Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features a fabulous minister on our blog. Today we are pleased to share this interview with Gina Jacobs-Strain. Gina IS what a minister looks like.
Gina, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I don’t remember a time when God and church were not central in my life, and like many Baptists, my roots are in the Pentecostal church, where my spiritual formation began. My family attended a Pentecostal church, my paternal grandmother was Baptist, and my maternal grandparents were African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.). I experienced varied styles of worship but the same Christian expressions of love, compassion, hope, and justice. I grew up with an understanding that the Holy Spirit was present wherever people loved God; and I loved being in those environments. My grandparents influenced my faith and today at ninety-three years old, my mom is still my prayer partner. I gave my life to Christ when I was nine years old and I know I am blessed to have found God so early in my life.
I have served in many ways that have prepared me for my current role as the executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries (ABWM). I have been a deaconess and trustee. I have served in Sunday school, organized and led women’s retreats, baked cakes and cookies, and been licensed and ordained. Each of these ministry opportunities prepared the way to ABWM. It is a Christ-centered ministry that encourages and empowers women, young women, and girls to serve God and to be leaders in their churches, communities, and beyond. American Baptist women are a catalyst, championing issues and concerns that need to be addressed by our denomination. For over 100 years they have surfaced issues of equity, leadership, poverty, and justice that are significant for women and all people. Today ABWM maintains this role as we address issues and advocacy in immigration, cross cultural relationships, intergenerational mentoring, economic empowerment, domestic violence, sex trafficking, building beloved community, and Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (S.T.E.A.M.). initiatives It is a dream job for me! It brings all of my skills as an educator, banker, and pastor together, and I know that God determined this opportunity for me in this season.
Within ABWM’s sisterhood, I especially enjoy the fellowship and the ways that women work together, think together, share blessings, and respond collectively to seek solutions. It is an exciting time in ABWM as we continue to discern and seek God’s direction so that we may fully realize our mission and core values.
Prior to joining ABWM, I served as transitional pastor for First Baptist Church of New Market in Piscataway, New Jersey; interim pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church, Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey; associate regional pastor for women in ministry for American Baptist Churches of New Jersey (ABCNJ); and associate minister of Christian education at St. Paul Baptist Church in Montclair, New Jersey. As a teacher, I especially enjoy facilitating and inspiring Christian educators to share the Word of God in collaborative and interactive studies, helping teacher and student discover immediate application of God’s word to their everyday lives.
I have been a guest preacher/lecturer at Drew University Theological School, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, ABC-NJ Academy, and the Wellness Lounge Webcast. I have also contributed to the “Testify: ABC-NJ Devotional” book released in 2015.
I earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers University and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Drew University’s Theological School with a Master of Divinity degree. I also received the Old Testament Studies Scholar Award from the Biblical Studies Department. I am a perpetual learner. In 2015, I received a Certificate of Excellence from Palmer Theological Seminary and the ABC-NJ Academy and graduated from the Nehemiah-Leadership Program in 2017. I am currently pursuing my Doctor of Ministry degree at Duke Divinity School.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest sources of joy, aside from my family which is my first ministry, is studying the Bible in community and learning with others the infinite ways that the Word of God is applicable to everything we do. In 2016, I co-launched a Christian Education Workshop Series, Leading Interactive and Engaging Bible Studies (L.I.B.S. TM). As a teacher I especially enjoy facilitating and inspiring Christian educators to share the Word of God in collaborative and interactive studies, helping teacher and student discover immediate application of God’s word to their everyday lives. In 2017, I created a conversation series, “The Intersection of Leadership and Healing,” which focused on clergy understanding the link between leadership and congregational healing and wellness. Both workshops were shared with ABC-NJ while I served as the associate regional pastor for women in ministry.
In 2018, ABWM launched our inaugural, Building Bridges and Gateways for Girls Future (BBGGF), which combines Christian Education and STEAM. It is an exciting opportunity to focus on girls in underserved communities by providing Christian education that will influence their Christian identity, develop their leadership skills, and expose them to STEAM experiences. We hope that this new learning combined with local STEAM providers will positively impact each girl’s self-esteem and will inspire them to consider a career in an industry that is changing and dictating our lifestyle choices every day. We also hope it will show the girls that our faith informs and is intertwined in all aspects of our lives.
In 2019, we introduced new initiatives that support our commitment to building beloved community by expanding access to leadership positions, deepening multi-cultural relationships through our sisterhood and new programming for young adult women and girls. ABWM’s ministry focus for the next two years, Sisters Seeking Wholeness, will serve as an overarching theme for our programming. We will emphasize spiritual practices and skills that lead to spiritual, emotional, physical and financial wholeness, and wellness.
I am so excited to be part of ABWM’s initiatives, especially as we plan for the future by introducing the Bridges and Gateways Endowment Campaign. An endowment will ensure that we continue. It will inspire women and girls to live the gospel, to model collaborative relationships where all voices are valued, to develop ministries and programs that are innovative and relevant, and to deepen our impact in both churches and local communities as we persists in the work we began more than 100 years ago.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
I am learning that sometimes I am simply on a need to know basis with God. I prefer to plan and schedule the most important aspects of my life. However, it is essential that I patiently discern God’s will first. Remembering that God called me to share the gospel, to share the message of God’s redemptive love and the message of hope has to be evident in all that I do. These two ideas, waiting and remembering my call, impact my leadership. This year ABWM’s executive committee started the year with sixty days of prayer so that our strategic initiatives and plans would be consistent with God’s plan for ABWM. Now this does not mean we always get it right, but we recognize that we have to start with God. I don’t want to set goals and objectives and then ask God to bless our efforts. I desire to start with God and then move forward. I am sure this is obvious to most people but sometimes in an effort to achieve certain strategic goals and initiatives consistent with the mission of an organization you can move ahead of God; not a good place to be.
There have been numerous challenges being a woman in ministry; many that I naively did not anticipate. My corporate experiences did help to prepare me for these situations. I also had to recognize the patterns and obstacles that tried to derail progress in the secular world were similar in my ministry journey. However, God’s vision for all gifts to be used for God’s purposes cannot be thwarted. Often, music helps me to deal with difficulties; hymns as well as contemporary gospel songs with lyrics about God’s faithfulness and victories restore me.
What advice would you give to a teenager who is sensing a call to ministry?
Be yourself. God made you in God’s image and God called you to be you and to use your gifts to share the gospel in a way that only you can. There is someone waiting to hear words of hope from you, someone that needs to be inspired by you, someone that needs to hear God’s affirming voice and witness God’s love through you. God sees you, and God chooses you.
Find mentors, a spiritual coach, and trusted people who you can talk with so that you can be vulnerable and so that you can establish healthy boundaries and choices. Intentionally choosing to follow God will not always be easy, but you are never alone and the joy that God gives you is immeasurable and infinite. Try to pause often for reflection upon God’s blessings, acknowledging the things that God has accomplished through you. Share your testimony. Make lots of friends along the way. Rest and know that building the kingdom of God is a team effort; Jesus had twelve disciples. Therefore, know that fulfilling your call is not a solo effort. Enjoy the journey and finally know that God has a sense of humor, and so should you.