Each Friday Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we’re excited to introduce Brittany Caldwell.
Brittany, tell us about your ministry journey, the places and ways you have been serving and are serving.
My call to ministry was certainly a very interesting journey. I did not really grow up in church. My parents had been ardent church-goers, heavily involved, but became disillusioned with church politics somewhere along the way. They are wonderful people, and very involved in their church now, but couldn’t really find the right church for them as I was growing up. They sent me to a children’s camp, where I was saved around the age of twelve. However, I don’t remember the experience well, and I was not baptized until much later. When I reached junior high, I befriended a new girl in my class, whose parents had been missionaries in Bolivia. I think she thought she needed to “save” me, and very consistently invited me to youth group. It was through her and my youth minister that I first truly encountered God, and he called me into a relationship of discipleship. I began going to church every time the door was open, reading my bible for hours at night, and trying to learn as much as I could through bible studies and small groups.
When I was sixteen years old, my youth minister took a mission trip to Ghana, and came back filled with joy at the ways that God touched him on that trip. As I talked to him about it, I felt God nudging me to go as well. So the next year, I did. It was through that trip and though a very intimate encounter with God on the beach in Accra, Ghana, that I first received my calling to ministry. God very clearly said to me, “What you’ve been doing for the past few days, telling people about me and the love I have for them, that’s what I want you to spend the rest of your life doing. And I want you to be a nurse to do it.”
Nursing was something that I had been thinking about as my career choice for a while, and after I heard this clear call, I pursued it passionately. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and was licensed shortly afterwards, finding my true passion in oncology and hospice care. However, I knew that God was also calling me to ministry, and thought that I should be as prepared as possible. Thus, I enrolled in George W. Truett Theological Seminary in order to earn my Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Missions and World Christianity. Though I love the church that first introduced me to Jesus, they are very conservative. As a woman called to the ministry, the only option really available to me was as an overseas missionary. My brain was never given reason to think that God might be calling me to pastor, because in my experience, women couldn’t be pastors. I knew I loved to lead, I loved to teach, I wanted to love people and tell them about Jesus. I thought that I could only do that if I worked in an overseas context, so I made my calling to overseas missions the focal point of everything I did, every class I took, every hardship I encountered. Little did I know that God had a different plan.
My husband and I married shortly after college, between graduation and our move to Waco, Texas, to start seminary. He felt called to ministry as well but didn’t have a good idea of what his calling looked like. Overseas missions sounded good to him, so he went with it. I never questioned that we were called to be together, and called to be working together in a foreign context one day. However, as we walked through seminary together and my husband became the pastor of a small church in Waco, God began to nudge him in a different direction. Looking back, I know that God created my husband to be a pastor. He could never be anything else. He does it so well and so beautifully. At the time though, I didn’t see what God was doing.
Then, one night, as my husband and I sat on a beach in India, which is where we did our mentoring experience in the expectation of serving there after graduation, my husband let me know what he had been feeling for a while now: he was called to pastor the church. He didn’t feel called to serve overseas. He wanted nothing more than to love and serve the church with everything that was within him. I was crushed, completely heartbroken. Because I had been holding on so tightly to that calling to be an overseas missionary that to let it go felt like I was letting go of a piece of myself.
What I found over the subsequent months was that I had tied that calling so close to my identity that without it, I didn’t know who I was. Depression and anxiety ensued. I thought, “I’m a nurse with a Master of Divinity. What am I supposed to do with my life now?” It was hard and painful, as I went through the process of trying to figure out who I was, and then what God was calling me to be.
As I sat on the couch with my husband one night, we talked about it. I said, “Well, I really love people. I love the Bible and I love to teach it. I love opportunities when I get to publicly speak about God. I love helping people expand their worldview through engaging them in God’s mission in the world. I love empowering them to seek out their own calling to discipleship.” And my husband said, “It sounds like you love to pastor.” At the time, I denied it. I couldn’t see myself in that role. I had never been exposed to female pastors, and I didn’t consider myself to fall into that group of hardcore lady pastors at Truett. However, as I began to further explore the gifts and ability God had given me, I knew that he was calling me to pastor.
