Preaching for the First Time by Laura Beth Roberts

I grew up at First Baptist Church of Knoxville, Tennessee, and participated in Mission Friends, Girls in Action, youth group, and choir. I now am involved in the young adult ministry at the church. Growing up, I was taught that the Lord calls us to build relationships and share the gospel and that this call is not specific to men or women but is for us all. First Baptist gave me the perfect foundation for the road ahead.

Earlier this year, I was asked to preach for Martha Sterns Marshall Month of Preaching. My initial response was “Sure! Teach me how!” I have been involved in a ministry called Young Life, which is dedicated to reaching lost and disinterested high school kids and showing them Jesus through intentional, relational ministry. I have given talks (mini-sermons) to eighty or more kids multiple times in a Young Life setting, which I assumed wouldn’t be very different from preaching at my church. Young Life ministries are directed toward kids who don’t know Jesus, and so my talks have been about the character of Jesus and our need for him and are usually based on the gospels. When my pastor, Tom Ogburn, asked me to preach, he suggested the text Hebrews 5:11-6:3, which involves encouraging believers to grow and not become complacent. I realized then that although I had spoken in front of people before, it would be different preaching from a pulpit in my own church to my fellow church members, and suddenly, I was nervous.

The preparation process of writing this sermon was very different than what I have done before. Instead of delving into a passage focused on Jesus and describing it in a way that my high school friends could relate, I was stuck in Hebrews. I remember reading the passage for the first time and having absolutely NO idea what the writer was trying to say. Was he really calling out the early followers of Jesus for being spiritual children? What? I had to explore the text in a completely new way. I read commentaries to find out what was really happening not only in the passage but also in the time period. I learned about the context and why the writer had chosen specific wordings. I had to find myself in the passage in a completely new way, and I began interacting with the text in a completely new way. What was the Lord showing me in this passage? What did God want me to share with my fellow church members?

Hebrews 5 is all about spiritual growth, and I knew that’s what I needed to share with my church. Even though it’s true, it’s pretty intimidating to tell not only your pastor but also people who have been following Jesus for eighty years that they have room to grow in their relationship with the Lord. I was worried that people wouldn’t take me seriously. Did I really have the authority to share that with my congregation? Did I have the confidence to challenge my congregation? Was it even my place to offer encouragement and challenge? The Lord met me in the midst of these questions and reminded me of this truth. We are all called to share the gospel using our unique personalities, talents, gifts, experiences, and perspectives. My gender and age do not inhibit my ability to proclaim the gospel.

The week before I preached many church members came up to me, exclaiming how excited they were to hear me. The Sunday I was supposed to preach finally came, and I did it. I preached. Although I was nervous and excited, I was surprised by how much fun I actually had! And my sermon was met with overwhelming support.

This first-preaching experience has been so valuable. It made me consider and engage with scripture in new ways. It made me face the lies that I didn’t even know I was telling myself. It reminded me of the faithfulness of the Lord, and how He shows up time and time again.

This first-preaching experience matters. Being given the opportunity in my home church to preach matters. Being offer the chance to encourage others to follow where the Lord is leading matters. I am so thankful to be part of a church that values the calling, gifts, and leadership of women and opens doors to all people who are in pursuit of what the Lord may have for them.

Laura Beth Roberts is a senior studying Speech Pathology at the University of Tennessee and serves as an intern at First Baptist Church, Knoxville, Tennessee. She is getting married this July and has accepted a position as a Staff Associate with Knoxville Young Life.

Why Martha Stearns Marshall Month Matters by Megan Hurst Carter

My stomach was queasy, and my hands began to sweat. Today was the day! Today was the day that I had been waiting for, the day that I did not know I needed. Today was the day I stood behind the pulpit for the first time as the “preacher.”

As I waited for the service to begin, sitting in the empty church office, I glanced over my sermon notes one last time. I felt confident in the material, but I was still befuddled that I, Megan, was about to preach a sermon to a real congregation. I was elated and nervous! I took a few minutes to reflect on my ministerial journey up to this point. I thought about all the people and experiences that helped me get to this place, but my mind stuck on one specific event.

