Every Friday Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a fabulous minister, and today we are pleased to introduce Meriah VanderWeide.
Meriah, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I grew up in the church my entire life. My family attended a North American Baptist church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota during my formative years. Sioux Falls is the biggest city in South Dakota with a population of 200,000. I wrestled through sexual abuse, family members with addictions, and anxiety birthed from those two things. Though I grew up familiar with Jesus Christ and the stories in scripture, my faith did not become my own until my sophomore year of college. It was at that point that I realized that God had been present with me throughout my struggles. He was constantly calling for me to come to Him for healing, restoration, and direction. My experiences have made me weak but my dependence on Christ has made me strong.
I believe that God had been calling me to full-time ministry from my high school days although I wasn’t able to articulate that calling. In the NABC, women could not be senior pastors and very rarely were women ordained as ministers. Because women couldn’t be senior pastors, I assumed that God was sending me into the mission field, which was not something I wanted to do. I avoided responding to the call initially. In college, I claimed a major in education, then English, then psychology, all the while taking the Bible and theology classes that interested me. When I accepted that those three fields did not fit together, I realized that I had been, unconsciously, following my call towards a theology/philosophy degree. Upon graduation, however, I did not follow my calling but instead went for a high paying job at an insurance company; this led to discontentment and depression.
After a few years of treading water through different jobs, I was hired as the youth pastor at my home church. In August of 2014, I enrolled at Sioux Falls Seminary in pursuit of a Master in Divinity degree. I still assumed that God was calling me to an associate pastor position. Then in September of 2016, through the work of the Holy Spirit, I met Randy Rasmussen, changed my denominational affiliation from the NAB to the American Baptist Churches, USA, and was offered a position as an interim pastor of a small church in Madison, South Dakota. In May of 2017, I graduated from Sioux Falls Seminary and am now seeking to serve God in a full-time pastoral position.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
I am an extrovert. God built me that way, and people play a large role in my greatest joy in ministry. As I am preparing for sermons and talking to people about our amazing God, I cannot help being overwhelmed with a sense of awe! The more I study and seek God the more I cannot get enough of the awesomeness of God. Whenever I prepare for a sermon, I spend a large amount of time stopping and praising God out of gratitude for his character. People play into this through the moments when others realize the wonder of God and gain a passion for his word. When they see what I see, my heart sings.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
My biggest challenge is twofold: I am a young woman seeking to be a pastor. Many individuals want to discredit the young pastor as if someone under forty years old cannot be called by God. My age is constantly in discussion during interviews, formal or informal. Yes, I am not yet thirty, but that does not mean God has not called me or equipped me. It is because of my youth that I recognize my utter dependence on God to provide wisdom.
Being a woman seeking the pastorate has been a sensitive subject since I was a child. When I was in high school, the North American Baptist church in which I grew up made a statement supporting women in leadership and half of the congregation left. Baptist churches fall across a huge spectrum on this topic. My desire is not to prove that God has called me or to fight for a position; I do not have a feminist agenda in pursuing the pastorate. I simply want to glorify God by using the gifts He gave me and am depending on the work of the Holy Spirit to equip me for whatever position God lays before me.
There are other challenges that have been difficult lessons to learn:
1. Shared information or knowledge does not equal a shared interpretation or opinion. I can teach, I can preach, I can dialogue with individuals, but ultimately their opinion is their decision. That was a very frustrating lesson to learn.
2. Every decision made by the pastor and the leadership team of the church has a ripple effect of consequences, some decisions can still be in play months or years later.
3. Growing up in a co-dependent household means you will struggle to deal with conflict and resolution as an adult.
What advice would you give to a teenage girl who is discerning a call to ministry?
1. First and foremost: You are a cherished child of God!!! You are fearfully and wonderfully made! Do not squelch you gifts by attempting to blend in with those around you. You were made to stand out!
2. Don’t come into conversations with your “guns loaded.” Being on the defensive automatically shuts people off to hearing your thoughts.
3. Trust the Holy Spirit to defend your call; you need only be obedient to it.
4. Dig in to spiritual disciplines, find ones that fit your personality (I recommend Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun as a great book for exploring options). Having a steady routine for connecting with God will fill you up and help you to develop into your specific call.
5. Two Quotes and Application:
a. Jim Rohn “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
b. Chap Clark: “Here’s the bottom line: every kid needs five adult fans. Any young person who shows any interest in Christ needs a minimum of five people of various ages who will say, ‘I’m going to love that kid until they are fully walking as an adult member of this congregation.’”
i. Surround yourself with people, across the spectrum of age, gender, and ethnicity, that have attributes you admire.
ii. Find someone to mentor you and provide encouragement as you journey through life (this person may change depend on the season you are in).
iii. Find a peer to whom you are accountable. There is something profoundly encouraging when you have someone in the exact same scenario as you saying “me too.”
iv. Find someone to mentor. Train up the next generation, let us not repeat the mistakes of history by forgetting to care for and teach future leaders.