressed and it is in hands that are not mine, but rest assured and trust that it is being taken care of in the correct manner.

I want to start on a positive note, as I always strive to do, and say that I do not want to believe that the worship experience I had this past Sunday was an accurate representation of this church. This was my first time ever attending this church, and while first impressions are important, I do strive to refrain from judging any church based on one experience. The pastor was pleasant and welcoming, and even offered to have me preach there sometime. I had countless members of the church come up to me, welcome me, and say that they were glad I was there. But the sermon – the sermon was unnerving. It was preached not by the pastor, but by a guest who is someone that holds authority, and that was and is unsettling to me.

With all of that being said, the reasoning behind why I did choose to write this initial status and bring other people into it to hear their views on what I should do with this outdated sermon, was because I do not want any young women like myself sitting in the pews hearing those words from the pulpit and believing for one second that that is truth. I am not going into ministry to prove any points, but I most certainly do acknowledge and take very seriously the fact that God has called me and that I am pursuing a role that many people strive to prevent women from pursuing. I take seriously my responsibility as a woman to defend other women, and affirm them, rather than tear them down or let them be torn down. I take very seriously getting up behind a pulpit knowing there are young girls and women sitting in the pews. Our Virginia conference has a Bishop who just so happens to be a woman; a strong, bold, passionate, fierce woman, and I know that she takes seriously that responsibility, among all her other responsibilities. Seeing her preach and knowing that she is our Bishop encourages me to press on and gives me hope amid any scrutiny myself and others may receive. I can’t imagine what it means for girls even younger than I to see her and her boldness and leadership. Representation matters, as does affirming one another’s gifts and call. So that responsibility of mine was what was running through my head during this sermon, along with knowing blatant sexism when I hear it.

I will note, because many of you have asked – I did not confront this person. I wanted to confront them following this church service. I walked right by this guest preacher after the service was over and I very well could have gone up and had a conversation with them, however, I refrained from doing so and the reasoning for that was as simple as this: I didn’t want my anger to take control of my tongue. I didn’t want to be rude in any way, or say something that I didn’t mean. I was furious, and rightly so, but that is not the best state to go up to someone and speak with them.

This sermon was one that led my jaw to drop more times than I can count, and after having listened to it online for a second time (and third and fourth time) (really just to make sure I was hearing it right), I still can’t believe it. I’m not angry anymore, though, rather, I feel encouraged. I feel encouraged to stand up more and be more bold when it comes to these types of issues.

During the sermon, I wanted so badly to stand up and walk out. But then I remembered the countless times during freshman year of college that I sat in my Bible and church ministries classes at Liberty University where I heard all about how I couldn’t be a pastor because I was a woman. Every day I was told by someone I couldn’t pursue God’s call upon my life for that very reason. I remembered the anger, the doubt, and the hurt that I felt, but I also remembered how I pushed through every single one of those classes – all four New Testament class periods that my professor used to try and convince our class of 300 that women were forbidden from holding the pastoral role. I pushed through all those dreadful classes that left me in tears, and I have grown because of it.

Sitting through those classes didn’t teach me that I couldn’t be a pastor, but they sure as heck taught me how to stand up for what I believe in, even if I was standing alone (and believe me, majority of times at Liberty, I was standing alone). Sitting through that sermon on Sunday didn’t convince me that men and women have separate roles or that women’s gifts stifle men’s gifts in the church, but sitting there and hearing it all presented to me an opportunity to stand up for myself and for every other woman in the Church.

So as I sit here and reflect on this past Sunday,  I am glad that I sat through that whole sermon. I am glad that I sat there, because though I was utterly infuriated at the words I was hearing, I was reminded that when we become infuriated, we have the ability to take that fury and allow it to motivate us to do good or spark change in a positive way. We don’t have to let it drain us or cut us deeply.

As I walked home from church, I contemplated putting anything on Facebook about the service. I contemplated deleting it after I made the decision to post it. I wondered if I had simply overreacted. But then I got other people’s opinions on it (this is why the Bible says to seek wise counsel!!) When someone told me to send it to our Bishop, I started overthinking it more than I already had been.

I’m on my own ministry journey and I’d rather not cause any trouble or make anyone mad.

But then I read a timely devotion about being bold (God’s funny like that). It talked about how whether or not we choose to be bold lies in how confident we are in our God (and not ourselves!) I’m confident in God and know him and his word well enough to know that he would never encourage preaching that sets one gender up on a pedestal and the other left out to dry. One pastor reminded me that people like this guest speaker, who think and preach such things, in a way want us to be afraid and not speak up. They especially don’t expect women to speak up who are ‘supposed to be gentle and not have a loud enough voice to speak up with.’ This person even stated in their sermon that women are supposed to be gentle and men are to be leaders. But friends, need I remind you that gentleness and boldness are not gender specific.

When the person holds some type of authority as this person did, it can be even more intimidating, which could be why the pastor of this church did not stop the preaching as I know many of the pastors in my life would have. But it is in those tough moments, even if the person is higher up than them, when discernment of what is right and being bold both come into play.

Being bold sometimes means standing up even when you are a little (or a lot) afraid to do so. In fact, that shows boldness; we’ve all heard that famous quote, “feel the fear and do it anyways.” That was me speaking up about what I experienced in this church on Sunday. That was me sending this status to my Bishop and sending the link to select few people who I could trust to get their opinion. That is me sitting here right now realizing how big of an issue this was and that it’s being addressed because I, feeling the fear and doing it anyways, shed some light onto this issue that has likely occurred more than just once, happening right in our conference.

My main reason for writing a more elaborate response post about this was to remind the Church that we still have work to do. It was to remind myself and others who happen to read my writing about the importance of men and women empowering one another, not pinning us against each other or building up walls of differences between us. It was to remind myself and others that we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, need to be lifting each other up and affirming each other’s gifts and the call which God has placed on each of our lives – we are called! So may we do these things each and every day, Church!

Through this situation, I have felt and seen God actively working, as he has many, many times before when it has come to discerning when to speak up and when to remain silent. I have heard and sensed him through the people who I have brought into this conversation as well. It has made my heart happy to see my fellow brothers and sisters come together and affirm women in church leadership and condemn the oppression of it. I know that every time I witness such preaching that goes against what the UMC (not to mention the Bible) stands for, or I or another woman is told that we can’t do something because of our gender, it makes us stronger, and gives us thicker skin, which personally is something I have been praying for!