I was casually working at a booth for my alma mater, Carson-Newman University, during the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly. I was greeting guests, listening to people relive their glory-days, and encouraging young people to attend the school. Then a man, a very kind man, introduced himself as alum. He asked my husband and me about our connection to Carson-Newman, and when he learned we were seminary students, he asked about our ministerial journeys. During the conversation, the man and I realized that we were from the same hometown, and he immediately said, “You should come preach at our church!” I politely declined and informed him, “No, you want my husband to do that. He is a much better preacher than me. He has a lot of experience, and I have never preached before.” By this point in the conversation, my husband had stepped behind me and was pushing me toward our new friend. The two of them agreed that I needed an opportunity to preach. I cannot describe all of the wonderful, freeing emotions I that felt in that moment. They believed in me! These two preachers affirmed my gifts and encouraged me to preach. There was no reason I should have hesitated, but I did. A flood of emotions rushed over me when I finally was offered this opportunity to preach. How can I preach? I have never preached before, I am not skilled. I assume this is how many of the early church mothers and fathers felt when God asked them perform important tasks.

That kind man, Rev. Ed Sunday-Winters, empowered me and furthered my ministry. He invited me to preach in February, during Baptist Women in Ministry’s Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching. Rev. Sunday-Winters had never heard me preach, but he believed in me, and he believed that both women and men are called by God to preach the gospel. I will always be indebted to this kind pastor for believing in me and for providing my first opportunity to preach. He unknowingly connected me to the sisterhood of women who have felt the power of someone believing in them and leaving room not just at the table, but in the pulpit. And on that special day in February 2014, I joined that sisterhood, and now I  am honored to say that I am a Martha Stearns Marshall PREACHER.

Megan Hurst Carter is a third-year student at McAfee School of Theology and serves as associate pastor of youth at Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

A Notable First by Rachel Gunter Shapard

Rachel Gunter ShapardThe pastor told me I would be the first woman to preach at the church and that it would likely be the first time many in the congregation had ever heard a female deliver a sermon. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this prospect. I was humbled and honored to be the first woman invited into the pulpit. My approach to sermon preparation was a bit more cautious, ever mindful of this notable first for the congregation. Whether I liked it or not, I felt a sense of responsibility toward all women called into the ministry of the Gospel, a longing to demonstrate to this community of believers that women have much to offer in the area of homiletics.

Was my experience at Lake Church in Eustis, Florida, different from any other opportunity I have had to preach? In all honesty, no, it wasn’t. The community of faith was warm, welcoming me as sister and friend. The congregants were attentive and receptive and offered kind words in response. The pastor, Don Pratt, later shared with me, “the good news is that the congregation didn’t fixate on gender. They focused on what you had to say, and thought the message was great.”

One young woman’s comments have stayed with me since last Sunday. She said, “I enjoyed your, uh, well, I don’t want to call it preaching . . . but your message really caused me to want to explore the text further.” I was not offended in the least that she was hesitant to call my offering preaching, but thankful that she had been given the opportunity to explore her views on women in the pulpit, and grateful that my interpretation of the biblical text had given her the desire to dwell longer within the transforming realm of the word of God. What more could any preacher ask?

Rachael Gunter Shapard is associate coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida. She lives with her family in Jacksonville, Florida.

 

Honoring Martha by Dan White

Dan WhiteIt took a long time–213 years to be exact. But in February 2006, one of Columbia County’s leading women was finally honored for her outstanding achievements.

Baptist Women in Ministry honored Martha Stearns Marshall by naming February 2006 and every February after that as Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching to recognize women called to preach and to encourage all churches to enlist a woman to preach.

Martha Stearns Marshall (1732–1793) blazed the trail for women preachers and pastors in spite of scorn, persecution, and rejection by the colonial religious establishment of the eighteenth century. She was the most famous of many Separatist Baptist women preachers, deacons, and elders from that era.

Martha was a Holy Ghost-anointed Baptist preacher. According to her contemporaries, she was of singular piety, zeal, and surprising elocution. Her exhortations brought her audience to tears. She preached in church buildings, barns, town squares, and open fields. It was not unusual for thousands to gather to hear her proclaim the gospel message.

In 1747, Martha married Daniel Marshall, a Presbyterian “New Light” from Connecticut, and convinced him to become a Separate Baptist. Both of them had come under the spell of British Evangelist George Whitfield’s powerful preaching (Whitfield is credited with being the catalyst for the First Great Awakening). Soon after their marriage, the Marshalls sold everything they had and departed for the mission field in New York’s Susquehanna Valley to bring the gospel to the Mohawk Indians.