Today, my husband and I have been co-pastoring a small church in rural North Carolina for almost a year. They have been patient and gracious with me, as I continue to learn and grow into my new role. My journey of ministry has been one that has taken some unexpected twists and turns, but I would not be the same without it. It has made me who I am, and God has continued to shape and form me into who he needs me to be in order to serve his church.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest source of joy in ministry is and always will be the people that I am called to serve. It is such a privilege to be in a role where you are continually invited into the most precious and intimate moments of people’s lives, whether it’s though hospital visits, weddings, and funerals, or through being invited to quiet dinners, loud family reunions, or fun sporting events. People continually invite me to glimpse into their lives, take part in that which is most important to them, and I am always flattered and invigorated by those things. I am continually given opportunities to speak truth and love into their lives and to have it spoken back into mine. It is a gift, the treasure which I would go sell everything I have to attain, and yet which is given to me for free.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
I have been blessed to not encounter a great many challenges in my first year as a pastor. One of my greatest challenges has come in the form of education. I am the only female pastor in our area, and people sometimes don’t know what to make of me, especially if my husband is right there beside me. We’ve done a lot of education on the co-pastor model, why it’s been a great thing for us and our church, and why we see it as an alternative way to think of ministry. We still get the occasional people who will go to my husband for everything instead of me, but they have quickly learned that if they give my husband anything administrative, it will fall through the cracks! We’ve also done education with visitors about women in leadership roles and preaching. Most people seem to think it’s a great idea, and they leave thinking more churches should do this model. It’s been a blessing to see the wheels turn and to see someone change their mind on women in ministry after they encounter my husband and I working together.
The greatest challenge in my year-long tenure as a pastor has presented itself in the form of my first pregnancy. I have been unfortunate to be in the small percentage of women who battle pretty severe nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. It has made my job as a pastor difficult, as I have had to leave several events early, or let my husband preach many of the sermons. It leaves me feeling drained, while also feeling like I haven’t done my job well. I’ve also felt alone with the struggle. How many other pastors have to deal with months of crippling nausea because they’re making a small human? It was especially hard in the first months when no one knew I was pregnant. Now, my church is showering me with love and quick to tell me to go lie down if I look a little green. Still, to all the women pastors out there who are struggling in the same way, I hope that you will persevere, and know that you are not alone, as you fight to stay sane, to preach the word of God, and to administer the sacraments (all without running to the bathroom).
How do you stay healthy, physically and spiritually?
Before my pregnancy, working out was very important to me. I would walk, do yoga, or do some type of cardio for at least an hour per day. Keeping your body physically healthy truly does impact the health of your soul. My husband and I also love to camp and hike. We have a pop-up camper that we take to a campground almost every weekend during the fall and the spring. Camping and hiking have always been good for my soul. It re-energizes me, gets me away from my phone and computer, and helps me speak to God better and more clearly. I also read a lot of fiction. I love nothing more than to lose myself in a good book, and I have found that good, well-written fiction can actually give you a window into the state of your own soul. A good author can cause you to examine yourself, even as you are encountering a character on a similar journey.
What advice would you give to a teenage girl discerning a call to ministry?
I would tell her not to limit herself, and that calling is more about the journey than the destination. God is continuing to call us into new and exciting things. There is probably not one thing that you will spend the rest of your life doing, and that’s exciting! I would tell her to explore that calling, read about other women who have done incredible things, listen to women tell their stories, and then to tell her own story. God has created her with a special set of gifts and abilities, and it is out of those gifts and abilities that calling will flow. Calling is a natural extension of ourselves. It should not be a challenge where we have to become something totally contrary to our soul in order to do God’s will. I would remind her of the quote by Frederick Buechner, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”