I know that I am not perfect, that I am never going to be, and that I am not called to be. I am still going to run around mountains barefoot, be as clumsy as can be, run into things, and get my ear mic tangled in my hair every time before I preach. I am still only 20, with a whole lot left to learn. When I am a pastor, I still won’t be perfect, I won’t know everything, and I won’t be perfect at letting such negative preaching or comments role off me like rain. I know that the women and men who I look up to aren’t perfect and also have a lot left to learn. Role models are not supposed to be perfect. No male or female on this planet will ever be perfect and God doesn’t expect us to be (thank goodness). But as Christians striving to please the Lord, we do our best and nothing less than that. We do good, we love people, we affirm one another in the things Gods called us to do, we walk humbly, we love mercy, we do justly.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, encourage one another to be who God has called each of us individually to be, and nothing less. Brothers in Christ, you, too have a responsibility in this – a responsibility to affirm your sisters, stand up for them, and not discourage or allow others to discourage us from doing the things that God has called us to do. Churches, make certain that you are getting men and women into your pulpits. Sisters in Christ, may we continue to empower one another, as we continue to preach on.

 

20 church ministry lessons learned by 20

While I have learned far more than 20 lessons these past 20 years of life, and know I have far more than 20 left to learn, these are a few that stand out to me the most when I reflect on all that I have learned during my time in the Church thus far.

Lesson #1

You can’t pour yourself into ministry if you’re not being filled by the Spirit.

Self care is so, so important. Not selfish – important. I always knew growing up that pastors took one day a week as their Sabbath, but for the longest time, I never thought of myself as someone who should have Sabbath. But friends, Christ did not say in scripture that only pastors or people with full-time jobs should take a Sabbath! We each need to take time to rest, be renewed, recuperate from our life’s work, and be filled back up by the Spirit, so that we can go out into the world and do God’s work. Whether you read scripture or devotion’s in the morning / at night, pray through out the day or before you begin your day, download the Bible app or a devotion app onto your phone – whatever it may be that helps you connect with God each day and be filled, make sure you are doing that. You may have heard the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” It holds true; so often we find ourselves going, going, going and neglecting to come before God, and it shows – it’s harder for God to bless our work if we’re not resting. If we aren’t resting, we’ll be attempting to do Gods work on empty. We must make sure we are coming before Christ and be filled by him, so that we can then go out and pour ourselves into the ministry we each do here on earth for him, like him.

Lesson #2

People will always think that you are either too young or too old.

I laugh as I write this, because out of everything I have learned in ministry thus far, this one is at the top of the list. I have definitely had my fair share of people look down on me and make comments about my being, “too young,” to do certain things in ministry, and I know that I will have plenty more of such encounters to come. And when I am old and grey, I know full well that I will have people think who will think that I am too old to do certain things. At some point in our lives, we will all encounter people, regardless of our career paths, who will tell us or think of us as being too young or too old. But friends, rest assured that God’s ability to use us, his children, is not determined by our age, gender, race, class, or anything else. God is able to use us just as we are, because he equips those whom he calls. If I’ve learned anything from being told I am too young, it is that you must persevere and listen to God above all else!

Lesson #3

Change can’t be optional. Change is necessary. 

Change is something that the church can be very uncomfortable with. People in general are uncomfortable with change because we as humans desire comfort. But growth does not happen if change does not happen. That goes for us individually, and for our churches as well. If we are not willing to step outside of our comfort zones, we will never grow. And growing as a church does not mean growing numerically; it really means growing spiritually as disciples. Though change within our churches can be difficult to accept, it can be the very thing standing in the way of making disciples. Know that while Christ assured us that he would always remain the same, he never told us that we should remain the same; not us individually or our churches. 

Lesson #4

Women in ministry have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

I am very grateful to be affiliated with a denomination that affirms women in ministry and I am grateful that I was raised in a household by two parents who taught me to be a strong and independent woman, never once discouraging me when I heard God calling me to ministry. However, I know full well that not every woman has had that same experience. So many women out there are still discouraged from ministry because of their gender because of a few select verses taken out of their intended context; while there are so many amazing, powerful, preachers out there who are female, as one of the millions of women who has encountered the pure hate and oppression for being a woman pursuing ministry, I know that we still have a ways to go. I think that it is so important when speaking and writing about this issue to note that restricting women from the role of a pastor or from any role in ministry, is not restricting the woman herself – it is restricting the work of the Holy Spirit. A call from God to go into ministry is just that; a call from God. Trying to prevent women from ministry is attempting to prevent Gods work. While I and many others are blessed to be surrounded by pastors, friends, family members, and various other ministry leaders who empower women in the church, but we need even more of that support through out the country and through out the world, from both men and women…May we continue doing the work that goes into shattering the glass ceiling.

Lesson #5

We must make it our mission, as the Church, to get out into the community.

The Church should not make it about drawing your community into your church more than you make it about actively showing your community Jesus. Doing this requires you – The Church – to get outside of the buildings walls and into the community where your fellow brothers and sisters are located. Opening your church doors on Sunday mornings isn’t enough.

Lesson #6

Inter-generational congregations are what heaven will look like.

I cannot express enough the importance of having a wide range of ages within your congregation. I know a church cannot necessarily control the ages of those who walk through their church doors, but that is why finding a balance is important (that’s a topic for another blog post). Inter-generational congregations are important because the young folks learn from the older folks, and the older folks learn from the younger folks. Having both the younger and older generations within a church also helps to break the stereotypes surrounding millennials in the church and stereotypes surrounding the older generation in the church. I have learned such valuable lessons from people at my home church who are 20+ years older than me, and I have even learned valuable lessons from those who are 10+ years younger than me.

 Lesson #7

Seek wise counsel. You don’t know everything and that is okay.

If I had a penny for every time that I have found myself needing to confide in one (or multiple) of the ministry leaders / pastors in my life for inquiries I had on various things, I would be one rich gal. The amount of times I have asked one of them to read over one of my sermons, answer a theological  question or candidacy question of mine, or confessed a dilemma I had no idea what to do about, are countless. We don’t know everything, we never will, and that is okay. We are always learning. This is why the Bible instructs us to seek wise counsel. To learn from those wiser than us. 

Lesson #8

Be okay with saying “no.” Set boundaries for yourself.

You can’t do everything. We aren’t called to do everything. That is why Paul reminds us that we are one body made up of many parts! We are to discern before we say yes when someone asks us to something. This is something that I admittedly have struggled with in ministry; saying no when someone asks me to do something. Sometimes this is because I don’t want to let anyone down, and more times than not it is because I really want to do it, but I’ve learned that we can’t do it all and we’re not supposed to. If you’re constantly doing, doing, doing, you’ll become drained. Even if it’s something you love, you must set boundaries for yourself so that you don’t become burned out.

 

 

Lesson #9

You can only plan so much.