After the French and Indian War broke out, the Marshalls had to leave, and they joined Martha’s brother, Shubal Stearns, at Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Guilford County, North Carolina. A tremendous revival broke out that church and spread north, south, east, and across the Appalachian Mountains. Dozens of Separate Baptist churches were established. Ministers were ordained. Multitudes were converted to Christ and joined the newly formed Baptist churches.

Shubal recognized his sister’s divine gift, and along with her husband, he encouraged Martha to preach, and preach she did! She even was arrested and jailed in Virginia for refusing to stop preaching the gospel even though she was three months pregnant at the time.

Eventually, Martha and Daniel migrated even further southward, down the Piedmont into South Carolina and Georgia. They both continued to preach despite colonial authorities ordering them to stop. In defiance of the authorities and the laws that prohibited religious expression by unlicensed groups such as the Baptists, the Marshalls settled in 1771 in Georgia on the Kiokee Creek near Appling in Columbia County.

Daniel Marshall was a wanted man and was soon arrested in Augusta for preaching the gospel without government licensure. He was convicted, which made Martha furious. She let loose with scriptures that she had memorized, using them to support her case for religious liberty, challenging the arresting constable and the magistrate, and proclaiming that she and her husband would obey God rather than the laws of men.The British constable, Samuel Cartledge, was so moved by her passionate oratory that he converted and became a noted Baptist church planter and preacher. From their base of operations, Martha continued to preach and Daniel and his son, Abraham, established the first Baptist Church in Georgia, Kiokee Baptist Church, in 1772 and numerous other Baptist churches in Georgia and South Carolina.

I am especially proud of Martha, for my wife, Joyce, and my mother-in-law, Ramona Baston Smith, are direct descendants of this magnificent trailblazing woman preacher from the banks of Kiokee Creek. The Marshalls’ home site and the Old Kiokee church building are not far from our home–on Tubman Road, off Washington Road in Columbia County. The home site has interpretive markers and is well worth a visit.

Dan White is the pastor of North Columbia Church in Appling, Georiga.

This blog first appeared as a column in the Augusta Chronicle on February 7, 2014.

The Helpful Sermon by Aurelia Pratt

Aurelia Pratt

Every time I have to preach, it never fails; negative thoughts flood my mind.

“Who are you? You’re an impostor! You have no experience. You have nothing to say. You have no authority! You are one-dimensional. Every sermon sounds the same. No one takes you seriously. No one believes you. You’re not smart enough; you’re not talented enough; you’re not called to this. You don’t know what you’re doing. Who are you?”

Last week was no different. Weighed down by the oppressive force of my doubts and insecurities, I finished my sermon later than ever because I was too intimidated to start writing in the first place. So I didn’t finish it until Saturday, leaving me less than 24 hours to review my manuscript.

Sunday happened to be Trinity Sunday. Coincidentally, I had told my husband, Lyle, precisely one year ago, as we were leaving a Trinity Sunday service at First Baptist Church, Austin, “Wow. That was an impressive sermon! I find the Trinity one of the hardest doctrines to try and explain. I would hate to have to preach on it.”

So here I am, one year later, with this sermon I’ve written. I felt like I didn’t give it the time it deserved. I felt like I was going in with a first rough draft. I felt like I didn’t say what I was really trying to say. I felt like it was fragmented and incoherent. I felt like I didn’t really give a thorough explanation of the Trinity or stick to the text enough. I moaned and groaned (yes this is all very self-absorbed), and I dreaded having to deliver my sermon, exposing my incompetence. I complained to Lyle, and called a preacher friend the night before begging for her advice. Finally, I resigned myself to the fact that I had to deliver it; it was simply too late now to make any changes. But oh! How I didn’t want to share what I had written.

So I prayed. GOD. Please. Can this impact just one person? Just one person outside of myself?

 And I went, and I preached. I gave what I had to give. It wasn’t a great sermon, but it was what I had to offer. And then this happened:

One person. One hug. One teary eyed “Thank you” and even a “I’ve been waiting to hear this sermon for years”. One “I’m so relieved; so grateful to have found this place”. All from one person. One person who was spoken to, affirmed, and encouraged.

As a preacher, to strongly impact just one individual, to help one person on their journey, to be included in even a small part of their story, to encourage growth in their faith is more than I could ever hope for. What a wonderful, undeserved gift.

