THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Esther Soud Parker

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we’re thrilled to introduce Esther Soud Parker.

Esther, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
My early church experiences were in the Church of God. When I was a teenager, we moved to a Southern Baptist Church. As an adult, I experienced faith communities in a variety of Air Force base chapels and local churches as my husband was in the military and we lived in many different areas.

I had not considered going into ministry at that point. Instead, I worked as an accountant. With plans to work in finance, I majored in Business Administration and English, and later received a Master of Science in Business Administration. For ten years, I worked in the accounting field analyzing financial statements, performing audits, and preparing corporate and individual taxes.

When our children were born, I stopped working outside the home. We eventually joined a CBF church and I volunteered in a variety of lay ministry roles such as Stephen’s Ministry, AIDS Ministry, children’s choir leader, children’s Sunday School teacher, serving as a Deacon, and in multiple committee positions.

As the children got older, I fully intended to go back into accounting. However, while serving as an interim children’s minister, I began to feel God’s call to go to Divinity School. I graduated from Campbell University Divinity School, focusing on Education and Pastoral Care.

After graduation, I was ordained into the gospel ministry and served as a hospital chaplain for eighteen months before being called as a minister of children, and later as a minister of education and children.

In 2013, Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, extended a call for me to serve as their minister to children and their families. What a gift it is for me to be in ministry at Watts Street!

What is the thing you love most about ministry?
What I love most about ministry is sharing in the faith journey with children and their families in our congregation.

What have been the hardest challenges you have encountered?
One of the hardest challenges I have encountered is being with family members as they say goodbye to their loved ones. It’s a holy, sacred time, and filled with a wide range of emotions – joys and sorrows. While I am grateful to be welcomed in these moments, I am also aware it is a difficult and often stressful time for the family.

What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?
“Love God. Love the People. Do the Work.” Daniel Aleshire delivered this challenge in a sermon during convocation when I was in Divinity School and it has helped shape my ministry. It’s a reminder that the work of ministry is important but we must first love God and love the people in our community.

‘Tis the Season: Searching for a Ministry Position by Pam Durso

Seminary graduation ceremonies have come and gone. The celebration parties are over. This week, recent graduates have turned their attention back to their searches for a ministry position. Late spring always seems to be the busy season for those searching. ‘Tis the season especially for interviews.

These past few weeks I have talked on the phone, gone to lunch, and sat in my office with ministers and soon-to-be-ministers who have asked for advice about interviewing. While our conversations don’t usually include a numbered list like the one that follows, I tend to offer the same words of wisdom. So if you are in the in-person interviewing stage of your search, pull up a chair and let’s talk:

  1. Set aside time to pray, to listen, and to ponder. Never forget that this interview is not simply about getting a job. Securing a ministry position is not only about employment. Ministry is a calling, and discovering where and how you may best use your gifts and live into your calling requires discernment and attention to the movement of the Spirit. Prayer is where you must begin with the search process, and prayer is vital as you continue in conversation with a search committee.
  2. Research! Your seminary training hopefully sharpened your research skills. Now is the time to make use of those skills. Gather as much information as you can–from the church’s website and Facebook page. Do a Google search and see what other sources you discover–look for a published history, articles in newspapers, links to community events, information on staff members and church leaders.
  3. Study! Those exams you took in seminary were serious business. I hope you studied. But the study you need to do now in preparation for an interview is significantly more important. Your future depends on how well prepared you are. So study harder now than you ever did for that church history mid-term! Read every page on the church’s website, not just the pages that seem best connected to the ministry position in which you are interested. Read EVERY page–read the church’s history, the staff page, all the ministry pages. Read the newsletters. Read the bulletins. Watch four or five worship services if possible. Read with curiosity. Write down specific questions you have about programs, ministries, worship, and leadership. Take notes. Read through and study your notes in the days before your interview.
  4. Learn names. If you have not been given a list of the members of the search committee, ask for their names, and do some research on the committee. Find pictures of committee members (and Facebook is invaluable here), and learn their faces and their names! Know who you will be talking with before you go for the interview.
  5. Practice your answers. There are some standard questions that committees ask of candidates. Know what those questions are, and practice your answers. Practice OUT LOUD. Do a mock interview. Ask a friend or several friends to be “your committee.” Ask them for feedback about your responses–both the content and the delivery of those responses. Excellent interviewing skills are learned–they don’t just happen. (For a list of those questions to expect, check out the BWIM resource page here and here.)
  6. Write down the questions you want to ask the committee. Prepare thoughtful, insightful questions! They will expect you to have questions! (For a list of questions to consider asking, check out the BWIM resource page here).
  7. Give some thought to what you will wear. Dress like a professional. Ministers are professionals. This is not to say that you have to look stiffly formal. You don’t have to wear a tailored suit or high heels, but what you wear does matter. Sundresses and flip flops are not okay (unless the church you are interviewing with is on the beach!) If you have interview fashion questions, ask for help. Really! Ask friends for help if you need it. (On occasion, I get text messages from my young minister friends . . . who send me photos and ask: Does this work? Should I wear different shoes? Do I need some accessories? Do I look like I am wearing my grandmother’s jacket or my teenage sister’s dress?)
  8. Be yourself. Be true to yourself. During your interview, be honest about your strengths, your weakness (this is the question every committee asks). Be as candid as you can–this is not to say that you should be unfiltered and vocalize every thought you have. But share of yourself during the interview. You want to leave this interview feeling like the committee has a sense of who you are, what you believe, how you feel called.

In-person interviewing can be stressful–almost as stressful as waiting for a call back from the committee. Being prepared can lessen your anxiety and help you move into the interview with more confidence. Being prepared also helps the committee members know that you are serious about the position and that you are invested in the process! So do the work! Be prepared.

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

 

 

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Tillie Duncan

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Tillie Duncan.

Tillie, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
Thirsty! I was so very thirsty. I was sitting in a seminar on multi-family housing ministry. The desire to be a pastor manifested itself physically. I could see no way of fulfilling this specific call of God on my life. I was a middle-aged woman, a wife, and a mother to three sons. Living into God’s call was not a new concept to me. I grew up with a mother who told me, “God has something special for you to do.” So there was always an awareness of ministry in whatever I did: public school teaching; helping out friends with child care; and volunteering in the schools my children attended. Of course that awareness of mission came with whatever leadership positions I held in churches and in associations.

My first job as a professional minister was to serve as chaplain in two mobile home parks, where I led worship services, conducted children’s programs, and oversaw a food pantry. When missions minister Gerald Worrell, with whom I was working, left for other work, Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church asked me to move into his position, overseeing their entire missions program. After being with Pritchard, for about 5 years, I took a three-month sabbatical which I spent teaching in Honduras. I came home to an exciting, beyond-my-imagination opportunity. Sardis Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, was seeking a part-time associate pastor to work side-by-side with their pastor, Tim Moore. He was transitioning to part-time in order to spend more time with the family’s triplets. My job description changed over the eighteen years I served as one of the pastors at Sardis. Teaching, preaching, ministering with various age groups, newsletter duties, and pastoral care were areas which waxed and waned with various staff configurations.

What is the thing you love most about ministry?
What most gives me pleasure in ministry is interaction with others. I especially enjoy teaching when there is interested participation, bold questions, and insightful contributions. Having a group mixed with those who have “teethed on the Bible” and those who are reading it for the first time opens the eyes of all participants and provides for serendipity moments.

What have been the hardest challenges you have encountered?
The most difficult challenges in my ministry came during Sardis Baptist Church’s year of transition between the resignation of long-time (nineteen years) pastor Tim Moore and the calling of Bob Stillerman. As acting head of staff, I added hours to my work week and stress to my equilibrium. Congregants’ fears for the future manifested themselves in various ways from temporary withdrawal to antagonistic confrontation. However, with the help of coach Scott Waggoner, the congregation was able to work through most of their anxiety and move forward.

