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.