Something that has become like a reflex now when something doesn’t go as planned in the church, is, “well, that’s ministry for ya.” You can’t control everything. Things will go wrong and not as planned. There will be Sunday’s where your pastor will come up to you five minutes before the service begins and ask if you would fill in for the associate pastor who is sick. There will be Saturday nights where your pastor may call you and ask to help him/her out with the Sunday service. There will be hiccups when trying new things in your church, there will be miscommunication, there will be a lot of improvising to do. So much of the ministry that goes on within the church requires one to be open to ‘change of plans,’ improvising, and filling in for others on short notice –  “that’s ministry for ya!”

Lesson #10

Get young people at the table where decisions are being made – encourage them to lead.

Millennials are not just the future of the church; they are the present and the future of the church. A lot of young people refrain from speaking up about wanting to lead in the church because they feel that they will be looked down upon, or think that they are incapable, which is why it is so vital for those in the congregation to encourage young people to step up and lead. Let them know that they are wanted in leadership and that they are capable with Christ of leading and leading effectively!

Lesson #11

Have solid, Godly mentors who can guide you spiritually, as well as in ministry endeavors. 

God should be our number one go-to guide, of course. However, God is so gracious in that he has also placed people in our lives who we can look up to. I have a handful of people, some who are in the ministry and some who are not, and these people are folks I know I can count on, anytime. Whether I need advice, someone to talk to, someone to cry to, there’s a person I know I can go to or call up. A lot of these people are folks who have more life experience than me, who can guide me through situations they at one point also found themselves in. Everyone needs people in their lives whom they can retreat to when they need help. We were not called to journey through this life alone.

Lesson #12

You don’t have to agree with someone in order to love them.

I’m sure that you all have learned this already, but we are not going to agree with every person whom we meet. That is okay!! Praise the Lord we are not called to agree with every person we meet on this earth! But what we are called to do is love them. We are called to love our neighbors, with no exception. Mark 12:30-31.

Lesson #13

When it comes to your sermons, have the “come and go” message in mind.

This is something I have tried my very best to do since I first started preaching. Every preacher has their own way of going about writing their sermons, so please don’t think I’m trying to tell you how to do it (I’m just a preacher in training) But I know personally I have always been eager to write my sermons in a way that emphasizes the importance of coming to Jesus, then encouraging people to “go,” and repeat. It’s not always spiritually healthy for people to come into church, hear a sermon that makes them feel good and not be encouraged to apply it to their lives when they exit the church doors.

Lesson #14

Church can happen anywhere – even in a coffee shop.

Never underestimate the power of a genuine one-on-one conversation. Know that ministry is something that you do not have to be in church in order to do. I can confidently say that I have had more conversations about God and about faith in coffee shops than I ever have in a church setting. Whether you’re in a sanctuary, a coffee shop, hiking on a mountain, on a walk, in the gym, in a mall, church can happen, because church is not a building, you and I are the church!

Lesson #15

Speaking of coffee…

This is no joke. I truly have learned about myself that coffee is essential in being effective in my daily life as well as being alive, awake, alert and enthusiastic on Sunday mornings. You all know the saying…“I need a lot of coffee and a whole lot of Jesus.” It is possible to be hyped up on Jesus and coffee at the same time. Enough said.

Lesson #16

Humble yourself.

If you’re a leader, I’ve always thought that it is important to let people know that you are not perfect. Of course we all know that nobody is perfect, but often times leaders are assumed to be people who never make mistakes. While leaders in the church and leaders in general are often held to a higher standard, that doesn’t mean that they are immune to making mistakes. I’m one of those people who likes to laugh at herself when she messes up. As a perfectionist, this has taken time and sometimes I’m super hard on myself for it, but it’s healthy to have the humility to know that you are not and never will be perfect (that’s why we have our perfect Jesus!) To give an example, every time that I wear a mic that has to go around my ear, without fail, it gets tangled in my hair and causes my hair to make this giant knot. Last time I preached, I remember looking at my mom as I worked to untangle it and said, “wow – there is absolutely nothing professional about me.” (We had a good laugh). God humbles us in the funniest, smallest of ways. To give another example, one of my friends once suggested to me that, instead of saying “thank you” when someone compliments me on my sermon, say, “praise the Lord.” Every time I say that, it’s humbling because it reminds me and those delivering the compliment that the sermons I preach is never from or about me, but from and about God, through me. Every time we succeed or do good in this world, God deserves the glory, friends.

Lesson #17

Don’t be afraid to talk about difficult topics.

Whether it be mental illness / mental health, politics, homosexuality, social issues, sin, etc. There are topics out there that may make people feel uncomfortable, and I am in no way, shape, or form sitting here today to suggest preaching about our president or controversial issues every Sunday, but also, we as the church need to be real. Whether you’re in the pulpit or sitting in the pews, as the family of God, we all have different thoughts, opinions, struggles, and joys that we should be able to share with one another. The Church should be a place where we can go to feel safe and have open discussions about things that are not the easiest to discuss, but things that need to be discussed.

Lesson #18

Pray: it’s that simple.

I get that prayer isn’t always easy to do or easy to want to do; we get busy, we sometimes feel distant from God, we may feel too ashamed to come before him – whatever it may be, prayer is so vital, friends. It is vital in ministry and it is vital in our daily lives. When you bring yourself to pray and get in conversation and communion with God, it flows right through you. Prayer doesn’t have to be formal, it just has to happen if we want to be in intimate relationship with God. I have learned and been convicted before that I have no business preaching to people whom I have not prayed for. Prayer is number one if we want to be effective in church ministry, and the wonderful thing is the one whom we’re praying to is always present for us. How amazing is it that we have this Father who we can talk to at any given moment and receive wisdom from?

Lesson #19

Have tough skin – try not to take things personally.

You’re going to hear things – a lot of things – that you could have gone your whole entire life without hearing. People sometimes make comments to you that they don’t intend to do harm or make you feel awkward, but it happens, and when it does, you’ve got to let it roll off you like rain. This is something I am continuously learning; we all have feelings and those feelings are not numb to being hurt, but learning how to hear not nice comments and having them come in one ear and exit the other, is so important.

Lesson #20

I would not trade or change this call to ministry for anything in this whole world.

