Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an amazing minister on this blog. Today, we are pleased to interview Carolyn Steeves. Carolyn IS what a minister looks like!
Carolyn, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
My ministry journey began almost thirty years ago when we lived in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. As a young family, we made our way to a Baptist church in our denomination that was being led by a young pastor who was reaching families. We heard the Word of God preached in a way we had never heard it before and were challenged to apply that teaching to our lives. God transformed our lives over the twenty-five years we were part of that church family; the place where God’s call on my life was formed. Through the leadership of that pastor, my gifts were identified and developed. I was invited to preach, to baptize and to lead in many areas before I was ever ordained!
When this church began exploring becoming a “multi-site” church (that is: one church with different locations,) I was identified as having the gifts required to be the “campus pastor” at the second site. I had very little confidence then about what God was calling me to, but I stepped out trusting God would equip me for the position. It was then that I began the process of entering into theological studies at our denomination’s seminary, as well as working half time in the role of campus pastor. All this with three young children! It took seven years and a lot of determination and perseverance to complete the ordination track.
Seven years into my ministry, and the year I was ordained, I was approached by my current church, West End Baptist Church in St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador, about considering a call to the senior pastor role. I immediately refused. I could never imagine being able to lead a larger church with all the complexities and responsibilities that came with this call, let alone move to an island in the North Atlantic–so far from all that was familiar. However, God spoke to me through some amazing mentors and friends. My husband was excited to see me finally able to “spread my ministry wings.”
Moving meant leaving a church we had been part of for decades, the place we had raised our family in faith, and where so much investment was made in the development of my call. It meant leaving aging parents, who I would only get to visit once a year because of the distance. It meant my husband leaving his job, with no guarantee of meaningful employment. It was a difficult transition, however, what is amazing is, since I have been called here, God has completely turned our hearts toward these wonderful people, and this wonderful place! God has provided! Now, almost five years in, God continues to grow my confidence in his promise to equip me for what I have been called to do. God is working in my life and in the lives of his people at West End in miraculous ways, and for this I am grateful that I get to join him!
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
Some of my greatest sources of joy in ministry have been watching God so obviously at work in people’s lives as we offer opportunities for them to respond to him. When people come to faith and have their lives changed– this is a source of joy! When people hear how God is calling them to make changes in their lives and they obey–this is a source of joy!
Modeling the way for other girls and women, especially my two daughters, has brought me joy. My call has opened up the possibility of being a pastoral leader for those who have not seen this before. My eldest daughter did her PhD dissertation on “The Lived Experiences of Women in Ministry,” and my younger daughter is currently in our denomination’s seminary completing her Master of Divinity degree with a call to local church ministry. This brings me joy!
The enthusiastic proclamation of God’s Word each week–this brings me great joy!
Leading and equipping God’s people to discover their spiritual gifts and matching them to service within the church and without–this is a source of joy! Having a very busy baptistry–this is a source of joy!
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
I have been called in the context of Atlantic Canada where women in senior pastor roles are not common. In our denomination, although we have affirmed the ordination of women since the 1950’s, there are still churches who would rather be without a pastor for years than call a woman. We have many women in our denomination who are ready to lead our churches, but because of the autonomy of the local church, churches have the choice to refuse a female leader.
I have experienced being ignored or not acknowledged/included in certain ministry circles. For instance, at a prayer event, all the pastors were called up on stage to be prayed for. I was the only woman, but a pastor, so of course I went forward. The person praying addressed us this way: “Men of God . . . ” I wanted to cry. I felt so ostracized in that moment.
At times, I struggle with the perceived expectations of others. Actually, they are likely more my expectations. I feel like I have to overachieve as a woman in ministry. Not just reach my goals but exceed them in order to feel like I deserve to be in this position leading. This has led me to a time of unhealthy drivenness. God has been working on me in this area by providing me with a small group of other pastors who share my struggles, and through a spiritual director. I am achieving, with God’s help, a healthier life pace intentionally building in Sabbath rest and self-care.
Another challenge for me has been feeling confident in my call. However, God has been showing me, through the fruit of the ministry that he’s called me to, that I am indeed exactly where God wants me. I have never depended on him more!
What is the best ministry advice you have received?
To protect my time off, be it my weekly Sabbath, or annual vacation time. To be the best pastor that God has called me to be. Never quit on a Monday. Ask God to give me what I need when I need it. Never let fear be the basis for making ministry decisions. Engage in regular spiritual direction and in a community of peers who share the unique struggles that come with being in pastoral leadership. Keep my eyes on Jesus!