What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?
The best you one can be is to be oneself. Just because the person you work with is a popular preacher doesn’t mean you should copy that style. Your own style can be just as engaging and inspiring.

What has been your source of joy and given you a sense of affirmation?
What has been a source of joy for me throughout my pastoral ministry has been the association with pastors Tim Moore and Bob Stillerman. They always regarded me as a peer. Their genuine inclusive spirit has been a source of encouragement and affirmation.

The Joys of Graduation by Pam Durso

Graduation season is my most favorite time of year! I love seeing the colorful regalia. I love hearing Pomp and Circumstance. But mostly I love the emotion of the day–the smiling faces of graduates, the relieved faces of their families, the proud faces of their professors. And there are always a few tears on graduation day.

Last Saturday, I had the best Central graduationseat in the house at Central Baptist Theological Seminary’s graduation. Because I was the commencement speaker, I sat on the platform–in the seat nearest the graduates and with a clear view as each one stepped forward to receive his or her diploma. I was close enough to hear the words of congratulations and blessings spoken by President Molly T. Marshall to each graduate. (That’s me on the far right in the photo). There was more beauty in those moments than I could even take in.

Yet perhaps even more beautiful for me on Saturday was the diversity.  A Chin youth choir sang with great joy and enthusiasm. The scripture was read in Burmese, Korean, and English. The Master of Divinity graduates were not just from Kansas and Missouri but also hailed from California, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. The great majority of graduates awarded the Doctor of Ministry were from Myanmar. Central is truly a global seminary. The differences in languages, cultures, callings, and life experiences made Saturday a day I will never forget. 
Molly and Pam ribbons

My trip to Kansas also offered me the opportunity to participate in the Blessing of the Women Graduates, an annual tradition at the seminary (one of the wonderful benefits of having a woman president). Seasoned ministers along with Central alumnae, professors, staff members, and trustees gathered and spoke words of affirmation and wisdom, and then each woman graduate was presented with ribbons, tied together with love by their president. The time of blessing ended with hugs and tears! I unexpectedly became a recipient as my friend, Molly placed ribbons around my neck and spoke lovely words of affirmation to me.

The joys of graduation–surely there is no better day on a seminary’s calendar! Thanks be to God.

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

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Suzii Paynter

Every Friday Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and today we are so pleased to introduce our friend, Suzii Paynter, who was ordained on May 7, 2017 by Austin Heights Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas. Suzii serves as the executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Suzii, tell us about your journey to embrace God’s call to ministry.

My sense of call emerges from a life of Christian preparation and discipleship that has been ignited by an adventurous obedience to Jesus. Since an early age, I have been aware of ministerial leaders and held them in high regard. As a child, I would rush to sit in the still-warm cushion of the couch when the visiting minister left our living room. That admiration was held from afar. I did not anticipate that God’s call could be for me. Like many women of my generation, I was limited by an anemic imagination toward ministry as a vocation or path for my life. My sense of call developed from my commitment to Christ, from the witness of a faithful family, and from the practice of discipleship as a servant leader in Jesus name. My call toward the gospel ministry has had distinct movements.

I was nurtured through the discipline of being a Bible teacher, through preparation, study, discussion, debate, and caretaking of many people in seven church settings, numerous retreats, and countless conferences. It is as if the echo of a calling voice of God beckoned me through the weekly habits (2,000 weeks—I just counted!) of study, prayer and teaching. This long obedience in teaching allowed a “between the lines” sense of calling to be formed in my life and assure me of my foundation for gospel ministry.

My sense of call has also come from the crucible and opportunities of activism on behalf of many needs in the world. It has been a hallmark of my adult life to advocate for hungry people, literacy and learning, prisoners and ex-offenders, children, immigrants and refugees, religious liberty for all, creation and the environment, victims of human trafficking, and other marginalized people. In every effort, even times of futile outcry, the voice of God has beckoned me to move with vigor and to be sustained with a quiet strength and even joy of persistence in the effort. This has been a clear call to the gospel ministry. It has been fruitful, and many have followed my lead.

