Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an interview with an amazing minister on this blog. Today, we are thrilled to interview, Elizabeth Tamez Méndez. Elizabeth IS what a minister looks like!
Elizabeth, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
My ministry journey began through my local church, where for eight years, I volunteered as Youth and Community Outreach Director. There I had the privilege of serving among immigrant families and learning about a quite different way of life. This was also the congregation that ordained me. Growing up as the granddaughter of a missionary and daughter of pastors, ministry and community-service involvement were part of my life since childhood. However, in working with this congregation, I understood my specific calling in ministry: to develop emerging leaders for the church and community. As I walked alongside youth and families in the community, I learned about the disparities, challenges, and discrimination they faced. In particular, the hurdles and disadvantages students were facing in their educational attainment – and so together, we set out to empower one another and find solutions. Little did I know that volunteering in this congregation and being welcomed by the families there would set me on a path that would forever change my life.
In 2005 I founded New Generation3 (NG3) as a branch of the ministry in the local congregation, and I currently serve as Executive Director. Leaders noticed the results we were experiencing in the community and wanted to learn from us. This opened doors for me to present at conferences, speak in events, and work with a publishing house providing training to leaders and developing a bilingual and bicultural curriculum for youth.
Ultimately, the work grew to the point where I had to choose where I would focus my efforts as I could not continue switching back and forth between two worlds. You see, my first profession was as a designer and manager for high-rise architecture and enjoyed a 12-year career in it. Here I learned the acumen of innovation, business, and leading multimillion-dollar projects and multinational teams. My commitment to youth, social justice, leadership development, and the church’s misión integral (integral mission) ultimately led me to transition from my career in architecture to vocational ministry.
My work at NG3 has evolved over the decades as I, too, have evolved and grown. At times we have been a team of five doing the work together, sometimes it’s just myself. At times, the work is in the US, and at times it extends to Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Our commitment to collaborations and working cross-culturally with Latinx, African American, Asian, and Indigenous communities has remained constant. Part of my ministerial journey also led me to pursue a Ph.D. in Leadership. This opened yet another layer of ministerial opportunities in thought leadership.
Today, our consulting, training, speaking, teaching, research, publishing, and strategic planning projects are quite varied. These have unfolded in different contexts ranging from congregations and parachurch ministries, to universities and seminaries, to foundations and publishing groups, to denominational entities and ecumenical organizations, and most recently, a government entity too. All the work revolves around youth leadership development, innovation, social justice, diversity, and equity, and we have impacted ~9,500 leaders to date.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
This is my greatest joy: knowing that God has impacted and changed the life trajectory of many families and has used me to be part of it.
When the youth at the congregation, who are now young adults, share their testimony, they often speak of the support, resources, and opportunities they received through our ministry. This helped them beat the odds, and not only did they not dropout of High School, but they also graduated from college and are pursuing careers. They have broken the cycles of poverty, are now forming their young families, and are exercising their leadership at church by continuing the work we started – this is my greatest joy!
When I know that the programs and strategies we have designed for different organizations have helped them transform and grow their ministries to touch the lives of many – this is my greatest joy!
When my students share their ministry milestones and benefit from our mentoring to discern their call in ministry – this is my greatest joy!
I count myself highly blessed to carry on my calling and live God’s purpose for me every day.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
The list of hardships is long. You name them, and I’ve probably confronted them. Ministry is a highly complex environment.
Through it all, there have been three guiding lights in the process: 1) We can control our emotions. People will hurt us, and we can choose to use that pain for good and growth. 2) Challenges are exercises to build resilience and grit. These have the potential to open us up for innovative thinking that brings solutions. 3) Only you can follow your path. Remain true to yourself, your convictions, and your ethics – these will always rise to the top.
What is the best ministry advice you have received?
“Some will, some won’t, so what?” – I laughed so hard the first time I heard this, but my friend was right. This advice has helped me time and time again. I’ve found that it’s challenging for many to accept those not called to follow a linear or pre-configured path in ministry. At times, it’s hard for creatives like myself, seeking innovation, social entrepreneurship, and renewal in the church, to be embraced. It entails breaking with the status quo and many set structures, which can be decentering for some. Yet, God invites us to partner with Him in His plans; it is merely up to us to follow – we don’t set the path.
Through the ups and downs, I must remind myself that not everyone will be open, supportive, and welcoming – and that is alright. I need to remain fluid, not give up or get distracted, and remain on the lookout for the opportunities God curates for me to serve.
It comes with the territory; there will be setbacks, frustrations, and many ministry hardships. Jesus experienced this in His ministry journey, so this should not take us by surprise. Through it all, Jesus held onto His identity, purpose, and mission and moved forward confidently in this knowledge (John 10:36). This, too, is our blueprint for ministry: stay centered and put your faith in action, even during hard times. Remain firm in your sense of calling; your eyes fixed on Christ. It is why prayer, reflection, observation, wise counsel, and listening to the Holy Spirit are vital to strengthening your conviction and knowing that you are doing what you were called to do. Focus on your next faithful step; God will let things unfold.
Elizabeth Tamez Méndez is founder & executive director of New Generation3 in Decatur, Georgia.