I’m not sure how or why I ended up here, preaching, ministering; on the road towards ordination. I struggle often with whatever this calling is. But God is teaching me an abundance of lessons. I’m learning that I can’t write sermons for everyone, every time. All I can do is stay true to the text, write a thorough exegesis and pray God gives me the best word he has for me. Even if that word only speaks to one person, it is valuable. I am learning to trust that what he gives is not just enough, it is just right.

The great Joel Gregory, my preaching professor who saw something of a preacher in me, once reminded his class, “Don’t try and write a great sermon every week. Just try and write a helpful sermon, and every once in a while, you’ll end up with a great one, too.”

On this particular week, I was honored to have written a helpful sermon. I pray God will continue to help me, guide me and speak to me in this very important task of sermon writing and preaching. To God be the glory. Amen.

Aurelia Pratt is spiritual formation pastor and teaching pastor at Grace Baptist Church, Round Rock, Texas.

Martha Stearns Marshall Month: A Discipline and an Accountability Practice by Eric Porterfield

Eric PorterfieldI am blessed to pastor a church where it is not unusual for women to preach. I am blessed to be married to Alicia Davis Porterfield, an outstanding preacher. It has been my privilege to preach with Alicia on occasion at our church and to hear her preach in our pulpit. It has also been a great joy to invite other women to preach at various times in the six years that I have been at Winter Park Baptist Church in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Because we have a tradition of women preaching and because I had often invited women to preach in the past, I confess I initially shied away from embracing Martha Stearns Marshall Month. I rather arrogantly thought this emphasis was for churches that were not “as far along” in their support of women in ministry as my own. And then I started counting; as the male senior pastor I did most of the preaching each year. We have male associate pastors who are excellent preachers and who preach each year as well. Two realizations followed: first, though women have preached often in the past, the overwhelming majority of our sermons are preached by men. Second, if we were not intentional and disciplined about inviting women to preach, we could easily go a long time with no female voice proclaiming God’s word from our pulpit.

Given those realities, I have come to fully embrace Martha Stearns Marshall Month as a discipline and an accountability practice. I know I will be inviting a woman to preach every February, and our church knows that a woman will preach for us each year at this time. We are in a rhythm now, and that is a good thing. I certainly want to invite women to preach at any time of year, but now there is a pattern in place that makes sure a woman will preach at least one time every year.

I am also thrilled to share that this year an African American female preacher helped us celebrate Martha Stearns Marshall Month. The Rev. Danielle Glaze is on staff at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Wilmington, a church with whom Winter Park has a very close relationship. I do a “pulpit exchange” every other year with their pastor, the Rev. Dr. Terry Henry, and our churches have come to treasure that experience. Now we have broadened our shared worship experience and deepened our fellowship through Rev. Glaze’s pulpit ministry among us, thanks to the discipline and the structure the Martha Stearns Marshall Month provides.

Thank you, Baptist Women in Ministry, for giving us this annual push! Thank you for giving us a discipline that helps us embrace the gifts of women in ministry and a discipline that helps us support the call of women to preach.

Eric Porterfield is pastor of Winter Park Baptist Church, Wilmington, North Carolina.

Creating a Church Culture in Which Women’s Voices are Valued by Pam Durso

Pam Durso CBF AR 2012 1In establishing Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching (MSM), the BWIM Leadership Team’s dream was to find churches in which young and starting-out Baptist women ministers could preach. We had heard so many stories from women who never had opportunities to preach other than in their seminary classrooms—and we were hoping that churches would invite college and seminary women into their pulpits.

As the idea developed and then came into being, we also saw MSM as an opportunity to call churches that were “not yet open” to women as pastors or perhaps not even open to women preaching at all to take a step and invite a woman. And in the ensuing years we have come to realize that MSM serves as a change agent for our Baptist culture—and so many remarkable stories have unfolded.

We have had numerous churches whose male pastors were hesitant to invite a woman into their pulpit but were encouraged by our MSM to take that step, and some of those churches have participated every year since. Having a woman in their pulpit is now longer unusual or controversial.

I am optimistic enough to believe that more churches are beginning to embrace the idea that women are gifted and graced for ministry and that those churches, when their pulpit is open and they are searching their next pastor, will be open to calling a woman. But I am realistic enough to know that the progress is slow in Baptist life—and I know that real change takes time and continued encouragement. So what can churches do once the February emphasis is over? How can Baptists work to bring change to their churches? How can you be an advocate for the leadership and ministry of women in your local congregation? How can you effect change in your church with regard to women in the pulpit but also with women in leadership roles within your church?