Finally, my sense of call has emerged explicitly from roles and duties of leadership on behalf of churches and Christian organizations. In leadership roles at Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, I have preached in more than 100 pulpits and led in worship for thousands of people. I love the people of God and am called to their care and well-being.

Tell us more about your spiritual journey and how you are seeking to live more fully into your calling? 

The love of Christ and discipleship under his leadership has given me such great purpose and joy in my life. I wish to share this gift. I am aware that Jesus prays over the disciples for their unity with God’s purposes. I take that prayer as a personal prayer for me. Who is Jesus that prays over me? He is the Living Lord who I followed into the baptismal waters at age seven and who has nudged me to answer a developing call to ministry throughout my life.

Jesus somehow had this puny little girl encountering great preachers and theologians, Elton Trueblood and Paul Tournier personally, by age nineteen and also led me to the writings and ideas of James McClendon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Reinhold Niebuhr. Jesus guided me to Baylor, where I was introduced to great teachers and to the writings of Thomas Merton and the life of Dorothy Day. Jesus led me to Richard Rohr to encounter deep centering prayer, to Frederick Buechner, and to poets who sing and dance God’s sweetest songs.

Jesus is the One who has held me and even given me riches in the wilderness of my own life. He led me into great churches to be around people of profound, mature faith. Jesus has taught me to value forgiveness and has led me to experience it as a true gift from God to reshape my life and the lives of others. The virtue of Christian hospitality is a forming energy in my life that has created and nurtured friendship and family through the expression of loving congregations. I see the church as an outpost of love for a world in need of home.

What are your grandest hopes for your next season of ministry and leadership?   

Feeling grateful to Jesus as the One who has led me on adventure after adventure and the One who leads me still, I know in the depths of my heart that all I really want, all I really, really want is to have the faith to be like Christ in the ministry I have been given, and I know that is enough.

God asks that we find it within ourselves to say, “O God, what would you have me to do this day with this life you have given me? How shall I wear Your Name?” I carry that question in anticipation of the future.

Celebrating Beauty by Pam Durso

Two weeks ago Baptist women gathered in the lovely sanctuary of First Baptist Church, Knoxville, Tennessee. Our theme for the three-day Leading Women event was CELEBRATING BEAUTY. At the first session of that gathering, I spoke these words: “In each and every moment of our lives, we find beauty. In the gains and in the losses, we find beauty. In the successes and in the failures, we find beauty. In the joyous laughter and in the grieving tears, we find beauty. For God’s spirit works in and with and through us in each moment, making all things beautiful, redeeming every heartache and pain, every happiness and joy.”

We then proceeded to celebrate the beauty of those women who walked before us, paving the way, blazing the trail. We celebrated the women who have stepped into places of leadership and service, sharing their beautiful gifts with us all in these present days, and we celebrated the beauty that is to come as God calls and gifts more women as pastors, counselors, preachers, teachers, leaders, chaplains, encouragers, and mentors.

That celebration of bSuzii ordinationeauty continued for me well past the conclusion of Leading Women. On Sunday evening, May 7, I sat in another lovely church sanctuary. This one in Nacogdoches, Texas: Austin Heights Baptist Church. The sanctuary was filled with faithful Baptists and friends of Baptists, and all those gathered shared in celebrating the beauty that is our friend and leader, Suzii Paynter. We named her giftedness. We affirmed her calling as a minister, and we laid our hands on her. We recognized the minister she has long been, the minister she is now, and the minister she is yet to be. And it was beautiful.

For the beauty of her ordination service, for the beauty of Suzii’s long-held calling, for the beauty of her strength and courage, and for the beauty of her faithfulness, thanks be to God.

 

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

Just One Little Kiss: A Case of Clergy Sexual Abuse

To draw attention to the ever-present and devastating reality of clergy sexual abuse and to provide resources for churches, lay members, and ministers, the Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force formed jointly by Baptist Women in Ministry and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will sponsor an ongoing blog series featuring informational articles, helpful sermons, and relevant materials.