It has been a crazy beautiful journey, full of ups and downs, and man, I love it to death. I know God is just getting started with me, but I know enough to know I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even on the days when I feel discouraged or drained, the Lord is so faithful in reminding me of who he is and why I do what I do. If I have learned anything, it is the simple truth that he is good, that his love for each of us endures forever and ever, and that is enough. That is always a reason to have joy. Friends, whatever sets your soul on fire, do it. Whatever you are passionate about, is likely the very way God wants to use you to build his kingdom. Know this, and run with it, continuously seeking God and his wisdom, guidance, and grace.

my call story

While this story of mine is one that is constantly becoming longer, evolving, and becoming more meaningful as God continues to work in my life, this call to ministry is such a significant part of why I write the things that I do, I wanted to dedicate a post on my blog to sharing it with you all, if you so desire to read more about why my heart is where it is.
While my parents took my sister and I to church every Sunday that they could, and had us say our prayers every night before bed and before dinner, it wasn’t really until my freshman year of high school that I began to desire more of a relationship with God. I attended my very first youth retreat when I was a freshman and it was when all of the youth group’s were gathered together in one room singing along with the band to the song, “How He Loves,” that I first experienced the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit. Needless to say, in that moment, I told myself and I told God that I wanted to live my life for Him and His Church more than I had been already. I started getting more involved at my church in various ways – youth group, Bible studies, youth praise band – then came junior year of high school, when I began to see, hear, and feel God revealing this call to ministry.
I preached my very first sermon on Youth Sunday that year, and oddly enough, before then, I had been terrified of public speaking, yet, for some crazy reason, I volunteered to give the sermon. That was four years ago, and while I just barely remember the message that I shared with the congregation, I do remember the way in which God stirred up within me this passion to preach. To be before my fellow brothers and sisters and deliver to them a message God placed on my heart, was and is so humbling, and each time I get up to preach before a congregation, that same sense of Him stirring up that passion never fails to be present. That same year, I became much more involved with the worship aspect of ministry – serving communion, lay reading, attending church council and spiritual growth meetings, as well as prayer meetings. I simply loved being in the church, because there is where God seemed to always use me the most. The Church is where my faith was nurtured, where I first heard my call, as well as the very place where my faith and my call have both been supported, challenged, and affirmed the most. My home church has been my ‘home’ for practically my whole life – while I was born and baptized in Maryland, my family has attended the same church since moving here, where we celebrated my first birthday. So, that church has been my home for 18 years and counting. It would take an entire other blog post to sum up my love for that church of mine and the impact it has had on my life, so I’ll save that for a later date. But the people there truly are my family. We have all been through hell and back, both together and separately, but we have always had one another to lean on for support, love, comfort, and for the great reminder of who Jesus is and what his love looks like. It really is the people that makes up The Church – it is made up of God’s broken and imperfect children, who are in such desperate need of Him. It is made up of people who are called to go and make disciples and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That is what my home church exemplified to me all these years, and they played a bigger role in my call to ministry than I could ever explain with words. I know that not everyone is a part of such an affirming church, so that is something I’ll never take for granted. I also know not everyone has a good experience in the church, but one of my prayers as a pastor someday will be that I would assist in providing the same church environment that my home church provided me for so many years, and continues to provide me.
So, as I said, my junior year of high school was when I really got started discerning this call, as well as when I got more involved with worship services. I began serving communion quite frequently, which quickly became a form of serving (and receiving) in which I felt closest to God. The idea of helping my brothers and sisters remember what Jesus did for us all on the cross for our trespasses, is so powerful. It is still, personally, one of the most meaningful ways to serve in the church, and for so many significant reasons. In high school, I struggled greatly with anorexia nervosa and I remember during my sophomore year of high school, it was so bad that I didn’t even want to go up and receive communion because I was so fearful of the calories in the bread and juice. In that moment was when I found myself needing to step back and realize that something had to change – I needed recovery, and I was confident that God was going to help me do just that. My faith played such a significant role in my decision to begin recovery, and I’m so grateful for that, because if it were not for my recovery, I would not be able to do what God has called me to do – I wouldn’t be able to write sermons, preach, serve, or do anything, and I likely would not be sitting here writing about this call. Not too long ago, my pastor asked if I would help him with communion because he was sick and didn’t want to touch the elements, and what a moment of clarity and assurance from God, as I lifted the cup and broke the bread. This pull and sense of call towards administering the sacraments is one of the many reasons I feel called to the ministry of an elder. (I’ll touch more on that later).
My senior year of high school rolled around and I shared two more sermons, both on Youth Sunday – one in the fall and then one in the spring before I graduated. The spring of senior year I shared my testimony with the congregation for the first time. I remember looking out into the congregation and seeing people in tears and the impact that that had on me – that sure did make me want to cry too, not because I was sad, but because in that moment was when I realized that the words I was speaking, or, the words God was speaking through me, were touching people, and speaking to them in ways they needed. This sermon was also one where I told my church family that I would be attending Liberty University for college! I was so excited – I knew that Liberty was a big Christian university and I could not wait to go there and take classes that would help prepare me for ministry. At that point, I knew God was calling me into ministry, and though I was not yet sure what area of ministry that was, I was confident that he wanted me in the Church. I should note that all I knew about Liberty, going in, was that it was big, beautiful, and the largest Christian University in the world (I did not know it had any denominational ties).
The summer before moving into Liberty, I was trying to decide what I would want my major at Liberty to be. After doing my research and praying about it, I decided that I would major in pastoral leadership, so, I signed up for the intro to pastoral leadership class and I worked my schedule around it. This was, however, until I was one day talking on the phone with the head of the department, who informed me that this specific major at Liberty was only for men. Confused was an understatement. I talked to my parents and they were just as confused as I was, so I called LU’s admissions to double check, because I thought, “this couldn’t be right.” (or legal). Admissions even had to put me on hold to go check and see if it was true, because the girl on the other end of the phone told me, “as far as I know, there are no restrictions on who can do that major.” She got back on the line to tell me, “it turns out, this major is only for men because of the Southern Baptist beliefs the school has.” I was shocked and rather confused, but I did my research. I found the scriptures where this belief comes from, that women cannot be head pastors. I researched, in depth, these verses, the Southern Baptist Convention, Liberty’s ties with the denomination, and read countless articles. I changed my major to Christian leadership and church ministries, and I simply told myself this was one belief the school has, doesn’t mean it has to affect me, and I left it. I in no way accepted the belief, I simply told myself it didn’t have to bother me, because God was calling me. I had never been introduced to this belief and despite what some may say, that is not because I was sheltered, it was simply because I grew up in a church and in a home which supported all of Gods children in whatever it was that they were called to. I will never stop being grateful for that. So, all of that aside, I went about my summer, continuing to do ministry in my church, and also, attended annual conference for my first time.
Annual conference had such a huge impact on my call. It’s funny, because the first year I attended this conference, it was voting year, so there was a lot of sitting around, waiting, and listening intently. Despite the voting and great amount of confusion that came along with hundreds of people gathered in one convocation center trying to figure out how electronic voting worked, I loved every minute of that conference. I drew so much energy from talking with different pastors and laity about ministry, various opportunities, their churches, my church, and so much more. I met our Bishop, at the time, and I’ll never forget him giving me a high five when I told him I was feeling this call into ministry. He is a great man! One evening, there was an ordination service, and while that service in and of itself was powerful and emotional, after the service, our Bishop told everyone in the room who was hearing God calling them to ministry to walk forward, meet him, and pray with one of the newly ordained elders or deacons. I walked forward with full confidence. Confidence that I had never had before. I will never forget that experience of walking forward and feeling as though Jesus was right beside me, holding my hand (because he totally was!) That moment of standing with a woman who had just been ordained that night and having her pray over me and this call I was hearing was so incredibly powerful, as was hearing all of the prayers being prayed around me for people who were also hearing a call, by people who had just taken this huge step in their call to ministry by becoming ordained. Walking away from that, I took a sign of relief, because God has just given to me such an affirmation of this call…
After annual conference, a couple months passed, and before I knew, I was all moved into Liberty – I loved it. I met some of the greatest friends, who are still some of my best friends. The campus was so beautiful, I loved the town that the school was located in, I found a wonderful church home away from home (Heritage UMC ❤ ) I loved my classes and I loved that I was going to be in classes that would help prepare me for a life in ministry. However, it was not long before I started getting into my Church ministry, Christian leadership, and Bible classes, where I quickly realized just how blatant the professors and school was about this belief that women and men have separate roles in the Church and in the home. Most of my first semester at Liberty was spent laughing off comments that students and professors would make on the topic. I coped with the irritating and hurtful affects of those comments by telling myself that it didn’t matter, as long as I knew that I was called and that God had my back. It worked for the time being, especially because I had another friend who was facing the same opposition for being a female striving to become a youth pastor. We laughed together, we researched more and more, we prayed, and we persevered.
