Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and this week we’re thrilled to introduce Karen Massey. 

Karen, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
I think that my ministry journey began when I was a child. My grandmother helped me learn to read by having me stand on a Coca Cola crate and read scripture aloud. My family was at church every time the door was open, so church was like a second home to me. Folks at the church encouraged the use of my gifts such as singing solos for worship, playing the piano and organ for worship when the musicians were away, “speaking” on Youth Sunday, and teaching preschoolers in VBS. I loved the church, so it was almost inevitable that I become a minister.

Years later I went to seminary with the intention of becoming a Children’s or Youth minister, but I was bitten by the teaching bug and developed an affinity for theological education. I got my Master’s degree and PhD in the hopes of teaching at a seminary upon graduation. Unfortunately, there were very few teaching positions available when I graduated, so I turned to the local church for ministry possibilities. I was called as an Associate Pastor for almost ten years with a congregation I dearly loved. They helped to nurture my ministerial identity and bless my gifts of preaching and administration. I truly loved those days in the church! Then, one day, McAfee School of Theology offered me the opportunity to join the faculty in the area of congregational ministry. I wasn’t looking to leave the church, but theological education had a strong pull on my heart. Today, eighteen years later, I am the Associate Dean for Masters Programs at McAfee, and I am loving the classroom experience with students who have a calling for ministry because they teach me much more than I can ever teach them.

I feel very blessed to have my foot in two worlds about which I am very passionate: the church and the academy.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
In church ministry, one of my greatest joys was having the honor to be present at significant events in the lives of my parishioners. It was a joy and delight to hold a newborn baby and dedicate her to the love and care of God, her parents, and the congregation. It was a joy and delight to baptize a child who, with childlike faith and wonder, said that he loved God with his whole heart. It was a joy and delight to perform the wedding of two young people who were so crazy in love and who were willing to commit their lives to a lifetime of marriage. It was a privilege and blessing to offer prayers at the bedside of a woman dying with cancer. It was a privilege and a blessing to officiate at the funeral of a man who had lived life well. All of those events were such great sources of joy because they all were moments of deep intimacy and profound holiness. Those moments reminded me that whenever two or three are gathered, God is present also.

In seminary, my greatest joy has been to watch students change and grow from the first
day they start classes to the day they graduate. It is a joy to watch lightbulbs go off in
their heads as they grapple with new theological concepts and theories. It is a joy to them develop ministry skills they never knew they possessed. It is a joy to watch them develop a ministerial identity and to live confidently into their calling. To see who they become at the end of their seminary journey is exciting; it gives me hope that the world and the church will be in good hands.

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
In church ministry, one of my greatest challenges was, as a single person, learning to say no. Many churches assume that, because you are single, you have more time, energy and desire to take on tasks and responsibilities than the married minister with children. While it might have been true that I had more time available, I realized after over-extending myself several times that it was important for me to set some boundaries with my time. I found that I couldn’t be my best self if I didn’t allow myself some personal time to regroup or rest.

In the seminary, one of my greatest challenges is to nurture a life outside of the “religious realm.” What I mean by that is five days a week I am focused on things that have a religious context or meaning. I teach classes that focus on ministry and the church. I counsel students who have crises of faith and calling. I do planning and administration regarding theological education. Most weekends I get invited to preach and teach at various churches in the area, and a lot of my travel is professional development for my job. While this is my ministry and calling, and I love it, I am finding that I need to develop hobbies, interests and relationships that broaden my view of the world and my interaction with it. I need more time for fun and travel. I need to read more books that stretch my thinking beyond religious topics. I need to engage in hobbies that allow me to be creative.

What are your “Top Three” ministry lessons that you hope seminarians learn during their theological education experience?

  1. Presence is more important than programs.
    Planning and leading programs, events, and meetings are a necessary part of ministry, but none of them will have the lasting influence that your presence can have. Conversations over coffee, hospital visits, attendance at graduations, or phone messages that say “I’m thinking of you,” are appreciated and remembered longer than the best programs money can buy. Presence touches the heart.
  2. It is OK to say you don’t know.
    More often than not, parishioners look to ministers to have all the answers about faith, theology, and life. When ministers take on that role of having all the answers, it can have a detrimental effect on the relationship between clergy and congregants. If the minister should ever give an answer that ultimately is proven to be incorrect, the parishioner can become disillusioned and lose trust in the minister. A broken relationship with a minister can often lead a parishioner to question her faith or to doubt God. For a minister to say, “I don’t know,” suggests to the parishioner that no one has all the answers and that to live a life of faith means living comfortably with questions. If we had all the answers then we wouldn’t need faith. Also, saying “I don’t know” is a reminder that we are all travelers on a journey combining our best efforts to discern truth and hear the voice of God.
  3. Change in the church takes baby steps.
    Of all the institutions in society, the church is the last institution to change. Change comes very slowly to the church. Therefore, seminary graduates, in their haste to change the world, must put on brakes in order for the church to hear their prophetic and challenging words. Change is often threatening and disorienting for church folk, and won’t happen overnight. Ministers must take baby steps when it comes to change in the church. For me, the first step they must take is building trust, and building trust comes by building relationships. Trust is foundational to the process of change.