By Anonymous © 2007

Several years ago, I made a presentation on ministerial boundary issues and sexual misconduct. Following the presentation, Sally Johnson [pseudonyms are used throughout] asked to speak with me privately. We went to a quiet spot, and she disclosed to me an alleged incident of inappropriate ministerial boundary crossing. Sally has given permission for me to relate the following information from that conversation and subsequent ones relative to her alleged abuse.

Sally told me that our conversation was the first time she recalled having spoken of the incident since its occurrence back in 1974. As she told me her story, the memories pained Sally deeply. She spoke very softly, with obvious anxiety, and with tears. Because I had known Sally for fifteen years and because of her demeanor in this conversation, I found her story very believable. She did not identify the pastor who had abused her, and I did not ask. I told her that if she wished to disclose his identity either to me or especially to her current pastor, it might be helpful in case others came forward and named the same perpetrator. Sally told me that she would give it some thought. But feeling better already for having shared the story with me, Sally said she felt no particular need to have anything else done about it for her own sake.

A few months later, I received via email a written account from Sally of the clergy/spiritual abuse she claimed to have experienced twenty-nine years earlier. Her account named her alleged abuser.

“In November of 1974, I was twenty-six-years-old and newly married. I was struggling with two problems. Rev. Hank Jones [pseudonyms are used throughout] had been my pastor and friend for four years so I decided to talk with him. When the counseling session was over and as I was leaving, we were facing each other talking. He took hold of my hands, stepped forward, and began kissing me on the lips. I was shocked and disgusted as I felt his belly pressing against me and his lips on mine. I left the church building asking myself, “What on earth kind of counseling technique was that?” I remember thinking that I had come to counseling confused over two issues. I left more confused now with three issues. I knew I couldn’t tell my husband about it. He wasn’t very excited to go to church anyway. Knowing this, he would probably not go again. I also did not want to imagine what he would do to Hank. I couldn’t tell any of the church members because everyone seemed to think Pastor Jones could walk on water. I couldn’t tell his wife because I didn’t want to hurt her. I didn’t know what to do, so I chose not to think about it. I’m not the confronting type.
 
I never went back for any more counseling. It wasn’t long after that he wasn’t the pastor anymore. Years went by, and then he moved back. It was hard to watch him at church. I always felt angry, especially when he would talk to me like we were old buddies. It made me sad that he acted like he was unaware of the years of hurt, anger, and disappointment he had caused, like he didn’t remember what he did. After twenty-nine years, all the emotions are as acute as the day it happened.
 
I do not seek vengeance or even an apology. I do not want to hurt or embarrass his family, our church, or the denomination. The only reason I am writing this is in the hope that Hank will realize the confusion and hurt he has caused me and not do this to another person. I don’t want another person to go through life feeling such negative emotions toward someone who represents God. I know that we all make mistakes, but it just seems worse when an ordained minister crosses over the boundaries. . . .
 
My only regret is that it took this long to figure out a way to deal with this. Only God knows if there were others who experienced similar things in the mean time. . .”

In fact, it turned out that there had been at least one other potential victim of Jones’s abuse of professional authority and power. I received an email from another woman who named the same pastor as a sexual abuser. The abuse happened decades earlier when the victim was eighteen and nineteen years old, and Rev. Jones was in his early forties, married with young children. This accuser shared details of numerous occasions of abuse—in the pastor’s church office and elsewhere—of kissing and fondling.
 
After further email communication and many conversations, both victims chose to write statements and submit them to regional church officials for investigation and follow up. Both victims were deemed believable by the judicatory investigator, and Rev. Jones confessed to at least some of the allegations while claiming no memory of the incident with Sally. Jones retains his clergy credentials but has been asked by officials to refrain from accepting any invitations for public ministry.
 