Next steps are important, and an important next step is to ask women to preach NOT just during MSM. For churches that have “broken the ice” and had a woman preach for the first time, they can invite a woman to fill the pulpit when their pastor is on vacation or needs a pulpit supply. In 2010, Jim Dant, who was then pastor of Highland Hills Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia, pledged to do just that. Every Sunday he was out of the pulpit for a full year, he asked women to preach.

Another significant next step is for male pastors to make their support of women ministers public and visible. They can include stories about women ministers in their sermons and blog about women in ministry. They can make sure photos of the women church leaders are included in media pieces. Visibility matters in our culture, and moving women from invisible to visible leaders/preachers/ministers has a powerful influence on churches. Last year, Taylor Sandlin, pastor of Southland Baptist Church, San Angelo, Texas, blogged about his church’s involvement in MSM and then blogged several other times during the year about women in ministry. His blogs are helping to create a welcoming culture in his church and community.

Another great next step is to move the story of Martha Stearns Marshall outside the church walls—and use technology and social media to get the word out. Last year Don Flowers, pastor of Providence Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina, produced a You Tube video for his church, introducing them to MSM Month and telling them about the woman who would be the preacher for the day. His video was posted on the church’s Facebook page and shared multiple times. That kind of verbal and visual support of women preachers is an excellent use of twenty-first century communication.

One of the most important next steps is to for pastors to be advocates for women who are called and gifted. Last year, Derik Hamby, pastor of Randolph Memorial Baptist Church in Madison Heights, Virginia, invited a young college student, a “child of their church,” to preach for MSM Month, and then he realized that she would not have many preaching opportunities so he began asking his pastor friends and colleagues to open their pulpits to her. His advocacy on her behalf has given her experiences she would never have had, and Derik is working to bring change not only in his own churches but in churches in his area.

Seeing the passionate support of women ministers, learning about the creative ways of offering encouragement, and knowing that so many are working to create welcoming church cultures is making a difference! I would love to hear your story—what is your church doing so that women are able to use all their gifts?

 Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.

Your Daughters Will Prophesy . . . and Already Are: Our Celebration of Martha Stearns Marshall by Kristy Bay

Kristy Bay 1I sat at a table in the gathering room of our church, Milledge Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia, patiently waiting for my young  ten-year-old friend to search through her little purse for change. She dropped a crumpled wad of money plus some coins onto the table and asked, “Is this enough to buy this book?” I smiled at her as her dad joined the conversation and added a few more bills to the stack.

“Why yes, yes it is!” I told her.

“I’m so glad,” she said. “I just really want this book, because I want the pastor-lady to sign it.” She leaned in closer to me, and with a great big smile stretched across her face, she said, “Also, Ms. Kristy, I want you to know that I am going to be a preacher someday.”

I looked into her sparkling eyes and said, “Yep. And I just bet that you’re going to be a really good one, too.” And with that, I handed her her very own copy of Karen Massey’s book And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: Sermons by Women in Baptist Life.

Massey Your DaughtesrOn Sunday February 10, Milledge Avenue celebrated Martha Stearns Marshall Day of Preaching. It was a beautiful time of celebrating women in ministry. We were blessed by inspiring words from Dr. Massey. We also presented the congregation with a plaque that has a list of all the women who have preached at Milledge in honor of Martha Stearns Marshall from 2008 until this year–almost all of them have served on staff as ministers here. But we went beyond celebrating the voices of women in the pulpit, we also honored women who had broken barriers in other ministerial capacities.

We celebrated our first three women who were ordained by Milledge Avenue as deacons back in 1986. We celebrated our first ever female deacon chair. And we celebrated the first woman in our congregation to become a mother while serving as deacon chair.

And why did we do this? Because Milledge Avenue Baptist Church has a long history of recognizing that God can speak through a variety of people—regardless of societally-imposed boundaries. God has spoken here at Milledge Avenue through the voices of many women, and this year’s Martha Stearns Marshall Sunday was a beautiful reminder that what God sets in motion, we would be wise to follow.