Amid all of this, my pastor at the time back at my home church asked me if I would deliver the sermon on Christmas Eve at our 11pm service. I eagerly said yes and remember being so excited that I started preparing that sermon at least a month in advance. I don’t think I will ever be able to put into words how significant this was in my call story – my pastor, since day one of my call, had always been so encouraging and was always giving me opportunities left and right to live out my call, to learn, and to grow. For him to ask me to preach at a service that would lead into something as significant as Jesus’s birthday, was so special. It was a blessing, really, that amid all of the people telling me I couldn’t preach because of my gender, I had my pastor reminding me that I could by giving to me the opportunity to preach for the first time on a day that was not Youth Sunday. It was such a joy to have that affirmation from him and from God, in the midst of being in classes where I was being reminded that I couldn’t preach if men were present. I prepared that sermon and wanted it to be perfect (not that that’s possible), I remember telling myself I couldn’t mess it up, for it was Jesus’ birthday! In preparing and delivering this sermon, God made my call clearer than ever. Again, I looked out into the congregation to see tears, people nodding their heads, and I remember feeling humility like never before, because as gratifying as it was and always is to live out my call in this way, you always remind yourself that it’s nothing you’re doing and everything that God is doing through you.
Being home for a whole month for winter break and in a setting where I wasn’t taught or told I couldn’t do certain things in the Church because of my gender was something I needed. I was refreshed, renewed, and told myself I was ready to take on any adversity that I would face back at Liberty. I trekked on back to Liberty for a second semester of college I did not anticipate being nearly as difficult as it was. There was no laughing off comments, during that semester. There was no making light of the situation. The first I told you about? Our laughing together quickly turned into crying together on a weekly basis, out of hurt, confusion, and anger. When I say every day, I mean every day, I would hear a comment, have to answer a workbook question, or read a textbook / ministry book about why I could not do certain things, such as pastor a church, because of my gender. My friend and I resorted to saying we were business majors when people would ask, because we were exhausted from the debates, the arguments, the people telling us we were sinning, and the attacks we would get from people who would try to convince us that we were wrong and that, “God would never call a woman to be a pastor.” I would say my breaking point was taking an multiple choice exam in which one of the questions read as followed, “Women can do all of the following except” a) pastor a church b) pray c) teach other women.” I’m sure it’s obvious, but the answer they were looking for was letter a.
(But thank goodness we’re allowed to pray!)
I was definitely brought down by people – by Christian’s – lower than I ever thought possible, but because of this, my reliance on God grew more and more every single second of simply walking that campus. I ended up adding a major half way through the year (psychology). I have always loved psychology – it is actually my current major at my new school as well, because I know it will help me greatly in ministry, and I’ll be going to seminary after undergrad to learn all of that good stuff anyways! However, even in the psychology classes I was taking at Liberty, I was learning about gender roles, and even had a professor state on more than one occasion that women can do everything in ministry except be a lead pastor, and a woman’s place is, in fact, in the home while the husband makes money. (Because, after all, it’s definitely not the year 2017).
Amid my second semester, I did a practicum at the church I attended while I was away at school, which was such a light. Under the leadership of the church’s pastor and associate pastor, I was able to shadow them around, go on hospital visits, preach a sermon one Sunday, serve communion, lay read, and more. I was able to sit in on funeral preparations and talk with them about how they go about preparing their sermons. I so dearly loved and love the church family I gained there, and the pastors I had the privilege of having as mentors. I know my year at Liberty would have been much more difficult if it had not been for their love and support, and their ability to laugh at the things I was learning in my classes. While being in an environment where my call was picked apart, I was to live out that call in a church setting that was constantly affirming me, making me better, and helping me grow.
About a week before classes ended, I made the decision to transfer from Liberty. I didn’t know where I would go, or when, but I knew I needed to be elsewhere in order to pursue God’s call upon my life. That place hurt me a lot, but it taught me a lot too, even if most of those lessons were outside of the classroom. I learned how to listen to God’s voice above mans and I experienced what its like for the devil to try everything in his power to keep you from God. At Liberty, I came to know compassion, patience, and grace on whole new level that I hadn’t known before my year there. It’s ridiculous (in a good way) the way I can hear or see things that I strongly disagree with and be okay with it, simply because I acknowledge everyone doesn’t have to agree in order for us to love one another. I learned, there, the importance of being able to disagree with someone and still love them, as well as the importance of learning when to speak and when not to. I will forever be grateful for my year at Liberty, and am convinced it will only make me a better pastor. Because of this, even if I could change the year I had there, I would not. I know God let me go through all of that for many reasons, but one being because he knew in the midst of it all, I would see and hear him tell me what he wanted me to do with my life louder and clearer than ever.
So, when I finally decided to transfer, it was too late to transfer to another four year university and feel confident that was where I was supposed to be, so, I settled on community college. It was not my first choice, but it was a realistic one. I decided I would take gen ed classes there until I could confidently decide where to complete my undergraduate education. This ended up being a blessing in disguise in so many ways. The first blessing, of course, was getting myself out of a very unhealthy environment where I would likely end up doubting not only my call but my God more than ever. I realize that my time at Liberty was not the only time I will have to defend my call, but also realize that now, I am not choosing to put myself in the position of having to defend it on a daily basis and be torn down for it. Another huge blessing that came with being home at community college, was that I would also be back at my home church. When summer came around, I was asked to assume the role of co-lay leader at my home church. After a good amount of discernment and prayer and my decision swaying left and right, I decided that I would take on the role. At the time, our church was in the midst of getting a new pastor, because our former pastor was off to be the new D.S in another city. I loved our former pastor very much, and still do! He has been a mentor of mine since day one of my call to ministry and has never once stopped supporting me, and while I was sad to see him go, nobody is more fit for the position of D.S than him. So, my position as co-lay leader began when our new pastor arrived. The ministry of a co-lay leader I believe is best described as a ministry of presence, so this position involved myself, along with our other lay leader, attending meetings and communicating with our church’s pastor. What a joy and a challenge this position was, all at once. It gave me insight into the life of the Church and what all it takes to keep a church functioning properly more anything ever had before. I never thought of myself as someone who would be a lay leader at a church at age 19, and I know my age was a bit weird to some people, but this position taught me so much. It showed me areas and aspects of ministry and of people I had never seen before, and I watched so intently how my pastor handled situations with grace – I have certainly been blessed with incredible and Godly mentors, and pray to be just half the pastor all of them are someday.
I started getting my name out there and being open to guest preaching at various churches on my district as pastors would need someone, and I’ll tell ya what – every time I am asked by a pastor if I’ll preach at their church, I get just as excited as I did the first time I was asked to preach on Christmas Eve. God works through me when I’m serving in the church or when I am preaching in a way that I could never begin to take credit for, simply because I, myself, could never speak to people the way God speaks to them. Who am I to represent God, I don’t know, but I am grateful every day for this call, and for the love and strength of God which enables me to do what I do.
Fall of 2016 I was able to take more steps in the process to becoming a certified candidate for ordination while I was home and at community college, which was another huge blessing that came from being at community college. I was able to work with my pastor through a discernment guide, interview before DCOM and then again before SPRC. I went before my home church to receive at least 2/3 votes of approval from the local church, which, thanks be to God, I was able to do. I am still in the process and have a few more steps to complete, and it has been a joy. Leaving a school I had every intention of being at for four years and deciding to transfer was the largest leap of faith I have taken in life thus far, in my almost 20 years of life, yet it is one process that God has proven to be faithful through, and I cannot contain the love I have for Him. God knows what he’s doing, all of the time.
I was at community college for one semester, and now, I am a sophomore at James Madison University, and folks, I am absolutely in love. I’ll be majoring in psychology, which is a subject I love, as well as something I know will come in handy many times through out my life in ministry – it already has! During undergrad, I will continue to be involved at my school through intervarsity, which is a Christian organization at JMU in which I have already met some of the greatest friends. I will also continue guest preaching whenever the opportunity presents itself (or whenever I make an opportunity for myself). My goal is to be a certified candidate for ordination before I graduate college, and then head to seminary after college, where I will work towards receiving my Masters of Divinity in my pursuit to becoming an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. If you’re reading this and you know me, I just want to thank you for the role you have played in getting me here. I am in love with the God who placed each of you in my life and will never be able to thank Him enough for giving you to my undeserving self. Whoever you are, thanks for reading this, and thanks for tagging along with me on this incredible journey. Here’s to what is and what will be!
Grace and peace,
Ashley 