Recently, Sally said to me, “You know, I remember now that I went to see a psychiatrist for awhile in the midst of a lot of stuff; and whenever I mentioned God or faith, it was like he didn’t know what to do with that. One time I also mentioned this thing that happened with Pastor Jones. The psychiatrist didn’t say anything, didn’t ask anything. He didn’t say a thing!” Sally never spoke of the incident again—until decades later when she confided in me, but she never forgot being abused by her trusted pastor.

The author has been an ordained minister for more than thirty years and does boundaries training with seminarians and other church leaders.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Melissa Wise

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week we are thrilled to introduce Melissa Wise. 

Melissa, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
When I reflect on my ministry journey, nothing in my upbringing would ever have suggested the direction my life has taken. I went to church under my mother’s influence between the ages of five to eight, then under my grandmother’s influence between the ages of twelve to thirteen. Outside of these time periods, my father, who is agnostic, influenced the larger part of my young adult life. I did not “grow up in the church.” I grew up under the influence of family and western culture that set values on individualism, money, position, and independence. I actively lived for and sought after these things, but none of them satisfied me or fulfilled the deeper needs that resided in my spirit.

With this difficult and complicated past, there were questions that formulated: Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What is the meaning and purpose of life? These questions were present with me most of my life. They were like fuel that kept me running despite the exhaust that was spewing in other areas of my life. A number of health, financial, relationship, and personal problems eventually led me to the feet of Jesus Christ. The location was Mount Sinai, Egypt at St. Catherine’s Monastery where I was on retreat during Easter 2003. It was at this time and place that I received Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. It is when my ministry journey became a full-time occupation.

I believe that ministry service does not require a job title or position. Otherwise we might find ourselves waiting before we begin serving God. I believe that we are meant to actively serve God in church and in our everyday lives with every opportunity He places before us. For me, this includes when I’m at the mall, supermarket, library, on the bus, etc. I was ready to serve God wherever He would send me. However, He had other plans.

I began serving in a local church in Olympia, Washington in many capacities. I began as a Sunday school teacher for children in fifth through seventh grades. I served on mission trips on Indian reservations in Eastern Washington and in various cities in Costa Rica. I’ve taught and facilitated at women’s retreats and sang in the choir. In these capacities, I was serving God and helping others. But I believe God placed me in these positions not just to serve, but to grow into a mature disciple of Jesus Christ. I believe He was also knitting and repairing those parts of my spirit that needed healing that were greatly affected by my past life experiences before I began living for Christ.

I have always loved meeting new people and listening to their stories. I am deeply interested in exploring issues that are challenging them and connecting their story with the Divine story of God. This is what led me to begin serving as a volunteer hospital Chaplain and a Crisis Hotline volunteer in Washington state.

I have had supernatural encounters with God in the past. On this occasion, He led me to a church during a snow storm. In this church, I met a woman pastor who had pursued chaplaincy. She was leading me to do the same based on our conversation about my volunteer work. I prayed about this, seeking guidance for such a substantial change that would require a Masters in Divinity, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), and my becoming an ordained minister. God immediately (the next day) confirmed this direction. When God speaks, I listen and obey! Within a year, I gave away my belongings and I relocated to Northern California to attend Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (GGBTS – now Gateway Seminary). I graduated from GGBTS in May 2016, received my preaching license January 2015, and became the first woman clergy ordained in the seventy-two year history of the church and the district in April 2016. During this time and process, I put my trust in God and He has been faithful to me. I have served Him as a corporate chaplain and I am serving Him as an associate minister, and as a hospital chaplain.

I believe that God will continue to use me in traditional and mostly non-traditional ways to serve Him in ministry around the world. I believe the most important thing in my life is my relationship with God. In this relationship, I come to know and understand God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In this relationship, I have come to desire the things and ways of God. In this relationship, He has made me whole and truly live as my authentic self – created in Christ.

Mark 12:30-31 states: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

This is my life focus, because it is God’s command.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
I love reading, studying, teaching and preaching the Word of God. I love hearing the Word of God preached. It has especially been a joy to hear more and more women preaching sermons. I have been seeking the answers to the three questions I identified above: Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What is the meaning and purpose of life? I have found the answers to these question in the Bible and in my relationship with God. There is no greater joy for me to live and know truth.

