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.