Each Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces you to a Baptist woman serving in ministry, and today, we are pleased to introduce Andrea Dellinger Jones.
Andrea, what does ministry look like for you right now?
Ministry looks demanding for me right now, but that is pretty typical for fall. For six years I’ve been serving as the senior pastor of Millbrook Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. My husband, Brent Jones, and my perky nineteenth-month-old daughter, Anne Elyse, keep ministry fun for me, even in the challenging seasons. Home visits, for instance, are twice as much fun now. I gladly take Anne Elyse with me and let her do some caring, as well. My church has been wonderful that way, giving me a necessary degree of flexibility to be both a pastor and a mother.
Although fall is always demanding, it follows a delightful break in the usual rhythm at my church. Summers at Millbrook are different. They’re not necessarily slower, just different in ways that I welcome. Our church hosts a Summer Scholars Series every year in which we invite area professors and ministry experts to teach our adults during the Sunday school hour. Some of these great minds also preach in worship. From June to August, I serve primarily as a ministry host for these scholars and a facilitator for this learning experience.
As fall looms, I start preaching more often and preparing myself to help lead our Wednesday night gatherings. Several special events have already found their way onto our church calendar this year, like our next Parent and Child Dedication Service. That service will include the cutest new twins in Raleigh. We’re also organizing an Animal Blessing in the garden near our prayer labyrinth. We’re crossing our fingers that our Jewish friend and her skateboarding dog will show up again this year. Only one fall wedding marks the docket so far. Weddings can generate excitement, especially when they involve two new members of the church.
New initiatives sparked my interest this summer, so I’m hoping to implement two fresh ministries this fall. One initiative is a wellness program that will include a “30-Day Challenge,” and the other is a Reading Buddy program at Millbrook Elementary across the street from our church.
Tell us about where and how have you served in the past?
Five churches in the last fifteen years have given me a chance to serve. A picture of each one of them sits behind a frame in my office. I’ve got good memories of all these ministries. Most of these churches offered me employment while my husband and I finished our education.
During seminary, for instance, I was the youth ministry intern at Second Ponce de Leon in Atlanta, Georgia. I preached my first sermon in that church, albeit in a sparsely-attended evening service held upstairs somewhere. Later I served as the youth minister at North Broad Baptist Church in Rome, Georgia. That congregation also ordained me.
After graduation from McAfee School of Theology, Brent and I got married and moved to Athens, Georgia. He pursued his master’s degree in history at University of Georgia, while I served as the youth and children’s minister at First Baptist Church in Commerce. My ministry there coincided with a long interim pastorate, and I learned valuable lessons in leadership serving as the church’s only full-time minister.
Two years later, we moved to Virginia, where Brent studied history at the University of Virginia. He churned out his Ph.D. while I served as the minister of Christian formation and children at Chestnut Grove Baptist Church. That thriving little church predates this country and still stares straight at the Blue Ridge Mountains. In Virginia, I also earned my D.Min. from the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.
Brent and I finally moved to Raleigh in 2008, when Millbrook Baptist called me to be their senior pastor. I’ve been banging on their pulpit ever since.
Who was the first woman minister you remember meeting? Who was the first woman you heard preach?
One of my favorite college professors, Darren Middleton, encouraged me to meet Linda Serino during my junior year at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Middleton knew that I was discerning my calling and trying to plan my next move after graduation. Rev. Serino was a chaplain at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and she was the first ordained woman I met. She was also a Baptist!
Dr. Middleton also advised me to “go hear a woman preach.” He even suggested a woman nearby. I took his advice one Sunday morning and attended Germantown Presbyterian Church, where Louise Lawson served as senior pastor. She offered a powerful and somewhat providential sermon on the “Feeding of the Fifteen Thousand.” Rev. Lawson’s sermon noted that if the 5,000 men fed by Christ in that story each had a wife and just one child with them, there would have been at least 15,000 people who ate that day. She asked, “How much greater does the miracle of God become when everyone is counted?”
I took her point home and never forgot it for it became personal for me. The miracle of the gospel is greater when women (like me), and our children along with us, are “counted” as we proclaim it.
What advice would you give to a teenage girl who might be discerning a call to ministry?
Begin to establish your support. I have heard several people describe serious decision-making as an internal conference call with the many advisors we hear in our heads. I am not talking about the voices of mental illness; these are the voices of mental health, and they usually include parents, friends, and people we respect. A few enemies always chime in, as well. You definitely want more friends than enemies on this call. Gather people around you who act like Jesus acted. Hang out with people who know you well and know God better. Stay close to people who can deliver a hard message gently. For me, these people have been family members, other ministers, a ministry coach, certain professors, and godly lay-leaders in my home church. God usually speaks softly and seldom, but these are the people who have amplified God’s voice for me.
Pick at least one major in college that can get you a job outside of church work. The church in America is enduring a strange period of transition. Churches don’t have the money they once had. That may be a good thing for Christianity; it’s too soon to tell. But if God ever calls you to a ministry that makes very little money, you will need to eat somehow.Choose a double major or minor in the humanities or social sciences. These kinds of courses teach you to think about the world and express yourself in ways that won’t be matched by science, math, engineering, or business courses. This kind of knowledge is essential to ministry, but it helps you make better grades in seminary too. Try to enjoy the shift from your church’s simple reflection format, where everyone comments on what the text “means to me,” toward the serious study of the Bible and the thinkers who have spent their lives trying to square it with other kinds of knowledge God gives us. In other words, don’t wait until seminary to begin your transformation toward intellectual and spiritual maturity.
Lastly, be the pastor you wish you had. Start right now. Even without a position or a pulpit, you can strive to be holy. You may have to keep defining that word for yourself – holy. Start by admitting it means more than just purity or sexual abstinence. Holy also means the opposite of self-righteous. Being holy starts with God’s own forgiveness, of course, but then it makes you odd in ways that are pleasing to God. God knows being “holy” works this way, but God won’t change that fact, either. That’s because God knows people are watching. They notice our intent to live one way instead of another. They notice when we are just, merciful, and compassionate. They remember when we indulge ourselves too much. They see what we post on Facebook. If you’re considering a call to ministry, for heaven’s sake, be careful on Facebook! Live in a way that leaves you few regrets on the day God finally calls you to Christian ministry.