Another one of my greatest sources of joy in ministry is being on my feet. I love walking and traveling to visit with people. I meet so many new people each day as a hospital chaplain and I have the wonderful opportunity of bringing the presence and hope of God to each of these people in their times of joy and in their times of suffering. It is a privilege to listen deeply and create sacred space for others as they traverse their personal health journeys and narratives.

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
It has been and continues to be a question regarding my full role in ministry and the church. God has beautifully and wonderfully made me and gifted me into this person who naturally enjoys being with others. I see myself as a missionary minister and chaplain. I am willing to be a minister and a chaplain in the church or on the mission field. As I am completing the credentialing process for chaplaincy, and then, through God’s guidance and direction, pursue a PhD, I wonder at my full role in ministry. I believe I need to remain focused on what God is continuing to prepare me to walk through on a day by day basis. I need to continue to trust Him and have faith that His will will be done.

What advice would you give to a young woman who is discerning a call to ministry?
It is interesting to reflect on this question in view of my own life experience. When God led me to chaplaincy ministry, I simply listened and immediately obeyed Him. The most amazing instance in the world is when God takes time to bring you a message. To speak to your spirit and give you direction and guidance. As I was going through the process of completing the things needed to be a board-certified chaplain, the call to ministry became clear as I continued to be obedient to God. For example, during Revival week at my home church, the guest preacher for the evening was to preach a sermon related to the theme for Revival week. I was asked to teach a related lesson prior to the preacher for a few minutes. The evening before, while I was editing my lesson, the Holy Spirit led me to “preach” not “teach” the lesson. I made some changes to the lesson in preparation. When I arrived at church the following evening, my pastor introduced me and stated that he believed that I was called to preach the Word of God. He asked me to preach the lesson for the evening from the pulpit. This is how my call to ministry was discerned. It was confirmed through the Holy Spirit and through my pastor. I believe in discerning the call to ministry that this call is an irresistible call to Jesus Christ. I believe that when you receive this call it will not leave you. If you try to ignore or refuse this call, you will not be at peace. My advice would be to always be in the Word of God and make your relationship with Him a priority. Look for God at work in your life and through others. Discuss your call to ministry with someone you trust.

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.

Unexpected by Pam Durso

If you have ever planned worship or conferences or meetings, you will understand. I rarely, almost never, enjoy, receive inspiration, or feel renewed when I attend an event that I have planned. It is hard to be in the moment, when you are watching the clock, keeping track of what’s next. It is hard to be inspired when you are texting your co-leader, checking on your flight-delayed preacher. It is hard to listen, to sing, to absorb when you are directing traffic from the front row. It is just hard.

But many times last week in the midst of our Leading Women gathering, I found myself sitting on the front row NOT watching the time, NOT signaling the next speaker. I found myself swept into the moment–it was a wonderful, unexpected feeling!

Molly and LindaAt the very beginning of our time together last week, Molly T. Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary and founding mother of Baptist Women in Ministry, stood and declared that Leading Women was “as historic, perhaps, as that first organizing meeting of Baptist Women in Ministry in 1983.” I knew then that I needed to pay attention, to soak this gathering in, and so I did.

There were soraquel and joyce many special moments. I watched as two friends of seminary days stood together in the pulpit–now both are seminary presidents! (Molly T. Marshall and Linda McKinnish Bridges) I cried as a retired missionary sat next to her Chilean Baptist pastor friend (Joyce Wyatt and Raquel Contreras). I marveled at the new friends that blossomed quickly.

I laughed (and took selfies) with some of my students–both present students and those who have graduated and are now busy bringing change to our world. TMcAfee women 4 LWhere are too many stories to tell. Too many beautiful stories. For last week, a group of Baptist women made space for beauty. They listened to one another. They learned from each other. They cried together–and laughed. And they were inspired and renewed, and so was I. Leading Women was an unexpected gift. One I will be forever grateful for!

 

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