Milledge Avenue MSM DAyAs Dr. Massey so poignantly reminded us in her sermon, our daughters shall prophesy, and in fact—they already are. May we never underestimate the significance of showing our little girls that they can dream big and be whatever God calls them to be—doctor, teacher, lawyer, or preacher. Who knows, one of the little girls sitting in our pews may be a future pastor. And do you know what? That little girl who told me that morning in the gathering room that she was going to be a preacher . . . I believe with my whole heart that she will be a great one.

Kristy Bay is associate pastor of youth and education, Milledge Avenue Baptist Church, Athens, Georgia.

Called to Preach by Tammy Abee Blom

Tammy Abee Blom preachingI had never preached. On a couple of occasions, I had shared my testimony at the Sunday night church service, but I had never preached. Matter of fact, other than in my seminary’s chapel service, I had never heard a woman preach.  So there I stood in front of a group of fellow seminarians with a sermon manuscript in my hand and no prior preaching experience. Speaking in a soft voice with my eyes glued to the manuscript, hesitantly, I started reading. Without warning, from the back row, the preceptor called, “Miss Abee, please assume the authority of the pulpit.” That got my head up. Assume the authority? I had no idea what he meant, but I started again. Soon the voice called, “Miss Abee, please assume the authority of the pulpit.” With confidence I didn’t feel, I read the last page of my sermon. After class, my preceptor offered this instruction, “Miss Abee, you have been called to ministry. God has given you the responsibility to say what you know about God. When you step into the pulpit, you are to embrace your calling and say what you know. That is your responsibility as a preacher.”

The preceptor changed my understanding of preaching in that short explanation. Prior to that moment, I thought preaching revolved around being loud, authoritative, and in charge.  Senior pastors were those who preached, and all the senior pastors I knew were middle-aged white men with doctorates. I was a twenty-something-year-old female in her second year of seminary. Could I preach? Turns out the question was not “Could I?” but “Why was I not claiming my role as preacher?”

The preceptor did not question my gender or my lack of preaching experience.   He questioned why I did not take the task seriously and offer my voice to God. Thank goodness he only had to tell me once. I am ever so grateful for his instruction as I learned the art of preaching. At each class meeting, he sat in the back row so we had to project our voices. Always he questioned our presence and presentation. But after that one time, he did not have to question my intention to preach faithfully to my calling.

Learning to preach takes many repetitions because you have to find your voice and style for the sermon to be authentic. And preaching requires vulnerability. You have to tell what you know about God both relationally and academically. But preaching does not require one to be of a certain gender, age, or status. Preaching is serious business because it reflects our sincere desire to live out our calling to God.  I will always be thankful for my preceptor who challenged me to assume the authority of the pulpit.

I will always be thankful for the churches who asked women to preach for Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching. Because these churches asked women to assume the authority of the pulpit, women preachers received an opportunity to develop and hone their preaching voices. And more people saw a woman proclaim the Word of God, so there are fewer stories of “I’ve never heard a woman preach before.” I am thankful for these congregations who honor the call of women and challenge women to speak faithfully of their calling.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

 

Call Story by Jaime Fitzgerald

Jaime Fitzgerald 2People ask me on a regular basis what my “call story” looks like. As I listen to other people share their call stories I sometimes become frustrated because I don’t have a succinct story that is in any sort of orderly fashion. I don’t have one of those stories that make people say “Aww” when I am finished talking. I don’t have one of those stories that makes people cry tears of joy. I don’t have one of those stories by which people are moved because I fell away from God’s calling and then fell back onto the right track. I’m just ME. My story is one where God asked me to join the journey and I said, “sure, that sounds alright.”

I have known since high school that God was, “calling me to ministry,” but I was never quite sure what that was going to look like. I went through a time period when I thought I was going to be a missionary in Africa. There was a point in time where I wanted to be a youth minister, and for a brief second, I even thought about learning how to play the piano and become some sort of church musician. I quickly realized though that the keys on the piano don’t just turn into a beautiful melody overnight. The thought of being a school teacher and a lay minister tickled my imagination for some time. Being the chair of deacons was an idea or even a medical missionary . . . you name it, and I probably thought about becoming it. There was something in the back of my mind all along though that I should become a pastor, but that notion never made it to my lips until much later because the idea of standing in front of a group of people on a weekly basis terrified me. Sometimes even now I become a bit afraid when people ask me what my future plans are, and I have to say the words, “I’m going to be a pastor.”