like a clay pot, we must also go through fire

These past couple of months, I have been preparing for an admissions interview, which will enter me into the process of becoming a certified candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. This process before my admissions interview involves working through an inquiry guide, which helps me discern and talk about my call to ministry.

A lot of you knew that already, and a lot of you also know that I am in the midst of transferring from one university to another. I attended Liberty last year, and without going into more depth than necessary, I transferred because of the university’s beliefs surrounding women in ministry.

I recently told my pastor that while my experience at Liberty is a rather big part of my call to ministry, it is something that is difficult for me to talk about, and is therefore, something that I would rather not be asked about in my upcoming interview. However, I know I am going to need to talk about it, for the sole reason of it being such a big part of my call story.

After I expressed this to my pastor in our most recent meeting, he walked over to his bookshelf where he grabbed a clay pot. He had me touch this piece of pottery, and of course, it was hard; as hard as a rock.

He then went on to talk about fire – similar to how clay pots have to be put into fire to become strong and solid, people do as well. We are not put into physical fires as these pots are put into kilns, but God sometimes allow us to be put through trials, which may present themselves to be as bad as fires.

Isaiah 43:2 was a verse that came to mind as I reflected on this;

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you. (NRSV)

We find in Exodus 3 that the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush – the bush itself was not consumed by the fire; it was ablaze, yet it was not consumed. 

My experience at Liberty hurt me in a variety of different ways, so I can confidently compare that experience to a fire. However, this fire did not overcome me and it did not consume me. It didn’t do so because I had and still have a God who has authority and power over every circumstance we face in this life. God may have allowed me to go through this trial, but he would never allow me to be consumed by it, and he wouldn’t allow a call that he has given me, to be taken away by man. No; I endured that fire.

You see, a clay pot must be put into fire and made solid before it can be filled up with water, or something else. If you tried pouring water into that pot without it having gone through the fire first, it would be a sloppy, muddy mess. However, because this pot had been through fire, it was hard, strong, and able to be poured into. Because I went through what my pastor and I referred to as a fire, and became stronger, I am able to be filled up with the Spirit, which then enables me to pour myself out to those around me. And so, I’m able to look at my experience at Liberty as something that may have been a fire, but a fire that did not consume me, just as the fire did not consume the bush in Exodus.

Think about an experience, day, time, or moment in your life, where you found yourself amidst a fire; you found yourself struggling, drowning, and unable to keep your head above the water. Instead of remembering it as a negative time in your life, try looking at it with eyes that have been opened wider, and with a heart that has grown stronger because of that fire. Try thinking about how the gift(s) God has given you have been strengthened or affirmed through that fire you endured. If you attempt to do those things, you will then make room for the Holy Spirit to come in and work in a way that is able to help you own that fire as something that hurt you, but something that has since made you stronger.

I know doing that is not as easy as it sounds, which is why I do want to acknowledge the difficulty of looking at fires in this way. It’s hard; really hard.

