Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are delighted to introduce Cynthia Insko.
Cynthia, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I grew up the daughter of a Southern Baptist pastor in the NYC suburbs. I wasn’t around many peers who were raised in the Protestant church. I found my church family to be a place of belonging and refuge. I was also well acquainted with missionaries in NYC who were working alongside the poor or starting churches for international people living in the USA. I remember in Acteens, a missions organization for teenage girls, first hearing the challenge, “You can be and do whatever God is calling you to be and do.” I started listening. I thought God was calling me to be a missionary, or a pastor’s wife. These were the things I saw other women doing who were seeking to be ministers. And yet, I was never told, “You can’t do this or that because you are a woman.”
When I chose a Christian college in the middle of the Bible Belt over 1,000 miles from home I was exposed to the idea that some Baptists thought my options professionally in ministry were limited because I was female. At the same time, in our campus chapel, I heard women preach. My campus minister was also a female. I wasn’t eager to preach or to pastor, but as long as I can remember I have had a deep love for studying scripture and teaching. I have also grown aware of my ability to hear people’s stories and sense both their need and God’s presence in their lives.
During college, I encountered wonderful faith-stretching leadership opportunities in the summers. I worked as a day camp director at a conference center and realized that somehow God would use my elementary education major in ministry. I also served as a youth camp staffer and met other young women attending seminary. My senior year, I became engaged to another pastor’s kid, a man who thought he’d be attending seminary too. I still wondered how we might serve alongside each other. Then, we graduated college just at the time that the seminary we had planned to attend was being overtaken by fundamentalists. We hadn’t explored other options and were confused about how to pursue our calling. The identity crises of our denomination weighed heavy on us as we wondered where our place would be in this tumultuous landscape that had been ‘home’ for both of us.
I ended up choosing an interdenominational seminary that also gave me wonderful scholarship and a place for us newlyweds to live on campus and serve as dorm parents to undergraduates. This was the perfect lab for me to explore my developing interest in campus ministry. Because my college years were so critical to my faith development and vocational discernment, I wanted to minister to students who found themselves in crossroads of discernment. Fortunately for me, there were some excellent campus ministers in my state at that time, both men and women who mentored and befriended me. It was the women, though, that I watched very closely to see how they managed career and family and the pressures of being women in ministry in a system that was becoming less and less welcoming of us.
Working as a campus minister was a great joy. It was a great fit for my gifts and the amazing students I worked with still hold a place in my heart. After serving as campus minister in two different states, I decided it was time to step back from that season of ministry in order to focus more energy on my three young children. This was a step of faith to quit a career that I loved in order to be present to my family and to wait on the next chapter of ministry to unfold. This shift lasted nearly two years. I rested, invested time in some creative hobbies I had neglected, and did some very meaningful volunteer work at church and in the schools. I spent time with neighbors and friends and led some retreats. I wrote and edited some curriculum. It was healthy to revisit parts of myself that had been hidden or underdeveloped when I had been so focused on career.
I stepped back into paid ministry cautiously, serving in interim roles on church staff and then accepting a part-time staff position as minister to children at First Baptist Frankfort, Kentucky. I completed a two-year program with the Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation, something I had wanted to do for years. It seems as though my elementary education experience, seminary degrees, and interest in spiritual formation all have come together to equip me for my current role as full-time minister of children and spiritual formation.
What are the greatest challenges you have faced in ministry?
Finding my path into and through ministry in a time when the denomination I called “home” was in a seismic shift was challenging and formative. It was very disorienting for a while. I realize now that since many folks my age who are now in CBF didn’t necessarily share a common seminary experience it has been harder to connect with peers and develop close friendships and ties in professional life.
I’ve sometimes felt a lot of pressure to prove that women could do the same things men could do in ministry, so that those who were skeptical about women in ministry would gain confidence in women ministers through their experience with me. Simultaneously, I’ve learned to accept that I don’t have to be good at everything and indeed I’m not necessarily gifted at everything.
On a personal note, it has always been challenging to balance my calling to motherhood with my calling to ministry. Both are full time callings and are vocations I seek to answer with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.
What do you love best about your current ministry?
I love the awe and openness and sincerity of children. I see God in them and they teach me about the image of God, the spiritual nature of each of us. They remind me that deep within us we long to be loved and cherished by God. When I see this same awe and openness and longing in adults too, it’s a great day!
What ministry advice would you give to a teenage girl?
Be patient with yourself. God loves you so deeply. You don’t have to know the whole plan for your whole life now. Listen to God, listen to what you know is your true self and who you are. Then, you will know the next step to take or decision to be made. You may not get to do all you dream of all at one time. That’s ok. There are many seasons in a woman’s life. God will be there in each one, preparing you for the next thing that comes your way. You’ll be surprised how everything, the good and the bad is used by God for the shaping of you and for the healing of the world.