Thankfully, Derik Hamby, the pastor at my home church in Madison Heights Virginia, knew that God was going to do something incredible with my life, and he pushed me to try new things in worship services such as leading children’s sermons, teaching adult Sunday school classes here or there, and praying pastoral prayers. Derik allowed me to go on hospital visits and to see shut-ins with him. There were times when he would ask me to do things and say something along the lines of, “you’ll need to know this one day when you become a pastor.” I would shrug my shoulder, laugh, deny that I was going to be a pastor, and complete the task that was laid before me. Looking back, I am very thankful for the leadership of my pastor who gave me and continues to give me opportunities to serve the church so that I could accept the gifts that God has given me.

Jaime FitzgeraldMy calling became embedded in concrete as I sat in the Ashe-Henderson lecture series my freshmen year at Carson-Newman and heard Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell deliver a series of beautiful sermons that made my heart dance with joy for the first time in a long time. It was then, through hearing a female preach for one of the first times in my life that I knew God was calling me to pastor a church. It was in those moments of seeing with my own eyes a woman preach that I knew it was all going to fall into place. It was in those moments that I was able to break off the chains of fear and start falling into my calling to become a pastor. As I sat in the audience, I took in every word. I sat in awe even after the services were over because it was as if fog had been lifted from my soul and finally I could see and feel the presence of God in my call to preach.

This calling then continued and as the name defines itself, God keeps speaking to me and giving me opportunities to live out what I have been gifted to do. I’m excited about this adventure. I’m excited about the next stop on the journey after my time at Carson-Newman is finished. I can’t wait to see what is next with seminary and job opportunities.

Over the past year or so I have seen the slogan,“This is What a Preacher Looks Like.”  Some of my female minister friends wear the T-Shirt with that slogan. There is also a book published by Baptist Women in Ministry with that title. Over the past year I have made many wonderful preacher friends. As I look back on the past year, I am reminded that it was only a little over a year ago that I preached my first sermon. It was a little over a year ago that Randolph Memorial Baptist Church asked me to be their Martha Stearns Marshall preacher. On February 5, 2012 I stepped into the pulpit for the first time, and in that moment that God’s calling was confirmed. God is calling me to share the gospel and the love of Jesus with everyone I come in contact with.

Jaime and groupAs I stood in the pulpit for the first time, I didn’t realize that over the next year I would have the opportunity to preach five more times. During those moments of standing in front of the congregation, I did not realize that preaching was going to be something that was going to be a part of me for the rest of my life. I did not know that I was going to have the opportunity to meet so many Baptist women ministers. Over the past year I have had so many beautiful conversations with other women ministers and it brings me great joy to have the ability to learn from them and to grow and be challenged by them. Thank You! Thank you Julie Pennington-Russell, Christine Jones, Pam Durso, Molly Brummett, Nenette Measels, Kali Freels, Rhonda Blevins, Katrina Brooks, Julie Gaines, Kristen Koger, Lauren McDuffie, Molly Shoulta, Meagan Smith, Sara Robb, Ruth Perkins-Lee, Marilee Betz, and so many others who are preaching the Gospel of Love to a broken world. Preach on Sisters!

As I think of all of these beautiful women though, I can’t help but think of the men who have been there to support and affirm me and so many others. Thank You Derik Hamby, Dave McNeely, Ross Brummett, Todd Blake, Adam Tyler, Grant Carter, Mark Beck, Chad Hartsock, Gene Wilder, and the many others who do not just affirm women in ministry through words but more importantly through their actions. Their actions speak so much louder than words written on a page or spoken.

In early January 2013, I had the privilege to be a part of The Academy of Young Preachers festival in Atlanta, Georgia.  It was such a wonderful week. During the week I heard numerous powerful and authentic sermons from some young Baptist women like myself who represented Baptist Women in Ministry well. I’m thankful to be a part of a community of faith that affirms women in ministry. There were so many talented young women and men at this festival, which gives me great hope for the present and future of the church. I can’t wait to see the new life that will be brought into congregations very soon.

Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching is coming soon in February. It’s not too late to ask a female minister to step into the pulpit to deliver her first sermon or her 100th sermon. It’s not too late to inspire the children of your church by asking a woman to preach so they can see and truly know that they can do anything that God calls them to.

Jaime Fitzgerald is a student at Carson-Newman College, Jefferson City, Tennessee. She will be the Martha Stearns Marshall preacher at First Baptist Church, Jefferson City. Reposted from Jaime’s blog Every Day is New.