It’s hard to think back on any negative experience you’ve had in life, and find the light or silver lining. It’s hard to see God in those difficult times, and if you’re like me, you struggle to bring your mind back to the dark places you’ve been in life. I can’t talk in depth about the experience I had at Liberty without becoming teary eyed, which is why I avoid it. But what good does that do? We all know it’s hard. But I also know personally, I’ve seen and I see God, slowly but surely, helping me think about and talk about my time at Liberty in a way that comes across as grateful – I’m grateful for that fire. I’m grateful for it because I firmly believe I wouldn’t be as adamant, passionate, or genuinely in love with this call from God, if I hadn’t spent a year of my life literally fighting for it, and discerning it. God knew I needed that year, and it’s difficult for my mind to grasp sometimes; that God allowed me to go through such a difficult season, but it’s not so difficult when I remember God was with me and is with me in every season, including the difficult ones. He was with me in every challenging and bumpy step of the way last year. He was with me in every conversation I had with people who tried to convince me I was ‘sinning’ for wanting to be a pastor. He was with me when I took tests with questions that dismissed my call because I am a woman. He was with me through out the nights I cried until I had no tears left because I couldn’t understand why people were being so hateful toward me for something God had called me to do. He was with me when this fire led me to doubt whether or not I was even called to begin with. He was with me then and he continues to be with me during the healing process, and beyond.

You all, God is always with you, even in the fire, when it feels as though he is not.

Now I am able to see the gift that is this call to ministry, clearer than I would have if it weren’t for this fire; the fire that tried but did not succeed in consuming me.

I am able to think about last year with a mind that has been mentally strengthened, and I am able to speak about last year with a voice that has progressively become more and more confident. I am able to talk about this fire as an experience that helped affirm, strengthen, and ignite the fire in my soul to preach God’s word and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

As I was walking out of my pastor’s office, he told me to think about the ‘fire’ we had talked about, so today, I was able to sit back and reflect – really reflect on that fire, and the strength I gained from having gone through it. In doing so, I came to the realization of a couple different things, but mainly, just that I am grateful that something so negative, is every day being transformed into something so very beautiful; my call to ministry story.

I believe I will be able to walk into my admissions interview in a couple of months and speak about my call, including the part about Liberty, with confidence and assurance that God was and is at work. He was at work in the midst of that fire last year, and he is still at work within me, as I continue to be made stronger, just as that clay pot is made solid and strong after enduring the fiery kiln.

I never thought to compare the fire I endured, to the way in which a clay pot endures fire in order to become solid, able to be poured into. But that clay pot sitting there on my pastors shelf is capable of being filled up because of the fire it went through to make it strong, and I, Ashley, am capable of being filled up with a Spirit that enables me to live out my call, because the fire I went through made my heart, mind, and soul like a solid rock. Almost as solid as our Rock who is Jesus Christ.

So I urge you, brothers and sisters, to think about the fire(s) you’ve endured. Maybe there’s a fire you’ve been through that you’re trying to avoid thinking or speaking about. Maybe you’re still fighting through a fire, and struggling to keep it from consuming you. Take heart, okay? Know that if God has anything to do with it (which he does) you will not be consumed by the fire you are in, or the fire you were in.

The fires we face in life make us strong enough to fight through them, knowing God will strengthen us, but they also make us weak enough to acknowledge our need for Jesus in every single moment.

 

 

 

 

 

Why ministry? Why a pastor?

This may seem like something I should have written a long time ago, and I don’t really know why I haven’t, but I’m writing this now because you would not believe the amount of people who have asked me these questions within the past few months.

“How did you decide you wanted to go into ministry? Why do you want to be a pastor? How did you know God was calling you into ministry?”

Those are not simple questions that can be answered in one sentence. I have a very, very long answer to these questions, so I thought I could write it out here, for those who care and want to know. Please, still feel free to talk to me about it, message me about it, and ask me questions- I love talking about ministry (and Jesus) He is a really, really great Guy, and I could talk all day about him, so don’t think that because I’m writing this post, you can’t ask me questions!

First off, know I did not choose to go into ministry. The only choice I’m making is to obey God’s call upon my life. The Big Guy upstairs chose this career path for me. I thought I was going to be a teacher. This was all HIS doing. However, I can say, without a doubt, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

I have been attending church since I was born, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I decided I wanted to have a stronger, better relationship with Christ. After that, I began getting involved in anything and everything I could at my church, and when I say anything, I mean anything. People at school would make fun of me for the amount of time I spent at church, and I didn’t know why I was so drawn to being there, all I knew was that I loved it, and it was in those moments of being at church, that I felt closest to God.

The first time I ever gave a sermon was at my home church, and it was on Youth Sunday. After that, I did the sermon every time our church had a Youth Sunday. Growing up, I was never a good public speaker. It terrified me to simply present a school project, or sing in a choir, however, when I’m up in front of congregation, giving a message, I am so content. Writing has been a passion of mine since I was in the 4th grade- a pastor writes a sermon every week and Isaiah 41:13 says, For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. I’m right handed. God knew what he was doing with that. When I’m writing a sermon, God takes hold of the pen. He speaks into me what the congregation needs to hear. The Holy Spirit is at work in me when I’m up there behind that pulpit and my soul is on fire for Jesus. That sounds so cliché, but I can’t describe it any other way. I’ve had the opportunity to preach more since that very first time on Youth Sunday, and each time, God never fails to guide my words, calm my nerves, and help me deliver a message that can (hopefully) reach at least one person in the congregation. That’s not to say I have done well each time I have delivered a sermon- there have been times where I have messed up completely! I have (in my mind) failed miserably! There have been times where I have done well at one service and then completely butchered the message at the following service. They say you are your own worst critic, but you can’t let a failure keep you from doing something God’s called you to do.

If I had let every failure, or every discouraging comment, keep me from pursuing ministry, I would be miserable right now. I have no idea what I would be doing, but I know I wouldn’t be happy, because I know God doesn’t want me doing anything else.

When I attended annual conference for the first time the summer after my senior year of high school, I met our bishop. One night, he asked everyone who felt called to ministry to walk up to the front of the stadium to pray with one of the newly ordained elders or deacons. I walked forward, and as I was walking, I felt as though God was right there, walking towards the front of that room, right by my side. I felt like he was smiling almost as big as I was.

The same exact thing happened when I was asked by my pastor to deliver the Christmas Eve sermon at my church’s 11pm service this past December. Through writing that sermon, the Holy Spirit was working, and  even if I was the only one who knew it, through preaching that sermon as well, the Holy Spirit was at work. I was nervous before I got up behind that pulpit to preach. I still do get nervous before I speak in front of people, but I like to think of my anxiety as the enemy- satan wants me and everyone else as far away from God as possible. Of course he is going to try to prevent me from preaching God’s Word in front of a room full of people. However, once I get up there and begin speaking, God is there. He’s right there with me. It’s as though he’s putting his arms around me and shining his light within me, so I can relay his beautiful message.

It’s a gift- being able to do this.

Now I need to tell you about my church, because that is one huge reason I am so in love with the Church.

I have been attending the same church for seventeen years. That is a long time. I started off in the nursery, and now I’m 19 years old, in college, working towards becoming a pastor. I have had the strongest mentors who have guided me, supported me, encouraged me, and loved me ever since I was a kid. When I first felt God calling me to ministry, they were there for me. They informed me, they gave me opportunities, they listened to me- those people shaped who I am right now. They (with God’s lead and help of course) molded me into the leader I am. My pastors, the lay people, the members- they all played such a significant role in my life.

When I was a freshman in high school, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. I struggled tremendously for over two years with that disorder before I began recovery. My church family was there when I was diagnosed, they were there when I began recovery, and they are still here, 3 years into recovery. The people at my church are some of the biggest supporters I have had in my entire life, and more specifically in my recovery. That’s what a church is supposed to be. A church is supposed to be a place where people can go to feel loved, and to grow in their relationship with God. It’s a place people should be able to go not to receive judgment, but to receive love, care, and support. A church is not a place for perfect people, and that holds true to this day, regardless of what people say about Christians. I know I’m not perfect, and I never will be, and I know the people at my church aren’t perfect either. However, God placed them there, and that is perfect to me. My church helped me grow. It helped me mature, and learn, and become stronger, and it especially helped me know God more intimately.

I want to lead a church one day that does the same thing Aldersgate did and does for me. I think everyone should experience the love and familylike environment a church can offer.

Now, I have not always felt God calling me to pastoral ministry. When I first felt called to ministry, I really thought he wanted me working with youth, and I may still work with youth while I am in seminary working on getting my M. Div- the children and youth we have now are the present AND future of the Church. It is vital that they have a place they can grow in their faith and understand the Word in depth. We need to be making disciples, regardless of their age!

With that being said, it wasn’t until right before I began my freshman year of college that I felt God calling me to pursue pastoral ministry.

My plan was to major in pastoral leadership, and then go on to seminary after I received my bachelors… But then I was informed that the pastoral leadership degree at the school I was attending, was only for men. (ouch)

That’s a topic for a whole other blog post, however, I will say, I was hurt. You may or may not be aware that there are some people and denominations who believe women should not and cannot be pastors, and there are some people and denominations who believe they can. Either way, I do strongly recommend looking at the scriptures for yourself, doing your own research, instead of going off what people tell you about this belief. That’s all I will say about it. (whatever you believe about it, I respect you!)

It was through being told that I couldn’t be a pastor, that God revealed to me that I can.

No, this isn’t because I’m being rebellious or trying to prove anyone wrong. That’s not my goal, nor is it my calling. God revealed this to me because he knows I’m going to stumble. He knows not everyone is going to agree with me all the time. He also knows I need to love them anyways, like Jesus would, and he knows I need to obey his voice, above all others.

Struggling to understand why people were telling me I couldn’t do the thing God has clearly called me to do, it left me broken, in tears (multiple times,) and it left me very, very doubtful. I didn’t think I would get through that without giving up on trying to become a pastor.

But here I am.

I’m sitting here typing this post, telling you exactly why I am going into ministry and why I am going to be a pastor.

I just really love ministry. I love the Church. My heart is so filled with love for the Church, you all. I can’t not share that with this world.

It’s because I had an incredible church growing up, and now have two wonderful church’s to call home. It’s because I decided to dedicate my life to Christ five years ago and he’s been so good to me and hasn’t left me side ever since. It’s because I had and have the strongest, most influential of spiritual leaders guiding me along my faith journey. It’s because God gave me the strength to get through the depths of an eating disorder I thought would kill me. It’s because I want nothing more than to lead a church one day that is the hands and feet of Christ. It’s because I have a heart for the homeless and I know if Jesus were walking around today, he would be hanging out with them and washing their feet on a daily basis. It’s because GOD called me to ministry, and it is the most beautiful thing- to know God himself has placed a call upon your life that is just too great for you to ignore. It’s because I have a heart for consoling and counseling people in times of loss and hardship (psychology is another love of mine). It’s because I can’t overcome the discouragement, hate, and negativity I receive, but I don’t need to, because Jesus already has. It’s because I cannot see myself doing anything else for the rest of my life, other than church ministry. It’s because Jesus gave his life for me so it only makes sense that I live my life for him.

You all, no matter what God calls you to do. Whether it’s to become a teacher, a vet, a marine, a doctor, a professor, a pastor, a youth leader, a dentist, or a surgeon- don’t ignore his call. Don’t put God on the back burner.

You may run away from him when you hear him calling you to do something- I definitely wanted to, especially when someone tried to tell me I “can’t.” They’re right. I can’t, but God can.

Remember that- you are incapable but with God you are SO capable. God would not call you to do something if he thought for one second that you were unable.

God equips you. He’s not going to throw you into something you can’t handle, so trust him.

I never thought in a million years I would be a pastor. The thought never crossed my mind until God called me to it. But we all know it’s very hard to say no to God, and with the promises he’s made to us and the love he showers over us daily, why would we want to?

And where am I now?

I’m still just a freshman in college, but God has been so gracious in placing opportunities in my life where I can do ministry, even at 19. I’ll be preaching again in just a couple weeks at the church I attend while I’m at school. I love this church, too. I was so worried when I moved into college that I wouldn’t find a solid church that was nearly as great as Aldersgate, but I did find one, and I’m so happy for that.

I just recently began the certified candidacy process to becoming ordained in the UMC and I could not be more excited about that! It is a long and in depth process, but it’s a step. It’s something that will help me with my discernment and something that will prepare me for my future.

As of right now, I’m staying put where I am college wise. After I receive my bachelors degree, I will head on to seminary where I will receive my Masters of Divinity and become an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. God could completely switch those plans around and I’d be fine with it, however, I know ministry is something he’s called me to, and something I will be doing until the day I die.

I don’t know all of the details. I only know what God has chosen to reveal to me thus far. It really is a day by day thing, and it’s about trusting God’s timing. I’m still learning (boy, do I have a lot to learn) and I’m still growing as well, both of which will never stop.

I urge you to reflect on what God has called YOU to do. If you aren’t sure yet, don’t worry- it will happen. God has not forgotten about you. He has incredible plans in mind for you. Trust his timing. And if you do know what God has called you to do, embrace that call. It is a beautiful thing. Go after it and don’t let anyone’s comments or opinions get in the way of you pursuing that call. Listen to God’s voice above all others, and don’t be discouraged. You will have people try to talk down to you and talk you out of whatever it is you’re pursuing.

You will be judged by the world, but you will be rewarded by God.